Willas Tyrell/Haraella Targaryen
Think Of Me?
Willas Tyrell muttered as he put his cup of arbor gold down upon the glossy, polished table. If anything, he was courteous and well mannered. Even in times such as these. How could he not be? He was heir to Highgarden, a mild man on all accounts, with a passion for falconry, breeding hounds and horseflesh. Additionally, the weather in Oldtown was pleasant, the soft breeze blowing in from the mouth of the Honeywine river easing the brutish sun hospitably.
His mother, Alerie Hightower, was smiling, laughing and enjoying her tea rooms in her old chambers, visiting relatives and boundless cousins he too was drafting time out to reacquaint himself with. Over all, it had been a perfectly quaint and amicable trip to rest from his duties, if but for a little while, away from the hectic buzz and underhanded schemes of his notorious Grandmother Olenna, his sister Margaery and, on occasion when the mood struck him so, his youngest brother Loras.
However, it seemed, the time for courtly manners and his well-constructed studious, peaceful and uncomplicated life had come to the age of dying. Funny, he found it, that the age of tranquillity for the Reach, and therefore himself, should dye in the light of the rising Targaryens.
In just ten and seven moon turns, what had once been believed to be just two exiled, beggar children of a decayed Dynasty had, in fact, become the greatest threat Westeros had seen since Aegon and his sister wives themselves. Like the hares Margaery was so fond of, those two had multiplied to four and Essos had felt their wrath.
The first flutter of change had taken too long to reach the ears of the Baratheon king, and by the time it had, Volantis had fallen to the red and black sigil. News was still shaky, at best, on how that exactly came to be, but the fundamentals were there for all to see. Haraella Targaryen, a lost daughter of Daeron Targaryen, brother to Viserys, Daenerys and Rhaegar, had survived... And she had a dragon.
Somehow, someway, she had met up with her aunt and uncle in Volantis, and within the space of just three nights, the Triarchs were dead, the smallfolk where rallied around a glorious new leader and half of the golden company, who had been brought into Volantis by Malaquo Maegyr, one of the Triarchs, to kill the very Targaryens that had beheaded him, had put down their swords and sworn fealty to house Targaryen. Quite a feat for a, at the time, a girl who had only seen six and ten namedays. Of course, the rumour of her having a dragon the size of Balerion, if not larger, must have helped in some aspect of her conquest of Volantis, and subsequently, Essos. Furthermore, if believed, her impressive sorceress skills had not hurt their campaign either.
Soon, the three, Haraella, Viserys, Daenerys had been joined by another, Aegon VI. Who, according to the Targaryens themselves, had survived the sack of kings landing all those years ago. Together, the Targaryens had proved to be a politically savvy, ruthless, ambitious and intelligent bunch. Volantis, with its docking ports at the head of the river Rhoyne, had strangled most Essos trade to Westeros, cutting off the Baratheon's well needed trade routes and coin. With a threat of a dragon so close to home, Pentos, Myr and Lys had followed suit. Mereen, Qarth and Norvos had rebelled, forming an alliance based on singular greed and Targaryen hatred, but when Haraella and her kin laid waste to Mereen, turning it to nothing but ash, bones and dead soil, Qarth and Norvas had quickly enough backed down and bent the knee.
With Mereen nothing but soot, slavers bay had been liberated and the large numbers of newly freed men and women had swelled the Targaryen's infantry even further. By the time Essos was flying under red and black, Robert had died, leaving Westeros in a state of unrest and civil war. The North claimed independence after the death of Eddard Stark, the remaining Baratheon's cannibalized themselves and by the time the Targaryen threat had drawn the Westerosi eye, it had been too late. They had Essos. They had the men. They had the ships. They had a bloody Dragon and they would not be stopped.
Ahead of the seven kingdoms managing to gather a force to repel the Targaryen conquest, their own kingdoms swept up in inner hatred and blood debts, the Targaryens had managed to get a foot-hold into Dorne, the Martells all too happy to open their gates to their nephew and family, and to see another Targaryen crowned in the great sept of Baelor. Now, for them, it was a simple case of turning duplicitous Lords to their side and sweeping upwards.
Nonetheless, how it came to be, fact from rumour, did not matter in the light of what the Tyrells faced. In truth, while his grandmother and Margaery had been playing kingdoms and queens, facing the north, four dragons had crept upon their backs to the south and now all of them felt the heat of their breaths charring their necks.
Naturally, the unspoken head of their own household, Olenna Tyrell, had fallen back into what she did best. She pulled her family back to their seat of power and schemed. However, her plans to place Margaery in a crown of gold and a throne to sit upon had crumbled before them. Margaery was already betrothed to Joffrey Baratheon, and even if she wasn't, the offer of her hand after their father had dissolved that oath when the Targaryens had landed, had been met with heavy disagreement from the Martells and Targaryens.
Daenerys and Viserys had been married back in Essos and would, later, after the reclamation of their throne, seat themselves upon Dragonstone once more. Aegon had married his cousin Arianne Martell upon their stay in Sunspear, and from what his friend Oberyn had divulged to him, would later take the Iron throne on, funny enough, Haraella's wishes. That left but one Targaryen, the youngest, and if Willas was truthful, the most worrying.
Haraella Targaryen. From all reports Willas had managed to hoard, the young woman was enigmatic, charming even, playful some say, but housed a temper not unlike the inferno of the sun itself. She was not afraid of war, in fact, she seemingly thrived in it, most rumours saying she beheaded the Triarchs and led the attack on Mereen herself, in front and centre on the back of her dragon, Vaenora. Moreover, It was not quietly said that it was her strategies and planning that had led to the fall of Essos and the rise of the Valyrian free-hold. If not for her, some say, the Targaryens would have died out in the red waste.
She was blood thirsty, preferred the company of the smallfolk to that of her own station, and refused to bow or bend to no one. In the opinion and tales of some overzealous scullery maids and squires, she ate babies, bathed in the blood of her enemies and had once cut off a man's hands for being too familiar with herself at the feasting table. It was to this beast of a woman, a dragon hiding in human flesh, that was left unmatched.
Slightly humorous hearsay aside, Willas could not dismiss the fact that this woman, as young as she may be, as bloated as the tales of her were, was a conqueror with war in her eyes, fire in her blood and venom in her mouth. The Targaryens would not have made it this far if she was anything but. Not a woman Willas, good tempered, crippled Willas, had ever thought or saw himself marrying. And yet… Here he was.
"Did you know dear brother? Is this the reason for our sudden trip to Oldtown to visit our mother and kin?"
Garlen resolutely shook his head, a flash of hurt crusting at the tip of his frown. Willas should have known better, this… This was something beyond charming, playful but simple Garlen. Still, the stink of his grandmother and Margaery were all over it. He should have known the trip to Oldtown and a rest from his duties of heir to Highgarden for a week was too good to be true when Olenna had presented him with the opportunity.
Yet, how was he to know that while he was away, not but for three days, his grandmother would write to the Targaryen heads, offer his own hand in marriage to this Haraella, and for the Targaryens to send an envoy consisting of Oberyn, Viserys, and the sand snakes, who accepted if the Tyrells put up no force when they marched their men through the Reach, inflating their already impressive forces with that of the Tyrell's standing army. In the end, Olenna Tyrell had gotten what she had always wanted. The Tyrells did not have a drop of royal blood in them, a fact his grandmother had always wanted to rectify, and rectify she had. With his hand. With this single marriage, they were in line to the throne.
"I swear, it is as shocking news to me as it is to you. The raven arrived this morning, I came as soon as I read its contents."
In a swift movement so unlike himself, Willas crumpled up the parchment, threw it, plucked up his glass and downed his fine wine. If he read between the honeyed words of his dear sister correctly, which he had, he had years upon years of experiencing Margaery's doubled edged wordplay, by a weeks past, the Targaryen court would be at Highgarden, he would meet his betrothed and before the Targaryens could pass any further, he and this Haraella would be married in the light of the seven, in Highgarden's small but personal sept, before the two weeks end had been seen or heard. The fine wine turned sour on his tongue.
"I suppose I have our beloved grandmother to thank for this… Ostentatious marriage."
