Return to the Breoch Cycle, or Variations of an Original Female Lannister
Title: Dancing & the Old Gods
Fandom: Game of Thrones
Pairing(s): Edmure Tully/Ilse Lannister (OFC Lannister)
Secondary Pairing(s): Robb Stark/Ilse, Loras Tyrell/Ilse
Word Count: 6.2k
Summary: Ilse is a recognized Lannister and her great uncle Tywin is eager to find the best match for her … and her family. The only problem is that she cannot love where it was not meant to be, and when she does find love, the Old Gods of the North whom she has known since she was a small girl whisper that he’s meant for another.
Warning(s): original female character, predestination/fate, stealing away your nephew’s girlfriend, Lannisters (though only by raven)
Everyone told Ilse that there would be a party that night. Some relative was coming and there was sure to be ale and sweet pies and dancing and music. Ilse was only fifteen summer fields and had been fostered at Winterfell since her grandfather, Ser Kevan Lannister, had taken her from her father’s home and had brought her there almost six years earlier.
Everyone spoke of her strange Westron ways, of her pale hair which was in fact dark for the south, and her eyes that were bright and more piercing than the Tully blue eyes most of the Stark children had.
However, Ilse loved to dance. So she put on a Southron dress that her grandfather had sent her on her last Namesday and convinced her handmaiden to put her ash brown hair into two braids. She barely sat down except to have ale before she was on the dance floor. Robb, naturally, danced with her. She’d heard Lady Stark trying to convince her husband that she and Robb would make a good match. Then there was Theon and even Jon dared to take a step or two with her. Ilse was about to dance with a bannerman when a man with Tully coloring came up to her. “I do not believe you are one of my nieces.”
“I was unaware I had any uncles. Well, the kingslanger is my grandfather’s nephew, but that’s as close as it gets. I believe I am his first cousin once removed.” She smiled at him. “I’ve never met the knight, however, and I doubt I ever will.”
He looked at her in shock.
“It’s the hair,” she decided. “My mother is from North of Lannisport. They have darker hair there. It’s all in the eyes, however,” she teased. “Now that you know I am not your niece, how may I be of assistance, because if it were just a general statement—“
“Dance with me, although this dance is half over.”
A happy smile crossed her face and she took his waiting hand and let his other come around her waist as they completed the complicated steps. Without even asking, they moved into a Volta, where he was lifting her up, again and again, and then twirling her away from him before pulling her back so that their faces were turned toward one another.
“Well,” she said after that. “I certainly hope you don’t dance like that with your nieces.” He was leading her from the dance floor and offering her a glass of wine.
“Pie!” she ordered Theon who had managed to find a complete piece.
He looked at her in annoyance.
She sighed. “Your father attempted to ravage and rape my great-uncle’s port. You owe me, Theon Greyjoy.”
“I was not personally responsible.”
“Yes, well, the pie sides with me on this occasion. I haven’t eaten and I know you have eaten more than twice that.”
Her partner looked at Theon. “I believe the rules of chivalry clearly give the lady the pie.”
“I shan’t dance with you for the rest of the evening even if you’re without a partner,” he told her as he gave it to her.
“Duly noted,” she told him. “Thank you. I promise to tell Jon something distracting before he goes into the practice ring with you.”
“I can beat Jon any day in a fight. Tell something to Robb.”
She looked at him blankly. “He takes them as romantic advances. The time I told him I was terribly upset he visited a whorehouse on his Namesday, which should upset anyone that a lady has that knowledge, he took it as a victory that I was distressed. I have no idea what to say to him to rattle him.”
Ilse began to eat the pie happily and took sips of her wine. She looked at her dance partner. “What would knock you off your game?”
He looked uncomfortable. “Name the whore and suggest that she’s too unclean for you to ever touch Robb after it.”
Her eyebrows rose before she turned to Theon. “I’ll make enquiries,” he promised. “Sometimes I feel lucky no one is trying to arrange an alliance between us.”
“I’m a throwaway. I’ve yet to figure out why I’m here,” she lied quite easily, looking at her dance partner. “Why are you here? Theon and I are wards. He’s here as a political prisoner and I’m here because—well, it’s anyone’s guess. I thought Cerzainya and I were getting on well.”
He looked at her blankly.
“Great-uncle Tywin’s heiress, the daughter of Ser Jaime Lannister before he was inducted into the Kingsguard.”
