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Afraid

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'Family. Duty. Honor.' Those three simple words rang in his mind over and over again.

He heard those words many times. After all it was his House words. He thought he understood what it meant. It was not merely an idealistic code of conduct - it was what it meant to be a Tully. House Tully does not pay its own debts like House Lannister for it rarely owed. Nay, it lent. It opened its doors to its scared commonfolk to protect them. Nor was House Tully full of fury. It usually did not initiate violence although it defended itself if threatened. House Tully was like the river which watered their crops, provided them with trout and yet rose to protect them and wash away their enemies.

Cat's boy was family and his King, and now it was his duty to marry Lady Jeyne due to that boy's transgressions. He disagreed with his sister regarding where the blame lays. The poor Westerling lady was a small thing, timid and scared, and Cat's boy was a force to be reckoned with, such magnetic personality as well as physically imposing. Like most Northerners, he was tall and strong. Not many ladies, especially not a lady as shy as Lady Jeyne, would be able to deny him of what he wants, what men want.

And he had to laugh as he himself was no better in that he barely protested the marriage, a mummer's farce to replace the Red Wolf with the Floppy Trout, even before his uncle spoke with him, asking him to do for the poor girl like what should have been done for his sweet sister Lysa. He never knew of Lysa and Petyr and was sure Catelyn was equally in the dark. He shook his head, shuddering as he thought of Lysa's suffering. What is honor if all is lost?

Really, he was no different from his tiny bride but for the King probably had much higher regard for her than himself. The boy king railed on him for his ill-fated efforts at Red Fork, but he was not told of the plans, the overall strategy to draw the Lannisters across the Red Fork, and then to trap them by surrounding them with the Stark and Frey forces. How was he to know if they expected their plans of subterfuge to trick Lord Tywin, one of the most experienced and wily military leader? It was naught his fault that they did not expect him to succeed in defending the crossings. Cat told him that he had to marry to make amends. It was her voice he heard in his mind reciting their House words.

Perhaps he was a fool, not a military mastermind by any means, they all thought him to be but he could do this at least, protect this poor girl who bears the child of the King, protect the babe and keep them both from harm.

They would be his family.

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Her mother was upset and called him names, the nicest being Floppy Trout. She screamed that her daughter should be the Queen, not a stupid Frey, likely a product of inbreeding.

But when she peered at her groom, she saw a kind man. Many of his commonfolk came to her and gave what they could to the lady who was fortunate to be trothed to their lord. They spoke of his stewardship and his strong defense of them and their lands. They were proud of his military prowess, his protecting the crossing, although he would protest, blushing red as his hair. Her lord treated them like family. And she started to see him in a different light.

He was nothing like the King she gave herself to. He was neither rash nor loud. He was like her, a bit overwhelmed by his domineering father and his fiesty sister like she was with her mother.

She saw him looking at her when he thought she was not aware that he was looking. And she saw in his eyes regret, like the look that the King had when she told him of her pregnancy. But instead of guilt or shame, there was pity in her groom's eyes. He would care for her as he quietly promised the one time they were alone together before the wedding for that was the type of man he was, a man who was loyal to his family, did his duty and acted with honor.

He did not take his rights their wedding night nor the nights thereafter. He told her that it was not required of her. At first, she was relieved for she did not know him well. He was a stranger in her bed that night.

While the others pointedly ignored her, he made a point to speak with his sweet lady wife as he called her, awkwardly looking downward, his long bangs covering his darker blue eyes, darker than the King's eyes. He would walk with her every day, slowing his steps so that she did not hurry to catch up.

Her lord husband worriedly called the maester when he found her ill. When the maester's remedies did not ease her stomach ailments, he called upon an elderly woman who he said had helped successfully deliver many hale babes. The healer's teas eased her stomach, and her bawdy talk and silly stories of her lord husband made her giggle.

Each day she realized that she not only liked her husband but had grown to love him. It pained her that the babe was not his.

If only he could come to love her.

If only.

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It was the smallest of touches. Her tiny gloved hand resting on his arm. And yet, it calmed his fast beating heart and silenced those voices in his head telling him that he was useless, weak and stupid. He looked at her, and she smiled, not the mocking grin of his nephew nor the stiff smile of Cat, but a sweet smile exhorting him to try again. He could do this, just a little to the right. His third try hit the target, quickly engulfing the small wooden craft.