Garlen winced and fiddled with a tie to his velvet tunic. A nervous habit he had since he was but a boy. Garlen knew, just as Willas did, that no words would ease this blow. They had both heard the tales of this Haraella, and nothing would settle or calm those tides of weariness, anxiety tinged with depression that Willas felt at being bond to such a person who wrought war upon a land and people she had never met or stepped foot upon before.
"It is not all soured apples, Willas. Margaery stated, according to Oberyn, she is a very beautiful girl and you know he has eyes for beauty."
Girl. Willas's gut churned. That was all she was, a wrathful girl with a dragon and magic at her finger tips. What was she now? Seven and ten name-days? A far cry from his own thirty name days. By the mother, she was nearly half his age. She was younger than his sister by a name day or two. Given, he had always expected to marry, how could he not? In truth, he should have been married long ago. His betrothal, as simple as it was, was not what upset him so. The option to pick a life partner, the lady to your lord, was left to the lowborns. He knew that.
He also knew that his own… Mitigating circumstances did not leave him with as much hope for a prosperous marriage as bequeathing to an heir of Highgarden. His tourney with Oberyn Martell, the fateful accident that left him half buried underneath his horse, though he did not blame the man who would later become his closest friend, and his crippled leg had long ago doused the fires that had originally circled the prosperity of his marriage. Nonetheless, his title wrought some honours. He had always thought his marriage would end in furthering the solidification of the Reach, perhaps to a daughter of Pommingham, Beesbury, Chester or even Inchfield.
Not to a war bringer, a girl, a descendant of the Mad king himself, so they may pass peacefully instead of burning their kingdom down to the ground like they had Mereen. Willas could take his swirling thoughts no longer, as he reached besides his ornate chair, cushioned especially for him and his leg, and wrangled his carven walking stick into a shaky hand. He wobbled as he stood, the joints in his shiny brass leg brace creaking as they locked into place, keeping the limb straight and true like an arrow.
"I need to take some air."
He couldn't look at Garlen, not even a single reassuring glance, as he slowly made his way to the door of their parlour in Oldtown. Nevertheless, he heard his brothers steady gate follow behind him and could only mumble one word as he shut the door in his brothers face.
Two Days Later:
As much as it pained his remaining pride to do so, Willas lifted his hand up once more since their party's departure of Oldtown to silently convey they would be stopping for another rest. Of course, passing their way through Honeyholt to reach Highgarden in time for the Targaryen's court arrival, he could use the excuse of watering their steeds on the eastern bank of the Honeywine river to quieten the looks his men shot him, the questioning brow Garlen gave or the endless, worried questions his mother would rapidly speak as she gracefully slid out of her litter.
Yes, his leg was a throbbing, aching, torturous mess. Yes, he likely shouldn't be riding, even with his specialized saddle. And yes, he would likely need milk of the poppy and bed rest upon the end of their ride home, which should only take a further day or two. However, Willas Tyrell loved riding. He adored his horses. He cherished the wind in his curls and face, the speed, the pound of his heartbeat echoing in his ears like a troubadour's drum. So, against his familial and maester's advice, he rode as often as his leg, and himself, could bare it. After the news that had been given to him at Oldtown, his own impending marriage, Willas believed he had earnt a turn or two upon his prized horse if just to forget his woes and worries for a little while.
The caravan of men came to a tittering stop, the banners of the Tyrells and Hightowers fluttering in the small but pleasant breeze. His grandfather, uncle and cousins, upon news of his impending wedding, had barrelled around him, refusing even the suggestion of not attending the upcoming festivities. So, having left Highgarden with a compact group, they would be returning in a large parade, with all the honours and splendours of a king's procession. Leyton Hightower had demanded such, if only to show the Targaryens that Willas was well loved amongst his people, and should harm befall him or his family, the Tyrells were not the only ones to watch.
Garlen was his father's favourite. Loras their mothers. Margaery was his grandmothers prodigy, but Willas? It was often said his blood ran more Hightower grey than Tyrell green. He had been fostered to his Grandfather, Leyton Hightower, from a young age, had learnt all he needed to of life from his dearest uncle, Baelor Brightsmile, and if he was to face a dragon and put his own cloak of green and gold around its beastly shoulders, he would need his dearest and beloved Hightower relatives there to give him strength to follow through with the act.
"Aye, you alright there lad?"
His grandfather, Leyton, bellowed from beside him. Even as a man of sixty and nine, he was a man who demanded attention. Tall, stocky, his greying locks held back by a throng of leather, he looked and sounded like the tales of old knights, where glory could still be found amongst honour and devotion. In truth, he was a bygone relic, a reminder of life when it was peaceful. Right there, Leyton's presence did not sooth him as it normally did, but agitate his already sensitive nerves. Leyton had adored his wife. His mother had loved his father. Garlen cherished his Leonette… Willas, he felt, would have none of the comforts they had in their marriages.
"I am fine, grandfather. We should water the steeds, feed the men and move on. I want a hard push forward, so we can reach Brightwater keep tonight. From there, it should only take a day more before we reach Highgarden's walls, and then-…"
The silence that choked Willas was telling enough. And then he would be bound, for all his earthly years, to a mad-woman. Leyton nodded, a gleam in his eye telling Willas he understood enough, as a squire came around to his side, unbuckling the saddle from his bound leg to let his liege Lord down. Leyton, like he, had not been pleased at the news of his betrothal.
It was an undignified descent off his horse, his prone leg needing a hand or two in slipping down from his mount, as two squires helped heave Willas off his saddle. However, he was used to this by now, and the swivel, pull and tug before he could flop onto the ground face first, was a well-practiced move that nearly came naturally. Once he was standing, the oldest squire handing Willas his cane, the other boy went to take the reins of Cedar, Willas's cherished horse. He stopped him with a gentle hand and a small smile.
"I'll take Cedar. He's… Particular about those around him. Go. Take some Luncheon with the rest of the men."
The squires nodded and scuttled off to do as he bid, the morning ride having been hard and fast enough to build an appetite in the two to leave them dashing for their bowls and knives. Leyton Hightower, however, dallied by his side.
"You can refuse this marriage Willas. You know that, right? You have options but this one."
Willas sighed as he weaved the studded leather reins around his hand.
"And I will have Highgarden in ash and charcoal around my feet by the months end."
Leyton slipped off his own horse with grace and dignity Willas would never have, his pounding steps ringing true as he sidled up to his grandson. His hand was warm and gentle on his shoulder, large over his riding jerkin.
"You will have the Hightowers backing with and without a Dragon bride. As long as you know that lad."
Aye. He would have their backing, with other Lords Willas was sure, if he broke this betrothal. He was well loved in the Reach, he worked hard for his people, bled for them, worked for days without sleep and they thanked him for it. Loyalty was not hard to find for Willas, and should he call, his bannermen would rally around him without question… And he would have all that for the few weeks it would take the Targaryen's to burn down the Reach if he offended them. He refused to be remembered as the lord of ash flowers.
"Cedar is thirsty, it is best if I water and feed him now."
Leyton's hand fell from his shoulder as Willas pulled away, hobbling down the small pathway to the bank of the Honeywine river.
"Do not wonder too far Willas, the Targaryen host is also travelling through this land as we speak."
Willas needed no such reminder, it was all his thoughts had been preoccupied by since the news had struck him. Still, he needed air and time, and so, he pushed himself and Cedar through the thick reeds, trees and bushes that lined the bank without a single glance backwards.
He did not know for how far or long he slinked along the edge of the bank, trying to find an edge to rest upon and for his horse to water, before he became entangled in a thorn bush, the vines cloying around his leg brace. It took far too long for himself to rip the vines free from the brass, but when he tumbled out of the bush and into a small ridge overhanging the clearing on the river bank, Cedar huffing and aggravated from the dense foliage around him, he was not alone. A woman and a ragged band of children were playing and laughing in the smooth, glossy water.
