The Breoch Cycle, Part 2
Fandom: Game of Thrones
Pairing(s): Edmure Tully/OFC
Summary: Ilse is the handmaiden and close friend of her cousin, Cerzainya. At King’s Landing Edmure Tully mistakes her for her eligible mistress… and she finds herself falling in love despite herself.
Warnings: illegitimacy, false identity, virginity, lack of virginity, political machinations, the Lannisters
It was the Queen’s thirtieth birthday and Lady Cerzainya had wanted to know if her blue gown was comfortable to wear. As Ilse was almost exactly the same height and size, she had been placed into it and ordered to walk around the dark parts of the castle just to get a feel for the gown.
“Lady Cerzainya!” she heard called, but she continued until a light hand was pressed against her upper arm. Ilse turned and saw the handsome young face of a knight with deep blue eyes and red hair.
She immediately curtseyed, trying to remember she was not dressed like a handmaiden. “May I help you, ser?”
“Forgive me,” he began, looking at her as if he were slightly confused. “It must be the lighting, but you seem slightly different.”
Not knowing what to say, she just stood there.
Overcoming his misgivings, he asked, “May I have a place on your dance card?”
Ilse paused. She knew Cerzainya’s card was almost completely full if not full already. Looking apologetic, she murmured, “Forgive me, although I do not have it on me, I believe it is already full, good ser. If it is not, may I have a name for it?” She looked like a foolish forgetful girl that Ilse often was before adding, “I have met so many new people and I’m afraid you will not be the first familiar face whose name I have forgotten.”
“Ser Edmure Tully,” he supplied. “May I see you to your rooms?”
“That certainly isn’t necessary,” she lied. “I am to see Lord Tywin, and should really not keep him waiting.” She curtseyed. “Good day.”
Heading toward Lord Tywin’s solar, she took a side step into a servant’s staircase before making her way back to her mistress. “It is aired,” she told Cerzainya. “A Ser Edmure Tully wants a dance with you. He accidentally caught me unawares. Tall, red hair, blue eyes. He is quite handsome in my humble opinion.” She was being unlaced. “I don’t know how he mistook my hairstyle. It’s not southron at all.”
“I have dance number four,” Cerzainya murmured. “Lalie, send him a note that the dance is his. Ilse, change your hair into those braids you like so much and you will be unrecognizable.”
Everything was quick movement as Cerzainya was prepared for the night. As niece to the queen and the only female relative old enough to attend more than just the dinner as the Princess Myrcella was but five, Cerzainya was to be adored. She was the only daughter of Ser Jaime Lannister and the Heiress of Casterly Rock. She was placed in a gown of pink with an elaborate hairstyle with pink and green ribbons with her golden hair left down over her shoulders. Her smile could make men fall to their knees, but when the time came they barely brought a smile to Ser Edmure’s.
Ilse was watching from a perch on the second floor, enjoying ale and a bit of pie, when he appeared on the other half of the window. She jumped and swallowed a bit too much cider. He reached out to her and after she coughed, their eyes met.
“I thought there was some mischief,” he said, smiling. “Your Lady Cerzainya does have a twin with darker hair and bluer eyes.”
She nodded in respect. “Forgive me, Ser Edmure. I was meant to be neither seen nor heard, and you caught me unawares earlier this afternoon.”
He looked at her, smiling a half smile. “I am glad you were seen and heard. Who are you, mirror?”
“Ilse,” she responded, not wanting to admit she was a Hill. “I am my lady’s handmaiden. I was to loosen the dress for wearing.”
“And how do you come to be your lady’s servant when you look like her sister?”
“My mother is very beautiful and—he—said it should be so.” She looked down at her hands, checking her nails carefully.
Edmure paused. “It was better for a Lannister face to be where one could control it than outside the walls of Casterly Rock?” he asked carefully and she gave him the smallest of nods. He took her hands so that she looked at him with her piercing blue eyes. “Do you dance, Ilse?”
“Oh,” she began. “I’m not permitted, and I do not know the steps.”
“There are no one but servants here,” he suggested.
“Servants talk,” she murmured to him, leaning in. “Every lord and lady will know that we spoke by breakfast tomorrow.”
“Then come with me,” he whispered in her ear. “No one will hurt you. I only mean to keep you safe.”
He tugged at her hand and she followed him off to a different staircase until they were in the solar of what clearly belonged to a man.
“The bed is yours,” he declared. “I’m not letting Lord Tywin hide you before I get to fully talk to you, learn about you,” he ran a hand down the side of her face and, being bold, when he leaned in to kiss her, she kissed him lightly back, “love you,” he breathed.
They spent the night on the bed where he read the one book he’d brought which he thought would interest her; they were tales of the various Lords of Riverunn. He would say the voices, and she would laugh, and then he would kiss her in a way that would make her heart run even though she was only in her shift and he was in his britches and shirt.
Edmure woke up with the two of them twined around each other and he touched her braids lovingly, promising himself that he would buy her if he had to. There was a knock on the door early the next morning and he got up and closed the curtains to the bed. Opening the door, he found Catelyn, his sister.
“Tell me it’s not true.”
“Sister,” he greeted. “What’s not true?”
“That you absconded with the Queen’s niece’s handmaiden.”
“I think you’ll find that I might have absconded with the Queen’s sister. Or cousin. I’m not entirely certain.”
“What are you talking about, Edmure?”
“Jon Snow,” he responded. He should have expected her to hit him, but it was a bit of a shock. “I think I’m bleeding, Cat.”
She sat down in a chair. “I hate that boy.”
“I know,” he agreed. “It’s not his fault that he’s your husband’s base born son.”
Catelyn nodded her head. “What have you done with her? Lord Tywin will probably be here soon.”
“Over a handmaiden?” he asked in shock. “It’s not like he’s bringing her up along Lady Cerzainya.—What are the odds I can get to a Sept and they’ll marry us?”
“I would say it depends on how quickly you can get dressed and how easily you can get out of the keep.”
Tywin, though, had another report—of his base born daughter. “She left with Ser Edmure last night?” he checked with one of his knights.
“And you checked with Lady Cerzainya. She never came home.” His voice was dead but his eyes flashed green with anger.
The knight, wisely, said nothing.
Tywin cursed under his breath. Ilse may be nothing to him, but he had sworn to protect her in his small way, and he could not bear the thought of a knight making sport with her. He walked to Cerzainya’s room and entered. “She is gone,” he said to no one in particular.
His granddaughter, who was in a robe of silk, nodded. “They’re saying she’s with the Tully knight. I don’t know what’s happened. Both my handmaidens here are like sisters to me. Do bring her back, Grandfather.”
He nodded before having a knight take Lalie.
Then he was at Ser Edmure’s door, which slammed open and Lord Tywin, strangely, appeared with two armed guards much to the occupants’ surprise. Edmure and Catelyn immediately stood up as the Lord of Casterly Rock went to the bed and opened it up, finding only the book. “You read yourself to sleep, Ser Edmure?”
“Yes,” he answered, not as strongly as he would have liked.
“Or you were reading to a messenger who was specifically never taught to read for the purposes of confidentiality?” he snarled. “Bring in the girl!”
“I must protest, Lord Tywin,” Catelyn said, but a guard held her back.
Lalie, with her corn stalk hair and green eyes, was brought in and shown the bed.
“Well?” Lord Tywin asked. “You’re a handmaiden, meant never to be seen. You know Ilse. Imagine yourself to be hidden in this bed. Where would you go?”
She glanced at Ser Edmure and Lady Catelyn before swallowing. “Forgive me, Ilse,” she said loudly, “but if I were her I would roll under the bed. Fully dressed, of course. Ilse would never give away her modesty.”
Two guards approached and pulled a defiant looking Ilse from her hiding spot. Her braids were still in place and she was perfectly dressed as if she had just come from the feast. “My lords, ladies, and gentlemen,” she greeted, unable to curtsey as she was being held by the arms.
