The Barefoot Bride And The Love-drunk Lord
A day before the wedding, Margaery Tyrell made her move. It was customary, Margaery knew, for the bride to the Tyrell heir to wear a crown of golden roses for the marriage ceremony, honouring the time the Tyrells were Kings and Queens of the Reach. It was likewise traditional for the mother of the groom, or if she was otherwise unable to complete the task through illness, departure or death, for the closest female relation to bequeath the golden rose crown to the bride before the wedding.
Margaery thought this was her chance to finally, finally, see the elusive Princess. She had spent three days upon the crown, pruning only the very brightest, the very softest, the most loveliest of roses from their vast gardens to weave together, and a rather brief discussion with her mother left the task solely and securely in her hands. Once it was done, as well as could be, Margaery laid it upon a velvet gifting pillow, gathered her ladies, and made siege of the wing the Targaryen's were holding as their own during their stay.
Or rather, assembled by her maids, Margaery ventured down to the Princess's door only to be blockaded by a certain Ser Jon Connington standing guard outside. Margaery had heard tales of the knight, rumours of a young man who's passions ran as fiery red as his beard and hair. Nearing forty, it was harder to see that young valent knight within him, with a lined, leathery face. Yet, there was something honest in the crow's feet padding the corners of his pale, blue eyes, and though his thick mane of hair had grayed long ago, there was barely ash displayed in his deep beard.
Margaery smiled at him, as warm and soothing as milk and honey.
"It is tradition I give the Princess this crown. I am sure you understand, kind Ser?"
Connington did not so much as move an inch from in front of the door Margaery was desperately trying to enter.
"I told you, my Lady Tyrell, the Princess is accepting no visitors. I have clear and irrefutable orders. No one goes in, and no one goes out of the chamber behind me."
Head tilting to the side, revealing the soft slope of her thin, pale neck, Margaery made herself as light as possibly, a cloud edging the skies, silky and delicate and gracefully naive. She had known what a guileless grin could do to a man, chiefly her father and brothers, since she was not but five name days old, they folded like a hand of bad cards, and she used that knowledge well.
"Surely I would not cause much interruption? I will be but a moment, I swear."
Margaery strode to the side, intent on going around the imposing knight, when, as swiftly, Connington's arm shot out, braced against the wall, obstructing her incursion. He did not scowl at her, nonetheless, merely smiled, smiled with all the age of his years, experienced and wise and, ostensibly, untouched by a woman's rehearsed allure.
How very curious.
"I am afraid your delightful charm does not work so well on me, my Lady. Orders are orders, pretty crowns or not. The Princess is not to be disturbed for nothing less than this magnificent castle falling down around our ears."
Margaery sighed deeply, sensing the resonances of a battle long lost before it had truly begun. Shame, indeed. She held no nefarious means in this meeting. She did not wish to intimidate the Princess, or pry or snoop, only… Only to catch one single glimpse.
Aegon, strangely called Griff by Connington and many of his House, in meetings with Mace spoke of nimble limbs, skin kissed by sands and sun, fire in the soul, and eyes as green as the hills of the Reach. Daenerys, over tea and cherry cakes with Margaery's Grandmother and herself, spoke of kind smiles, and gentler hugs, and a sweet, sweet friend. Viserys, over Luncheon, and a rather pointed look at her brother Willas, his own soon to be good brother, told tales of intelligence, and the ability to gut a man from three steps afar should they prove themselves unhonourable.
The message, with that one, was clear.
And yet, the Tyrells, those who would accept this private Princess as one of their own, had seen nothing. Surely, as with all betrothals, the tales of this bride were… Not exaggerated, precisely, but perhaps polished a little smoother.
Margaery, knowing what her brother had given up for this wedding, a peace accord masquerading as a wedding she reminded herself, having seen first-hand, for the first time in her life, the gentle and kind man she knew Willas was break down and… And sob atop a tavern balcony-
Margaery Tyrell knew. She knew, and though it was a poor consolation prize indeed, compared to the common girl Willas had fallen for in Honeyholt, who was, from memory, as beautiful as Jenny from the songs, she had believed bringing back news that his soon to be wife did not having the face of a boar could ease his ache and trepidation.
