(Ilse06) Beneath the Moonless Sky

Part the Sixth

The Maester had let her out of bed and Lalie carefully put her into her second finest dress and hung the blue stone around her neck.  Her hair was unbraided, brushed out and then placed in one large braid that was placed in a very complicated knot that Ilse had only seen attempted on Cerzainya once.  Several ribbons were braided into it.  Some color was placed on her eyes and her lips, but she didn’t understand until she saw Edmure and he halted in his tracks.  “Are the eyes and lips a tradition of your people?”

“Yes,” he breathed.  “You look stunning, my dear.”

“I’m moving a bit slowly,” she warned him.  “I hear Roslin Frey is quite pretty.”

“My sister wrote me at length on the subject.  Her hair is dull but she has a pretty face and comely ways.”

“Comely ways?” she asked in shock.  “I can’t imagine Robb wanting comely ways, but Catelyn is his mother, so I imagine she knows him better than I do.”

The wedding was wild, Lady Roslin clearly unused to the rowdiness of men.  Ilse saved her.  “I am your aunt,” she joked, “although I believe we are a similar age.  Robb is a very dear cousin.  He must be fifteen, sixteen summer fields now.”

“I have sixteen summer fields.”

“I have eighteen,” Ilse commented, “but I was married at seventeen and brought to a very different land.—Dance with your husband.  I’ll be here when you’re done.”  She beckoned a confused Robb over.  “You looked like you were looking for Lady Roslin, for a dance perhaps?”

“Yes, Ilse,” he responded though clearly that was not his intention.  He held out his hand to the bride and they danced for the rest of the evening, Ilse smiling to herself. 

Catelyn sat down next to her.  “I understand you’ve been playing matchmaker.”

“Only when it was needed.  He didn’t want to admit that he had a duty.  So, I hurried it along and I just ensured he danced with his wife so he could hopefully learn some of her good qualities, and it seems to be working.—And there they go.”

The newly weds were slipping away and it seemed only the womenfolk noticed.  But then Edmure sat on her other side.  “I’ve made merry with the men,” he told her, “I have only danced once with Cat because the dear lady I’ve wished to partner with is forbidden to dance.  I now say that we retire.”

“And leave Catelyn all alone?” Ilse gave as a token protest.

“Yes,” he replied, looking at his sister for help.

Catelyn smiled.  “Your bride is teasing you.—Go, I am well where I am.”

Instead of helping her to her feet, Edmure picked Ilse up effortlessly, carrying her to their tent.  He allowed Lalie to undress her behind the screen and then, came up behind her to hold her.

“I hope our nephew is happy,” Ilse murmured.

“If the breathing from four tents down is anything to go by—“

Ilse smacked him with a pillow.  “It isn’t polite to listen.”

“Yes, well, Lady Stark has been charged with returning the bed sheet to Lord Walder Frey in the morning.  I’m glad ours was not paraded around.”

“No,” she responded.  “You just had it placed in the bottom of your trunk.”

He turned her over and looked searchingly in her eyes.  “Can I keep anything from a former handmaiden?”

“Not much,” she told him slyly before nestling down again.  “I wish my waist would return.”

“It should, my love.  Give it time,” he told her.  “But you are so beautiful, even now.”

“You have not seen me without a shift,” she argued.

“No,” he agreed.  “But that is only because you haven’t let me.—However, I respect that.  I respect you, darling, my beautiful, strong wife who gave me two perfect children.”

She turned toward him.  “I miss them so much although it’s only been three days.  I know Lord Hoster would die before he let anything happen to my children, but I worry.”

Sensing something, Edmure swiped away her tears.  “You are a high wed lady.  He is not Lord Lannister,” he assured her.  “They are the children of a well born Lord.  They are my true born children.  No harm will come to them.”

“As you say,” she whispered, turning so that she was cocooned against him, trying to roll into as small a ball as possible. 

Edmure was sleeping and it was the early hours of the morning.  Ilse put on her blue robe lined with rabbit fur and her boots and went out of her tent.  She was surprised to see Roslin sitting outside of her tent.  She was just staring at it.

“Lady Roslin,” she murmured quietly as she came up to her.  “What is wrong?”