“Ilse,” Lord Tywin asked. “Did you give away your maidenhead?” The question held an importance to it that everyone could sense, and Tywin held Ilse’s gaze to the point of mania.
She looked at him, shocked. “I am your granddaughter’s handmaiden! I would never do anything to compromise my position.”
His green eyes looked into her bright blue. “You are as beautiful as your mother,” he commented. “Lady Ilse, I believe it is time that you see your father. I’m afraid that the keep is so packed that you must share a room with him or Lady Cerzainya. She is the heiress, you must understand, so it might be better if you share it with him.”
She looked at him, shocked. “My lord?”
“We are in the company of friends,” he said harshly. “Although I do not care for your father, you may address me as ‘Grandfather’, Ilse.” Her mind raced a she looked upon her actual father’s face.
“Grandfather,” she began carefully. “I’m afraid my trunk was lost.” Ilse looked at him carefully before glancing at one of the guards’ hands. She was instantly released.
“Your cousin will be more than happy to supply you with one or two dresses for the rest of the proceedings. I know this young handmaiden would view it as an honor to make you a dress.”
“How kind,” she said. “I fear I have not seen my—father—in a very long time.—However, if it pleases Ser Edmure, he was reading a book to me. I prefer it to revelries.”
Edmure and Catelyn had been looking at the proceedings with great confusion and wonder. Edmure moved forward. “Perhaps after our midday meal, you would care to walk in the garden and when we find an ideal spot, we may continue?” He smiled his half smile to her and she smiled back.
“You’re not just—?” she asked, her question only half formed.
He shook his head, and grasped her hand.
“Ser Edmure, I’d like a word after I settle in Lady Ilse Lannister,” Lord Tywin said, “I consider you honorbound.”
When he left, the two Tullys looked at one another. “I thought she was a servant.”
“She is a base born Lannister,” he told her. “I mistook her yesterday for Lady Cerzainya and had quite a shock when I danced with the girl I did not want to. Why do you think I took her—I thought she would be flogged or hidden despite her blood. The two are like sisters in looks.”
“And now they choose to recognize her when she has a noble suitor,” Cat murmured. “They want the name of your House added to theirs.”
“I don’t care,” he said. “If that is how I will get her, then so be it.”
The walk to another tower was interesting. Ilse paid attention to the turns and the stairs. She had always been good at finding her way around a keep. She had to be with the messages she carried. Everything was silent until they reached a door and Tywin entered, leaving her outside. There was the sound of shouting and, after about five minutes, Ilse was ushered in.
“She looks like Cerzainya,” was the first thing the man she knew to be the imp said.
“That’s because she is a Lannister,” Tywin said. He ushered the guards out. “You know it would kill your sister if she knows I was unfaithful to your mother’s memory. I kept her as Cerzainya’s handmaiden and secrezer. Ser Edmure Tully has fallen in love with the girl and a match is highly desirable. She needs a father.”
“She can’t read,” he stated. “You’re giving me a daughter who cannot read.” Tyrion looked at her. “She’s very pretty. Come, girl, if you’re to be my daughter. What is your name?”
“Tell me of your mother.”
“She was a Septa.—“
“Father!” Tyrion announced. “Not even I am as bad as that!”
“You never saw her mother. Her hair was a richer brown and those eyes. Just look at those eyes.”
“Yes,” he said, taking Ilse’s chin in his hands. “A man could die for eyes such as hers. A Septa from the Northern West. Why did she name you Ilse?”
“She was Ilsa. I was named for her.”
“What other things can you do?”
She stood up and took a piece of paper and parchment. Slowly she began to write symbols and the two men watched her it utter delight and horror. After half an hour the entire sheet was finished she gave it to them. “I cannot write as you can or read,” she told them, “but I can write in this code I made up as a girl of twelve. This dictates all that Lord Tywin did with my mother, so much as she told me. This, my lord, ruins your reputation.”
“And all anyone need do is crack it,” Tyrion said delightedly. “She is my daughter. Her mother and I fell in love and I recognized her. I’ve had Ilse raised in the North of Westeros and she has just arrived. Do have that granddaughter of yours send a gown or so.—You’ve lived a life of contemplation in a Sept which is why you do not dance or know the Houses. I’ll have it put about. Shae!” he called.
A woman of exotic beauty was there and she was being ordered to set up another bed. A dress was soon produced, the blue one from the day before and then Ilse was being hurried to her midday meal with the Lannisters.
“I hear you have a suitor, little she-lion,” the Queen greeted her after she curtseyed, “Ser Edmure Tully. It is said you had just arrived with your trunk and could not find your way to Lord Tyrion’s solar and he carried the trunk and escorted you. How terribly gallant of him. And to think there were these horribly false rumors about a handmaiden when they were really about a Frey.”
“Ser Edmure is certainly kind and handsome, my queen,” she answered, glancing at Cerzainya, who gave her a smile. They had always been good companions although they had very different personalities.
“Have you two met?”
“We have, Aunt,” Cerzainya said. “We’re calling each other ‘twins’ already. How strange, is it not, how alike we look?”
“It is uncanny,” Tyrion said. “Such, however, can happen between cousins.”
“Tell me, Cerzainya,” Ilse said, trying to suppress her natural humbleness. “Out of all the lords you danced with, who is your favorite?”
“I shouldn’t tell,” she blushed, which they both knew to be a false gesture. Cerzainya was the pinnacle of deception of lies. Her smiles were false, her laughs a pretext, her smile a seduction for her own purposes, but she did have her likes and dislikes and always showed her handmaidens her true self, a gift she never even bestowed upon her grandfather.
“Will you whisper it to me?” she asked, a familiar game they played when she didn’t want to say something around Lord Tywin. “I would whisper mine to you, but Father thought it best I live a life of contemplation, so I do not know the steps to dance.”
“A life of contemplation?” Ser Jaime ribbed. “What? Was her mother a saint?”
“She was religious,” Tyrion answered.
As they were leaving the table and Ilse was to go walk in the gardens with Ser Edmure, Cerzainya caught her. “Ser Loras, the Knight of Flowers,” she whispered.
“Truly?” she asked. “I shall have to find him and form an opinion of him.”
“Don’t tease. I’m sending you my green for tonight. I think it will look marvelous with your hair.”
“Oh, Cee, it looks better with yours. Perhaps the pale blue? I could be silly and make it my color so people can tell us apart? And think of our eyes.”
“Your hair is nearly brown, cousin. They can tell us apart. However, if you wish the pale blue for the party so people better remember your eyes, then the pale blue you shall have. Know that Lalie has a surprise for you that is a truly special gift.”
“Lalie always did have an impeccable sense of fashion. Lord Tyrion—Father—“ They shared a look—“has a handmaiden but I’m not certain if she sews. Then again, I can. I don’t know where I’m to live after this. Do you think I’ll come back to the Rock?”
Cerzainya leaned in close when Ser Edmure approached. “I think you’re going to the Riverlands.”
“Well, I’m not taking Shae,” she joked, turning and curtseying a little too low.
“My rooms,” Cerzainya sighed. “Before breakfast. I’m going to have to teach you how to curtsey and nod and the Seven knows what else.” She then curtseyed herself before leaving.
“I didn’t know I was so bad,” Ilse wondered as Edmure took her hand and kissed it.
“Lady Ilse. How well it sounds on you. And what an interesting gown. I had a dream that you wore it once.”
“Did you?” she teased. “How prophetic. Was I going to the gardens?”
“No,” he answered. “To see your grandfather.”
They turned toward the stairs, his hand still holding hers, and walked down them, the book still in his hands. “What did he say to you?”
“Ilse,” he murmured.
“Please,” she said, stopping. “A man I never met is now my father. I have a bed in his solar. My lady is my cousin and I am wearing her dresses and we are whispering together as if we were sisters. The Queen is my aunt and teasing me about you instead of hitting me with a broom. Tell me, good ser, please.”