The woman, young, was not conventionally beautiful. Far from it. She had a scar on her forehead, splitting down her eyebrow, proud and angry, in the shape of a lightning bolt. There was no sweeping, soft curves to her frame, no bowed lips or petite height, no golden kissed curls and ivory skin like many of the beautiful ladies that permeated the Reach. In fact, her hair was completely hidden, wrapped and scrunched halfhazardly under a tatty scarf of faded red, the tassels and knot slung down her back to swish at her shoulder blades like a horse's tail. Her clothes were no better. A peasant skirt of bedraggled, mismatched linens of greens and blues, half sodden from her dip into the Honeywine river, clung to her legs. A thin, poorly bleached shift with the neck ties left dangling was the only cover for her top, half tucked into her skirt. Her feet were bare, speckled in soot from the river.
Her skin was a healthy silken beige, little bursts of dusty taupe freckled across the sweep of her collar bone, nose and cheeks, like star maps. She enjoyed the sun, had spent a majority of her time bathing in the heat, working out of doors, to gain a colour such as that. Her frame was imp thin, not willowy, like some of the women from kings landing, but held the flex and taunt of hard-earned muscle, muscle he could see delicately showing their face through her rolled up sleeves as she swept a grubby child up in her arms, twirling him around her head, water licking at her waist as the two giggled.
Her limbs seemed long, perhaps too long, a bit awkward in their gait and movement, but she was self-assured enough in the lingering stage of between childhood and adulthood to make this purgatory work for her, walking and moving like someone with a decade on her years. While she had the curves of womanhood clearly presented to the beholders eye, her inelegance, broad shoulders and toned limbs made them seem almost as if they begged more for a fight than a bedding.
Her eyes, they were her best feature some would say. Emerald green, shiny, luminescent, alive and large. But they had a turn to them, slick, feline, and the heat that burned behind her pupil was not of elegance or muted confidence, but of fire. Passion. Rage. Jubilation. All emotions that fell to the extreme. Her features were too sharp, too angular, too predatory to be anything but unsettling. She wasn't conventionally beautiful. She was haunting. Captivating. A woodland nymph wrought to flesh to tease and taunt the men and women around her to madness, to dance them to the seven hells, to lure the people around her off their steady paths and into the darkened woods where the great beasts would devour them.
Willas was frozen, at a loss, verbally and mentally when Cedar, who was a pedantic horse at the best of times, neighed loudly, bucking from the edge of the overhang they stood upon and reared back as if he had smelt one such beast Willas had been picturing. It happened all too fast, the slip of the reins from his hand, the jerk of his body, the slip of his bum leg, the falling and splash of water as Cedar thrashed backwards, into the small woods around them.
The water was jarringly cold, the river bank cobbled in pebbles and on instinct, Willas breathed in from the shock of the freeze. He choked, spat, blinked, tried to haul himself to the water's surface, but something, a piece of driftwood, had skewered through the bars of his leg brace, pinning him to the bottom of the river. He fought, jerked, violently tried to hit the piece of wood to break himself free, but the harder he fought, the longer he was choking, the more pain his useless leg echoed out from the sudden movements and burning jolting, the hazier the world around him became.
Just as the world began to flicker to black at dizzying intervals, his head swimming and his lungs heavy and tight, he had barely enough awareness left inside him to feel the strange heat of delicate hands through the frigid blanket of water as they slipped around his leg, then around his neck and back like water snakes, as his world became nothing but darkness.
The next thing he knew was the harsh pebbles at his back, his head, something soft and sweet like nectar upon his lips, hands pushing arithmetically against his chest. He blinked rapidly as his throat swelled, river water bursting from his mouth and dribbling forth like a fountain as he heaved, choked and coughed the liquid free in rattling quakes of his chest. The softness at his lips pulled away, but stayed close enough for the heat to blossom along his skin, and slowly, the world around him, the fog, lifted from his eyes as his head flopped back to the shore of the river bank, breath heavy and broken as he sucked in as much air as possible.
Then there she was, the woodland nymph, sodden and soaked and smiling down upon him like sunbeams, warming his cold, shaking body. Her hands were still crested upon his chest, nimble. Her face was still close enough for him to feel her breath, minty and warm, ghosting along the skin of his cheeks, and her eyes were like wildfire lighting up the sky. Haunting. Simply haunting.
"Breathe, you're fine."
Her voice was soft and melodious, like a well-tuned violin, contrasting against the harsh nature of her physical being. Since hearing of his betrothal, since hearing of the Targaryen's arrival in Westeros, Willas, indeed, felt fine. He felt more than fine. Perhaps it was the pain in his leg, nearly unbearable from all this movement, perhaps it was the water still in his lungs, perhaps he had fallen into another world completely, but despite nearly drowning, he felt good. He felt great. He felt as light as the air he was dutifully puffing on.
She smiled wider at his glazed eyes, as his shaky hand lifted from the floor, fingers outstretched and gentle as he went to touch her face, to see if she was real, if her flesh was as warm as he thought it to be, when the spell was broken. Shouting rang out from the woods around them, her head snapped up, smile dropping as the children around them skidded and scurried into the treeline.
"Will! Will! Where are you lad? Will!"
Baelor, his uncle, was bellowing for him, the use of his nickname, the only one his uncle would call him and his uncle being the only person Willas allowed to call him such, frantic and heady.
"I am here uncle!"
Willas shouted back as he lumbered up upon his elbows, neck twisting achingly to look behind him, into the woods, to the shaded corner his uncles voice was billowing from. It didn't take long for his uncle, longsword unsheathed with men around him, all on guard, to come tumbling out of the treeline. Baelor spotted him laying on the floor, soaked, dripping, and sheathed his sword, storming towards him with a relieved smile upon his face.
"Thank the seven! When Cedar came crashing back to us, sans you, we thought those Targaryen's or some rebels had cornered you!"
Willas, head still feeling foggy and tongue heavy, lost most of his manners.
"No, I fell into the river. This lady saved me and I-"
He turned back around to introduce himself to his saviour to find the space empty and barren. No wildfire eyes. No warm skin with star maps. No sunbeams smile. Just river and skyline. Willas frowned and stumbled over his words as Baelor helped him sit up, an anguished cry of pain springing from his mouth as his leg moved. It was swelling already and would need to be bled before nightfall if he had any hope of riding or travelling for the next week.
"You must have bumped your head Willas, there is and has been no lady here. Not since our arrival at least."
In truth, Willas was still too stunned to argue further as his uncle and his men lifted him up, carrying him back to their camp, shouting for a maester to see to him and see him quickly. He was still too lost on the wildfire eyes to answer the questions his mother and grandfather barraged him with. Too confused on the lady's sudden disappearance to ease any of Garlen's worry. And when they lanced his leg, Garlen pinning him to his bed so he could not writhe or jerk, a thick strap of leather bitten between his teeth to mute the agonizing cries and shouts, he was too caught up in the pain to focus on anything but that and the ghost of green eyes when he squeezed his own tightly shut, as the maester drained his leg.
Nonetheless, when his senses came back to him the next morning, he had no excuse for what he did. Come morn, when he should have been herded onto a litter with his mother for travel, his leg good enough for the slight tilt and sway of the caravan and milk of the poppy easing most of the pain, he did the one thing he had never done before, the one thing his pride had barred him from carrying out, even if it was to his detriment. Willas Tyrell, proud, well-mannered Willas, for the first time in his life, lied. He told his men, his family, his leg was too painful for travel. That he could not tolerate it, not quite yet. And so, they stayed within Honeyholt. After all, he had never gotten the maidens name, and he did owe her a debt of gratitude for saving his life. After the debt was paid and his curiosity slated, he and his men would leave.
One Week Later:
Willas found the maid a week later, sitting on the wooden steps of a crooked, lowborn sept, smallfolk surrounding her, blessing her, kissing her cheeks as she prettily blushed and shooed them away from their gratitude with tender hands and warm smiles. She had a woven basket at her hip, in which she was plucking fresh loaves of bread from, handing them out to the crowd around her, old and young alike.
She was still in her poor dress, still barefoot, still gangly and strong, but now that he had heard her voice, seen her smile aimed at himself, she was somehow softer, gentle. He was sliding towards her, the tap of his walking cane clinking against the cobbled stone street, before he could really think of anything to say. Would she remember him? Had he imagined the whole ordeal like his uncle believed? By the time he had shuffled and limped to her side, the crowd was thinning out and still, he could not land on anything, not a single word to say. Where had his manners gone? Where was his sharp tongue and wit that his grandmother enjoyed so? Fled in the heat and star bright shine of her eyes as they landed on him.