“I’m here to visit my sister,” he answered. “I thought it was common knowledge.”
Theon laughed. “You just paid attention to the words ‘feast’ and ‘dancing,’ didn’t you, Ilse?”
“Well, Sansa does tend to go on for awhile,” she defended. Turning back to her partner, she asked, “Would you be so kind, after seeing how grossly we behave when alone together, telling us your identity?”
“Lord Edmure Tully.”
She looked between Edmure and Theon. “Lady Stark’s brother,” she finally stated.
“Ah. I thank you for this wonderful party. I do so love to dance and, as you can see, I often forget to eat and have to blackmail others to get food.” She took another bite of her pie, perhaps to make a statement. “You can also have your peace to put your mind to rest. You are not related to either of us or to Jon, who probably slipped out after I danced with him.”
Theon leaned forward. “You do realize that everyone has been staring at you since you danced the Volta.”
“Can’t see why,” Ilse commented. “I’m the granddaughter of a second son. Lord Edmure is most likely married. Is your wife here?” she asked kindly.
“I am unmarried,” he answered.
“Ah,” she answered. “I’m still insignificant,” but by now Edmure had taken one of her hands.
“Don’t think about it. Would you care to dance?”
“Yes,” she answered with a smile. “You haven’t stepped on my toes once.”
“I shall endeavor to continue that favorable trend.” Then she was in his arms again, going in a circle with other couples around the dance floor, then making a complicated footwork inward, passing the forward couple, doubling back. She was so enjoying herself that she could not help but laugh and realized that Edmure was laughing with her.
When the final dance came, Ilse pushed her hair back, although it had not lost its style, knowing that Edmure was to choose his dance companion. However, she hadn’t expected him to come up to her and ask her with his eyes.
“Me?” she whispered.
She came up to him and murmured. “I’m like Jon.”
When he didn’t seem to understand, she continued. “I was born ‘Ilse Hill’ until my grandfather, ‘Ser Kevan Lannister’ recognized me and made me ‘Ilse Lannister’ and I lived with my cousin Cerzainya Lannister before I was fostered here. You should choose some other noble lady.” She gave him a small smile and turned, until she felt a strong masculine hand slip into hers although she was turned away.
Turning, she saw it was him with a smile on his face and she took a step toward him, getting into position. They clapped their hands theatrically together before she stepped to the left, forward, two steps to the right, clap, clap, until her hand was in his while she was behind him and he twirled her until they were facing each other and clapping side to side, looking at each other once again. At the end there was silence and he picked up her hand and kissed it to not only her own surprise, but to the surprise of the rest of the hall.
He led her to a bench and called for more wine and pie, and the two just sat and ate and drank wine, laughing over silly stories of how they had been taught to dance, Edmure relating it to stepwork in fighting.
“I don’t believe you,” she declared when their cups were nearing empty.
“You don’t, m’lady?” he answered carefully. “Perhaps I should prove it to you.”
She looked down at her cup and smiled. “You cannot,” she answered. “No one would let me into training armor in a gown, and I’m afraid that is all I wear, Lord Edmure.”
His blue eyes flashed. “Perhaps we should watch two combatants together and I can illustrate my point. If they are advanced enough and worthy…”
“Which they won’t be,” she added, “if you see yourself losing.”
“I agree to the worthy lady’s point,” he laughed, their heads coming close to each other. “But really, Lady Ilse, watch with me and I will try to make my point.”
“This assumes we are awake and someone is fighting tomorrow.” She looked about. “Robb is still awake. He’s your nephew, am I correct?”
“My eldest,” he agreed. “You can see the natural family resemblance.”
She paused and looked at her supposed suitor for a moment. “Yes, Arya is the first to truly resemble Lord Stark. I resemble my mother, so I couldn’t really comment.”
“Except for Jon,” Edmure carefully said.
She gave him a soft smile. “Yes, Jon. My Jon. We’ve always understood one another as we were each born bastards. Well, my father was, so it’s close enough. Obscurity and the curse of a name can be rather taxing.”
“Why did Ser Kevan—“
Robb suddenly was beside them. “Mother would have my head if I let you stay up any longer, Ilse. The sun has fully risen. I promised I would look out for you.”
Ilse looked out the window. “Of course. Thank you, Robb. I didn’t mean to keep you from your bed.” She smiled at him and carefully took one last sip before standing up looking between uncle and nephew and curtseyed. “My lords.”
