Father cleared his throat and made a too visible effort in order to stand from his seat behind the high table in the Keep's main hall. The buzz from those dining to feast the expected unexpected guests dulled at the sight of the Lord of Riverrun. Hoster Tully looked worn and ill and old before his time; much in contrast to the vibrant figure who had sat between Edmure and his father through the evening, Tywin Lannister.
The Lion of Casterly Rock was a mere two or three years younger than his fellow Lord Paramount, but the differences could not be more extreme, Edmure had thought more than a dozen times as course after course of his castle's finest victuals and most expensive wines filled the table to groaning for the august personage. Both men had eaten and drunk sparingly – Hoster due to the disease slowly ravaging his innards and the Lannister by either the iron control that kept his middle-aged frame as lean as a young man's or from contempt that Riverrun's best did not equal Casterly Rock's. Whilst Edmure at least had to admit the conversation by the pair was quite polite and relatively free flowing, if in a generally boring "what is new in the Seven Kingdoms" sort of way.
Not that Lord Tywin had needed to verbally specify about what had brought him uninvited and, for all proper ceremonial purposes, unannounced to Riverrun. That reason was as plain as the young woman seated the other side of Edmure was exceptionally attractive; Lord Tywin's niece Myrielle. Edmure had found himself purposefully excluded from most of his father's conversations with the Lion and with Myrielle's father, Ser Stafford, who sat the other side of Hoster.
So Edmure had gritted his teeth and played the part he had years ago grown accustomed to from the visits of lords with eligible daughters; engaging with Myrielle and her brother, Ser Daven. He came across as simultaneously interested and coy to the siblings participating at the far, far too evident ploy. In the boredom of it all, he had drunk deep in doing so, but not too deep; these after all were treacherous Lannisters trying to beard him in his own home.
And now that his father's efforts at being the proper host had worn him to a nub, Edmure knew what was coming next. The burden of placating without snubbing Lord Tywin was about to pass to him.
Hoster cleared his throat again, this time louder, and began. "I fear, to pretend I am a Baratheon and not a Tully, that I am no longer a stag of the first order when it comes to feasting and carousing," he chortled amiably.
Rounds of good natured "Noes" filled the hall from the loyal Riverrun lordlings and knights enjoying the fruits of the Old Lion's audacious journey to the castle.
"So while it is time for this trout to swim upstream for a bit of rest."
"I say, no, I command, that this humble feast continue in honor of the great man come among us, Lord Tywin Lannister."
The proclamation brought a cheer from the red cloaks strewn sporadically through the hall, while his family's banner men shouted Hoster's name to the rafters. Edmure kept his phiz steely at his father pissing down the Old Lion's back.
"Now I bid you all a fond good night," Hoster concluded.
Lord Tywin beat Edmure to his feet and in what seemed all one sweeping motion lifted up his goblet. "To Lord Hoster!"
The air in the expansive room positively thundered and echoed with the innumerable calls of "Lord Hosters;" Edmure's voice gladly among them.
His father made one last whisper to Ser Stafford and then to Lord Tywin, as the pages pulled his heavy seat back; and off he slowly hobbled to the rear stairs and his bed.
The Old Lion leaned over to Edmure, looming over him by several inches, and placed a heavy paw across his upper back and shoulders. "Make no mistake, your father, Lord Hoster, is as great a man and lord as any of us."
Suspicion shot through Edmure. When was Tywin Lannister ever reputed to be so magnanimous? "I thank you, Lord Tywin," he answered politely.
The Old Lion's shaved head and closely trimmed beard, his renowned whiskers now apparently tamed for some fashionable reason, nodded once in agreement. Then, baldly, "As Lord Hoster has declared the festivities must continue without him, I see no reason that they would be impeded by our absence, Lord Edmure."
He stiffened, smelling a trap; then damned himself for a fool, what with the trapping Lion's paw having felt him tense.
The arm was slowly removed. "Would you show me Riverrun?"
Edmure would just as soon run a sword through him. "Certainly, Lord Tywin. Though I fear the moon will not give much aid in lighting our tour."
The man smiled conspiratorially, "I care not who sees us talk, Lord Edmure, but more, what they might hear us speak of."
"And I'd rather not speak to you at all," he thought. From the moment word reached Riverrun of Tywin Lannister and a party of a hundred departing down the River Road from Golden Tooth into the Riverlands, his father's banner lords along the route had been directed to slow the wretched Old Lion as much as possible. To little avail. The intimidating Lord of Casterly Rock and father by deed to "The Rains of Castamere" was not one to be readily diverted or trifled with.
Edumure gestured for his guest to step away from the table first. Immediately others began to rise. The cold, gold shitter waived them back down as if this were his castle.