"Your mistress must be very kind to give charity as such."
He was a fool. A bumbling, prideful, slow witted fool in her presence. She frowned, the headscarf wrapped around her head hiding the crease and arch of her eyebrows completely, but he could see the slight twist to the corner of her lips, the confused crinkle at the edge of her doe eyes. For a heartbeat, he was sure she didn't remember him, could not point him out from a crowd of three, before the fire was back beneath her skin, a smile, dimpled and balmy, splitting her cheeks wide charmingly. It had happened. He hadn't imagined it. He didn't know whether to be thankful he had not lost his mind and wits, or disappointed that now, of all times, he should choose to become solely focused on a lady. The maid stood up from her seat, just an inch short of his own towering frame, and handed out the last loaf to a hunched crone.
"Mistress? I can't say I have one."
Willas glanced to her plain clothing, the ratty head scarf, the dust covered bare feet and cocked one eyebrow. The only finery she had on her person was a single earing, not even a pair, swinging from her left earlobe. It was a black pearl on a silver chain, large, but not extravagant. All those manners he was known for, all the airs and graces that made his mother proud, left him completely in this maid's orbital pull. Instead, unlike he had been planning to do, thanking her for saving his life, asking her name, introducing himself properly, he found himself incredulously questioning her.
"Then how did you get the coin for this?"
The maid propped the basket against her hip, cocking her own leg to hold it into place as she winked at him unabashedly, tapping the tip of her nose in a beat of three conspiratorially.
"That, kind sir, would be telling."
Willas found himself, for the first time in months, perhaps years, unrefinedly smiling, no guard or wall up. As a Lord, any Lord, one learns from an early age to keep their emotions hidden for their own and their family's safety. In the game of politics, nothing would not be used against you or the ones you loved. But here, in this back and narrow street, he was no Lord. There was no Highgarden. No duties. No betrothals and races for the Iron Throne. It was just him, plain, studious, slightly nervous Willas and a maid with the stars on her skin and life in her eyes.
"Ah, a mystery. I am often drawn to such riddles."
Once again, she took a turn he had not expected her too. The light in her eyes died to a simmer, her face became slack and her expression soured like forgotten fruit. If Garlen could see him now, he would laugh and howl at his expense. Why couldn't he find the right words?
"There is no mystery to be found here. If that Lord of Highgarden… Willas Tyrell…"
She spat the name as if it was shade of the evening on her tongue and Willas withered like a weed. The realisation came quick and hard, like a falcon diving for its little mouse dinner. She didn't know who he was. Furthermore, by the looks and sound of her posture and tone, she would not thank him for being who he was, or, would not have saved him that day by the river bank if she had of known. Well… Wasn't this a predicament. Unaware of his inner turmoil, she carried on.
"Got off his high horse and came to his people, his real people, he would see there was no mystery here either. Just poverty."
What a strange, strange woman. He had not lied to her, no falsehood had passed his lips, he did love a good mystery as much as the next man, and this was proving to be the biggest of them all. Mentioning his name now, well, that would ruin the fun of discovering that mystery, wouldn't it? However, what was he if he didn't? A liar, a cad, a foolish boy playing at being someone else? Why, then, was that idea so tempting? It was an odd experience, hearing ire aimed at you, to you, without the other person knowing so. It held a certain bite to the pride that was entirely unpleasant.
"I have heard the Reach is of higher prosperity then those kingdoms surrounding it. The people here are happy and safe, true poverty can be seen north of Kings landing. Ask many Lords and they will say the same. Lord Tyrell is doing a good job, given the circumstances."
He had embittered his own mood at the reminder of his own situation. How well would the people of the Reach do with a Targaryen as their Lady? With a real dragon flying in their skies? A Lady who found more pleasure in conquest than peace and security? Could the rose tame the dragon just enough, so she did not spurt fire all over their garden? Pitilessly, he thought not and the road ahead of him felt misty and gloomy. But walk it he would, try he must, for his family and his people. In the end, his wants and wishes came last. The maid broke him out of his darkening thoughts.
"And that's the problem, isn't it? This Tyrell is asking the Lords around him, the people he's already gotten fat, not those on the street who are starving. If he was to ask the commonfolk, I am sure he would hear an entirely different story. Just because there is less poverty here, does not mean it doesn't exist. Furthermore, if there is the resources to lessen the strain on the smallfolk, there is enough resources to eradicate it completely… And if not, you make them. The people must come first."
Not many would debate him now, and this newfound chance was exhilarating. After the fall of his bodily pursuits, such as knighthood and tourneys after his accident, he had turned his quest to one of the mind. He had years to hone that skill, to sharpen it as keenly as a blade, and he was proud of it. Still, he found it humorous that he had found a match to his mind in a woman who refused to wear shoes. She could obviously afford them if she could afford to hand out bread to the poor.
"A revolutionist? Tell me, little rebel, how would you complete such a task?"
She shrugged her shoulders and looked out to the crowd around them.
"Simple. More schools, free, funded by the people for the people, so every child, no matter the status of their birth, has education. This will inspire innovation, inspiration and productivity within a generation or two, and the results will only climb from there. Taxes should be levied, studiously. Rates should be handed out, so the poor will not pay the Lords salary, but everyone would give what they can given their circumstances. Guilds, special schools specialising in agriculture, due to the Reaches fine soil, should be built, capitalizing on what the Reach already has at hand. Those who cannot pay for such schooling, should be able to draft loans that should only be paid back when their coffers reach a certain amount. Healthcare should be fundamental, free and-"
Her gaze drifted back to him and the flames in her eyes faded sheepishly as she nervously shuffled on her spot, idly adjusting the basket on her hip as she stopped talking.
"I am sorry. I am rambling, I must have bored you so."
But, she had not. Her face was alive, brilliant, inconceivable in words and Willas, who had seen the glory of Highgarden, conversed with ladies heralded the most stunning in the country, had never seen anything of such beauty before. He blinked rapidly, his heart thundering under the cage of his ribs and he was as helpless as a fly on the spider's web as he gazed upon her.
"No… Quite the opposite, in fact. Please, do go on."
She looked at him then, looked true and deep into his eyes and for a moment, it was just them, he and her, in this world of chaos, thrones and death. Something clicked, the stars came out in the daylight, the sound of bells rang in his ears, and like the tide and shore, they pulled together, closer, an inch, a yard, but then the moment shattered like thinly spun glass before he could even hold it in his shaking hands. She looked up to the darkening sky, lifted her basket higher and closed herself off.
"I can't, I am sorry. I must go."
She began to walk away, past him, off down a narrow street and he was left wintry, solitary, and once again, confused. It was to her back that he shouted.
"Will I see you again?"
How could he ask such a thing? He shouldn't. He couldn't. He did. He needed to know, he needed it as much as his lungs needed air and his veins needed blood. The Targaryen bride waiting for him, the war that was to come, the threat of his family's survival, they all meant nothing to him then. He was not Willas, heir to Highgarden, not here. Here, he was Will, just a fellow amongst the people who craved just one more smile from the peasant maid. She glanced over her shoulder, smiled, and it was not enough, not for Willas as she batted back at him.
"Perhaps, perhaps not! Who knows!"
Anew, she was gone, as if she was never there. That night, against what his own mind was screaming at him to do, he paid the maester an extra three gold dragons to tell Leyton, Garlen and Baelor that his leg was still too poor for travel. There was no fuss as they kept the camp up, but it still did not sit easy in his gut. Just one more smile, a name, and he would leave.
He had to.
One Week Later:
Another week had passed and Honeyholt was throwing its own festivities in honour of a good apple orchard harvest. Dance of the red kiss they called it, in homage to the pleasing blush of their apples. A little gathering of merriment held yearly. Willas, with his duties as they were, had never been able to participate before. In truth, he had not visited Honeyholt, apart from its own liege Lord, or knew of this celebration at all.