Edmure immediately stood and offered to walk her to her room and she smiled.
“Should I send a maid?” Robb offered.
“No need,” Ilse said. “I don’t want anyone awakened on my behalf. I’ve fought fiercer battles than those with hairstyles. I’ll see you tomorrow, Robb.”
The walk between Ilse and Edmure was quiet but his index finger reached out to catch her hand, playing with her fingers until their fingers were laced between them. “You make me feel wicked,” she admitted when they made it to her room. “Do you know your way enough to know where you go from here?”
“No,” he admitted. “But I know how to get to a place where I’ll be able to make my way. Think nothing of it, Ilse. Sleep well, and I hope to see you when you are refreshed, whenever that is.”
“I think we can guess it might be after the midday meal,” she murmured, looking at him, suddenly a little shy. “Edmure?”
“I’m sorry,” he suddenly said, backing away but not disengaging his fingers. “I wanted to kiss you, but you are true born and I should not think such things upon just meeting you.”
“Thank you,” she answered. “How long are you here for?”
“A fortnight,” he answered. “Do you eat with the family?”
She shook her head. “No. Jon, Theon, and I eat together. It’s why we’re such good friends. One always feels separation keenly.”
Edmure nodded and then came up and kissed the crown of her head. “Sleep well, my lady.”
He watched her as she opened her door and stood there as it closed. Ilse was unaware that he stood there for several minutes as she just leaned there against it, not being able to fully breathe after what had just occurred.
When she awoke, the sun was setting, but she put on a gray gown and quickly brushed her hair, running down the stairs and out the castle to see Jon and Theon fighting. It was fairly evenly matched, with a slight favor to Theon.
Robb approached her and she looked over at him. “We missed you at luncheon.”
“You miss me every day at luncheon,” she argued. “You will also miss me at dinner.”
“Do you want Riverrun instead of Winterfell?” he asked outright, surprising Ilse, though he was staring at her. His hands were holding his practice sword perpendicular to the ground. He was the embodiment of strength.
“I had not thought to have either,” she stated clearly. “However, if I were to choose one, I would assume my great-uncle, the Lord of Casterly Rock, would make the decision for me, though I would hope he would consult me on his decision as it would influence the rest of my life.”
“That’s it then: Lord Tywin decides all.”
“I would assume that Lord Stark decides your marriage, does he not? Why are you even asking? Is there something particular you wish to ask Lord Tywin? If so, please tell me so I can form an opinion and I could write him as well, Robb.”
He looked away from her and flexed his jaw as if he were grinding his teeth.
“Good morrow, Lady Ilse.”
She turned, smiling, to see Edmure. “Good morrow. I remembered that strange wager we had on dancing and sword fighting, my lord.”
He nodded. “I seem, however, to be interrupting something.”
“Not at all, uncle,” Robb answered with a smile. “We were discussing being a member of a dynasty even if from an indirect line. Many responsibilities come with it. Ah—I believe I face Jon.”
Theon came out and smiled at them.
“Do you know?” Ilse asked him.
“I’ve asked someone who can find out,” he told her. “We just have to wait.”
“It’s that redheaded—woman—isn’t it? The one you think I don’t know about because I’m a woman even if I’m sitting right there when you tell Robb and Jon?” She sighed and turned to Edmure. “Onto happier subjects. Robb favors brute strength. Jon is the more—graceful of the two.”
“You do have an eye for this,” he complimented as he moved closer to her so that he could point out a move to her. When they started out he pointed out directed foot movements even pulling her closely at one moment and angling her head a little later on. “Tell me I was fabricating the idea,” he whispered in her ear, once the practice fight was over.
“Such a thought never crossed my mind,” she admitted, breathing in deeply and looking at him. They were so close, she could almost taste his breath but he took a step back and she did the same after a moment.
Robb, she saw, noticed them, as did Catelyn Stark, who had come into the yard.
Nervous, Ilse stated, “You shall not convince me to learn the noble art, however, Lord Edmure. I’m afraid it’s all needlepoint for me.”
He leaned toward her. “Your gown is unadorned.”
“You can see how much practice I require, then.”
Theon was just coming up and laughed at her statement. “She’s religious,” he stated. “She may have come from the West, but she believes in the Old Gods. You’re lucky she’s here and not in the Godswood. We all know her likely haunts so we can go elsewhere in the Godswood to pray. I wouldn’t be surprised that if the Old Gods had Septa, that she would become one. She reads religious tracts. If she weren’t a Lannister, no one would want to marry her.”