He ignored the exaggerated loud sighs of relief from his King and helped his lady wife back to the Keep. She was starting to show, and he wanted all to know that she was under his protection, under the protection of the new Lord of Riverrun. His uncle flanked her and gently teased his nephew, saying he thought they would be out there longer but he knew that his nephew wanted to impress his pretty lady wife.

And Edmure had to snort because it was true which made Blackfish guffaw and his wife giggle. Even though Cat glared at him, he did not care that much as it had been awhile since he saw Lady Jeyne truly smile. The pregnancy was difficult for her. Also difficult must be the way the King pointedly ignored her, even though Edmure quietly told her that the King was acting in that manner to save her honor (although he knew that it was done moreso for the King's sakes).

Although Cat beseeched him to attend Robb's wedding, he refused. His wife was unwell, and he had responsibilities to his people. With more than a third of the Riverlands troop being released to protect their neighboring lands, he needed to stay to defend Riverrun. Edmure was relieved that Blackfish also decided to stay behind for only he was able to make his lady wife smile. Every day her eyes were rimmed red. She must miss the King.

Edmure was not a man prone to violence. He was not like Brandon, Cat's first beau and love. When he saw Brandon besting Petyr, he could not understand the rage Brandon fought with at the end, how he barely contained himself when that foolish boy refused to yield. And yet he found himself brawling with two Bolton men for calling his wife sloppy seconds. How could these vile men besmirch her honor? Although they made quick work of him, breaking his nose, he had a few good punches, when he rocked the first man back. It felt good, hearing that sound of his fist against the jaw of the other man. His men quickly broke up the fight. Both Bolton men were later taken away. After that though, no man dared to speak an untoward word about the Lady of Riverrun.

After the clucking maester tended his nose and his minor injuries, he holed himself and hid in his late father's solar, his solar now even though there was naught in that room that was truly his. He could not even bring himself to sit in his father's chair. Standing, he covered his face. His father would be ashamed.

The door quietly opened and closed. Even without looking, he knew that it was Cat.

"Why, Edmure? Brawling on the ground like a commoner?" she started.

He had to stop her from telling him all the ways he was lacking.

"They dishonored my lady wife. When they disrespect her, they disrespect me!" He yelled at her. He was beyond frustrated. She should understand. Family. Duty. Honor.

"But what they said was not false!"

"Cat, they spoke lies! It is true that she bears another's child but I have not laid with her."

"Oh, Edmure," she sighed.

"And frankly even if I lay with her, they had no right to call her names, to impugn my wife's honor. If she dishonored herself, your son doubly dishonored himself as he is the King, in a position of such power over her, this small girl - how could she resist? He should have known better."

"How dare you speak of my son that way?"

"How dare you come here uninvited and scold me like if I were a child? I am not child anymore, Cat."

"I chide you because you acted like a child, not a lord!"

"What if they said that about you or Lysa or your girls? My wife is my family, the Lady of Riverrun, and I will protect her honor as I would do for you, and for Lysa, and for your daughters. I could not let them speak that way. Perhaps I could have handled it differently-" He started to cry out of frustration and grief and fear.

"Oh, Edmure, my sweet brother." He leaned into her embrace.

When they broke apart, there was some understanding in their gazes, that she could no longer treat him as her sweet little boy. Whilst she would not always agree with him, especially concerning his lady wife, she would no longer nag him nor go above him to get things done her way. A small part of him, the part that was scared, would miss that, missed his eldest sister taking care of everything. But he is now the lord.

When they broke fast later that evening, he saw his wife look at his swollen face and quickly look away. He looked down sadly at his plate. While he wanted to flee and hide his face, he stayed because it was his duty to host his King and send the King and his men off. Luckily, the King did not say something mockingly about his face. Perhaps Robb finally got some sense, but more likely Cat admonished him not to say a word.

There seemed to be endless speeches. He was tasked to speak glowingly of the King even though he found himself so angry with him. Somehow Edmure got through his speech without strangling his nephew who was sitting there laughing at something Greatjon was muttering, likely another joke at his expense. When he sat down, he was surprised that his lady wife again placed her hand on his arm. When he looked at her, she smiled at him and everything else seemed to fade.

