Part the Fifth
The keep was very different from the Rock. First there was a moat to guard against invaders and a river ran just over the hill. Ilse couldn’t hear it, but from what Edmure had told her, she knew it was there. He had read the raven out from his father. He was surprised at his nuptials but willing to meet his gooddaughter, especially as she was already two months with child.
Her head once again covered in a veil, Edmure lifted her out as soon as they were within the gates of Riverrun. She could feel Lalie get out beside her, going to a servant and inquiring where her mistress’s room was so she could prepare for her. She knew, from what Edmure had told her, that there had been a small disagreement about where Ilse would sleep. The Riverrun tradition was that they would have separate rooms, especially as she was with child, but Edmure wouldn’t hear of it. “We are one,” he told her, kissing her upturned lips. “I know you will one day love me. You care for me already, for my kin.”
What no one had expected was for Ilse to ask for an ancient rite in Westron culture, as soon as Lord Hoster Tully was introduced to her, she knelt on one knee, lowered her head, and begged, “I ask for your blessing, for a blessing not only for me, but for your grandchild, with the Seven as my witness, Amen.”
The old man looked at her in confusion, glancing at his son, before laying his hands on his gooddaughter’s head. “You are so blessed,” he murmured before helping her rise. He then took a look at her face. “May I see your hair, my dear?”
Blushing, Ilse allowed Edmure to take off her head garment as her hand was still claimed. “In the West,” she explained, “it is the fashion to wear our hair in braids.”
“It suits you well, my dear,” he told her, “as does being with child. You have a glow about you. Come, I insist you sit by me at dinner. I’ve heard the rumors—all of Westeros has! And I want some gossip about Lord Lannister.”
“I fear that particular Lord does not have many good qualities, at least that he shows us handmaidens.”
“Even better,” Lord Tully said, walking with his gooddaughter toward the stairs. “I do so hate the man.”
“Then why?” she asked in confusion.
“When I know you better, my dear, I will tell you my reasoning. It all came down to money in the end. I must say I’m relieved Edmure came home with a different Lannister bride although we lost the Lannister fortune.”
Ilse looked back at Edmure and stopped, forcing her goodfather to halt his steps. “There is none,” she told them. “They’ve given it all in loan to the crown.”
Hoster blinked at her and Edmure chuckled, reclaiming her and kissing her head reverently. “Is she not a jewel among the rough, Father?”
“She most certainly is,” he proclaimed. “No wonder Lord Lannister wanted her distanced from her position. It wasn’t just pride; this girl knows secrets he doesn’t want to get out.”
“I want a Septon here to teach her how to read and write before the end of the week,” Edmure demanded. “I don’t mind teaching her but I do not know how best to teach her.”
“She will require a Septa, son,” Hoster Tully corrected. “And I have already hired one for two hours before luncheon every afternoon. The one at Winterfell highly recommended her and she has the blessing of your sisters’ own Septa.—I understand you were kept ignorant.”
Ilse looked at him assessingly. “I was to run messages to and from various people. They wanted a handmaid who could not read them.”
“Barbaric,” Lord Hoster responded, leading her up a stair, Edmure behind them. “You had their blood. You had every right. Moreover, every one of my servants and guards can read to a certain point. It’s part of their training, in fact.”
“My handmaiden reads quite well,” Ilse commented. “She’s written missives for me in the past.”
Edmure moved closer, “Soon you will write your own, my dear.”
A door was opened and Lord Hoster released her hand so she could go in, Edmure following. Two men were in the process of hanging her sigil on a far wall, which was immediately next to the sigil that was clearly the one she had used as a towel. “It’s our story,” she told Edmure happily.
“Do you think I would allow anything less, sea nymph?”
Lalie was unpacking her trunk and putting away her dresses. Three were put aside, clearly not completed, and then her small jewelry box was placed at a vanity. Then there was the bed. It was large with blue-green hangings and an ample amount of the pillows. She grinned at him before going to the windows, which looked out over the hill and then onto the river.
“Has this always been your room?”
The privacy screen displayed a river with fish swimming in it.
“That is certainly an addition.”