If only a little.
It seemed Margaery would not get that chance.
Instead, Margaery, having nothing else to bargain for, held out the velvet cushion for Ser Connington to take.
"Can you give this to the Princess, if I may not?"
There was something poignant in his smile then, a sad little ghost pulled tight at the corners of his thinning lips.
"Given the rather… Poor, shall we call it, recent history of Targaryens and crowns of roses, perhaps it is tempting fate, and a little in bad taste, to have another given on this day."
Rhaegar and Lyanna.
Yes, certainly. Margaery had not thought-
Well, it did appear, in light of recollection, to be a little in bad taste. Under a different kind of light, it might be seen as an insult all together. The Mother forbid Willas's life turn any corner sad, beautiful, dead Rhaegar's had. Margaery could not bear it if-
Yet wasn't that the life of a Targaryen? The legacy of dragons blood? She knew her history as well as any highborn Lady and she knew, knew as she knew her brother was hurting, that a Targaryen didn't typically have a happy life.
Nor was it conventionally very long.
The Targaryens loved hard, lived harder, and died harshest.
Margaery could only hope, and would prey, that curse would not seep into their own family like poison. Preparing to turn around, finding nothing else to speak of, to ask, was when Connington took pity.
"Yet, if tradition dictates a crown of flowers must be worn…"
She glanced back over her shoulder to him, held his gaze as one would hold a baby bird, tenderly with hopeful care, and he softened in her scope like warmed wax.
Perhaps he was not so impervious to her 'delightful charms', after all.
Connington smiled, still solemn, still nostalgic.
"Aye, lilies. If you, by chance, have lilies you could weave, I am sure a crown of such a flower would be held… Dear to the Princess."
Margaery cast a cursory peek to the crown on the cushion in her hands. It really was a pretty thing, golden and gilt and as fresh as spring. In bloom-speech, a popular and common practice and tongue in the Reach, roses were the flowers of love, devotion, passion, of courtly pure affection. Lilies were-
Lilies were the flower of death.
What sort of luck would a bride bring if she walked down the Sept, a Sept filled with those who could see and understand the sight, with death on her brow?
"Tis not the season for lilies, Ser. We only have a sparse few crimson lilies in bloom and-"
"Are they red?"
Stiltingly, perplexed, Margaery nodded, a quick downward dip of her dainty chin.
"Dark but red, yes."
Connington, nevertheless behaving as if all this could conceivably make any form of sense, bowed his head to the ornate door at his back, gesturing.
"Better yet. She'd like that, the Princess."
Sensing her growing uncertainty, Connington finally clarified in a soft voice intended for whispers and sighs and river breeze.
"Her mother, Lady Margaery, was red of hair and called Lily. Murdered long before her time, and unable to see her child wed-… I am sure Haraella would like the gesture, if she could wear her mother's name sake if she cannot have her here. Haraella is… Nervous, as I am sure you can likely understand. Having something that reminds her of her mother, a very bold and brave woman, might ease her worries."
Margaery, as she understood her brother's pain, could, perhaps, understand this Targaryen's apprehensions, knowing one day she too would wed. A wedding in a land not her own, surrounded by people she had never seen before, to a man ten and one years her senior, a man she had never met-
This slight act of kindness could ease some of that, and if so, Margaery was willing to do it, as a woman who might face the same fate one day. The worst to be had by filling such a task would be ingratiating her brother to his bride, at the cost of kicking up some bewildered murmurs and hums of the crowd when they saw the crown in the Sept.
The common girl, the Jenny-not-Jenny as Margaery had come to call her in her mind, had worn a scarf of red above her head, capped her hair and head in crimson and perchance, mayhap, the red crown would remind Willas of his sacrifice, to see his duty deigned bride in a cover of red, but not the red he wished for and-
Margaery bowed to the knight.