A clearing off to the side of the Honeywine river had been cleared, stalls and bands of lute, harp and drum players had taken up residence. It was not an extravagant festival, but the smallfolk had gathered and done what they could with their limited time and coin. Little fires had been set up, roasting apples and pork, smothered in honey, lit up the night. Sprigs of lavender and sage had been burnt to perfume the air pleasantly and games of apple bobbing and carving had taken most away from dancing to the heavy beat in the air. For such a cheap gathering, it was one of the most merry and grand he had seen. Laughter and smiles were not short here.
Willas had lost his Grandfather, uncle and Garlen to a small archery contest held in the woods, a few hours before, and his mother had wondered off to try the perfumes a small trader was peddling at one of the stalls just a few minutes past, kept secure by her guards shadowing her movements. That left Willas, dressed down so he could blend into the folks around him as much as possible, to wander the gathering, stopping short here or there to watch with avid eyes. Candidly, he would admit, only to himself that is, that he was keeping a look out for bare feet, head-scarves and freckles.
He found just that at one of the fires pushed to the very corner of the clearing. There she was, bathed in orange from the fire, dancing. She was smiling, laughing, feet tapping to the beat of the drum, toes cloying into the grass beneath them and to Willas, every movement was replete with poetry. Like the tide, she advanced, retreated, pirouetted, hands high above her head, skirt and scarf tail swirling like silk and smoke, but it was the flashing of her evergreen eyes, so joyful and blithe, that outshone the fire itself. Loose. Wild. Free. Like the sea and wind. She kicked at the fire, right leg backwards with flexed calf muscle, sending cinders and flecks of fire dancing into the air around them, and in a revolving whirl of sharp precision and accurate grace, she spun towards him like a comet. She saw him then, her smile blossoming to a beaming stream of flushed lips and glowing dimples, as she darted towards him.
"Ah, mystery man! Come dance with me!"
She grasped at his arm, between the crux of his elbow, the one not wrangled upon his cane, and tugged him towards the fire, gentle, coaxing, luring him into the flames and wild abandonment. Like a sailor under the song of a mermaid, he followed dutifully, half dazed and mad by the sight, before his brass brace clinked, his cane clanging against an errant stone hidden in the grass. He glanced down, saw the shine of his metal brace, felt the polished handle of his cane under fingertip, and for the first time since awakening after his accident, he realised he was crippled. His gut sank, something hot and cold lodging in his throat and even the heat of her hand on his elbow could not warm him. A cripple boy. That was what he was. Broken.
"My leg, it is-"
She cut him off with a harsher pull, a demand, but her smile was still lopsided and exquisitely, invitingly affectionate. Since his accident, he had missed out on many things. His horses, no longer could he ride daily, and even then, he shouldn't have ridden them bimonthly like he did. No tourneys. All his rooms in Highgarden had been moved to the bottom floor, so he should not struggle the stairs, or more aptly, so guest could not see him struggle. His chairs were specially made for him, to keep his leg straight and pinned. His wheelchair, clunky and huge, for when the days were bad, and the chill got to his bones too much. He could no longer walk the grounds, the gardens, beautiful and rich in colour, smell and peace, too large for him to traverse.
All this, and much more, he could and had done without. It was the pity people looked at him with, the muted remarks of replacing him as heir for his leg, the shame and regret his father's eyes shone with when they looked at him that put salt into his wound. And most of all, dancing, he missed dancing. However, there was no pity in the maid's face as she looked at him, saw him glance to his leg, spotted the tightening of his hand on his cane. There was no shame hiding in the folds of her features at being seen with him, engaging with him. There was only light and warmth and merriment to be had.
"It is not your leg stopping you, but this!"
Then, she reached up and over and impetuously flicked the middle of his forehead.
"Your mind! You don't need your legs to dance. You have arms, a body and a head, do you not? Now come, dance!"
She jostled him closer to the fire, into the light, and it was there, by the light of the stars and orange flames, that she made her stand. She took his cane, balanced it against a barrel of apples, and clasped both his hands tightly in her own. Then she was swaying, gently, from side to side, taking the weight from his right hand like his cane would have. She did not move or force him to stand unaided, she held him strongly, truly, and adapted her own style to his. She smiled at him, swayed some more and he found himself following her movements, his fingers tightening, his own smile, real, so very, painfully real, gracing his face. To her, he was no cripple, and then, right then, he thought he may have loved her. Her, this strong, delicate, fiery young girl with wildfire eyes and a petal soft smile.
Willas had lived long enough to know, whatever feeling it was that was settling in his chest, cloaking his heart and squeezing his ribs, was one he would not be able to replicate with anyone, anything else. It was a feeling unbound by logic, reasoning or the mind. Him and her. He could visit old Valyria, climb the wall, and he would still have to come here, right to this moment, with her, to feel as he did again.
This feeling, it was wrapping more tightly around him each time he saw her, from pulling him from the Honeywine river, to slowly swaying to the beat of a drum, it solidified inside of him. When he saw her, it was if time, family, war, everything became the finest point possible, the very tip of a blade, a tiny speck that exploded to brilliant white, leaving him dazed and disorientated, but wholly satiated and warm. It was if the world began and ended with her. He could search, run, scour all the corners of every land, but in the end, every path, every venture, every ache and bruise would lead him right back to her sunny smile and freckled face.
"Brother, I have been looking for you. Wil-"
His head snapped around so fast his neck twanged. He saw Garlen, in all his glory, strolling towards them and, remembering this strange maids obvious distaste for Willas Tyrell, words began to bubble from his mouth uncontrollably.
"Well, you know me, good ol' William, always dancing."
What was he doing? Why was he lying? What could he gain from this venture? Nothing. Nothing but pain. However, looking upon the maids slightly confused face, he could not stop himself. Just one more smile. One more. Here, he was not crippled, reclusive Willas Tyrell, betrothed to a warring dragon. He was Will, happy, calm Will who had no duties, no betrothals, no war to plan and no survival of a family to ensure. Just one more day of that. Just one. Garlen, while not the sharpest of the Tyrells, was still quick witted enough to not fight the current. He could have kissed him then. Or hit him. Why wasn't he putting an end to whatever it was Willas was doing? The seven knew Willas couldn't stop. Up was down and down was up and nothing made a lick of sense. Madness. This is what madness must feel like.
"Yes, well, William, I was just about to say we need to leave soon. Mother is expecting us back to discuss… Well, you know what she wants to discuss."
Willas took a shaky breath, his hands tightening on the maids subconsciously.
"Ah, yes, fathers farm. I will be with you shortly."
Garlen gave him a befuddled look, slightly slick and cunning. Willas could not blame him. Willas did not lie, unlike other members of his family, and here he was, filled with them, all of them, tumbling from his lips like blood. They tasted rotten. Still, Garlen held his own courteousness, and turned to the maid besides Willas, bending low at the midriff, smiling up at the girl wolfishly.
"Gooday, beautiful lady! I am almost remiss to leave if knowing now, as I do, I have missed a dance with thee."
Willas was known for his gentle nature. Margaery for her beauty. Loras for his knightly honour. Garlen was known for his, often, harmless but unrestrained charm of the ladies. It was all habit by now, ostensible and natural. Garlen's heart would always lay with his lady wife, Leonette Fossoway. Nonetheless, the ladies still swooned under his smile and honeyed words, and facing the charm many highborn ladies had cracked under, the maid, despite Willas believing she would blush and flutter her lashes like many above her station and below would, simply smiled back as predatorily as him.
"I, however, do not. Your legs are far too stout and clumsy to be much of a dancing partner. William here, however, has been nothing short of fine."
Garlen gave a hearty laugh, almost bending at the waist once more from the force. Willas blushed deeply, but cocked his head, silently ushering his brother away. Garlen took the hint, giving one last good-natured chuckle and a bow.
"No wonder my brother has been hiding you away, I fear you may steal any man's heart! I must leave you now, though I wished I didn't."
The maids smile faded and broke, something gloomy and shadowed fluttering across her eyes and when she spoke, Willas doubted it was really in conjunction to anything said or done here. He wanted the look gone. Dead. Never to return. But he had no thought on how to complete such a task.
"Duty calls us all, sometimes against our wishes. I too must leave… I shouldn't have… I have to go."