“Well,” he said, starting their walk out into the garden where Ilse was also overwhelmed with so many scents, “in the presence of my older sister, he told me that he did not believe my actions were those of a knight, even if I believed you were just one of his granddaughter’s handmaidens, and that he considered me honorbound to woo and propose marriage to you. I told him I was ready to go to the Sept that very morning, and he told me he was pleased, but I should wait at least a week as young ladies prefer walks in the garden, poetry, and dancing.”
“I would have gone to the Sept with you as Ilse Hill.”
“You are Lady Ilse Lannister now,” he reminded her, “and if it is dancing his lordship requires, well, we can make up the steps.”
“Or perhaps Lady Cerzainya will teach me.”
There were several long minutes where she stopped to smell a flower, indulging in the moments she could now steal. “I wrote my father,” he told her. “How I fell in love with Lord Tyrion Lannister’s daughter. I told him how you liked secret places and running about so no one could find you and being read to long past dark. I also guessed that you were born in the Long Summer and had sixteen years.”
“Seventeen,” she replied, smiling. “You must have been born in the earlier winter.” She paused. “Forty-two.”
“So close,” she teased, handing him a flower of gold. “Shall we sit on the bench and continue the adventures of your homeland?”
When they sat, she took the book from him to his surprise she chose the next heading. Her words were stunted and she read like a girl of twelve picking up her first book for adults, but she read confidently and after the section ended she handed it back. “My secret,” she told him. “All those notes, they say the words just as you’re coming in.”
“You’re more clever than any handmaiden I know,” he told her.
“I’m not a handmaiden,” she whispered. “You must have been mistaken. First you believe me to be Lady Cerzainya, who was named for our beautiful aunt—then a handmaiden—and now you think I’m Lady Ilse. Perhaps I’ll be one of your Riverlanders next just to startle you. There will be no alliances.”
“There wouldn’t have been the second time,” he reminded her. “And the first I doubted I would have stood a chance.”
“True, a second son is needed,” she responded. “That reminds me, I need to meet a knight. May I trust your discretion? It needs to remain casual.”
“It depends on the knight.”
“Ser Loras Tyrell.”
He thought for a moment. “If I suddenly tell you to do something, do it without asking.”
Ilse nodded and went back to listening to Edmure’s calming voice. Then, it stopped. “Walk over to the flowers near the cliff, put both hands on the hedge, and look out longingly. Now,” he said, and she got up and quickly struck the pose. She thought it was all silliness until four moments later, a white rose was offered to her. She looked up and smiled, seeing a handsome knight with dark hair and even darker eyes. “Thank you, ser,” she said, curtseying, though not as deeply as usual.
“I apologize for disturbing you.”
“Not at all. I recently arrived and I was thinking how different King’s Landing is to the Sept that I’ve called home for so long.”
“You are a Septa?” he asked, clearly bewildered, most likely because of her gown.
She smiled and laughed. “No,” she answered. “I was merely given my education there. My mother was deeply religious and, upon my father’s request, the Sept took me in as a ward so that I might remember her through the love of the Seven. However, forgive me for speaking so much of myself. I am the Lady Ilse Lannister.”
“The Queen’s second niece!” he declared. “I heard you arrived just last night.” He bowed gallantly. “I am Ser Loras Tyrell.”
“You danced with my cousin,” she said as if she just realized, “Lady Cerzainya. I do not dance myself, so she was sharing her dance card with me. You must think us silly, but we are already devoted to each other.”
“Hardly,” he told her. “Although I am at the Capital, my sister Margaery and I love one another dearly.”
“I am glad,” Ilse replied. “The bond of kin should be the strongest, outside of marriage, of course, which is sanctified by the Seven.”
They smiled briefly at one another. She looked over his shoulder.
“Forgive me, I am keeping you from your companion.” She nodded to him. “May you have a wonderful afternoon and good cheer tonight.”
“Oh, of course,” Ser Loras said, gesturing the other man forward. “My friend, Lord Renly Baratheon. Renly, Lady Ilse Lannister.”
“Ah,” Renly said, “we are kin of a sort. May I dance with you this evening?”
“You may,” she answered with a laugh. “Only, I was never taught so you will have someone stepping on your toes. Claim me after the first three, whenever you care to unless you’ve forgotten or have changed your mind after watching my poor attempts, but I would be glad to stand up with you.” Speaking like Cerzainya was getting exhausting. Ilse realized she’d need to save a dance for Edmure and then possibly two of her relatives. How difficult! She curtseyed. “Now, I was to meet Ser Edmure to discuss a book, if you will excuse me, my lord, good ser. Enjoy your afternoon.”
She went back to where Edmure was sitting and, regaining her seat, sighed. “They’re lovers. How am I ever going to relate that information!”
Edmure looked at her, shocked. “How?”
“I know every proposal that has been sent for my hand, or Lalie’s, or the former handmaiden Charla’s, to Lord Tywin. You can tell when it’s going to happen. Love, lust, desire for wealth, are all a part of it. You can also see when it is rejected. Cerzainya favored me in some respects because I could always read her and others better than anyone. I knew which dress, I knew which book even though I could not read the cover, I knew how many candles, I knew when she’d want breakfast, if she wanted to spend the night in her room.
“Then read me,” he said to her, turning, his dark blue eyes looking at her.
She smiled, looking away. “You want to kiss me again, but you can’t because to the world I’m Lord Tyrion’s daughter. You want to place your hand above my clothes but between my legs like you did when you thought I was asleep. You like the way I puffed out air when you did that.” She blushed and looked away. “I heard you when you said you wanted to take me to the Sept less than a day after you thought I was Cerzainya. Why did you ask her for a dance, when it was me instead?”
“Father,” he answered. “He told me to be useful and gave me a list of names.”
“Well,” she told him. “I suppose you are being somewhat useful now. I suppose I have a dowry.”
“I am not here for your dowry,” he insisted. “I would have married you as—“
The name was hidden between them.
“Perhaps,” she murmured, “you will have what you want by the last day here. I might go with you to Riverunn instead of this Sept everyone tells me about.” She laughed a little and he kissed her hand, slow and aching of passion.
He escorted her back so she’d have enough time to change and Ilse was surprised to find a gray dress she had seen far too often with two thick pieces of material that formed a train. It was a dress she and Lalie had been working on for Cerzainya for the past two weeks.
Shae came up to her to help. “This is from Lalie. A light blue is here as well, but she said that this is all yours.”
“Then I shall wear it,” she declared as Shae unlaced her. “Are you and Father? I mean, I know you are. But at night?” Their eyes locked in the looking glass.”
“We have agreed only during the day when you are out,” she replied carefully in her Bravos accent. “Lord Tyrion has much respect for you.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I know I’m an inconvenience as I’m not his daughter.”
“He has decided you are, so you are.” The dress came over her head and went on the bed and Ilse was left in her small clothes. Then the gray came over her head and she smiled when she saw herself in it. It was perfectly fitted to her, which wasn’t a surprise given her size compared to Cerzainya’s. Parts of it were sheer, including most of the arms and part of the bodice to show wealth and to fend off the heat.
“Your hair,” Shae said. “Lalie wrote a note about how to twirl them into a figure with ribbons?”
“Yes,” she agreed. “If you can manage.”
“I have been practicing with a pink ribbon I found,” she said and for the next half hour, Ilse was in Shae’s hands and was pleased with the result. It was about this time that Tyrion came out of his room, fully dressed but with a tankard in his hand.
“You look beautiful, daughter. I hear you and Lord Edmure were in the gardens. I watched you for awhile. He is quite smitten.”
“Do you want to get rid of me so quickly?” she asked Tyrion, her true brother.
“No,” he said. “You are one of the more intriguing Lannisters. I might invite myself to your keep for a month. I’ll drive your servants to distraction. I could bring Shae. I could give Shae to you.”