“You smell, Theon,” was her answer.
She looked down at her sleeves, creasing them carefully when Edmure put a finger beneath her chin and raised her face. “The love of the Gods, whether old or new, is not something to belittle. It is truly humbling. Will you show me your Godswood?”
“No one,” she whispered, “no one understands. They cannot hear the trees crying or hear them whispering to each other.”
“Then show me the beauty that can be seen.”
“Tomorrow if Lady Stark can spare you.” She inclined her head. “However, that may not be the case. Watch out: remember, I was not always a Lannister and I am not your niece.”
“I am glad you’re not my niece.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“I shouldn’t have such thoughts as I’m having about a niece.”
“Sansa likes needlepoint,” she warned. “Arya does not.”
Lady Stark came up to them and greeted her brother. “I heard you got lost around the castle around the midday meal. I was going to show you the family table for dinner.”
“Thank you,” he replied. “I’m a little confused. Littlefinger always sat with us. Why do your two wards not sit with you?”
Theon, Jon, and Robb were now with them and Lady Stark looked uncomfortable. “Well,” she began. “They keep Jon Snow company. Theon is also here as a political prisoner and Ilse’s origins are similar to Jon Snow’s.”
“However, Theon Greyjoy is true born and a ward—“
“Technically,” Lady Stark agreed.
“And Ilse Lannister is recognized by the Lord of her House, Tywin Lannister, as a true born daughter of his house.”
“Yes,” she agreed.
“I apologize, Jon Snow, I don’t have a similar argument for you.” He nodded at the young man. “So why are these two at least separate? They were sent to you, for whatever reason, to be fostered.”
“Brother, we both know why you want this.”
“Then I shall sit with them if they shall not sit with us.”
Lady Stark came in close. “We’re in negotiations for her to marry Robb,” she hushed, though not quietly enough.
Edmure glanced at the woman who was barely of marriagable age. He walked with his sister away from the crowd and looked at her. “For how long?” he asked, not as a brother but as a rival suitor.
She looked at him in just such a way. “Two years. Lord Tywin has only answered that at present the Lady seems disinclined, however he has never corresponded with her to our knowledge. She rarely writes to Lady Cerzainya and usually only writes to her Baratheon cousin, the crown prince.”
“From what I know of her background, she cannot be meant for him.”
“No, she cannot. It is peculiar for her to be meant for either my son or my brother.” She flashed him blue eyes. “Do not cross me in this. My son petitioned both myself and my husband for her and after much consideration, we agreed.”
“Do not make me give false promises,” Edmure answered, turning away to the raven’s perch, where he would be sure to find parchment and a raven to send Lord Tywin.
“You did join us,” Jon Snow murmured when Edmure took a seat beside Theon Greyjoy and across from Ilse Lannister.
“I had every reason to. I extended my invitation to my family, but I am afraid Lady Stark will not allow them to join us.” He smiled at Ilse.
“You do wrong to your family. Go: eat with them. Know your family. If my aunt visited me, I would wish for her to sit with me and not Robb Stark because Myrcella fancied him.”
“Then you acknowledge what is between us?” he asked carefully.
“Will you go if I do?” she responded, ignoring her friends.
“I will abide by your wishes, if you recognize my suit for your hand, Lady Ilse Lannister.”
She tilted her head. “You’ve asked Lord Tywin. You know Robb Stark has been unsuccessful.”
He leaned forward and murmured. “I’m convinced your cousin Joffrey asks for your opinion.”
“I have no comment on my correspondence with my cousins,” she answered back. “However, I recognize your suit gladly, as long as you promise to dance with me once more before you leave Winterfell. Now, go to your family. I have my two greatest chums here.”
Edmure picked up her hand and carefully kissed it before standing and going to sit beside his youngest nephews.
Theon cleared his throat. “You’re falling in love.”
“She’s already in love,” Jon argued.
“I really couldn’t say. I’ve never been in love before. I can say, however, that Theon is not in love with Roz. Is she your source for that information you want me to use against Lord Robb?”
“Gizzy. Blonde haired like straw. It seems she’s like you in every other way.”
“He,” she checked.
“He calls her Ilse.”
Taking a long sip of her drink, she tried not to choke on the very thought. “I know what to do.” When she finished her meal, she did not linger but instead wrote a long letter to Cerzainya. Along with writing about poetry, she wrote about a young knight in the snow who slept with loose women using her name and his uncle, whose conversation she enjoyed and whom she believed was handsome.