"Once it is done I will send it with my Ladies to you. The Princess will have it come dusk."
A gruff nod was all her answer, as Connington turned back to guard the door, clearly done with whatever he wished to say on the matter. Margaery left with her Ladies at her flank, and by evening, the new lily crown was handed over.
Margaery received only a slip of parchment back, handed to her door by a maid from the Targaryen delegation when the stars began to shine in the darkened sky, but it was much more than anyone else had gained from the Princess, and in it, so small, a sparse few sentences, Margaery held a little hope that this mess could be something salvageable.
That, perhaps, her brother, her dear Willas, would find some sort of peace with this girl the same as Margaery in years.
I do not know how you knew; I find myself afraid to ask. You Tyrell's seem so very good a ferreting out secrets, but I digress. I cannot thank you enough for your gift, for it means much more than words can correctly say. I owe you, Lady Margaery, a great kindness for the one you have given me. If your brother is as half as thoughtful as you, I can sleep easy this night. With Kind Regards, Princess Haraella Targaryen.
When the first shaft of sunlight broke through the vista at the east, the bells of the Sept begun to peal, drawing in the time for weddings and beddings and peacock-posturing. It seemed, to Margaery at least, all of Highgarden, and then some, had risen with the sun to see their Liege Lord wed.
Minor Lords visiting, servants and smallfolk alike, had all bundled together into the narrow boulevards to watch the procession of the groom and his family, the Tyrells, ride their way from the West gate to the Sept, and, Margaery was sure, many more had gone to the East gate to watch the Targaryen procession do very much the same. Only in the middle, at the very heart of Highgarden, would the two Houses meet, and the groom and bride even later, at the alter inside underneath the watchful gaze of the Septon.
The rickety stalls that typically cropped up in the briar labyrinth had been rushed away that morn, hidden and dismantled to make room for the roaring crowds writhing as far as the eyes could see. Outside the many gardens laid newly erected podiums, children in dress upon the stages, entertaining men and women with plays of Garth Greenhair and his wife who had only been the size of a ripened fireplum, if legend was to be believed.
On walls and alleys and turrets laid torches, unlit but oiled, ready and waiting for the festivities of nightfall. Through the squirming crowds spun dancers and acrobats and ribbon weavers, trailing silks of green and gold twirling in the air, circling and back-flipping to all's amusement. Minstrels dotted corners and plateaus, pounding beats on deerskin drums mixed with river reed lutes, even if, for commiserations to the Targaryen party making their way on the opposite side of Highgarden, no singer had brought a harp.
Over the bridges from one wall to another, smudged gold and red and black with harlequin shapes, shimmering bells and frayed garlands from jaunty caps, capered and dived jesters, juggling knives and apples and flaming torches.
It was through this, this laughter and delight and glee, the Tyrell party rode through, upon horses neatly groomed and slicked, newly shoed in caps of gold. As groom, Willas rode front and centre, upon his favoured horse Cedar, strapped as he was in his exclusively made saddle, with Garlen, Loras, and father close behind. Following those rode Margaery, Lady Leonette Fossoway, Garlan's much loved wife, mother and grandmother in the litter. Beyond even those were the Hightowers, cousins and uncles and too many faces to count.
The crowd cheered deafeningly as they came about the corner, throwing petals of roses upon the ground at their horses hooves, begging blessings for their Lords and Ladies and well wishes for all. Margaery, through it all, waved and smiled and blew kisses to the crowds, who steeped in her love like parched soil soaked in water.
This was not like the wedding of a Lord and Lady.
Margaery had seen her fair share of those, had been aptly transfixed by Garlan's wedding a year hence, and had, one turn or another, imagined her own wedding.
No… This was like a wedding of a King, a beloved King and his beloved wife, and Willas-
Willas paid no heed to the petals they were rained upon, nor the cheering, or the music, or the jugglers and merry dancers. Willas sat tall and proud in his buckled saddle, and Willas stared dead ahead, cold and hard and somewhere far away.