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It was a quiet knock. It must be Cat, finally understanding boundaries and not barging into his sleeping quarters. Truthfully, Edmure ruefully admitted that he would miss his eldest sister, her wise guidance and her support. When father died, her words about how Father was proud of him helped eased a bit of his grief even though he did not believe her words to be entirely true. Edmure did not doubt his father's love for him, but knew of his disappointment, knowing how much Father wished Cat was born a son instead of he.

But when the door did not open after he quickly grunted access, he opened the door and saw his lady wife looking timidly up at him with some healing supplies. He stared at her in surprise and then redden when remembering the stories of how she tended to the King's injuries and how that led to intimacies, which then led to the babe in her stomach. There was awkward silence as he silently blocked her entry with his body.

"Pardon me, my lord. I saw your injuries and thought they needed to be further tended to. The swelling..." she whispered, looking downcast and ashamed.

"No, I mean, yes, please come in, my lady."

He bowed to her like a fool and drew her in, pulling her in and leading her to his father's chair. This was exactly what he hoped would not happen, that she would feel beholden to him. Blackfish told him of Lysa's depression and unhappy marriage with her late husband, of her many miscarriages, of how she was no longer the sweet, happy girl she once was when she used to wear flower crowns and sing merrily. He did not want that for Lady Jeyne - there would be no need, with her being already with child. It mattered naught if the child was a girl, he would name her his heir, like how Cat should have been named the heir instead of himself. Frankly, Edmure would not want that for anyone, even himself, to feel forced, helpless and trapped in a loveless marriage. Yet still he noticed his lady wife was pretty and sweet, and he did physically desire her. And his body naturally reacted when seeing her in his room.

Turning around, trying to hide his erection, he quickly looked for his robe to cover himself. Unfortunately, since he moved to his father's room, he could not find anything of his own. Every moment he felt like it was a puppet show, that he was a merely a puppet, not the true lord of Riverrun, much less Lord Paramount of the Trident. He was just that stupid, pathetic boy playing dress up, like he did with his sister until Father yelled at him, not a great Lord like Father nor a great knight like his uncle. As his panic and feelings of insecurity threaten to overtake him, again his lady wife hand touched his arm, calming him down.

"My lord," she whispered. Her dark eyes looked up at him shyly.

"My lady wife, you, you do not have to tend to me."

Her eyes dropped and her voice trembled. "But what if I want to? I heard about the fight, how you defended me against those horrible men."

"Then you knew how I was beaten, pummeled and kicked and that only-" He was ashamed, horrified that she heard, heard what those animals said about her and how absolutely useless he was even in defending his wife's honor in his own house.

"There were two Bolton men, savages. Lord Brynden said that you fought bravely, that he was proud-"

"He is my uncle - he loves me no matter what I do." Edmure looked down again, ashamed at himself.

"My lord, you are a good man. I think you are worthy of his love, the love of your people, your commonfolk, the love of your eldest sister, the love of your late father, .... and the love of your wife." Her last words were spoken softly but yet he heard each word.

Her hand again touched his arm, making him look up into her eyes. There were no lies in them, in her pretty brown eyes. And he could not help himself but look down at her parted lips. He wanted to kiss her. Edmure leaned down and then stopped. She could not possibly want him. As he was about to back away, her tiny hands held his head, and she pulled him down and kissed him.

They were soft, her lips. He gasped, and her tongue lightly touched his tongue. And he moaned as he embraced her.

"Edmure, my husband."

He was no longer as afraid.

"My lovely Jeyne," he replied.

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Only one raven was not shot down. It carried a message from her baby brother.

I am afraid. 

Edmure was always afraid of the dark she remembered. It was night when Mother passed away, and a few nights later, the poor babe, the little brother they could not cherish. Since Edmure was so young at that time, Father would not let him see Mother or their dead brother. Edmure believed that the night ate them both and stubbornly held onto that belief for so many years. Did he still believe that? She remembered him clutching his blankets in his dark room, eyes wide open and whimpering. Father would get angry if he knew, but Lysa would go to her little brother, hugging him and softly singing silly songs until his eyes finally closed in slumber. You are my sunshine, my little sunshine. He was her little sunshine.