She hid the letter and, two hours before breakfast, she snuck to the raven’s perch to send it to Cerzainya. Robb Stark, however, was there. “I was right,” he said. “You are sending secret messages.”
“It’s not secret,” she told him, choosing a raven. “It’s to Cerzainya. We are guessing who Joffrey might marry and various poems about knights that might offer hints.” She sent off the raven and turned back to Robb. “Why are you waiting for me?”
“I know you favor my uncle,” he told her. “It’s obvious in the way you dance, how you look at each other, the way he showed you something about fighting. It’s in everything you do. He came to visit us and it’s only when you send him away that he does just that.”
“I suggest you ask your uncle,” she responded, looking into his blue eyes. “I’m the ward of your father.”
He stared at her. “I am just as strong. My eyes are just as blue. My hair is just as red although it curls.” He walked toward her and she backed up, making him stop. “Am I too young?”
“Robb, please, do not. If you wish to marry, petition your father and Lord Tywin.”
“I’ve done both.”
“Then there is nothing I can do.” She went down to the stairs, not looking back.
She hadn’t forgotten, but she hadn’t expected Edmure to still want to go to the Godswood. She was in a simple blue dress and a gray cloak and he kissed her hand before he picked her up and set her in her saddle. When they reached the Godswood, they slipped from their saddles and tied them to tree branches. Ilse held out her hand for Edmure’s and she led him in, whispering for him to close his eyes. “Do you hear it?” she asked after ten minutes. “The ice singing? The trees weeping?”
He shook his head.
“The birds at least?”
“There are no birds.”
“Exactly.” She touched his face with her hand and he opened his eyes to see her bright blue ones. Ilse smiled at him and he returned the smile, but she turned, picking up her dress with her free hand and running forward.
They laughed as they picked their way around roots until they were suddenly in front of a hart tree. Ilse sat down in front of it, clearly praying when she took back her hand. Edmure sat beside her, looking between her and the weeping tree and was surprised when she didn’t move for over an hour later.
Her eyelashes flashed and she looked around her, clearly surprised that Edmure was there. “You didn’t leave?”
“Why would I leave you if there was no reason to?”
“Oh,” she stated, getting up and sitting next to him. “Everyone always does.”
He looked her in the face and dared to push her hair behind her ear. “I’m not everyone.”
“It’s only the Lannister name that makes me acceptable,” she suddenly said, bitterly. “I’ve heard Robb say it to Theon when they didn’t think I was nearby.”
“I’d marry you tomorrow if you were a Hill. This is more difficult. I had to ask your great-uncle for permission.”
“Your father wouldn’t allow you to marry a Hill.”
“My father is dead. And the law of the Riverlands is no one can compel a marriage, which implies that one can marry anyone based off of love—“
“You do not know me well enough to—“
He pulled her close enough to her and kissed her lingeringly on the forehead. “Tell me I do not love now, my lady. A blackguard would have stolen a kiss, a man who felt less would kiss your hand even in private—You’re adored.”
“The Lannisters do not marry without love,” she informed him. “Aunt Cersei married without it, but—there’s a story, of course.”
“One not for Tully ears, I suspect.”
Her bright blue eyes laughed. “One not for Tully ears,” she agreed.
“And you,” he asked. “Why were you taken away and brought to Casterly Rock and then sent here?”
“Father,” she began, “was unnatural.” Taking a deep breath, she looked away. “Grandfather Kevan learnt of it and that he had a granddaughter and he decided that I was important to the family honor and even a bastard Lannister should not be subjected to Father’s unnaturalness. So, I was taken from Lannisport and brought up with Cerzainya—and then they realized it.”
She looked at him. “I’m her exact copy. We are twins in looks. My hair is darker and her eyes green, but apart from that we are twins. We are both Lannister beauties. Cerzainya can marry only second sons as she is to be Warden of the West, but I can be used as the Lannister bride for my generation—but we only marry for love. So I was sent here to see if I might find it. If I don’t within the next se’en month I will be sent to be fostered in Highgarden. Uncle Tywin will give me a new wardrobe and away I will go.”
“That is why my nephew’s claims have been denied.”
She bit her lip and nodded.
“Why were the Riverlands never considered?” he questioned.