Both women paused.
“Or not,” he said, taking a sip of his ale. “I thought I’d talk to Jaime about stealing away your cousin’s handmaiden. She has three others back at Casterly Rock, from what I understand. This one is merely the best, with another who has left as second.”
“You’re a Lannister. I’ll find someone else if this doesn’t work. Shae, for all of her multitude of talents, cannot make dresses.”
“If I marry Ser Edmure,” she whispered, “as he has suggested, perhaps he has or his father can get one—or Lady Catelyn.”
He looked at her. “Do you want to marry Ser Edmure?”
Ilse moved her chin toward Shae who curtseyed and left. “I—we were planning on going to the Sept when Lord Tywin barged into Ser Edmure’s chambers and happily discovered that I had not lost my maidenhead. Lady Catelyn Stark was already there.”
“So you’re waiting?”
“I’m playacting at being a high born lady and at being in a courtship. I don’t know what to do! I had to pretend to be a Lannister when meeting a knight—“
“Ser Loras Tyrell.”
She didn’t let any emotion show on her face, “because Cerzainya wanted to know what I thought about him.”
“You’re going to have to playact the rest of your life,” he told her. “You are a Lannister now. You will always be the imp’s daughter. You will always be the granddaughter of Lord Tywin Lannister of Casterly Rock, the cousin of Lady Cerzainya, his heiress, the niece of the Kingslayer and of the Queen of Westeros.—And you’re lucky,” he told her, grasping her chin as she was now seated and looking into his eyes. “Jaime wouldn’t love you because he already has a true born daughter. Father wouldn’t because you’re the daughter of an indiscretion. I will love you because I’ve never had anyone to truly love unconditionally who, while you have the power to hurt me, will hopefully be as true to me as I am to you. Don’t let me down, Ilse. I am the one person who will never forsake you.”
Tears were now clinging to her eyelashes and she hugged him, having to bend low. “I never had anyone and within twelve hours I have both Edmure and you.”
“And I’ll pay someone to hurt him if he ever touches a hair on your head without your consent.”
She laughed and wiped her eyes.
He looked at her solemnly. “We need Shae. She can do wondrous things with powders and charcoal from Essos.” He called her back in and she began to coo over her new mistress.
The night before she had been hiding on the second floor. Tonight she was at the royal table as a Lannister, sitting next to Cerzainya at the very end. First were the Princes and Princess, then Lord Tywin, then Ser Jaime and Lord Tyrion, then Lady Cerzainya, then her.
Ilse hadn’t expected so many men to want to dance with her even when it was clear she couldn’t dance. She danced first with her father, then Lord Tywin, then Edmure, then Ser Jaime, and then Ser Loras. “He has a lover,” she whispered to Cerzainya. “I don’t think he’s going to give him up.” She looked at her significantly.
When she was resting out a dance and Edmure was going to find her more ale as she didn’t like wine, Tyrion said, “You are a Lannister of Casterly Rock. Of course, they want to dance with you. Cerzainya is Heiress and they would have to leave their homes and she is, naturally, desirable—but you have a dowry and they can carry you off to their castles and if they are a second son, well… You could make their fortunes. Then again, with your cousin they get a keep and a fortune, but still.”
She laughed despite herself.
Tyrion allowed her to dance with Edmure three times, sometimes they would go against the music and just twirl in each other’s arms. When one called for him to lift her up, he always lowered her slowly so their noses would rub against each other and she would smile and perhaps laugh a little before she was hoisted back in the air.
Edmure walked her back, Tyrion behind them, and he said good night, only by running his knuckles down his cheek. “That one’s in love,” Tyrion said. “I recognize it.”
“Have you ever been in love, Father?” she asked as they entered their apartment.
“Once,” he told her. “With your ‘mother’.”
“I’m not. She was not a Septa. She was a common whore, but she was my wife. Tysha.” His eyes turned sad. “However, she has been reborn. Her name was Isla and she was a Septa, and she gave me a beautiful daughter.”
Ilse leaned down and kissed his head. “I’m sorry, Father,” she murmured before she began to take down her hair. Shae appeared and helped and she was soon ready for bed.
“Maybe I can marry someone with a male lover,” Cerzainya suggested. “I am female. We are two different genders.” They were practicing the curtsey and the nod, the simple steps of one dance to come next, Lalie laughing with them.
“Could you lie with a woman?” Ilse asked frankly.
“No,” she answered quickly.
“I think we’ve found the problem. Anyone else on your dance card?”
“Ser Hayley Dayne—“
“Isn’t he the only son? Ned Stark killed his brother and his sister Ashara died.”
“Yes, that’s why I didn’t consider it before.” She bit her lip. “Ser Loras is a better option apart from—the detractions.”
“You don’t have to choose now,” Ilse told her. “Unless Grandfather,” the word still felt like ash on her tongue, “is pressuring you. You are younger than I am.”
“It is an ideal time and place,” she murmured as some courtiers walked by them.
“Grandfather adores you. Tell him that you did not find anyone. Say you’re too young to feel what you ought and that he should perhaps come up with a list and then you can give your thoughts?” Ilse was grasping at straws; she knew it.
“How did you find Ser Edmure?”
She bit your lip. “In your dress, by accident. Then when he met you, he knew that you were not me. So he found me, nearly gave me a heart attack, and we kind of ran away from the feast. Then Grandfather took over and suddenly I was Lady Ilse Lannister and he was my official suitor. It was all quite startling. Apparently the match is much to be desired.”
Cerzainya looked out at the garden. “I will take either Lord Renly or Ser Loras. Ser Loras, if I can help it, though Lord Renly’s estate can go to Prince Tommen.” She sighed. “Watch the game begin.”
“I would not put out Ser Hayley Dayne,” Ilse mused. “I haven’t seen the knight. Introduce me.”
She learned the steps to three dances and made certain that she danced one with Edmure, smiling. “Do you like my pretty steps?” she asked as he smiled at her. He gripped her waist and spun her about as she laughed and he brought her down slowly, so close that if she only pushed herself forward, he could steal a kiss from her.
When the dance ended, Edmure made to step off the dance floor, her hand in his, when Cerzainya stopped them with a simpering smile. “Cousin,” she greeted. “I know how much you make a study of eyes given how different your eyes are from the rest of the Lannisters’s. May I present Ser Hayley Dayne? Ser Hayley, Lady Ilse Lannister and, I believe, Ser Edmure Tully. We’ve danced, I believe, but you find Ilse a prettier partner.”
He bowed his head toward her as Ilse curtseyed just as Cerzainya had taught. “Ser Hayley. I know how valiant a knight your brother was. I grieve with thee.”
Ser Hayley took her hand and kissed it. “Very few remember.”
“I am too young to know either him or your sister, although I know of her loveliness, but I have heard the stories. We all lost during that time, some more than others. I’m certain you do credit to your House.”
“I like to think so, Lady Ilse. May I claim the next dance?”
She looked toward the players and back to Cerzainya who signaled with her fan that Ilse did not know it.
“I lived with Septas, kind ser, so I do not believe I know it, but if you care for a stumbling partner, I would happily join the dance with you if Ser Edmure will release me from the glass of wine he promised to make me try and care for.”
“Another dance,” he promised. “I will convert you to the drink before the week is out.”
She laughed and was led away again, Ser Hayley surprising her. “Why did your lady cousin carefully arrange that?”
“Did she?” Ilse asked. “I wasn’t aware.”
“You are thicker than blood knights,” he answered as they both put their hands behind their backs and she copied the movements of the lady next to her. “I doubt there is little you don’t tell one another.”
“We are young ladies,” she answered, turning around him with a hop and a skip, catching Edmure’s gaze and smiling at him. “I’m certain you can discern our reason.”
“All of the court knows your grandfather desires you for Ser Edmure and neither of you will object.” He grasped her around the waist and swung her about, the two looking into each other’s eyes.