Margaery doubted Willas truly knew when the procession was over, when they took to the Sept and their uncle, Baelor Hightower, helped him down from his horse and handed him his cane, which had been decorated with scented candles and misty incense, and flowers stitched into canopies to hang above the stapled ceiling, reflecting the crystal light of the numerous stained glass windows.
Perhaps Willas did not know when he had came to the altar, placed between the effigies of the Mother and the Father, and the family, his family, the very reason he was to be wed that day, sat themselves on his side of the Sept.
Possibly he did not even know, as he did not turn and face the door, when the Targaryen party entered, filling the empty left, flying banners of red and black and roaring dragons, garbed so oddly compared to the Tyrells, much more in number than Margaery had thought they would be, to equal squeals of delight from the crowds outside, only hushing when the grand doors slammed shut behind them.
Willas moved through it all, Margaery thought, as if he were lost in a dream.
Or a nightmare.
Aegon sat at the very front of the Sept, as did the Tyrell's, followed by Daenerys and Oberyn Martell. The only one missing, Margaery could see, was Viserys, who would be, at this time, with the bride. As her father, much like her mother, was dead, it fell to her uncle to guide her to the altar, to give her bare shoulders to Willas to veil in green and gold roses.
When the sun reached high, and the sky a pale blue, the Septon, who rose above them all on the altar's dais, unshod and pious, praying above the incense, looked up to the guards at the door, nodding. At his signal, the doors opened, a groaning slog that echoed in the suddenly still and silent air.
It was time.
Willas did not turn even here, as the bride and her uncle came upon the door of the Sept, and Margaery, as curious as she was about her soon to be good sister, found herself, instead, gazing at his back. In the diverse tints of the Sept, his hair shone chestnut bullion, his figure cut something keen and proud and extraordinarily handsome… And completely detached. A puppet held upright from strings unseen.
Margaery's heart broke for her brother then. Shattered in her chest and scarred pieces into her rib cage. If she could have taken his place, she would have.
However, the rest of the gathered kin and brethren found no such anguish, as they did turn to steal peeps and peeks, whispers breaking out from back to front like a lapping tide on a shore. A cooing kind of thrill and delight that thawed the air and-
Garlan swore at her side.
"By the Maiden…"
Broken from her stupor, Margaery rolled to face her brother, halfway already to asking what was wrong when, from over his broad, plated shoulder, she spotted the bride making her way up the aisle on the arm of Viserys Targaryen, robed in black and crimson leathers, chest glittering in a band of rubies, and a rather prominent glower upon his fair face.
Margaery noticed the crown first, possibly she sort it out instinctively because it was something she had crafted from her own hand, a tiara of lilies, so starkly crimson against a brow of pale white. It was a pretty thing, if she did say so herself, lovely and beautiful-
And it did nothing to outshine the sheer splendour of the girl wearing it.
Clothed in white, Margaery thought Haraella Targaryen was sculpted from star-shine, brilliant and bright and impossibly enchanting. Though she was slight in stature, smaller than even her aunt, Daenerys, who was slight in most spaces, Margaery realized the Targaryen host had not needed to overstate and inflate.
She was long limbed and agile, skin flushed to a beguiling glow dusted with flecks of freckles brushed gilt against the white. There was undeniably, Margaery thought, something exceedingly soft to her mouth, in the dip of a relaxed dimple, in the slope of her eye, and the slip of a shoulder, a compassion and comfort and mischief readily unearthed. There was moonlight trapped in her hair, a cascade of curls left loose to sway at her back in wind and movement. Yet, as Viserys had warned, there was a touch contradictingly… Fierce and fast about her too. As if she had thorns buried beneath her supple skin, and fangs secreted behind lush lip.
Her dress endorsed that enigma.
In a gown of Volantis silk and Rhoynish lace, the skirts were intertwined in slips trailing down, caught somewhere amid being scale or leaf. It was a delicate thing, from waist to feet, a fluttery form that moved as she did, fluid and effortless, long, loose, and layered, and yet, from the belly up, it could only be described as armour. The silk gave way to lace backed by burgundy silk, entwined firmly, with a high circular collar and a small screen at bosom.