“Lady Gess told me after we finished becoming man and wife it is my duty to withdraw, but I can’t figure out where.”  She turned to Ilse with tears in her eyes.

“Oh,” she said, standing next to her.  “That is not the way of every house or every couple,” Ilse assured.  “It is the way of Riverrun, but Ser Edmure refused to follow that custom even when I refused to let a wet nurse feed my children, although I eventually gave in on nights as I need some sleep.”  She gave her new niece a smile.  “Are you content with your new husband?”

“He was kind and gentle.  I was not expecting that from a king who is said to be savage like a wolf.”

“No,” Ilse agreed.  “He has a kind heart when it comes to family, and you are now his family.—I am certain he meant for you to share the same tent.  Why don’t you share the tent tonight and have him seek me out in the morning and I can explain your problem and have it set to rights?  Do you like him well enough to share a tent?”

“I barely know him,” Roslin confessed.  “I met him yesterday, but that tent has been given to some guests.”  She bit her lip in utter confusion.

“Go in,” Ilse suggested gently.  “Go back under the furs.  Your presence will be welcome, I assure you.”

Roslin looked at her and then bowed and kissed her hand before reentering the tent.  Ilse thought that a strange tradition, but now desired to enter her own husband’s tent.  A moan sounded from within the bridal tent and it was clear that Robb had awakened when his wife returned to him and he seemed to be—enjoying his rights.

She entered the tent and took off her night shift and whispered, “Edmure.”  When he didn’t at first wake, she kneeled next to him and ran her fingers through his hair and down his cheek.  His eyes fluttered open and then he took her in.  Instantly he took off his peasant shirt and was unbuttoning his britches.  “You know we can’t.”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t touch you and give you pleasure.  That we both can’t find pleasure.”

His lips kissed every curve of her body until he was between her legs, finding that spot until she was lost, but then he was crawling up her body, kissing her sweetly, rubbing against her so that she felt the pained pleasure and then again, she was lost and he was lost upon her as well.  He cleaned her gently with a cloth and kissed her deeply again.  “I hope I have not offended you.”

“No,” she murmured, looking at him in the darkness, barely making out the line of his nose as it was turned toward her in the dark.  “You were loving me—in a strange new way, but you were loving me.”

“You’re beautiful,” he told her.  “So beautiful.”  He leaned in for a sweet kiss and she snuggled against him, forgetting her night shift entirely in favor of the smooth feel of her husband’s skin.

When she awoke it was to Lalie pouring out a bath, her shift and robe at the end of her bed.  Edmure was already out of bed, preparing their breakfast and he smiled at her lovingly.  “My nephew’s man said he’d be here in half an hour, lioness,” he told her.

“Yes, I told Roslin to send him.”  She put on her shift and took a quick bath before she allowed Lalie to put on a simple gown, her braids hanging down her back.  She was enjoying some bread and cheese when Robb walked in.

“Ilse?” he asked.  “What on earth do we have to talk about?”

“Since the children were born, sometimes I can’t sleep and I ran into Roslin.  Someone told her that she should withdraw from her husband’s rooms once she has given—pleasure—to her husband and she couldn’t figure out where to go.  I promised I’d speak to you about it because she was absolutely terrified that she was doing something wrong and you’d be angry at her.”

Robb sighed.  “That’s why she came in and I woke up from the cold air.”

“I told her to go back inside, that you would not be angry, but you really need to address this with her.  I don’t care what you decide, but she has to know.  She was very confused, poor girl.  I don’t know where she got her information, her mother, an aunt, a sister perhaps.”

Edmure looked like he wanted to be anywhere but in that tent.

“Robb, please.  I don’t know how much you care for your wife, but she’s just a girl who is a bit lost in all of this.  Frankly, I’d have Catelyn speak to her to see if she has any more questions.  I wish I’d had Lady Catelyn there when I was married.  No one had told me anything.  It seems like Lord Tywin didn’t want any of us to be married.”

“I desire her,” Robb admitted.  “I didn’t think I would, and I like her a little.”

“That can grow,” Ilse said from experience.  “Just give it time.  Be kind to her—and send her to your mother and fix the tent problem one way or the other.”

“Who would have thought tents would have been a problem?” Robb moaned.