“Perhaps it is the other way around,” she suggested. “They say the man who killed your brother desired to marry your sister, but she killed herself after she bore him a son and before he could lead her to the sept. His father would have found such a match highly desirable when it was this man who originally desired it. If only the lady were willing, and perhaps she was before he murdered your brother.”
“You have a wicked tongue.”
“I suppose I inherited it from my father,” she told him as she curtseyed at the end of the dance.
“A pleasure, Lady Ilse. Do I have a chance with your sister-cousin?”
“Do you want one? Who will rule your House?”
“I have a brother who is two summers younger than I.—Juhn Dayne.”
“Purple roses,” she murmured as she left. “To match your eyes.”
She was once again with Edmure, sitting at a table and taking small sips of wine. “I cannot like this,” she declared. “It must be ale, Edmure.”
“Think of our wedding,” he murmured as he leaned toward her. “The better the wine, the more our guests will be predisposed to let us slip away without a bedding.”
“My family will come to Riverunn,” she guessed, “and then there will be your family. No other guests. We can control them,” she guessed.
“What do I want?” Edmure looked at her, asking his favorite question.
She leaned back and looked at him. “You want to kiss my forehead, which you cannot do until you walk me to my solar. You want to trace my lips with your fingers, which my father will not allow. And—“ she looked at him. “Did you get me a gift?”
Edmure laughed happily. “You will receive it tomorrow morning. Your father knows, so you need not worry.” His eyes shone a deep blue. “I’ve never said it although you know I want to lead you to the Sept. I love you, Ilse.”
She smiled as she tried not to cry. “I love you, Edmure Tully.”
“Such romantic effusions,” Tyrion remarked and they turned to see her father. “Off with you, daughter. I need to speak to your lord-love. Cerzainya probably cannot do without you. You were always one of her closest confidantes.”
Ilse stood and curtseyed before she left the two.
Tyrion waddled up to Edmure and sat at the bench. “Who is coming from your side?” he asked.
“Catelyn. Lord Stark has to return to Winterfell. Lord Baelish, my father’s ward, is coming as well. The two eldest children, Robb and Sansa, will be traveling down. Robb is only eleven and Sansa nine, but they have been deemed old enough.”
“Father,” Tyrion said, “Ser Jaime has been granted permission and Cerzainya of course. The prince is too young but my sister has determined she will come. She despises me but rather adores both of her nieces. A pity about Lord Stark. I’ll find a moment to speak to the man. This is my daughter we are speaking about. What of Lord and Lady Arryn?”
“I convinced them not to,” Edmure told him honestly. “Lysa is—peculiar.”
Ilse looked over and Edmure could not help but give her his half-smile. She went back to Cerzainya. “He cares for you,” she told her cousin. “Ser Hayley is willing to give up his birthright to his younger brother Juhn Dayne for your hand.”
“He said so?” she asked, showing her vulnerability in her eyes.
Nodding, Ilse looked at her with bright blue eyes. “I lie not. Do not write him off for Ser Loras too soon, cousin. This man seems to want you, not the Rock.”
Then there was wine tasting with Ser Edmure and strangely Tyrion let them walk out in the nearest gardens together. Shae had fetched her shawl, and she stayed close to Edmure, desiring the warmth of his body. “I’m sorry. I’m keeping you cold.”
“Not at all,” she replied automatically. “The flowers are beautiful this time of night.”
“I’d hope you’d say that,” he answered huskily before bending on one knee. “Ilse,” he began, “whoever you may be. I would ask you to run to the Sept with me but unfortunately we both have families who care and it is now expected of both of us to attend a feast in our honor.”
He waited and so did she until finally she asked, “You never asked me anything, Edmure.”
“Why,” he stated, “I thought I had. Run away with me, with all of your relatives in tow, to Riverunn.”
“Well, then,” she pondered. “I think you better kiss me as my answer is ‘yes’.”
He got up, smiled, and swung her around until slowly and carefully he kissed her.
She leaned into him and sighed. “We have an audience,” she deduced.
“Your father,” he told her. “And Cerzainya was saying she wished to come and see, then there’s Ser Jaime who decided to chaperone.”
Ilse hid herself away in his coat.
“Then there’s your grandfather, Lord Tywin …”
“Stop!” she insisted, before waving to the other side of the courtyard they were in before going inside, her hand grasped in Edmure’s. It was then she noticed it. She saw that she was wearing a ring, designed to look like water running with a small cut stone of blue. It was a ring he always wore on his right pinky finger. She looked up at Edmure and smiled, holding up her hand to show her approval.
There of course was an announcement, made by Queen Cersei, when both she and Edmure were dancing on the dance floor. She spoke of how the young love bloomed from the very first afternoon to this evening when Ser Edmure finally proposed to the happiness of the Lannister clan, especially Ilse as there had been some threat to go off alone to some Sept in the city.
She was with Lady Cerzainya for their early morning lessons when the flowers arrived from Ser Hayley. “Purple Roses!” she exclaimed. “Just like his beautiful eyes! How did he know?”
“That you liked roses or his eyes?” Ilse laughed, only to have Cerzainya throw a pillow at her.
When Lalie had put them in vases and placed back all the pillows around the room, Cerzainya sighed. “It’s much more fun that I thought, having a cousin. Easier too since I know you.”
“I find it a bit strange. My master is my grandfather, my mistress is my equal. A man whom I should bow to is my lover and my future husband,” she looked at the ring again and sighed. “However did he know to bring this or is he never without it?”
“Perhaps all knights do,” Cerzainya suggested, “just in case?”
It was later that afternoon when Edmure and Ilse were sitting in the garden. “I went out this morning,” he told her, “to a bookseller. I said I had a young niece who was having difficulty reading but liked stories of knights and he gave me this.” He pulled out a book that had a picture of a knight on a white steed and a maiden smiling up at him. “I don’t know if this will help,” he told her, “but it may.”
Ilse took it, smiling, and opened to the first page. “Marigold loved the flowers,” she read almost easily, smiling at him. “Oh, Edmure, what a lovely present. I feel like I never give you anything but trouble that the Lannisters cause.”
“On the contrary,” he told her. “You’ve made my father very happy with your name. You’ve let me dance with you and be jolly far into the morning hours.” He leaned in, “you’ve let me kiss you and touch you just that once in a way I can only touch you as a husband. You consented to running away with me before this madness started, and you’ve given me hope for a future with love and a family.”
“But I want to give you something tangible,” she pressed. “Perhaps father will know.” Ilse lightly kissed his nose, making him give his half-smile and drew away.
In the end, she was taken to a forge and she talked to a young man who looked strangely like the king. “I need a ring for a man’s thumb,” she told him, “with this jewel.” She passed a ruby her father had given to her. “Can you forge in gold?”
“Yes,” he told her.
“Good. Tomorrow?” she asked.
The boy held out his right hand. “This size?”
“A little thicker. Barely,” she told him. “This is a love token,” Ilse told him. “You come recommended by the Hand of the King. Please do this well for me. I will reward you handsomely.”
She left with her guard who Tyrion had sent with her for her protection. Stopping at a flower stall, she saw her favorite flower. She smelled them and was surprised to sense a presence next to her. “Ser Jaime!” she said in surprise.
“I’m ‘Uncle Jaime’ despite whatever this game Father is playing and whichever Lannister is truly your father.” He tossed a coin at the man. “You and my daughter adore each other. That’s all that matters to me. A large bouquet of the flowers were given to him and he gave them to her guard. “I wish to offer my congratulations.”
“You know I was only recognized when he was going to run off with me.”
“I heard the like,” he admitted. “Father wanted the Riverlands. It’s a fine alliance. It’s finer than my daughter may make. Currently, she adores Ser Hayley Dayne and the flowers he sent her. I don’t suppose you told him what to send?”