It was a dancers dress.
It was a warriors plate.
It was… Beautiful, and she wore it well.
Perhaps a little too well.
Across her shoulders laid her bridal cloak, a work of marvellous wonder. A confection of black sable fur beaded with gems of black jet and dragonglass, and little chips of bright red garnet, sewn upon a bed of onyx cloth with a three headed dragon that appeared to move and breathe beneath the crystal light. That cloak was rumoured, Margaery had heard, to have once belonged to her grandmother, Rhaella, one of the only Targaryen Heirlooms saved after the sacking.
She wore only one piece of jewellery. Just one.
A pin to hold her cloak back at her throat.
A prancing stag in silver.
As she grew closer, floated beside her uncle, as the glitter and finery that had initially captured Margaery's attention dulled, Margaery recognized what her brother had seen immediately.
Haraella had the taste of Jenny about her, a strange but lovely girl with flowers in her hair, a girl who a Prince could give his kingdom up to have, a girl with eyes like wildfire, and a recognizable scar down her forehead and an achingly all too familiar face.
A face Margaery had seen before.
Margaery grinned, whipping around so fast her neck twanged in protest, and saw Willas, lovable, gullible Willas still refusing to turn.
Her mouth opened; air built in her lungs.
Garlan's hand upon her bicep drew her would-be shout to a stifled gasp. She squinted up to him, met his hazel gaze so much like her own, and watched him smile, bring a finger to his grin, and shush before winking at her.
Her gaze flew to the bride, now only just a foot away from the altar, and saw, much like Willas, her gaze did not roam, did not falter, pinned to something straight ahead invisible. Looking, but not looking, there, but not really.
Margaery Tyrell beamed brightly, and she did not try to shout again.
Haraella and Viserys made it to the altar, where Viserys stooped and took the cloak from her shoulders, whispering something in her ear, with a cutting flicker of his hand to the dagger strapped to his belt.
Haraella shook her head, and no more was done, as Viserys retreated to her far side, stationing himself for the vows as Haraella settled beside Willas.
Both utterly blind.
Willas thought, shortly, his senses would take leave of him and he would fall down unconscious. There was a sheen of sweat to his palm, and a heavy weight in his chest, and a terrible churning in his belly, and all he could concentrate on was the mawkish scent of rosemary and sea salt rising from the incense before him.
Impassive and disengaged, as if he were watching the happenings about him through a strangers gaze. He knew when the bride came to a stand at his side, and he knew when the Septon began droning through the pledges and invocations, he knew it all like Willas suspected, at the first shift of dirt beneath boot, a man could know he was going to be caught in a landslide with no hope of escape.
Yet, he could not get himself to face his soon to be wife.
Even the mere thought of it turned his stomach faster, his breathe heavier.
So he did the only thing he could. Willas stared ahead, behind the withered Septon, to the stained glass window of Garth Greenhand, and he counted the flowers braided into his beard, and when he ran out of flowers to count, he traced the shapes of moss knitted into his hair, and when that failed to ease his pounding heart, he counted the chips of glass used in the image itself.
He was still dazed, so very dizzy, and nauseous, with his leg thrumming something fierce below him, when the Septon ordered him to turn and place the cloak in his shaky, sweaty grip over the bride.
The window was fashioned from nine and ninety pieces of coloured glass. He began counting them again, sure he had missed a piece or two, and that did not make sense, did it? Willas was meticulous, painstakingly methodical. He did not make mistakes. Willas could not afford to. The Septon, slower, softer, asked him to turn anew. He made it to ten and seven pieces of glass.
The Sept is silent behind him, silent and mute and voiceless as the wait lingered on. Again, the Septon tried to gain his attention. Willas heard him, certainly he did in this sudden calm, but…
But he can't turn. He can't. He can't.
Willas Tyrell was never a truly virtuous or pious man, he had seen too much of man and humanity to believe in the old songs so foolhardily, much more at home with his telescope and star-charts and books than he was with the holy scriptures, but he was never one who tempted fate.