“Rooms were a problem at Riverrun,” Edmure confessed.  “Your grandfather wanted us to have separate rooms and I would not have it.  I won in the end.  If I hadn’t, I just would have moved into hers.”

“Or I yours,” she countered.  “I think yours have the best view in the keep.”  She leaned up and kissed her husband gently.

“And,” Edmure told him, “tell her how much she means to you.  Don’t lie.  If she mends a shirt, tell her how thankful you are or how valuable she is.  Compliments like that will woo her.  A happy wife is always better than one unhappy, especially when you love her dearly.”

“Why do you speak as if from experience?”

“I fell in love with Ilse after one night.  We became engaged after five days, which was not enough for Ilse to develop a full love.”  He stroked her cheek.  “But I have wooed her, methinks.”

“I will never admit it,” she replied, going back to her breakfast.

“You admit it with every glance, every touch, every kiss,” Edmure argued.

“Where is your wife?” Ilse asked. 

“With my mother, breakfasting.”

“Well, you don’t want to neglect her this particular morning.  Bring it up in front of your mother so that Roslin knows you mean what you say.—I’m assuming you want to share a tent except when you discuss battle plans.”

He looked at her.  “Yes,” he decided.  “I would have had reservations before last night—“

“You need to say no more,” Edmure broke in.  “Go to your wife and mother.”

The flap of their tent folded in and the two looked at each other. 

“You are the strangest matchmaker.”  Edmure smiled lovingly at her.

“She was a scared girl last night.  I remember what that was like when I was first married.  At least I knew you, but I did not know you as well as I wished.  That came later with your kindness and your,” she blushed, “excessive lovemaking.”

“You didn’t seem to care,” he observed, eating some fruit.

“No,” she agreed.  “I knew you loved me when you touched me and held me like that.  You made me feel special and priceless, more than any of the Lannister jewels.  And I liked it.  How many women in the Seven Kingdomscan boast that, Ser Edmure Tully?”

He reached over and kissed her hand.  “You are most cherished, along with our two beautiful children.”

She said her goodbyes to Catelyn, Robb, and finally Roslin.  “All good?” he whispered in her ear, and she gave her a small smile in response. 

“Do write, Roslin.  One can always do with a friend, and I love to talk about my children to anyone who will listen.”

“How is your writing and reading coming along?”

“Would you like me to send you a raven so you can see, Catelyn?” she offered in jest.  But the lady nodded, so she knew that she must do just that.

Ilse, at least, expected quiet and a bit of peace when she returned home to Riverrun.  The war did not touch the Riverlands.  Robb’s army marched south and she would get ravens from either Catelyn or Roslin, which made her smile.  She was getting better at reading them and her children were growing strong.

That’s when the messenger came.

At first, Ilse couldn’t believe it.  She was told to come up to the ramparts, and she looked out onto familiar Lannister colors and a face she half recognized.  “What brings you here, Sherydan?” she asked.  “I don’t believe I’ve seen you since our last war game over five years ago.”  Her voice was full and carried over the winds.

“You refused my proposal of marriage,” he called back, his fine steed moving to the side.

Ilse looked over at the Blackfish in confusion.  “What is he talking about?” she murmured.

“I think only you or Lord Tywin Lannister can say.”

She sighed.  “What brings you here?” she called.

He looked up at her.  “Ser Kevan Lannister claims kinship and shelter.”

Ilse physically felt like she lost her footing and she backed into the wall behind her, her breath stolen from her.  One of the soldiers came to aid her and somehow a cup of ale was brought to her and she took a long dreg from it.  The Blackfish looked over at her.

“What kinship?” he demanded.  “Was it not Ser Kevan’s brother who proclaimed her a member of House Ever?”

Sherydan looked uncomfortable.  “I speak of her father’s true father.  He is the base born son of Ser Kevan.  He carries his mother’s husband’s name because the man Ever was paid a great deal of coin.  Will the lady allow Ser Kevan entrance?”

“How many guards?” the Blackfish bellowed.

“Me and one other.”

Looking at her, the Blackfish caught her eyes.  “No banners.  You are welcome to one meal for a parlay and must leave afterwards.  You are not allowed to sleep within the keep.”