“I hinted,” she mentioned. “Her previous choice has a lover that suggests a predilection—“
“You mean Ser Loras,” he took it. “We all know, of course, but Lord Renly is my goodbrother’s kin.”
They walked down the busy street. “I did not know it was common knowledge.”
“How did you know?”
She smirked. “I read people well. I can tell that you have a lover and you hate sharing her with her husband. However, you treasure Cerzainya more than anyone, even her.” Looking at Ser Jaime who was trying not to look astonished, she added, “Your daughter prized me for such a talent.”
“I understand well,” he answered. “Tyrion must adore you.”
“He is, in many ways, the best of fathers.” She smiled. “In others, we are both still trying to navigate our relationship. He cannot understand how my mother was a Septa and yet I cannot read.” Ilse smiled at him sadly.
“At least you are adored by your family. We are all coming to your wedding. Father has forbidden us for calling out for a bedding, so that leaves the Tullys.” They laughed together.
When they reached the garden, Ilse saw Edmure waiting for her, his hands pressed on the hedge, and she waved to him.
“Ah, lovers,” Jaime murmured and she kissed his cheek before she ran to Edmure and he picked her up and spun her before kissing her forehead.
“Put my flowers in my room,” she demanded. “Shae will know how to deal with them.”
“My present hasn’t arrived?”
“No,” she was a little perplexed.
“Let’s see then,” he told her.
“We can’t,” she told him. “It’s the day. I promised Father he could have the room every day as he cannot have it at night for his romantic pursuits.”
“You promised,” he reiterated gently, “and you sent a guard in there.”
“He’ll knock,” she reasoned. “I never promised about servants. And I really need this one to go in. I can’t carry flowers with me all day.” She shrugged. Her hair fell in ringlets around her face in an old Westron style which wasn’t seen in the Capital. Changing the subject, she asked, “What do you think of Ser Hayley Dayne? He asked me how to impress Cee and I told him what flowers to send her.”
“Severely honest,” he told her. “He will always tell you what he thinks.”
“That will be interesting for Cee,” she admitted. “It might be what she needs.”
When she left Edmure for Cerzainya, she learnt more steps and listened to a poem Ser Hayley had written for her. “How clever,” she determined. “I like how he chose alliteration instead of rhyming. It reminds me of the time before the Targaryens, to the culture of the Seven Kingdoms before they ruled. How proficient and talented. It’s a great compliment. What dance have you given him?”
“Three. With a provision of eight and eleven if I like him well enough.”
Ilse looked at Lalie and the handmaiden raised her eyebrow.
“A pity I can’t think of a reason for him to come to the wedding,” she sighed. It was then she noticed a girl embroidering in the corner on an ash pink dress she hadn’t seen. “Cee, do you have a new handmaiden and didn’t tell me? Why is she in the dark? That can’t be good for her eyes.”
Cerzainya laughed. “Two minutes. You were right, Lalie.” She ushered the girl forward. “Ilse, your handmaiden, Aerica, a gift from Ser Edmure. She got lost this morning trying to find you to give you your breakfast and we found her wandering about ten. We thought we’d send her back with you.”
Ilse blinked. “I had no idea this is what Ser Edmure meant. Aerica, how lovely to meet you. Are you from King’s Landing? Your hair is quite dark.”
“I’m from the South,” she admitted. “I came to King’s Landing two years ago with my mistress, but she died three weeks ago.”
“How sad,” Ilse sympathized. “I think I’m an easy mistress. So far I only have required food, dressing and undressing. I suppose when I get to Riverunn I will require conversation. When I’m with Lady Cerzainya I’ll bring you along. You know that during the day you may not disturb my father, Lord Tyrion?”
“Yes, I did by accident.”
“That is his one rule,” Ilse told her. “Shae will show you around while we’re here. I don’t know if she’s to go North with us.” She smiled. Turning back to Cee after gesturing to Aerica that she could return to her stitching, she asked, “Do you like him at all?”
“He is stern.”
“Dance, find out,” Ilse decided. “I’ve heard from many songs that apart from jousting, it is one way to find one’s heart.”
“Ser Edmure has your heart.”
“He stole it,” she argued. “He literally grabbed my hand and dragged me away from my perch where I was watching the feast. Then he declared to his sister the next day that we were going to a Sept. Granted, I wanted to go, but it was a very peculiar proposal.”
That night, she snuck out of her solar in her nightgown and her lavish robe. At first she didn’t see Ser Edmure until he caught her by the waist on the stairs and kissed her deeply, his hand running luxuriously down her braids. “Do you want to do this?” he asked.
“I come from the sea,” she murmured. “Of course I want to do this—of course I want to share this with you. I don’t want chaperones. We will know we have done nothing wrong.”
“Just by kissing you and holding you I have done something wrong,” he confessed, kissing her slowly again. “If your mother could see us, she would find us wicked and pray to the Seven.”
“She’s not here,” Isle murmured. “She let Lord Tywin take me when I was an infant. I was a handmaiden by the time I was six to Cerzainya who was three.”
“No more,” he promised. “I was going to buy you if they wouldn’t let you go. I didn’t care if you would bankrupt the Riverlands. I knew you had to be my wife.” He picked her up bridal style, causing her to giggle in his shoulder.
When they reached Blackwater Bay, she took off her robe and started to walk into the sea. When he took off his cloak, a hand pressed onto his shoulder. “You may watch her,” Ser Jaime said. “Riverunn has many rivers where you can carry her into the rough waves. You may even go in on your wedding night. But not now. My niece must be above reproach.”
“Edmure!” she called.
“I have a chaperone!” he called back. “Swim, my darling. You are safe!”
She shaded her eyes and saw the two figures and a third, waddling, coming up to the sand. Quickly diving into the waves, she didn’t look back.
“Ah, Jaime, much faster than I am, thank you. I never thought I’d have this much trouble with a girl who spent her years in contemplation in a Sept.”
“Do not play me, brother. We both know that’s not what happened.”
“That’s what I was told,” Tyrion said with a laugh. “My daughter’s education was not left to my discretion. Perhaps Father thought I would bring her to a whorehouse, as if I would be so callous with my own flesh and blood.—Ilse swims quite confidently.”
Edmure looked out, entranced by the glimpses of a foot or ash brown hair turned darker by water.
“I would have her handmaiden sleep with her,” Ser Jaime suggested. “I have Cerzainya’s lead maid sleep with her. While not always protecting nocturnal wanderings, at least there is a chaperone.”
“We did nothing improper,” Edmure said through clenched teeth.
“Being out at night, even while chaperoned, is improper,” Tyrion said. “I may not be the best role model, but I know how a young lady should conduct herself.—Ah, she’s coming in. It’s much colder here than in Westron.”
Jaime stood up with her robe and she instantly put it on. “Come,” he said. “I’ll see you to your solar while your father berates your intended.”
“Hush now,” he said. “You’re in love. I was young once and in love. Now I have a beautiful girl a little younger than you. And you shall have children when it is right.”
She just wore the robe to bed, her uncle sitting with her until Tyrion arrived. Her dreams were strange, a combination of blue flowers and waves and dancing with scarves in the water. She woke up breathing heavily to see Aerica lay a tray next to her, with bread, fruit, and honey.
“Good morning,” Ilse greeted before dropping back onto the bed.
“I hope I did not wake you, my lady.”
“No, I was having a strange dream,” she shared. “I needed to wake up.” She retied her robe and sat up, sitting at the table, hoping Tyrion would join her, although he didn’t all the while she ate.
She spent her morning at the window, reading the book that Edmure had given her. When Tyrion finally entered, she hid the book and he looked at her oddly. “Why does it look like you were reading?”
“I can’t read,” she lied.
Aerica had already left but Shae had come in with Tyrion’s breakfast. “The problem with you handmaidens is that you are trained to lie for your mistresses, or masters. How am I ever supposed to know when you’re lying, daughter?”
“Perhaps you need to learn to know me better?” she suggested. “I do not know you well except for your love of wine and women.”