And this felt like he was not only tempting her, but spitting in her pretty face.
This was a mistake. The Gods, the Seven, Old and New and Red ones and Great Others, would know he had gone into this marriage with love for another in his heart, and they would be cursed before they ever had a chance to start, and the bride would blame him, for how could she not, and he would grow to despise her and-
Beyond the fog of panic steadily descending upon him, panic Willas did not know was panic until that very moment, a voice called through the rushing in his ears.
It was her voice.
He would know it anywhere, anytime, in any life. It was her voice, and perhaps his senses had flooded from him, and he was deep asleep on the floor, mayhap he had bashed his head against the stone steps of the dais and-
No, he was alert, aware, Willas thought. He was alert, and aware, and hearing her voice.
Her voice that sounded as confused as he felt, incredulous and baffled and frightened and-
And Willas turned to face his bride.
She was there, the girl who danced in fire, in all her sharp, stunning glory, and lopsided smile and, impossibly, it was not her at all. She no longer wore her scarf of cerise, instead her hair, so much of it Willas was sure he could get lost in there, was unbound and nearly blindingly white, a brighter shade of moon shine. Gone were the streaks of mud and soot, only gilt freckles mapping out dusky flesh. Her skirts, a tatter of stitched peasant patches she had loved to sway about her nimble legs, were replaced by a gown of ivory and snow fall.
It was her, his own Jenny of Oldstones, with flowers in her hair, only-
Only she was Duncan too, a Targaryen if there ever was one, all snappy keen edges and sly charm and a nasty bite hiding in the shallows. There she was…. There she was, and unexpectedly, Willas could see the game they had played.
The reason she had not given him her name. The many talks of an irritable but caring uncle, and a gentle aunt who brought her cakes and tea, and a cousin who had a good heart but misplaced it sometimes, and long winding journeys across cities of exotic marvel. The final goodbye filled with duty and obligation and burdens never spoken.
Duty that, in the end, had turned out to be each other.
As swiftly as it made a sick sort of sense, Willas, as promptly, found himself laughing. Laughing so hard there was a devastating pain in his chest, right between his ribs, as if his body had believed it would never laugh again and hurt at the discovery that it could. Laughing in the face of a very mystified congregation and a bitter faced Septon.
Beyond what little control he had of that moment, Willas reached for her, a dire sense to touch her packing what little places remained empty inside, to feel her there beneath his fingers and know-
Know she was real, and this was not a dream, or a dying fantasy, or a man made mad at a wedding altar. Willas was delirious, he thought disconsolately. Delirious and desperate, and so very much alive. She reached for him too, he saw, a rising of her hand before-
Before the clouds rolled in.
Her smile fell from her face and wrecked at her feet, like the shards of glass that made the window of Garth Greenhand, multicoloured and beautiful and tragically broken. She stumbled back a step, hip bumping altar, and his own hand, which had been on the slow journey to her face, met empty air. She looked at him as if she had never seen him before, a stranger wearing a loved ones face, something cruel and callous.
"Was this… Was this a joke?"
His hand fell down to flop useless at his side, his own grin hindered by the muddled frown weighing down his brow to something deep and dark.
Again, he tried to reach for her, the need was still there, by the Mother it was still there, simmering in his bones and gnawing at his soft pieces, urging him on, but it went hungry once more as she dipped away, something steely hardening her face before that, too, broke. She stumbled down the altar's steps, chest heaving, tripping on skirts.
"I-… I need air."
And then she was turning, spinning on her heel, and she was sprinting down the aisle in a flash of white and red and something bruised. Willas tried to follow, but his leg, his damned leg, held stiff and sore, and he called for her with a name he now knew.
She was gone. Vanished. Out the grand doors and away. Willas only made it to the middle of the walkway, to the lily crown that had tumbled from her head upon her great flee, with no hope of catching up on foot. He stooped down and plucked up the crown, slack petals dropping free to skim at his boot, and the Seven Hells broke loose.