“It is true,” he told her, “but this has always been my chamber as the Heir to Riverrun.”
“I wonder where we’ll put the moses basket,” she murmured. “There is enough room in the bed.”
He looked at her, perplexed. “I do not follow. The wet nurse will have him.”
“No,” she countered. “I will have him. If you find him to be too much of an inconvenience, I will move to a separate room.”
“You do not believe that children should be seen and not heard?” Edmure looked utterly confused, coming to her and encircling her waist in affection.
“They should be seen and heard,” she told him. “If I carry a boy, he will be your heir. Do you not think that your child should know his father from the very first? That he should know to love you before you put a training sword in his hand? I was seen and heard during my mother’s life, and then my father couldn’t bear the sight of me after he started taking his lovers to his bed and he sent me to the Rock.—After my grandfather learned of it all and took me to where he thought I’d be safe.” She grew silent, clearly trying to let whatever she felt not to show on her face.
“And you loved your mother for it,” Edmure murmured, running his fingers down her cheek.
“I did. I do not care if it is not the way of Lords and Ladies. I have been a Lady for less than three months.”
“You are the child’s mother,” he whispered so that only she could hear. “We will raise our children the Westron way, if you so desire.”
“It is not the way of Lords,” she cautioned him. “You may get sick of us both.”
“I highly doubt it. I cannot wait until I see you round with my child.”
“You men are so predictable,” she laughed, fingering the drapes on the bed. “It’s so much colder here—not like Winterfell, but there is a distinct coldness.”
“I can change that,” he murmured and then he thanked the men and Lalie when they finished their tasks, closing the door behind them. “I’ve dreamed of you in my bed since you performed that dance for me.”
“When I decided you were my sweetheart?” she teased as he undid her laces and let her dress fall to the ground. She was wearing nothing but her small clothes, but he dropped down, looking at her, before kissing her stomach tenderly.
“Hello, little one,” he murmured. “Your mother is very beautiful and we cannot wait to meet you in seven moons’ time. Know that you are wanted and loved, little child.” He looked up once more before throwing off his coat and his tunic, and then kicking off his shoes. When he was finally done undressing, he placed her smoothly on the bed.
It was soft, quiet, their mouths meeting as he pushed gently inside her, his hand grasping the headboard as their eyes held each other.
Afterwards she slept as he ran circles on her abdomen. She slept so much now, but the Maester assured him that this was often the case of married ladies who were bearing heirs.
“I had a dream,” she told him cautiously. “I dreamt we had a girl.”
“Will she be as beautiful as her mother?” he asked as he pulled together her ties again. He took off her krone and placed his mother’s jewel around her neck. He had chosen for her a dress of gray silk she had never worn, which he found beautiful on her. When Lalie called to be let in, he opened the door for her and she came in to do her lady’s hair. The braids went into a complex dance and Georj came to choose his master’s outfit for that night. There would be a celebration in a week for the other houses who pledged themselves to House Tully, but they need not worry for that yet.
“Nestra,” she said as they walked down together, his hand at the small of her back. “We name her ‘Nestra’.”
“What a beautiful name,” he commented. “Fit for a lady as beautiful as her mother.”
“She’ll have your eyes,” she admitted, “and my father’s hair.”
“And what type of hair did he have?”
“Gold, like a Lannisters’s. The true Lannister hair, if I dwell on it. Father wouldn’t care though, even if he knew.”
Edmure’s jaw tightened although she could not see it. “The Lannisters will pay for their crimes,” he promised. “Another ten years perhaps, but they shall pay.”
She turned to him and even though they were in a corner, she pushed him up against a wall, their noses almost touching, her bright blue eyes lingering as they glanced at his lips. He waited for her, and slowly she pressed herself up on her toes and kissed him softly. It was full of sweetness and affection and not the passion that usually overtook them. When she pulled away, she whispered in his ear, “You have made me happier than a maiden could ever wish to be. Thank you for keeping that promise.” She pulled back, their eyes searching each other until he grabbed her lips for another sweet kiss, his hand running down her arm. She pulled away when she heard steps, but Edmure pulled her hands closer and looked over to see his uncle, the Blackfish.