Willas swallowed deeply. No truer words had been spoken. Here he was, dancing, when he should have been at Highgarden, surrounded by Targaryens, perhaps even bound to one by now. Once more, he asked what he was doing, but nothing, no god, no thought answered his plea. That was his future. A Targaryen of all things, a child of ten and seven, a faceless unknown who had beheaded Triarchs and was waging war on the Iron Throne. It wasn't here, dancing with a nymph of around the same age, pretending at being Will. Their hands slipped apart and it felt like a rift, a great canyon had engulfed them, splitting them. She went to walk away, but he must know.
"Do I at least get to have a name to think of you by?"
The crowd around her began to consume her, hiding her, shielding her, but he saw her smile, forever imprinted onto the backs of his eyelids, to grace and calm him when he blinked.
"Where is the fun of that? I thought you loved mysteries?"
And she was gone once more, his woodland nymph, taking the sun with her, leaving him to numbing reality. Garlen, who had played witness to his temptation, his fault, clapped him on the back, his grin turning rakish.
"Dear William, I did not know you had it in you. I also see your leg has miraculously gotten well again. We must tell mother, her prayers to the crone and mother have worked wonders."
Willas shook off his hand, gaze still on the spot she had once inhabited, though his own grin took root upon his face.
"She is not fond of the heir of Highgarden. It seemed prudent not to relinquish my mask so soon. She is such a delightful creature, after all."
Willas could feel Garlen's hand stiffen upon his back, and out of the corner of his eye, could see his smile fracture around the edges, though Garlen bravely clung to it. He knew what Garlen was thinking, he had been thinking it repeatedly himself. What was he doing?
"Not that I do not like this new side of you, but, tell me, you have not forgotten the duty you hold to your betrothed?"
Willas turned dark and acidic.
"I have not forgotten my duty to my family."
He was right. None of this was for this Targaryen conqueror, but for his family. Everything he did, everything he would do, would be for his family. If his mother did not love his father the way she did, somedays he would believe he was a bloody Tully bastard rather than a Tyrell. His voice was dull and dead when he spoke.
"I simply wished to be… Someone else. If but for a while."
Garlen answering smile was filled with pity and Willas forced himself to look away, plucking his cane up. He could not stand pity. Like everything else in his life, he would grin and bear this too. He must. For his sister. For his brothers. For his parents. For his family. They would survive this even if he must be fed to a dragon. He could ensure that much. He would have their backs…
"Good. As long as we get Willas back before the weeks end. Grandmother and Margaery will only be stalled by the excuse of your leg for so long… However, that doesn't mean you have to be Willas again quite yet. You deserve some peace and fun. If anyone deserves it, it's you dear brother. Now come, tell me when you are going to meet the fair maid again?"
… For they always had his.
Three Weeks Later:
Willas Tyrell could have never been accused of shrinking from his duties. Openly, he was warden of the south in all but name. He was his own small council, master of coin and hand. He kept the Reaches stocks full and prepared for when winter did finally hit, he took ahold of its treasury, kept their numbers and loans balanced, he listened to his Lords and acted in accordance, settled disputes and tried to make life for those in the Reach as smooth and plentiful as he could. However, in this one instance, Willas was shirking his duties.
He should have left Honeyholt nearly a month past, he should be at Highgarden right now, and yet, here he was, sitting on a bench besides a small rolling hill underneath an oak tree. He had met the woodland nymph nearly every day since the Dance of the red kiss. They would convene in small taverns, little alleyways, the Honeywine river, and even here, under this very oak tree. Sometimes, when he couldn't make the journey due to his lords and relatives, or if his leg was flaring once more, Garlen would run interference for him, setting up the next little secret gathering, without complaint.
They talked over a manner of all things. Favourite colours, she loved red and gold. Philosophy, she was a pragmatic little thing, but overall, an infuriating optimist who believed if given the chance, all were good. Although, neither of them really touched deeply on the matter, they spoke of home. She never gave him a name, but she described rolling hills and fields, snow cresting on mountain tops, sharp winds and blue, open skies. They talked of family, she spoke fondly and reverently of men called Sirius and Remus, and while Willas changed their names, he too spoke of his own siblings, the mischief they wrangled themselves into in their younger years, the arguments, but overall, the love so abound in his home. Through all of this, every conversation, in an unspoken agreement, she never did give her name and she only ever called him Will.
Someone mounted over the small hill before him, a heavy brown cloak drawn up and tight around their neck, hood hanging low over shadowed eyes. Willas beamed as he clasped his walking cane, coming to a tittering stand. Yet, the closer the woman got, the more uneasy his stomach felt. She was too small, curvier, and when she got close enough to drop her hood, Willas very well nearly swallowed his own tongue.
"Garlen told me I could find you here."
Margaery. Willas fell back to a seat unsteadily, placing his cane besides himself once more. How long could he have expected to stay? A month had been a good run. It was more than he could have hoped for. Yet, not enough. Never enough. Willas looked skyward, up to a little blue tit flying overhead, nesting in the tree he sat under.
"I suppose you and grandmother got tired of waiting for me."
Margaery sat beside him, her woollen, finely woven cloak brushing his leg as the flap slipped open, showing off the golden threaded embroidery of her silken blue dress skirt. Her hair was pinned high upon her head, loose curls shining like gems under the soft light of noon day. His sister always looked perfect, together, a painted rose. He loved his sister dearly, and it was a high shame that it was her presence now that was souring his mood with poignant reality. He needed to go to Highgarden. He needed to finish… Whatever this thing was and get back to his duties, his life, his betrothed.
"I grew worried when all the word we received was about how poor your leg was. The Targaryen host has been with us for seven days now."
Willas knew what she was doing, none too subtly reminding him of where he should be, what he should be doing. She needn't too. He knew all too well. He had known all along.
"Well, have you met her?"
That was the good thing about his sister. You never had to elaborate. It was likely she knew what you were going to say, what you were thinking off, before the thought even formed in your mind. She was sharp witted, his sister. Deadly too. It was another shame so many people overlooked her mind for her beauty. Margaery looked out to the hill, shaking her head gently.
"No. It seems she too has been delayed by travel. It's funny, really, watching the excuses each morn that Grandmother and Oberyn Martell bat at each other like cats playing with a ball of yarn."
For a moment, one single, stupid, idiotic moment, he thought he was free.
"Do you think she will not arrive?"
He knew the answer as soon as the first word passed his lips and teeth. The Targaryen would show face, she had to, life was not kind and it would take great pleasure in this farce of a show. Margaery sent him a cutting smile.
"No. Viserys and Oberyn assure us she will appear. Oberyn says she is fond of the smallfolk and has likely made camp in a small town to speak and view the people. However, they had word from her before I rode out and she should be arriving in Highgarden by the weeks end. Grandmother wishes for you to be there for when she arrives."
Will's time had come to die and be laid to rest. The question was, was he strong enough to put the dagger into his heart? Could he really turn away now? He knew he should, by the seven he should, but he thought he did not have the strength too. But he must. He must. Bile rose up and burned his throat as another figure appeared over the hill, skirts and scarf swaying in the wind as she tumbled down the hill in long strides, waving.
Willas turned to Margaery, saw her hair, her fine dress and scrambled. He flipped her cloak closed once more, wrapping the material tight to hide her expensive dress, darting a hand into her hair to pull her pins free, watching the curls tumble down as she indignantly huffed and swatted at him.
"Have you lost your mind? What are you doing?"
Willas crammed the bejewelled pins into his own cloaks inner pocket, and with one last scan of Margaery, delved a hand into her hair and ruffled.
"She does not know who I am. Do not slip, please, Margaret."
It was all he could say in the time he had before the maiden was upon them, smiling, pleasantly flushed and chest heaving from the small run. Anew, Willas was struck with the paralyzing thought that he had never seen nothing as beautiful as he was witnessing then.
"Sorry I am late, I was at the river bank with the children again and… I'm sorry, am I interrupting?"
The maiden turned her merry gaze to Margaery and Willas too slowly turned to his sister, wondering if she would play along or out him for the duplicitous liar he had become. He should have known the answer. Margaery loved her games as much as Grandmother did. Margaery stood, all smiles and twinkling eyes.