They were all one wrong move from war being declared. With Haraella… Well, gone, disappeared without a trace to be sniffed out, blame was quickly levelled to each other from the other side.
Viserys was sure Haraella had fled because of some foul play Willas had cooked up, and Mace was insulted that a bride, upon the sighting of her to-be-husband, his own son, would run was an offense not only to Willas, but to all of Highgarden. Aegon, backed by his aunt, Daenerys, was beginning to suspect this marriage had all been a ploy by the Tyrells to get Haraella alone, where in some bush a Lannister sellsword was waiting for her, sure in their theory by the Tyrells demanding Haraella's dragon, her best protection, could not enter Highgarden for the wedding, and Olenna was quick to meet that accusation with a story of humiliating the Tyrells in their own home to undermine their authority. Loras, of course, offered a duel to first blood to Aegon to prove which side was honourable, and therefore free of blame. A duel Aegon accepted before Oberyn jumped in, begging the hot-blooded boys to sheath their daggers once more before he was forced to draw his own and knock sense into both.
Only Garlan, who, with aid from Oberyn, was trying to cool tempers rising and indignation sparking something that could not be readily fixed. Willas, however, would only learn how close to war they had come later, much later, when his brother filled him in on the hours he had missed, for Willas was not there.
Willas, along with Margaery, Connington, a weary Septon only brought along for his intensive knowledge of the briar labyrinth, and a few Tyrell knights horsed themselves and set about a search. A search that proved fruitless in the hours to come.
Haraella was not in the Labyrinth. She was not on the bonny banks of the Mander. She was not in the flower fields, or the high white walls, or the Keep itself. She was nowhere to be found. The only thing Willas unearthed was a pair of shoes, beaded with dragonglass, slippers of white silk, flung into a hedge.
It was only, as Willas should have known all along, as he and his small gathering rode out into the apple orchards outside the soaring walls of Highgarden that he found her, sitting at the base of a trunk, shredding blades of grass between her deft fingers. By that time, dusk was already well upon its way. Connington was the first to move upon the sighting of her, bracing his hands on his saddle to heave down, but Willas held his own hand out, halting the Knight.
"Let-… I wish to speak to her."
Connington glanced his way, a man who always, to Willas, seemed to see more than most, and whatever he found lurking in his face settled the Ser back into his seat with a nod. Sluggishly, Willas hobbled down from Cedar, wincing as his leg pulled tight, and, for an age that drew on longer than anything else he had done, Willas made his way to the Princess.
Her skirts were shredded to calf, and stained with mud, and little splashes of something blue. She must have ran through the blueberry field out south, got caught in the brambles and torn herself free. Before her was her bare feet, so alike the time at the apple festival at Honeyholt, wiggling in the grass she was assiduously tearing apart blade by blade.
What a sight they must make, he and her. The sullied bride, and the timid Lord, resting under the refuge of an apple tree. She did not look up as Willas finally pulled close and came to a clumsy stop, neither did she rise, or look to him. That hurt in an indescribable way, hurt more than it had the right to, more than Willas thought he could.
"Was it some sort of experiment? Test my loyalty before you purchase the product? Come to me as William and see if I would forsake Willas, and then renounce me if I did? Or did you wish to see if I was as mad as my grandfather before signing the contract? Was any of it real?"
Haraella did not sound angry. There was no charge or fire to be had here, in the shade of the lush leaves, it seemed. Only hurt. Willas's finger's stiffened on the crown, lilies wilting, in his hand. The crown he had carried across Highgarden, from Sept to river, from River to tree.
"I could ask of you the same. Is that why you didn't give me your name? Is that way you spoke so ill of Willas to my face? See if I would crack and break, and prove what you thought right? To give you a way out of a wedding you clearly did not want?"
He understood her trepidation, because Willas felt it too. As if he had been used, pain for no gain, no reason, stung deeper than pain with cause. And here they were, both sodden and soiled, trying to find… Something. Something to blame, and fault, to condemn.