“Ah, the bride,” was all he said. “Your father is looking for the two of you.”
“Then we shall not keep him waiting longer,” Edmure told him, keeping hold of one of Ilse’s hands and walking toward the family dining table.
The walk was confusing and Ilse knew she’d never find it on her own. She hoped there was a map to the keep that wasn’t labeled with words but with pictures. She’d see to that later.
When they came to the room, she saw that the table was set for four. She was to sit next to Lord Hoster, Ser Edmure across from him. That left a space for the Blackfish across from her and next to Edmure.
“So,” Lord Hoster demanded. “Who wants to marry Lady Cerzainya?”
“There is talk of Ser Loras Tyrell and Crown Prince Joffrey is interested despite the fact that I believe he is betrothed to Lady Sansa Stark. To be honest Cerzainya wanted to marry Ser Edmure, but he seemed to have different plans unknown to everyone involved.”
“Ilse thought me a Tully cousin or bastard and I understand was quite shocked when Lord Tywin told her otherwise.” He smiled at her and she at him.
“So you had no idea,” the Blackfish said, “that you were capturing the heart of the Heir of Riverrun?”
“None whatsoever,” she declared. “Neither did my fellow handmaiden who is now in my service, strangely enough. She just knew that I met someone in the camp and he leant me the Tully sigil to dry off with. All she wanted to know was whether or not he was handsome.”
“The world of women,” Lord Hoster sighed. “That seems to often be a common question among ladies.”
Ilse looked at her goodfather. “We marry men for the same reason you do. Sometimes it is for politics, sometimes it is for money and advantage, and sometimes for a pretty face.”
“And you, my dear.”
“I was going to be whipped,” she answered. “And Ser Edmure is kind and gentle—not to mention very handsome. I would have married him if he were a fishmonger, which it turned out he wasn’t. I was going for a lesser Lord.”
“I rather surprised her, but then again I guessed she was someone’s handmaiden, especially when we met at the Raven Perch and she was sending a message to Ser Jaime Lannister and there was no reason for her to write to him personally.”
“I might have,” she defended. “We could have been having a secret love affair.” She grinned at him at her own joke, and a flash of jealousy was clearly aroused in him. Tonight was going to be fun.
“You hadn’t met the knight until we were wed.”
“True. He was so disappointing. I’d heard so much of him, and then he was like any other knight. Whoever said he was the handsomest knight in the Seven Kingdoms was clearly mistaken.”
The Blackfish roared with laughter. “You certainly got yourself a flame of a girl, Edmure. Watch out that you’re not burnt.”
“Strange,” she murmured. “My sigil shows a lioness sleeping under a tree. Perhaps your men should have depicted something else.”
“They knew nothing of you but that you were associated with the Lannisters. Give them credit: it is a truly beautiful marriage cloak.”
“True,” she agreed. “Now, I believe I need to appeal to the housekeeper to learn how to run such a great keep. Shall one of you kind lords bring me to her tomorrow? Lalie can follow me and take notes.”
She was right about the jealousy in Edmure’s eyes. He kissed her briefly, teasingly. “There’s no one for you but me,” he whispered. She was already in her night shift.
“How can you be so sure?” she teased. “He is merely a cousin.”
“You carry my heir. You danced the water dance for me and only me.” He kissed her again and she quickly returned the teasing kiss.
“Edmure, you are aware I hadn’t met Ser Jaime until we arrived at King’s Landing. Also, I dislike all of my kin.”
“Don’t care,” he whispered, kissing her and dropping her on the bed.
“What are you going to do to your pregnant wife?” she teased.
“I’m going to remind you just how much you love me, wife, because I am quite aware that you do love me, even if you can’t or won’t say the words.” She looked at him entirely shocked, but he kissed her waiting lips again.
Everything was a blur after that, her nightdress was pulled off but he wouldn’t let her under the covers as his britches came off. He captured her with another kiss before he rolled them over so she was on top of him. “Convince me,” he breathed and she kissed him deeply.
She woke up in the middle of the night with a breath. Edmure was immediately awake.
“I dreamed of our son—they’re twins.”
“Twins?” he asked.