“Your sisters were much older and married. I would have no companion. For that reason, I will never be sent to the Eyrie either though I’m certain your nephew is excellent company.” She smiled at him teasingly.
“I wouldn’t know. It’s said that Lysa has poisoned his mind, but I haven’t seen it for myself.” He shrugged, looking about him. “I could never give you a Godswood or a hart tree.”
“No,” she agreed. “You could never give me that.”
She got up and went to a bleeding face and kissed it above to the face reverently. “You are too far South.—Your sister never comes.”
“I can well imagine.”
They passed into silence where she just listened to whatever he could not hear and he just watched her. “They like you,” she finally said. “Your heart is not completely turned against them like most not from the North.”
“I thank the Godswood, then.”
“They know. They know much that we would be surprised at.”
“Do they know how much I care for you?” he asked boldly.
“Yes. They have told me what will happen. Uncle Tywin will want the Riverlands.”
He came up to her and carefully wrapped an arm around her, her back pressed against his front. His head he gently placed against her hair, his mouth almost to the top of her ear. “And what does my lady want?”
“I want to be proved wrong,” she murmured. “I have often considered myself too young for love.”
“No knights for you. I should warn you I was Ser Edmure Tully before—“
Something in her face changed and she stepped out of his grasp.
“The trees,” was all she said, as she picked up the skirts and began to leave. She did not speak a word when he lifted her in her saddle and did not comment when she only offered a curtsey before she went up to the castle.
She took a new sheet of paper and wrote in strong language. Send me south. I have new information. I need to leave now, Uncle.
Ilse stayed locked away with her tracts, though she could be found on occasion with Jon and Theon. Jon quietly asked what had happened, and she only said that the trees told her the future, and it was one she did not care for.
The order came by Raven two days before Lord Edmure Tully was set to leave. Ilse had frustrated him. She had become reflective, quiet, drawn into herself. She would speak when spoken to, but would never offer any more conversation. She rarely smiled.
“Ah, Ilse,” Lord Stark said in the hall where they were all eating. “Your Great-Uncle Tywin wishes you to join the convoy south and will send Lannister guards to meet you in the Riverlands. It seems you are to leave us.”
Robb instantly looked at her in shock.
“Your cousin Lady Cerzainya may have news of a marriage soon, as well.”
“You knew,” Theon accused. “You’ve yet to use the information I have on Robb, and you’re leaving us.”
“I will write,” she promised. “What would I do without you and Jon?”
It was when she was packing that Edmure found her. “Why do you go to Highgarden so many months before you had planned?”
“I saw your wife,” she answered. “You will love her,” she told him. “She gives you a son.”
He looked at her startled. “I want you for my wife.”
“She’s young yet,” she responded, as if he hadn’t spoken, “and you love her almost immediately although she is a Frey. Her name is Roslin. Secure her, Lord Edmure. You will love her more than most men could ever love a woman. You will love her more than you could ever love me.”
He blocked her movement. “I love you.”
She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “Only for a little while,” she promised. “Can’t you see I am breaking my heart for your happiness?—Let me pass. I am packing only my nicest gowns as I am to go in a litter, but—“
Then he kissed her and it felt wrong—as it was all she had ever wanted—His hands came around her waist, but she quickly turned her head and walked out of his embrace. “Just leave, please.”
Neither Edmure nor Ilse spoke more than cursory pleasantries to each other on the trip. The Lannister party was waiting for them as promised and an entire wardrobe and a new handmaiden named Lalie were waiting for Ilse. Her hair was placed in braids every day and then put in some elaborate style. It took her nearly a month and a half to reach Highgarden and she was pleased by her reception.
Lord Willas, despite his injury, lifted her out of the litter, and smiled at her. “Welcome to Highgarden, Lady Ilse. I understand you are to finish your fostering here.”
“So I have been told, good ser.”
Introductions were made and then she was left to her room, but she soon found herself in the garden, admiring the roses. “They are beautiful,” Lord Willas said, coming up to her with the help of his cane.
“They’re so different from anything at Winterfell,” she admitted. “The heat must help, of course, as well as the moisture in the air.”
“You are quite correct,” he answered, indicating a bench. “We are famous for our roses.”
“I heard your brother, Ser Loras, is called the Knight of Flowers.”
“That is true,” Willas admitted. “I never had so pretty an epithet.”
“Your grandmother is the Queen of Thorns,” she noted. “Your sister has no title, but you could be called the Lord of Roses and your future wife the Lady of Roses. What a pretty title to give her as a wedding present.”