"No, not at all! I'm… Margaret, Will's sister. It's so lovely to meet you! Will has told me so much about you!"
Something, a shadow, passed before the maid's eye as Willas too, came to a stand. She held her hand out towards Margaery.
"Give me your hand."
Her voice was as succulent as a ripe pear, but there was something steely underneath the juice, a pip, a stone, a bite.
Even as his sister questioned the act, she held her hand out for the woodland nymph. The maiden gently took it and turned it around in her own, cradling the limb, looking into the palm.
"I have many talents, and one is fortune telling. Now shush."
Margaery got swept up in it, caught in the snare, but Willas saw the keen slant of the maiden's eye. He was about to pull his sisters hand back for her when Margaery excitedly whispered back, the wind carrying her voice far.
"What do you see?"
The woodland nymph, all cat eyed and sharped tooth, slipped in closer to Margaery, both huddling over the prone, soft hand.
"I see… Golden lions. A cub."
Margaery looked up from her hand, shock pulling her mouth slack.
The maiden hummed, ran her thumb across the palm and looked forlornly into the crease of Margaery's fingers.
"I see a throne made of sticks… games… A crown…"
Margaery's eyes lit up like stars in the night sky, bursting to life.
"Truly? What shape is the crown?"
The woodland nymph looked feral then, smirking, eyes pinning Margaery in place.
"The shape of lies."
Then she batted the hand away, stepping back, wrapping her arms around her chest.
"You have the wit gleaming in your eye like a star. Pretty as a rose you may be, but as dangerous as monkswood too, I bet."
The maiden pulled further away from them and turned to face him, something cold and detached glazing her face to stone.
"I know you are lying to me. You have been lying to me all along."
Willas blinked and struggled to breathe any words to life. He didn't need to as the maiden held her hand up and shrugged.
"No, honestly, I do not care. Fake names, fake farms, I do not care. Just don't try to play games with me. Trust me, it will not end well."
Willas found his voice finally as he took a step closer to her. Thankfully, she did not back away, but her eyes were now shrewd and calculating.
"I am not playing games, nor will I."
Then she was smiling again, the fire back, the kind of smile that seems sincerely sweet with just the right touch of naivety and shyness that sent an unexpected rush of warmth through Willas. She had the kind of smile that made you feel happy to be alive and just that little bit more human. Perfect in it's crooked, crumpled, lopsided way.
"Good. That's all that matters, I do not care what your real name is. In fact, I don't think I want to know. Truth is often more dull and dreary than the fantasies we make in our minds and you're not the only one who likes mysteries."
Margaery laughed like tinkling bells of the sept, clapping.
"Grandmother would like you so!"
Willas shook his head and shuddered, though the wind was mellow and agreeable.
"Please, do not equate her to grandmother again."
One Olenna Tyrell was enough for this poor, poor world. The maiden flickered her gaze between them, swinging the basket in her hand as she tapped her foot, nearly bouncing on her heels. Since he had come to know her, she had always been that way. Always in movement, never still, a rush and wave of action and energy.
"I'm going blackberry picking. Are you two coming?"
Margaery looked at him, questions in her eyes, questions that needed answers, answers he couldn't give, but Willas forced himself to smile and nod and play the calm facade.
"Yes, of course. I'll follow you in a moment, I just need a word with my sister."
The woodland nymph nodded and twirled on her heal, pouncing down the path that would lead to the blackberry bushes at the bottom of that hill. She was barely out of sight and ear before Margaery leapt upon him.
"What are you doing!"
Willas sagged upon his cane as if he was a banner cut loose and caught on a pole, rubbing tiredly, agitatedly at his eyes with a stiff and unforgiving hand.
"I cannot answer that, for I do not know."
Margaery huffed, and as he knew she would, she began to rant at him in a hushed, vicious little voice that, if heard separately from her face, no one could pin to her.
"This isn't you! You are the reliant one. The true one. Recklessness is left to me and Loras! What are you going to do, bring the peasant harlot with you to your-"
Willas snapped, his muscles tightening, his own gaze slitting and turning harsh as he snapped his eyes to her.
"Don't call her that!"
Margaery wilted, frowning and blinking confusedly, mouth flopping open and shut. It was the first time he had ever raised his voice to her, ever, and the shock that he would do so now, over a peasant girl was not lost on him. He scrubbed a hand down his face, the skin pulling on his stubble as he broke like a water skin, all his secrets spewing forth.
"I do not know what I am doing, but I cannot stop! I know my duty! I know it better than you! Do you not think I know how this will end? Pain! I know and I cannot change course, so please, sister, do not lecture me! I will marry the Targaryen; you and grandmother can fear not! But I met her and I can't… I've fallen… I know… I know."
Margaery broke too, her face like a bed of pale roses as she smiled sadly at him, reaching up to cradle his face between the palms of her hands.
"Oh, Willas. Dear, stupid, lovable Willas…"
Willas felt his eyes watering, a mist settling over his gaze but he valiantly fought it back. He reached up, wove his fingers through her hand upon his cheek and squeezed, trying to ground himself to something, anything.
"I know how this will end, but I cannot stop."
Margaery pulled her hands back and he let her go as she wound her arms around him, hugging, resting her cheek against his chest. Willas embraced her back just as tightly. Her voice was muffled against his cloak, but her words were ever so tempting, nectar to an aching soul.
"Perhaps it doesn't need to end…"
Willas gave a mournful laugh. A sad, repulsive, broken noise. A little bit like him, he thought.
"Yes. Yes it does. We both know that."
Margaery detangled herself from him, but laid her hands upon his shoulders, features determined, mouth stubborn, eyes challenging.
"Then, do not soil the only time you have left. Go, have fun. I can hold Grandmother back for an extra day or two. Spend it wisely."
Willas smiled as best as he could, knowing his time was coming to an end. He brushed a stray lock behind her ear, caressing it between thumb and forefinger, as he said something he had not in years.
"I love you sweet sister."
The Tyrells didn't often display their emotions, even less did they affirm them through words. They showed them through actions, through being there for each other, in the little things. Like Loras's age and still lacking a betrothal. Like Garlen's own marriage to a woman who was not quite his station. Like trying to crown Margaery nearly three times over. Through this, an extra day or two. They may not say it often, but their love was there, clearly. Margaery chuckled.
"Of course, you do. Everybody does."
Three Days Later:
This time, Willas did not need to hunt the woodland nymph out. She had sent word to him, through a little messenger boy, to meet him at this very tavern. So, here he was, waiting on a little balcony, the moon shining down upon him, staring up at the stars, his sweet sister waiting in the room behind him. It wasn't long before Margaery peeped out of the door to the inns room, her face tight and worried.
"The lady is here to see you."
Irrationally, Willas grew worried. Had the maiden been hurt? Was this the reason for her calling to meet him in the dead of night, on such short notice? The maiden stepped out from behind Margaery, face grim and lined, dressed in breeches and a travelling tunic, a black headscarf wrapped neatly and tightly around her head, a little satchel slung over her shoulder.
"Are you hurt, my lady? Has anything-"
He stepped towards her, reaching, and she flinched. Flinched. Eyes cast down to the wooden floor of the balcony. Willas faltered, his arm dropping down to his side, and Margaery's words fell on dead ears.
"I shall leave you two with some privacy."
The door thudded closed with finality ringing in its tone. The maiden did not look at him, adamantly refused to as she strolled to the railing of the balcony, resting her hands upon the bar, knuckles white with tension as she looked up and out to the sky. Willas was slower in joining her side, unsteady within himself. Tonight was the night. In the morn, he would be leaving for Highgarden, to go wed a dragon, and this life, her, the sun, would be forever closed to him. Did she know he was leaving? Had she figured out who he was?
"I am betrothed."
For a beat of his heart, he was confused. Had he spoken? No. His lips had not moved, neither his tongue, and yet, it was his secret that was pulling the air tight around them.
He stuttered. Her head sagged, there was a shake to her shoulders before she shook it off, lifting her head proudly as she finally, irreversibly came to look upon him. He wondered what she saw there. Did she see sadness? Remorse? Longing? For he saw the same in her, like a reflection, the two bouncing off one another.
"I am betrothed."