“Yes. Nestra and Perys. Both with golden hair and your eyes.” She looked up at him.
He stroked her hair. “Hush. We’ll have an heir and a beautiful little girl.—This is good, Ilse. You are safe. Our children are safe. We both love each of them. You’ll teach our daughter how to dance and I’ll teach Perys how to use his practice sword.”
“Hold me,” she begged, “and please don’t make me say the words you guessed.”
He kissed her shoulder as he held her from behind. “I’ll never make you say it but I’ll tell you every day. I love you, Ilse Tully, until my dying breath.”
She held him closer and he buried his face in her hair.
The next day a raven came for Ilse and she looked at it in confusion. She immediately went to Edmure and showed it to him. “I know my name,” she confessed. “I just cannot make it out on this scroll.”
“It says ‘Aunt Ilse Tully’,” he explained. “Here is ‘Ilse’ and ‘Tully.’ Can you see that?”
She squinted and after a few moments she nodded her head. Edmure carefully unrolled the script and read it allowed. Sansa was relating how Joffrey had lost a sword fight and Arya’s direwolf had defended her. Now her beautiful Lady had been slaughtered.
“I had not expected that of Joffrey,” she admitted as she took the scroll back. “I knew he preferred the idea of his cousin—but to punish Sansa like this—I should write to each.”
“I’ll help you after lunch. You now have your lessons.”
“Yes,” she agreed, kissing his cheek, ”of course.”
The Septa was a hard but kind woman who looked at the books with approval before explaining the idea of the alphabet. Ilse painstakingly copied it out onto parchment, trying to remember the slope of each letter before the Septa pointed to letters at random and she would have to name them, which she found difficult, as well as make their sound.
Once she was released, she was glad to go down to lunch.
She wrote first to the prince, asking him to explain what exactly happened, saying that she needed to know the “truth” and she knew that he would be able to tell her impartially what had happened. The words sickened her, but she had Edmure write them anyway. Next, was Sansa, whom she sympathized with, and wished she could change the past or invite her to Riverrun for a time if she were not already on her way to King’s Landing.
The months grew long and Ilse was heavy with child. The Maester exclaimed himself surprised, but Ilse insisted they were twins, and he was forced to agree with her.
It was at this time that the worst happened. The King had died on the hunt. Ned Stark declared himself the new guardian of Prince Joffrey and that the King’s children were not his children at all. Ned Stark was beheaded, the North rallied behind his son Robb, and the two Baratheon brothers began a rebellion.
“Any day, they’ll be at our door,” Ilse prophesied. “The Lannisters will soon declare.”
“We shall not, not even to Robb Stark,” Hoster Tully told her. “We have a woman with child. This is not our fight. There is a King of the North. We have no conflict with him. We have no conflict with King’s Landing or the Baratheons—I care not who is rightfully king as long as we may live in peace and prosper.”
She nodded, putting her hand on her visible bump. Of course, when her children came, she was screaming and she was cursing everyone she had met, including her father, or dead mother, the Lannisters, and even her beloved husband. Thirteen hours later and she had a beautiful boy and girl, just like she predicted.
“Nestra,” she whispered as he held the door and Edmure came into her playing with the baby with her fingers.
“Hello, my love,” he greeted, taking his son from the Septa.
“Meet Perys, your son,” she greeted tiredly. “And Nestra, of course.”
“I had a letter from Robb who wants to speak to you specifically on family business,” Edmure told her worryingly.
“What did you promise?”
“Nothing yet. I understood you were cursing me and screaming you would never let me near you or water ever again, which I have been told is a common response during childbirth.”
She pinked but she accepted his soft kiss and let it linger until Perys began to squirm. There were two moses baskets waiting, each lined with warm blankets, and Edmure laid his son in one. He then sat by his wife and kissed his daughter’s head before he took the infant and put her in her own basket.
“You received a raven,” he told her handing it over. She looked at the signature. “R-oh-b, Rohb,” she read, looking at him for praise.
He smoothed out her hair lovingly. “Go on, darling.”
She stared at the last name. “Stark?” She guessed. “It begins with a ‘St’ and they’re the only people I know with that name.”
“Correct,” he told her. “Would you like me to read it to you?”