He looked at her for several long moments. “And what would you like for a wedding present?”
She smiled at him, knowing what he expected her to say. “A godswood,” she confessed. “I became very religious in my youth. I’m known for losing myself among the trees and praying before a hart tree for several hours.”
“You do not worship the seven, unlike the West?”
“Alas, no,” she confessed. “I suppose I should learn how. Whom should I ask to teach me?”
“We have a Septum,” Willas told her. “I will introduce you on the morrow. Now, would you like to prepare for dinner?”
She blinked at him. “I am to eat at your table?”
Looking at her confused, he told her, “You’re a Lady of House Lannister and our ward.”
“Forgive me. The Starks had Jon Snow, myself, and Theon Greyjoy sit separately.”
“That would never stand here. You and Greyjoy were true born heirs and Jon was a nobly though base born member of the House.” He took her hand. “Grandmother can be quite—difficult and Margerey can be vain, but you are welcome here.”
She bowed her head and nodded. “I suppose I better have a bath,” she stated. “I understand it will be rose scented.”
But she could not forget Edmure. For months she sent pleasantries to her family, speaking of the kindness she had found, but how much she missed the rivers, although she had never seen them. She treasured that one kiss, although it was the only one that she had been given.
On her Namesday she wandered away from the celebrations, long after they were over, and into a garden that certainly belonged to Highgarden but took a full two hours to reach.
“A rose for your thoughts,” a familiar voice said, and Ilse turned around and saw Edmure standing there, holding a yellow rose by its stem.
She smiled at him sadly. “A thorn will pierce your skin, Lord Edmure,” she said, coming toward him. “I did not know you were to come to Highgarden.”
“You have not answered my question.”
She looked about and leaned in. “I was thinking the heat was stifling and how I could never pray to the Seven.”
“The day after we met,” he confessed, “when I learned you prayed to the Old Gods, I sent a raven back to Riverrun and had a godswood planted. I even started negotiations to buy a hart tree, if such can be done. I don’t know if it could survive a replanting, but—“
“I doubt your Frey bride will appreciate it.”
“No matter what you say, I shall never marry a Frey, named Roslin or otherwise.”
Flushed with anger, she approached him. “The gods have spoken. You shall take a maid of Frey House named Roslin and love her the first night of your marriage and conceive a son—“
“And what about the second night of my marriage? You speak nothing of that!”
“I do not know the will of the gods!”
“You just claimed you did!”
A new voice cut in. “My, Lady Ilse, it appears you have an unexpected guest for your Namesday.” The dark hair of Lady Margery shifted in the light. “Please do introduce us.”
“He was just leaving to go back North.”
He looked at her in loving admiration, but with a sternness in his eye. “I’ve traveled a month and a half, Ilse. I’m not going back now. I also don’t think I trust your old gods. Whom do they say you will marry? What of your friend?”
“She’s marrying Lord Renly Baratheon and then Joffrey. I’ve already been in contact with my cousin. He’s half enchanted already.”
Margery looked surprised.
“I swear on this moment, with my heart beating in my breast, that I will take no wife but you, Ilse Lannister—“ Edmure said desperately, and tears began to fall from her eyes.
“Why would you say such a thing, my lord?”
“Because I love you. You were initially meant for my nephew, which I still find mildly horrifying, but my heart beats only for you. I have Lord Tywin’s written consent. We can be married in the Sept tomorrow, if your hosts would allow us such privilege.”
She clasped her hands together and lowered her head in thought. “I do not wish to defy the old gods.”
“You defied them the moment you took my hand in the dance,” he told her. “I was lost to their plans at that moment—the only way to have avoided it was for you either to have remained in your father’s house of for you not to have been fostered at Winterfell.”
Margery came up to the two lovers.
“Perhaps Lady Ilse needs rest to think on the matter, my lord. Do you require shelter for the night?”
“Yes. My men are in the town where I was planning to stay—“
“Think nothing of it. I am Lady Margery of Highgarden.”
He took her offered hand and kissed it. “Lord Edmure of Riverrun.” Taking Ilse’s elbow to walk her back to the house, he eventually picked her up and carried her when he realized how tired she had become.
“I love you,” he whispered when he set her down on her bed, Lady Margery watching from the hall.
“Tomorrow,” she told him.
“Tomorrow,” he agreed.