"Which way shall we egress?" came the insolent request.
"That way, Lord Tywin," he answered, pointing towards a side exit out of the hall into a part of the triangular shaped keep that would lead the quickest to the inner courtyard, if near the smell of the kitchens.
Four stout Tully men-at-arms promptly detached themselves from beneath the tapestries hanging off the hall's back wall and began following.
A quick shake of the shaved head warned off a pair of red cloaks who sought to emulate his guards.
"He is either trusting or has balls, I'll give him …" Edmure thought, until he saw the edifice filling the whole space of the door he had intended to use.
"My Lord," rumbled the bowel upsetting voice of the Mountain.
"No need tonight, Gregor," came the smooth, placid, yet utterly commanding voice of the Old Lion. "We are among friends. Enjoy yourself … graciously."
Tywin Lannister passed by the ogre first and waited in the passageway the other side of the door so that he might walk side by side with Edmure, who refused to let himself hesitate in crossing past the Mountain.
A faint smile appeared through the close shaved, still predominantly golden beard. "My apologies, Clegane is a solution ever in search of a problem."
"And is House Tully such a problem, my lord?" he dared ask.
The smile widened and a light laugh issued out of the Old Lion's maw. "None what so ever. And I apologize if my presence here has given the impression. T'was never my intent."
Edmure wisely refused to believe him. The Mountain's presence was a clear "or else" statement by the Lannisters if ever there was one. Yet he would not be intimidated. Riverrun was his castle. Still, if that creature would attend the rest of the feast "graciously," then he, Edmure Tully, heir to Hoster, must play the gracious host. "And never taken so," he announced. "Here," he signaled and a page opened an exterior door.
Tywin Lannister paused just outside and took a deep breath of night air. "I smell water, but no salt. A pleasant change. Shall we peer through the gloom upon the murky Tumblestone or the dark Red Fork?" he asked casually, clearly intent on walking the curtain wall but too polite to say so.
"The Tumblestone, I think," he answered. "We might peer down also within the Water Gate." Edmure wanted some place soft to jump should Westerlands' assassins be lurking about or the lord try and force a betrothal on him. "And the waterwheel might catch a bit of the moon should it break through the clouds."
They resumed walking.
An occasional question about the castle's construct or history and his minimal response was the only sound aside from the crunching of their boots on the crushed gravel of the path they wandered to an inner tower offering stairs up.
Not finding death waiting for him at the top, Edmure took the lion by the fangs. "My apologies for my lord father's early departure this even, an illness came upon him this last fortnight and he has not fully recovered yet," he lied.
Those words brought Tywin Lannister to a halt. The taller man turned and peered down a moment at him in what appeared as the darkness allowed as contemplative seriousness. Edmure wished he could read through those gold flecked green eyes what the cold hearted bastard was thinking.
"Lord Edmure, you and I are part of a small band of brothers, Lords of, or heirs to, one of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. As such, though we may never be friends, a certain plain speaking should exist between us. House Tully has no reason to apologize to House Lannister," he stated with an odd mixture of arrogance and sincerity.
Then, worse, a paw was once again rested upon his shoulder. "I have lived a long life, Lord Edmure. And I know a dying man when I see one. Hoster Tully is a great man, but a dying one. You have my sympathy."
Shock rolled through him. And anger. And hate. That this … this … haughty … vile … thing would speak such painful truth to him. Edmure did not doubt that his face flushed as deep as the auburn hair crowning his head. With supreme effort he withheld the violent response he desired by only knocking that false hand of friendship from off his shoulder.
"No, I did not suppose you would take my words well. However, I need you to believe I speak plainly; for House Lannister owes Edmure Tully an apology. Bringing gentle Myrielle here is a sham for watching eyes. You would do me a great favor allowing me to remain here a fortnight. A Lannister pays his debts."
And with those words, the Old Lion bowed slightly and continued off down the wall into the night.
"My lord, shall we follow Lord Lannister?" the senior man-at-arms asked into the befuddled silence as the larger man became just a shadow at the edge of Edmure's vision.
"I … you …" He did not know what he should do. Confusion burned away at his ire and the odium he felt for the proud, manipulative, brutal lord whom he had never heard a single good word spoken of. Confusion … and … and … curiosity too. "Stay here," he commanded, and then gave chase to the Old Lion.
The bastard was leaning insolently backward against the parapet, a whimsical, too confident smile upon that stern face.
"Lord Tywin …"
"You could do much worse than Myrielle," he cut him off in an almost conversational tone. "Though cousin Stafford is, I regrettably rue, lacking the stuff of a superior goodfather."