“Get Ser Edmure,” Ilse ordered as she went to the stairs that would lead to the courtyard.  Fortunately, now that the children were nearly a year old, she had her figure back.  She was wearing a simple dress, but that didn’t matter.  She watched as three figures on horses trotted in and the figure of Ser Kevan, well known to her although they had never spoken, stopped and the man dismounted.

The Blackfish was behind her and he played host as she hid in the shadows.  He immediately took hold of the two guards and told Ser Kevan to stay.  “Why do you want a parlay?” she asked.  “Why claim kinship after so many long years?”  Her blue eyes asked with a flash of hurt and sadness.

He turned to see her there against the wall.  “Lady Ilse,” he greeted, bowing his head. 

“Why?” she demanded.  “Your brother starved us regularly.  Your great niece cut Lalie’s hair.  She forced me to drink ink to see how black my tongue would get.  I look like her copy.  Do you know why I ran into Ser Edmure’s arms?  They threatened to whip me, and my last whipping had me in bed for nearly a fortnight!  Where were you if I am your kin?”

She was surprised when she felt two hands on her upper arms.  Edmure was with her. 

“Tell me, why is it now that I am suddenly acceptable?  Why am I kin now?”

“We need your men to safeguard the capital against Stannis Baratheon,” he told her truthfully.  “I don’t give a rat’s ass about you, Lady Ilse.”

Her eyes fell to the cobbled ground.  “Well, I shall advise Lord Hoster not to give them to you.  I do not believe he is inclined to give them to you anyway.”

Hoster came from across the courtyard.  “I am disinclined.  I will not even support my daughter’s cause for the King of the North, and he is my grandson.  There, our parlay is over.  You have insulted my gooddaughter.  You have thought to use my gooddaughter a great injury.  Edmure, I think we all know what will cheer her.”

The thought of her children passed through her mind, and Ilse smiled to herself before she looked at Edmure, who clearly was thinking of the same thing. 

“Is Cerzainya married?” she asked quickly before being led away.  “No one has mentioned it.”

“You think to ask that, Bastard?” he snarled at her.

It happened so quickly that Ilse barely knew what was happening.  Edmure ran around her, pulling a knife from his boot and, grabbing Ser Kevan , Edmure actually slit his throat.  The man gurgled, blood spurting from him.  He was dead within a few minutes.

Edmure looked down at the man in hatred; Ilse was in shock.

“The other two,” Hoster said.  He turned and went in the direction of the two bannermen.  Ilse knew that they would soon be dead.  She looked at Edmure.  Gazing into his eyes, she simply held out her hand and when he clasped it, she led him toward their room.  Making sure only their hands touched, she led him to the bath, she removed every piece of clothing that was touched by blood before going to look for replacements.  She was surprised when a wet hand came and took her arm.  She turned and saw Edmure’s hair was wet, showing that he had washed his face and hands and was completely naked.

“I love you,” he murmured, which was the only explanation she needed.  Pulling him close, she let him undo the laces of her dress, letting him unclothe her until they were standing before each other.  They took time to just touch each other, quietly, with exploring caresses.  “I adore you,” she whispered, for the first time, and then he was kissing her, long and slow. 

They never made it to the bed.  But afterward, he carried her there and they lay beneath the covers, her hands tracing his face. 

“What will happen to the bodies?”

“The men will look like they made camp far enough away from here and were killed in their sleep and then robbed.”

She nodded. 

“No one insults my wife in her own home, especially when you are yourself true born.”  He touched one of her ash brown braids.  “It’s so strange.  I hated Cerzainya so much, and she could be your twin, except for your eyes and hair.  And yet I find you so beautiful, so intelligent even though you can’t read or write,” he tweaked her nose.  “You’re so wonderful.  Did you know I saw you before we met on the beach?”

She paused and looked at him.  “How could you possibly?  I was in the keep by the time you were arrived.”

“I arrived early and in simpler clothing.  Do you not remember the lone rider?  No one came to aid him with his horse, but you looked up, in that red dress of yours and your braids, and smiled at me even though your hands were full, and you wished me a good day before going inside through a side door.”

Ilse gaped at him.  “I remember that.  That was you?”