“Yes,” she said collapsing down onto the pillows. “Then perhaps I can sleep a little, if the little Tullies allow it.”
“I’ll take care of them,” he promised. “Father hired a wet nurse so you could sleep—just sleep, not all the time.”
She humphed, but let him read. It turned out that Robb was having trouble with his love life. He still preferred Northerners for marriage, although he had yet to name anyone in particular, but to cross a river, he had agreed to marry a Frey girl whom he had never met.
“Write to him that I am willing to speak to him if he comes here to speak with me with only two men as guards. They will be welcome here at Riverrun with your permission and Father Hoster’s. I also need to warn Lalie. We really can’t have a repeat of our romance when oath breaking is probably a difficulty.”
She sighed and Edmure tucked her in. She had already been given a fresh gown and her sheets had been changed. Ilse just needed a bath but she was too tired. The children were ushered out and Edmure slipped out of everything but his tunic and britches, holding his wife tightly, knowing that’s all he’d be able to do for months as it was a difficult labor of his two twin angels. It was just as she had said: a daughter and a son; Nestra and Perys.
“I love you,” and she shifted toward him in her sleep.
The next morning, while his wife was still sleeping, he wrote a missive to Robb Stark with the permission of his father, informing him of the decision of the Castle and of Ilse’s desire to see him, but warned him of her recent birthing. He asked to give her a week, and he had it sent off.
Another raven came when Ilse was playing with the children in their baskets, her hair in their usual braids. Perys seemed to be entranced by them. Ilse was in her arms, drinking from her. The sight was perfect in Edmure’s eyes.
The terms were accepted.
When they came, Ilse was still in bed, her hair newly plaited, her children in moses baskets next to her, she herself wrapped in a robe of light fur when Robb was shown into her chambers. Edmure came in behind him and sat unobtrusively at the window.
Robb looked at his uncle a little uncomfortably.
“Nephew,” Ilse said, laying a hand on the half of the bed where Edmure always slept. “Imagine it is just us. Look upon your cousins.” She indicated the children.
“What are their names?”
“Nestra for our daughter and Perys for the son.” She smiled happily. “But we’re not here for pleasantries. Tell me what’s wrong. First, you have to explain about this Northern girl. Does she even exist or is she a figment of perfection? I can’t give you advice if I don’t know.”
“She’s a girl whose name I do not know.”
“So you’ve never spoken to her,” Ilse clarified.
He shook his head.
“You cannot break an oath for a girl who only knows you as Lord Robb from Winterfell. I also doubt she’s highly born if she’s from the Winter Town area.”
“I’m a special case. Edmure met me first under false pretenses—” He gave her an unrepentant smile “—and fell in love with me. You haven’t even done that. Are any of the Freys, well, I only know that he keeps taking younger and younger wives as time goes on and is quite—singular—to behold.”
“I have heard of beautiful daughters,” Edmure admitted.
“This is what you have to do; I’m sorry, Robb, you cannot prove yourself an oath breaker. Send your mother to choose your bride and bring her back to camp and marry her immediately. Have her come up with some reason for the hurry. Find a Septon, it can’t be that hard to come across one. I’m sure we must have one that Lord Hoster would consider loaning to you. If you are nearby I will do everything in my power to attend if the Maester will release me from bed, so you have family with you.”
“Ilse,” he begged.
“Do this, Robb,” she told him plainly, “it is what is good. Write your mother a raven immediately. Edmure can read it over as I am not very good at that yet.—and do not despair. If Edmure can love me, a girl who can barely write her name, anything is possible.”
“Ilse, I cannot speak for my uncle, but you are very easy to love as an aunt,” Robb declared, taking her hand on the cover.
She smiled at him. “Go—write.”
When he left, Ilse looked at Edmure. “That is hopefully one crisis adverted. I hope there is a Frey girl who meets his standards. I wonder who this Winter Town girl is.”
“A ghost, I would imagine. If you do not make her flesh by approaching her, talking to her, she remains an ideal. You have to enter the beach and greet her, otherwise nothing will ever happen with it.”
“No,” she agreed, kissing him. “Nothing will.”