"I thought betrothal talks were a sham," he rambled in confusion; suddenly worrying about how badly he was being played with the many possible misdirections offered up by the Lord of Casterly Rock.
"They are," he agreed. Then a light laugh. "However every one down there does not know that. My banner lords do not. House Tully's banner lords do not. They do not know that Sunspear nor Highgarden nor King's Landing. And they will wonder, perhaps showing their hand."
"So you expect a mummer's farce out of me," Edmure accused with some heat.
"Not a farce, but a proper show. The longer the better; and the deeper in debt House Lannister will be to you, Lord Edmure. Talk with fair Myrielle. Take her for rides, she is a most competent horsewoman. Let her play the harp for you. Yet show reluctance to; she is a dastardly Lannister after all. Let others see that mistrust slip through your veil. Hot words a time or two with your father on the topic of my sweet niece would not go amiss either."
The man was too amused with himself, and Edmure felt his anger growing again. "And how am I not to suspect this is not a ruse to capture if not my affection than my honor by hook or by crook."
A long sigh. "Because you are a fool for not already marrying, Lord Edmure," he exclaimed with contempt.
"How dare you …"
"I dare because I am as great a fool as you, Edmure Tully. Who is my legal heir? Name him!" the Old Lion roared.
"Your son Tyrion." Lysa's infrequent letters had provided more than enough salacious news on the lecherous, drunk Imp's antics around court. Not one to trust or rely upon; let alone command the respect of banner lords.
"A dwarf. He might as well be a bastard, that is the kindest thing a father might say for having a dwarf for a son, let alone his heir. And did "I" ever remarry and produce more heirs? No, fool I," he said with evident self-loathing.
Yet Tywin Lannister had brothers who had sons. And Prince Joffrey had a younger brother; though a House name of Baratheon.
"Who is your heir, should you suffer a fatal accident?"
Edmure did not like how that sounded.
"Cousin Humfyrd," he said slowly.
"Your rustic third cousin with a holdfast no larger than a haystack and a brain no larger than a hayseed," he said knowingly. "Your sister Catelyn at least married a Stark; would the Riverlands suffer one of her younger tree worshipping sons as Lord Paramount?"
"Worse," thought Edmure glumly. Word of poor Bran's terrible fall had reached Riverrun, but apparently not Lord Tywin as he journeyed here. His nephew might never wake up; leaving just three name day old Rickon if Cat and Ned had no more children. "Enough, Lord Tywin," he choked out. "You have made your point," he bitterly acknowledged. Then, to lighten the mood, he japed, "If not Myrielle, then who do you suggest I wed?"
"Best someone from the Riverlands … so long as she is not a Frey …" the Old Lion added with a vicious smile.
Edmure laughed. That was something the two could agree on. Tullys despised the Freys. And the Lord of Casterly Rock's disdain for old Walder arranging the marriage of his second son to Tywin's sister was legendary.
"… there is one I have my eye on for Tyrion, if he is to be rehabilitated. I'd be most wroth if you stole the sweet chit's heart away from the smaller of my two sons," he said wryly.
Edmure laughed all the harder at the jape; then seeing the seriousness of the Lannister's mien, green eyes in the dark intently watching him, the humor died in his throat, replaced again by confusion.
"And is that, my lord, truly why you came to the Riverlands? Your son was with the King's party and my House would gladly provide you escorts to the Twins."
"Thank you, no. Though if I may, perhaps a raven of yours to my sister Genna, so that she might judge the strength of the foundation such a match might expect in the Twins."
The continuing turns in conversation left Edmure completely bewildered and exhausted. "Very well, I agree to perform in your mummer's … show, Lord Tywin. I admit curiosity as to how a Lannister pays a debt for which I do not know the value."
The Old Lion chuckled. "Pardon me, Lord Edmure, but I never realized how menacing my house's unofficial words sound when one of us says them."
He could only blink in surprise at the Old Lion's odd taste in mirth; for some reason not taking it as a threat. "And?"
"Gold. Trade. A favor at court for House Tully that I might use my influence to achieve. Perhaps a betrothal to a friendly banner lord of yours to the fair Myrielle," he said with a grin, bringing her back into the conversation. "Her mother is a cousin of Lord Lefford. Take your time. Years if you wish. I will write the debt down on parchment and imprint my sigil on it before I leave."
"And where shall you go after you leave Riverrun, Lord Tywin." Edmure suspected that would offer a clue as to the game being played upon him, but he was unsure. He was finding that pulling truth out of the Old Lion was as difficult as panning for gold in the sandy silt of the Tumblestone.
"Play your part convincingly, Lord Edmure, and I shall gladly take you with me."
"Which would be ….?"
"Play your roll. The results will surprise you. My word as a Lannister."