He laughed happily and leaned in to kiss her.  “It was, my love.  I followed you to the private chambers before I had to retreat.  I found you quite by accident when I was trying to find out where you were from the architecture of the Rock from the outside.—I thought the Seven had blessed me when they led me to you and had cursed me with the potential marriage treaty.—And I found how strange it was that you and Cerzainya looked so alike.”

“No one knew the truth,” she admitted.  “It was—anathema.”

“No longer,” he swore.  “However, I did just murder your grandfather in cold blood.”

For some reason, she began to laugh hysterically.  Edmure plunged his hand into her hair, smiling, and pulled her into a kiss.

When the twins were just over two, Robb Stark had won the freedom for the North.  Renly Baratheon was dead.  Tywin Lannister had secured King’s Landing, but Stannis Baratheon was strong.  Sansa had sent her a raven about her marriage and how unhappy she was, but it was Joffrey’s letter that had her worried.  There was nothing she could do, however.   Something was wrong about that marriage, but neither would admit what it was in a raven, so Ilse couldn’t figure out what it was.

She invited the Queen to Riverrun, but she didn’t come.

Cerzainya did instead.  When she received the raven, she looked at it, a little confused by the elegant calligraphy but she saw that her former mistress was coming with her husband.

“Lady Cerzainya and Lord Ylford Lannister,” she told Edmure.  “From what house did he come from?”  Ilse hand over the raven.

They were sitting by the window, their children playing with blocks on the ground while their parents worked. 

“I believe he was one of Lord Frey’s older sons.  I thought she was to marry Ser Loras?”

“I thought he died with Lord Renly?” she asked in confusion.  “Am I wrong?”

“It was rumored that they were lovers…”

She looked at him in shock.  “Like Father.”

He nodded carefully.  Taking her hand, he kissed it.  “You are loved.  Our children are loved.”

Smiling, she looked down at Nestra and Perys.  “I should send a note and say that she is welcome as my kinswoman but that we are neutral in this conflict.”

“Can you write it alone?” he asked in concern.

She nodded.  “I’ll have you read it.”  She walked over to a desk and picked up a pen, carefully writing each letter.  She knew they were a bit too big, not quite elegant, but she’d only been writing for two years. 

Cerzainya came after the twins’ Namesday.  Ilse was wearing a blue gown and a green jewel her goodfather had given her on an anniversary.  Her cousin was in a litter, her husband and three guards beside her.  Ilse came down the stairs with her husband to welcome the future Warden of the West.

A man, who certainly was a bit gauky but not bad looking, helped Cerzainya out of her litter.  Cerzainya looked around the keep and then, spotting her cousin and former handmaiden, came up to her and waited. 

“I’m not going to curtsey, cousin.  Your own Uncle Kevan claimed me as his kin and granddaughter.”

“But you are base born.”

“I am true born,” she told her sweetly.  “I carried the name ‘Ever,’ due to the marriage of my parents.—Welcome, though, to my home.  You remember my husband, Ser Edmure Tully.”

“Lord Tully,” she greeted, a fake smile plastered onto her face, and she stepped forward as if to embrace or kiss his cheek but he placed a hand around Ilse’s waist. 

“Lady Cerzainya,” he greeted.  “It is wonderful to see a kinswoman of my wife again.  It always astonishes me how alike you look despite your hair and eyes.  I see you are not wearing your hair in the Westron style.  Tell me, do you ever switch styles?  I have never seen you in braids.”

Her lips thinned.  “I am not common,” she answered before she gestured to her husband.  “Lord Ylford.  I believe you may have met him, Ilse.  He was at the wedding of King Robb and Queen Roslin.”

“Indeed,” she replied.  “I was unable to dance as I had just given birth and spent most of the night with either the bride or her goodmother.—I just had a letter from the Queen, Lord Ylford.  She tells me that she is very well.”

“She told me this also in her latest raven,” he agreed.

“I’m so pleased she is with child and is safely at Winterfell.  I would have been worried for her if she was still with a moving army camp.”  She smiled at him and he nodded in agreement.

Ilse paused and Edmure took up the conversation.  “How long have you been married?  We received no notice despite the connection we have to both clans.”

“Six months,” Lord Ylford replied.  “I’m certain it was an oversight.”