Lysa touched the thin worn ribbon that tied his desperate message. Most would not understand the significance of that ribbon, no longer Tully blue and now threadbare, but she did. It was Mother's ribbon, the only tangible item that he had of her. Father got rid of almost everything that belonged to Mother, only her jewels were saved, but she was able to steal a ribbon away from Mother's room and gave it to Edmure. He always held onto it, rubbing it when he was afraid. It was the most precious thing he had, and he gave it to her. 

I did not know, Lysa. If I did, I would have taken you away, you and your babe. I would have taken care of you.

Lysa smiled at his words as she knew them to be true. Her brother had such a kind and true heart. And he was so impulsive, like her Sweetrobin. He would have tried to take her away, tried to save her. She almost giggled, thinking of him furiously rowing a small row boat with her bundled next to him.

She hoped that they were not too late to save him, his little wife, the little babe he wanted to protect, and their uncle. Her carriage was flanked by the heavily armored Vale knights. Her niece held her sleeping son.

If I had fathered a child with a lady whom I loved, I would wed her, never allow her honor to even be questioned. I would cherish her and our babe. I would never abandon her.

Although Edmure took pains not to blame Petyr in his letter, it was clear that he thought that those who truly loved her would suffer and taken any pains to keep her and her poor babe safe. And she knew, deep inside, that her Petyr was never truly hers. He never loved her. When Lysa confronted her niece about that kiss she witnessed, calling her a harlot and wanting to rage at the poor girl, throw her in a sky cell or even through the moon door, her words and hands were stilled when she saw her litte brother's innocent and scared eyes staring up at her. And her fears about Petyr's love, or lack thereof, were realized when she turned and saw the quick flash of desire and the softness in Petyr's eyes as he looked at young Sansa, an even prettier copy of her sister at that age. And she knew that he would get rid of her - that he no longer had any use for her. She looked at Sansa's eyes and knew that poor girl realized it too. Still today, she did not know how that quick glance to Sansa, that silent beseeching for aid, resulted in both of them pushing him through the moon door at the same time. Petyr grabbed at her long sleeve, but Sansa pulled her back to safety.

Family. Duty. Honor. Her sweet brother always whispered that it was love that bound them all. She would not forget those words again.

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Edmure smiled as he saw his girls, his wife and his three daughters, giggling with Lysa as she was weaving flower crowns for them. Blue winter roses, seemingly so delicate yet flourishing in this frozen tundra. Jeyne looked at and smiled at him, her face alit with happiness. She loved being with his family, hers truly as he thought that his niece Sansa loved her more than himself. It was difficult for his beautiful niece, so gentle yet so strong, to feel completely comfortable being alone with a man, even family.

But Lysa loved him best, well maybe not best, because she adored her son. Lysa came for him with her knights when he needed her, saved him and helped him save himself and all those who depended upon him. She was not well then, only three years ago, still sadden and so full of guilt and shame, but she was so much better now, although still troubled. Blackfish was overjoyed that the little dreamer he loved had came back to them.

Lysa spent a few months in the fall with him and the summer months with Sansa (Sweetrobin strangely developed a close friendship with his feral cousin Rickon) in Winterfell, and Edmure spent a few months with her in the Vale. And Blackfish split his time with both of them. They were in Winterfell to celebrate Sansa's wedding. His beautiful niece was marrying a Northerner, a patient man who was gentle, strong and brave.

Edmure wanted Lysa to find love like the one he found with his sweet Jeyne, to find someone who would help her put back the shattered pieces of herself. He did not realize at that time how blest he was to marry her. Jeyne truly understood him, even more than Lysa if that were even possible as they seemed to communicate through their thoughts when they were growing up. Edmure could laugh now as his wife and he both had such fears about their marriage. He thought that she could never love him, that she loved another, while she thought he viewed her as a hardship to endure, as a tainted woman.

That night when Jeyne bravely came to him to tend his physical wounds, she actually healed his emotional scars, his feelings of unworthiness and his fears as he made her feel cherished and safe. Together, they could be brave.