Her hands violently shook as she pulled them away, wrapping her arms protectively around her chest as if she could physically hold herself together.
"I never thought I would say that. I am betrothed. Me. Betrothed. I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
She looked up to the stars, looking for answers like he had done before she came. None would come. Life was cruel. Vicious. A rabid animal.
"Is it wrong of me to say I hate him? I try to, at least. The people around here sing his praises, would kiss the dirt he walked on if he asked them to. He's not a bad man from what I hear… He sounds good. Kind. Loving, he cares for his people diligently… But I hate him all the same. He's older than me, a stranger, some man whose father turned a deaf ear to my family when they needed him most, and now the tables have turned. But.. I… There it is. I am betrothed."
Idly, he jealously wondered who she would marry. Likely Ambrose's heir. He was a kind man. Quiet, but kind. Heat flared in his stomach, angry and clawing, but he stomped it down as best as he could. What right did he have to feel anything, anything at all, at this news? Had he not done the same to her? In slow realisation, it came to him, the game they had both been playing.
"You were running."
Her answering smile was as beautifully broken as his own crippled leg.
"I would not call it running per say. More like gathering my thoughts, steeling my spine."
Even against the odds, knowing it would never happen, he closes the distance between them, holds her shoulders and pulls her close. But he had to say, if only to give the idea life, just a short, wondrous life.
"Run away with me. Right now. Leave all this behind us."
Her arms unfurl, one lands on his own arm, weaving like a vine, the other places itself right above his heart, her fingers playing with the tassel of his tunic, palm feeling the heat and beat of his chest through the cloth confining it.
"A beautiful thought. We could build our own little orchard, sell the apples in a little stall, perhaps have a goat or two…"
She is choking by the end, valiantly fighting back the tears and emotions as her voice trembles and quakes. Willas feels something wet slip down his own cheek, slipping into the crux of his lip, making his twisted smile taste like sea water.
"We can name them Willas and Tyrell."
She laughs. She sobs. Or, perhaps, it is him. Mayhaps it is them both.
"I didn't mean for this to happen. I just wanted to clear my mind, and then I met you…"
Willas's hand left the sanctuary of her arm to cradle the bend of her cheek, calloused thumb sweeping over the sharp cheekbone, wiping away the tear. There was no more running now. No more hiding. His voice was husky, whispered, tone lamenting.
"And then I met you. I too am betrothed. I didn't mean for any of this. I just wanted-"
She clasped his own hand upon her cheek, squeezing with long fingers.
"to pretend, just for a little while, like our life is in our own hands. I know."
His eyes slid closed as he tried to even his breathing.
"You're going back."
He could feel her give a short nod.
"As are you. The things we do for family."
He's head hung forward, forehead brushing forehead, and her could feel the raise of her scar against his skin. She was always so warm, flushed, what would he do without the heat when she left? He didn't want to be cold again.
"I do not want to say goodbye. I don't think I can."
Her hand left his chest, left his own upon her face and glided against his cheeks, fingers delving into his curls, blunt nails scraping against scalp pleasantly as she tugged him closer, breath against breath, eye to eye, forehead to forehead.
"Then don't. Don't say goodbye and I won't either, and forever, we can pretend we have a little orchard, with goats and laughter and warmth."
He couldn't help it.
She cut him off sharply.
"Don't. Please. Say anything but that."
He's eyes squeezed shut so tightly, his vision turned burning white. He wasn't sure whether it was his own tears upon his face, or hers now.
"But I do… I do…"
She shook violently in his arms, like a leaf falling from a tree in a harsh wind. Skin thin and brittle.
"I do too, but if you say it, if I say it, it's real. it's there and I can't turn my back on that but I have to… I have to…"
Perhaps he could not say it, too painful and sore, but, as with his Tyrell blood, he could show it. His lips crashed upon hers like he had into the Honeywine river that day, and again, he felt like he was drowning.
Her kiss was gentle, sweet, tinged with heat and smoke. All summer sun and winter sadness as the taste of their combined tears wet their tongues and lips. It is a sad thing. This kiss. Bittersweet glory. Adoring defeat. To come so close and yet know, right there, this single indulgence of their beating hearts would be all they would ever have. It made it impossible to pull away, torturous to keep going.
Limb to limb, heart to heart, they tangled together, thorns and all. He had been right. He did not have the strength to pull away, to leave… But she did. She rested her forehead against his again, breath hot and heavy, grasping tightly on his curls, as if she could imprint herself upon him.
"Think of me?"
Her nodded and choked.
She waited there, for a lifetime, for a blink, and then she was pulling away, sharply, as if pulling a dagger free. As she walked away, her steps so light and fast, she was nearly running from the balcony. Willas mentally begged her to look back, he pleaded for her not to and his heart broke when she faded from sight, the creak and slam of the door echoing the break of his heart. His woodland nymph, left, back to her forest domain where he could no longer tread. He pulled himself up and over to the railing, tried to fruitlessly hold himself together, hands braced against the rail, and looked out at the moon. Alone. Sad in the sky.
"Brother, I just saw the maid leave in tears. I hope for this Targaryen sake you are not such a poor gentleman."
He knows Margery is only trying to cheer him up. She could not see in the gloom of night that his shoulders quaked vehemently. But when he glanced back, the fire from the room inside lighting his face, glistening his tears, reddening his eyes, she saw his pain and anguish clear enough.
"Margery, don't. Not now."
She came to his back, and for once, his sister did not scheme, did not snark, did not give underhanded insults and compliments. She laid her hand gently upon his back and rubbed as if he was a babe. In truth, he felt like one then.
"I am sorry. If anyone deserved happiness in our family, it was you Willas. It is you."
Willas breathed in a shuddering breath and squared his shoulders. It was done. There was no going back.
"But not when that happiness is at the stake of our family."
And still, he cried. Sobbed. Wept for all the things that could have been. For losing the warm, lively sun to his reclusive, solitary moon.
A.N: Honestly, I'm writing these little ideas up to keep inspiration flowing for my other fic; The Jade Dragon. While writing my fics, I find myself distracted by errant what ifs and could have beens that don't fit into the fic I write, and often need to write these musings out themselves to stop them from plaguing me and bogging down my story. This time, However, instead of letting the little critters gather dust on my hard-drive, I thought I would post them and see if anyone, apart from myself, could gain any enjoyment from them.
Willas, Willas, Willas... What can I say? I adore Willas Tyrell (From the little we've heard of him), so, of course, one of the first plot bunnies to be sprung from The Jade Dragon would be a; What if Haraella married him instead? That being said, this chapter grew monstrous in length, 14,000 words, and I'm only half way through it, so I've decided to post this half and post the PART II, when I get around to writing it up from the notes I have.
IMPORTANT PLEASE READ:
Here's the real kicker! As I said, this fic is to hopefully keep my muses working on The Jade dragon. However, PROMPTS ARE NEEDED! I welcome them greatly! I like challenging myself in writing, it's where the fun is, and I love writing for your amusement too, so what better way to keep my muses going by keeping focused on Haraella, but also to take what you guys want to see into account too?
The prompts can be anything, A song, a word, like orange or sky, a picture, even a point by point script of what you want to see happen. The pairings are open too! Anything goes! Send them together, for example; Tyrion Lannister and a barrel of arbor gold or, Robb Stark and Imagine dragons, whatever it takes. See? And don't be shy about the pairings either, flood me with those rare pairs! I adore them! Give me the Arthur Dayne's, Domeric Bolton's, Theon's, Daario's, Oberyn's and Podrick's, damn... Send me the Joffrey's, Ramsay's and Euron's too XD. No ones barred from this fic lmao! The only rule is it somehow has to involve Haraella, perhaps not even romantically, but it has to include her.
I will, of course, credit each prompt to it's giver, multiple if I blend some, or there is more than one given for the same person and prompt. Send them by P. M or review.
Well, that's all for now! I hope you enjoyed whatever this is, and will like what is to come. Hopefully, I will be bouncing between this fic and The Jade Dragon, but I'll be honest, whichever has more inspiration and motivation going for it will be the one I'll be working on, I really can't write for shit if I'm just not feeling it at that moment.
Until next time, stay beautiful! ~AlwaysEatTheRude21