“Of course,” Edmure said.  He looked at a girl with braids of blonde hair by the wall.  “Our servants will show you to your rooms.  Lady Cerzainya, you may recognize my wife’s handmaiden.  I ask you not to detain her as she has important business to run and looks after our children when we cannot be with them.”

She nodded her head though clearly she was angry.

It was an intimate dinner filled with the best catch from the river and Cerzainya, naturally, felt slighted.  Ilse, however, wanted to know how the marriage came about.  As she was sitting next to Lord Ylford, it wasn’t too difficult to pry.  “Father paid two thousand for the match,” he told her.  “No one would wed her, she’s rather mean spirited, though I suppose you know that, and now I am consort to the future Warden of the West.”

“Do you like your bride?” she asked.

“I could only touch her once and that was when I was drunk and it was our wedding night.”

“I’m glad I gave you two rooms then,” she laughed, eating more of her fish.  “I am sorry for you, though.  No one deserves that.”

Cerzainya’s voice then cut through.  “So, if we are to be cousins, are you going to aid in our war?”

“We have no war,” Edmure answered truthfully.  “We are loyal to whomever wears the crown, whether it be Joffrey, bastard or not, Stannis, the true Baratheon, or the Targaryen Queen across the sea.  We do not fight for any of them.”

“You have no taste for war,” she concluded.

“I did not have a taste for it, even when my nephew proclaimed himself King of the North.”

“You are a traitor,” she told him outright.

“So are you as I hear your mother may be the woman you were named after,” he replied crisply, “and that the King is not your cousin but your full sibling.”

Cerzainya sat, chewing, before she stood.  “Bed, I think.”  Her skirts rustled as she walked out of the hall.  Ylford quickly finished his wine and followed her.

“I don’t like being a Lanniser,” Ilse noted, taking a sip of wine.  She’d grown fond of the drink after she’d birthed her twins.  Also, she thought she might be carrying another Tully child.

Their guests left the next morning and were miserable with each other.  Anyone with eyes could see it.  Stannis seized the throne and the Lannisters were slaughtered, even Cerzainya at Casterly Rock, though her husband was spared.  It was years and two children later that Danerys came with her dragons and claimed back the Iron throne, marrying the now widowed Stannis to legitimize her reign and gain an heir, as neither had male issue.

Ilse and Edmure traveled to King’s Landing, to show their allegiance, bowing to each.

“You did not fight,” Danerys noted.  “Why?”

It was Edmure who answered.  “My sister Catelyn was married to Ned Stark and her son became King of the North.  My wife is the bastard granddaughter of Ser Kevan Lannister.  How should we fight with such relations?  We wanted peace in the riverlands to bring up our four children.  We did not wish for a repeat in history.”

“Children,” she said thoughtfully.  “When I was first married, I was to have a child, but he died within me.”  She paused.  “I can understand wanting peace and stability for children.  They are not here?”

“They are with my aging goodfather,” Ilse answered.  “He is too weak to make the journey, but he and my handmaid can look after them quite well between them.”

“Good,” Danerys claimed.  “I grant you Casterly Rock for your second eldest son.  Put a good man in charge of it and when your son is ready, he may take it up.  Your devotion to your children does you credit, Lord and Lady Tully.  I understand, my lady, that it was first said you were from House Ever.  Let him have that name and its sigil if it has one.  Go.  I find my husband and I have many more Lords and their lies to deal with.”

Ilse and Edmure moved away and when they were alone again, she breathed out in shock.  “Little Edmund,” she whispered, “Lord of Casterly Rock.”

“Not for a few years,” he argued.

“Not for a few years,” she agreed.

They looked at each other and then laughed for joy, before he stole a kiss, his eyes looking into hers.  “Do you want to see the water?” he asked.

“We can see it from our rooms,” she argued.

“We can see other things,” he responded.

“My, I think my laces feel a bit tight.”

He grabbed her around the waist and kissed her tenderly.  “I think I can fix that and other problems I might have with my clothing.”

“Perfect,” she murmured, kissing him teasingly before running up the stairs.

Edmure looked up after his sea maiden before following quickly after her.

The End.

Published by excentrykemuse

Fanfiction artist and self critic.

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