“I know your desire for Ser Edmure—“ She looked up “—yes, child, I know you don’t love him, though he loves you a great deal. When you were a handmaiden he was an escape. Now he is that, but it a completely different way. You care for him, you lust after his body although you’re not allowed to touch it.”
“Now who’s reading characters, Father?”
“What did he do to make you desire him so?” he asked, sampling a bit of cheese.
She looked at Shae, who curtseyed and left.
“He kissed me,” she lied. “He made me want him.”
“Even I know that is a lie,” he told her. “However, I shan’t press. If you want to tell a silly story about maidens and knights beneath a weeping tree, then by all means, tell it to others. As your father, I’ll believe in the fantasy if you want me to, while knowing it is a façade.” His eyes widened dramatically. “I hope, though, you will trust me with it. I have known a great many women. I have given pleasure to many whores, which I know frightens your maiden sensibilities. I know there are ways of making a maiden agree to leave a favorable situation and it’s not just because of a title or the future title of Lord of one of the Seven Kingdoms. I’m a man with deficiencies. I should know.”
“Father,” she chided. “If what you say is true, shouldn’t it remain between me and my future husband?”
“I should know,” he argued. “You are my precious daughter and I would not want him to do anything untoward to you.”
When she didn’t answer, he sighed. “I’ll ask him then.”
“Don’t,” she asked. “We’re to be married. I’m untouched. The only reason I’m your Lannister daughter is because Lord Tywin wanted the alliance and didn’t want his bastard daughter to be directly associated with him.”
“I still find his actions hard to believe,” he mused. “Did Ser Edmure buy you that book?”
Her face flamed. “I learned a little,” she admitted, “at the Rock. This one is for children.”
She took it up and held it out. Tyrion came over and looked at it. “You are progressing nicely, I see. I shall go to the booksellers and get you a few more, unless your knight in shining armor asks me specifically to leave this wooing to him. This cannot be the reason you want him. A kiss and a book bring only so much. The tourney is tomorrow so it cannot be that either.” His mismatched eyes looked at her. “You shared a bed I hear.”
“We slept,” she said boldly.
“You slept,” he told her, “then awoke when Catelyn Stark arrived, no doubt. Then like a good handmaiden you got dressed and hid under the bed. Ser Edmure was sick with love and wanted to take you to the Sept. I know all this from the guards. He would have remained awake, trying to figure out how to lure you away from your lady and the only life you would have known. He would have known you well enough to know you did not—and still do not—wish to be a great lady, so it had to be something else. Something you could experience in your subconscious and perhaps associate with him in your subconscious.” He took a breath and looked at her as if for the first time. “He touched you somewhere and you weren’t really sleeping because you found it strange to have a man in your bed. You were used to sleeping with other handmaidens.”
She gulped in fear.
“They don’t call me clever for nothing, daughter,” Tyrion said. “A breast, perhaps? Did he draw down your shift and kiss it until you felt pleasure? Or did he run a hand up your legs?”
Ilse looked out the window.
“Close, but not quite. He touched you between your legs—but through your shift. He gave you pleasure. Of course you want him, Ilse. That’s only natural. You have never felt such joy and pain. Most men don’t care about their wives or lovers to give them such a feeling, but he loved you so much that he gave it to you in your sleep and you couldn’t quite comprehend what was done only that it was wonderful and you want more, which is only natural. It was a promise for your future life. I applaud your knight, though I must have words with him.”
“Please, Tyrion—Brother—“ she begged.
“We’ll have none of that,” he told her. “I have taken an oath that you are my daughter although I was thirteen. I will simply lay down the law. You need not worry. He will touch you like that again once you are wed. You need only wait a little less than a month.”
There was a knock on the door and, since the maids were gone, Ilse opened up to see a handmaiden carrying an array of ribbons, thick and thin, of various colors. She curtseyed, handed over the strange bouquet, and then left. There was a small card and Ilse read it. “From—Ed—Tully,” she read, handing Tyrion the card. “Is that right? Ser Edmure Tully?”
“He’s asking to wear your favor tomorrow and has provided you with many ribbons to match whatever dress you will wear. Very romantic,” he said sarcastically.
“I’m wearing the light blue,” she said happily, choosing a pale purple ribbon. “This will go fine on my wrist. What if someone asks for it first?”
Tyrion laughed into his cup of wine. “You claim a previous engagement, daughter. In fact, I’ll do it for you.”
Cerzainya was wearing the light pink and had green threaded through her hair. “I hope Ser Hayley asks me first,” she murmured as the two ‘cousins’ sat beside one another. “I should so like to give it to him.”
“I heard Uncle Jaime always asks the Queen,” Ilse murmured. “It will be wonderful to watch the two of them. She must have such bearing. If only we could have seen her sooner so we could emulate her.”
Giving a smile of smugness meant for the masses, Cerzainya looked at her cousin. “I’ve been practicing all morning.” But her practicing didn’t give her the shock when Ser Jaime rode up to her. “Daughter,” he said. “I would bear your favor gratefully and with a happy heart.”
“Father,” she said in shock, glancing at Ilse, who gave her a smile. Cerzainya stood and took the ribbon from her hair and tied it to her father’s lance. “Forgive me, but I was expecting you to ask my dear aunt, the Queen.”
“She knows that she is second in my heart,” he teased. “Thank you, milady.”
Curtseying formally, Cerzainya and Ilse watched Ser Jaime go toward the lists. They watched with horror and glee as the knights ran at each other, a few even dying. Then Ser Edmure was next and he came to Ilse.
“Let me guess,” she said, standing before he could even ask. “Our last plan was thwarted so you wish for a favor now we have met again.”
He gave her that half-smile she adored. “How well you know me, Lady Ilse. I thought I would not receive another one of your smiles until your father gave me your hand in a Sept on our wedding day.”
“Well,” she told him, unstringing the purple and lace ribbon, “you seem to be rewarded early, handsome knight.” She tied it off with a bow before giving the elaborate curtsey and sitting again.
“Now everyone will be talking about you,” Cerzainya whispered into her ear.
“Let them talk, Cee,” she whispered back. “He is my intended after all.”
Edmure did not win at the end of the day, but at the dancing that night, he wore her favor around his forearm, and danced with her as much as he could. “I love you,” he whispered as he handed her off to another partner, and she blushed.
“I see you favor Ser Hayley still,” Ilse mentioned to Cerzainya as they were in a litter on their way to the last day of jousting. Both knights were not of the final eight. Ser Jaime, though, was and he claimed it was his daughter’s token.
“He asked if he might come to the wedding. I told him to apply to Father.” She bit her lip in true indecision. “Was that wrong?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Ilse replied. “You great people with your traditions. There is only so much I can playact from watching you and hearing stories.—I think there might be a declaration of intentions if he does go. Don’t you think?”
“You might be right. Grandfather hasn’t spoken on the matter.”
The Mountain won the day and the cousins were clapping, the Queen smiling at them before taking them to a private tea with her own children, Joffrey barely nine and the two others even younger. “And how should you like to be married, Ilse?” she asked kindly. “Did they teach you when you were at the Sept?”
She shook her head. “No, I know nothing. I’m not quite certain Father will be the best source of information.”
“Certainly not, little she-lion,” she said, running her hand over her Westron braids. “We’ll have a talk, you and I. How would you like that? Ser Edmure seems all kindness and I shall speak of the kindness of early marriage days and the more enjoyable forms of love that can come after.”
Ilse’s eyes widened.
“And you, my little lioness,” she turned to Cerzainya, “how much you look like your cousin and like me. I shall do the same with you when the time comes. I’ll see that Father has you brought to the Capital for a week before your wedding or I will steal away early. Ilse will be able to come, too, and give her wisdom.” She paused. “I remember when I was your age. I was to marry Rhaegar Targaryen, who was extremely handsome. I remember an aunt taking me aside. It is always best when it is a kind and affectionate relative. I love you, Cerzainya, for your dear father and you, Ilse, because I see myself in your every gesture. It’s truly haunting, but you are a Lannister despite your coloring. A pity Tyrion is your father, but it is clear you inherited little if nothing from him.”
“Thank you,” Cerzainya whispered as Ilse murmured, “My thanks.”
The melee was interesting. Edmure was not competing so he held Ilse as much as he could. She was against the picket fence, and his arms were on either side of her, their faces so close and yet so far away. At one point, she realized he was looking at her instead of at the fighting. Their foreheads met and she closed her eyes at the closeness before someone was thrown against the fence and he grabbed her, pulling her back.
“It’s fine,” she told him, as she looked down at her dress. “I’m fine.”
“Everyone is watching the fight,” he murmured.
“Now?” she asked and he nodded.
Taking her hand, he led her through the people and they found a small Sept where they found a Septum willing to say the common prayers for two intended, one raised in a Sept even, in a ceremony where the girl had no true father as she had not been recognized until later in life, and a knight who needed no one to stand for him. Ilse Hill Lannister became Lady Ilse Tully and Edmure found a good inn where they could hide and have their wedding night.
“It’s a bit rough,” he apologized as they made it up the back stairs. “At least we somewhat have our anonymity.”
She took courage and moved forward, kissing him desperately. He pulled her toward him and began to pull pins from her hair, dropping them to the floor until her braids were free. Next came her dress, but she pushed off his jacket off and pulled at his tunic first.
“I have nothing but my dress and small clothes,” she explained.
“We mustn’t leave Lady Tully uncomfortable,” he half-smiled, taking off his breaches so he was wearing just a scrap of cloth.
She grimaced and let her dress be pulled over her head before she got into the bed, not exactly certain what was to happen.
“No one’s spoken to you,” he realized.
“The Queen promised to earlier today, but we thought we had more time.—Will you, again?”
“I’ll make it better,” he promised, climbing into the bed and crawling on top of her until he slid down her body and—her hands grabbed at the blankets and she tried not to scream at the pleasure. She puffed out air and bit her lip so much at it that it almost bled and then, there was a rush and she buried her head into the pillow as she breathed out harshly, barely catching the air. He came up to her and kissed her, tasting her lip as she tasted his tongue, and immediately her hands clasped the sides of his face.
Tyrion was right. She wanted him dearly and for this very reason.
“Darling,” she murmured, smiling at him, only to have that smile returned.
Then she was in his arms, and he in hers, and she wasn’t certain why they were sitting, but it was wondrous as they looked into each other’s eyes and he kissed her and then her shoulder before—right then—there—again—there.
He went to get them soup and cheese, and then he was holding her again until, finally, when the cock crowed, they put back on their clothes and walked hand in hand to the keep, knowing that the Lannisters would be waiting for them.
Cat was, of course, the first to find out. “You married the Lannister girl,” she dead panned when she arrived with a late breakfast and saw Ilse sitting in a window seat, writing something down in her coded language. “You’re supposed to marry her at Riverunn.”
“We were impatient,” Ilse answered, surprising the siblings as neither thought she was listening. “We already had to put off our wedding once.—There. Hopefully Father can make that out.” She gave the paper to Edmure who stared at it.
“Well, I certainly cannot, but Tyrion Lannister is known for his mental prowess as well as his lack of height.—Where’s my name?”
She pointed out two short words near the beginning.
“I won’t ask,” he decided, holding her by the waist and kissing her free hand. “Send it. Hopefully your clothes and your book and ribbons will arrive with Aerica. Then again, we leave for Riverunn tomorrow.” They were planning on leaving the day after the festivities so the Queen could rest and everyone might be able to prepare to leave.
No one was quite certain if Tyrion could make out the text. He did, however, arrive with Aerica and a small chest of Ilse’s possessions. “I hope you will not mind your father as a guest. I’d like to see that my daughter is well taken care of now that you are—“ he looked at the letter “—mahryed. Father will be livid, though you’ll be happy to know I did not report your absence last night, daughter, though I determined your mischief.”
Lord Tywin called for her alone but Edmure came with her. “You won’t want this said in front of him,” he warned.
“Say it,” she determined instead.
“I should have left you to rot with your mother.” He threw a bag of gold at her. “I deemed you worth that amount when your mother wasn’t even worth a gold dragon. She was just a pretty face, even though she was a Septa. You would have been worse than dead if you had been born a boy.”
Ilse looked at the coins on the ground. “She’s dead, I presume.”
“Drowned,” he told her. “By my guards.”
She nodded and glanced at Edmure. “Does your father expect?”
“Ilse, no,” Edmure said, grabbing her arm, but she merely held up her hand and sank to the floor, picking up each stray golden dragon. She hadn’t even realized Edmure had sunk beside her and was picking up coins that had gone farther astray until they were placed in the bag that was just beside her just as she was putting one coin in. He took the hand and kissed it, giving her his half smile so that she knew that all would be well with the world.
When Edmure finally offered his hand for Ilse to stand, the bag of gold in his hand, Tywin spoke. “We will not be going with you. Lady Cerzainya shall not see you. Your Aunt will be told of your marriage once you have left. As former Hand of the King and as Robert Baratheon’s goodfather and as your true father, Ilse, I tell you to leave within the hour.”
Strangely, it took little for them to leave. Ilse’s dresses could be packed in saddlebags along with her ribbons and books and Ilse and Aerica could ride up behind other members of the Tully party. Tyrion was, of course, coming, though Ilse didn’t see any sign of Shae.
Making camp as a wife and not as a handmaiden was strange. When before she was in charge of making the tent comfortable, now she would walk in and find the task already complete. She would only have to take off her husband’s borrowed cloak and gloves, and sit and drink a little wine before she left for the campfire. She knew as the future lady of the keep, she would have to be popular with the men. They were her people now. She was more than just a handmaiden.
When many withdrew from camp, Edmure would take her hand and sometimes they would walk until he gently pushed her against a tree, or they would go back to their tent and he would read to her until he could not stop laughing because of everywhere she kissed him on his face and neck. Tyrion called it ‘young love’.
Ilse reminded him that at least he was calling it “love” now.
When they finally reached Riverunn, Lord Hoster Tully was the first to greet them. Going up to Aerica, he immediately declared, “So this is the wench my son couldn’t wait to be married to. The Queen was to be our guest!”
Tyrion coughed. “My daughter has fairer hair and bluer eyes,” he told him, nodding at Edmure who had just ridden in with Ilse behind him.
Hoster jolted and just stared at her. “Child. Come here,” he told her and he took her hand as soon as she had been taken off her horse. “Your mother was a traveling Septa, was she not?”
“Yes,” she answered quietly. “Did she come through here?”
“She was from here,” he told her. “A riverlander. She had our brown hair but those blue eyes, so very blue, I could never forget them from the fair Ilsa. Son, no wonder you chased this Lannister. Men three times her age chased this gal’s mother when she was a Septa, though it seems a Lannister was the one who caught her. How did she die?”
“Drowned,” Ilse murmured. “It was an accident and so I was sent away to a Sept to a life of contemplation.”
She shared a look with Tyrion and he bowed to her for her superior knowledge.
Later that night, when Ilse was writing out one of her strange messages, Edmure came from behind her, kissing her neck. “Have you ever been one for a contemplative life?” he asked, his hand running up to her other shoulder, making her squirm.
“Not quite,” she responded, snapping, hoping to ensnare his lip. “I’m meant to keep secrets.”
“And what kind of secrets,” he asked, unlacing her nightshift. “Do you keep?”
She set down her pen and looked at him. “Boy or girl?” she asked, holding out a dragon.
“Darling,” he murmured as he clasped her hand. “Are you?”
“I keep secrets,” she told him again, putting down the dragon and rushing to the bed, Edmure shortly there after her.