Haraella, at last, looked to him, and her gaze branded his skin, coming to a tottering stand, though she did not edge any closer. Her feet were covered in streaks of green from grass, and smudges of brown from mud, and a little speckle of red on her ankle from a scratch, and she was so… She was so wholly, horribly, her.
His Jenny who taught him he could still dance, despite his leg. His Jenny who smiled star-shine and heated his cold bones. His Jenny who went blackberry picking, and flicked berries at his face, laughing when he bit them out the air. His Jenny… His Jenny. Willas came to the sudden realisation that he did not care for her answer, not truly, because she was here.
"Do you really think I could do that?"
Again, there was no fury, no indictment, no indignation that Willas could ever think such a thing. She was only curious to know if he truly could think that of her, to believe she could be so underhanded. In all their long talks, when she was just Jenny and he just Will, she had liked it when they differed on matters, when they argued, always softly and never intense, if only to see another point not her own. It was one of the things he loves most about her. Her curiosity to see a world through another's way.
Not loved, loves, and there was all the answer either of them needed.
His rebut was swift, as similarly soft and open like a budding bloom.
"Do you think I could?"
They come to the answer together, in their own ways, Willas thought, but the answer does come.
Because whether they were farm boy William and the girl who danced in fire, or Princess Haraella Targaryen of a fallen Dynasty and crippled Lord Willas Tyrell, they knew each other, and they could never pretend otherwise.
Willas knew she smelled of apples, and bluebells, and white tea, as much as she knew he smelled of freshly cut oak, and clove, and something sweet like treacle. Willas knew on nights she could not sleep, she counted in patterns of seven, while he watched the stars move across the blackened sky. Willas knew she could and would eat anything, having grown up without much food, and she treasured most meals in the way that had saddened him, made him thankful for his own merry childhood, and she knew that watching jousting tournaments still stung the small boy with dreams of being a courtly knight in his soul.
He knew she couldn't stand the perfume of petunias, as she knew he detested ink stains on his hands. He knew her nose curled just so before she laughed, a little wrinkle of delight, as she knew the corner of his mouth trembled as he tried to hold back his own smile. He knew small spaces scared her, and she knew the ocean frightened him. He knew-
They both knew.
What was a name and a title compared to that? Nothing at all, really, and unbearably somehow everything. Haraella did not come closer, and she had never felt so far away.
"I do not believe in coincidences. My life has shown me that much so far. There are no such things as happy accidents."
Willas dared a step closer. Haraella did not back away.
"Perhaps. Perhaps it was luck. Perhaps it was fate. Perhaps… Perhaps it was just us."
Her head cocked; gaze bright, almost too bright.
Willas found himself echoing her.
Perhaps that really was the answer. Not a plot to be seen, not a betrayal to be had, not a hand of god or man to be felt… Just them, in their own backward coiled way, meeting one day in a cove, where a girl saved a boys life, and the rest… The rest was just roses.
His voice was exhausted, tangled among a testimony, a proclamation, a prayer and a plea. It could be just them, if, here, now, they chose for it to be so, to right the wrong choice they made in the tavern, to have, where so many did not, a second chance. Chose to stay. Chose not to run. Chose to be happy for once, just once, that an accident went terribly right.
She broke like dawn broke the sky, in a wave of heat and sunshine and tenderness, and abruptly, they were colliding against one another, unsure whether Willas had lunged first or Haraella had flung herself or, perhaps, a little bit of both. All Willas knew was there was a snarl and a bind, laughter on an exhale as they threatened to fall, though Haraella took his weight from his bad leg, she always took his weight, and a kiss that was not goodbye, but a strange sort of hello.
The best kind of hello.
It was short, this kiss, more nip and nibble than anything else, both too full with things wanting to be said, and laughter, and… And everything. When Haraella pulled back, only an inch, barely enough to breathe much more than each other in, her nose was curling in the way he had missed.
"We're a pair of bloody idiots. How I never put Will and Willas together, I'll never know. I wondered where, as a farm boy, you got those gilt brace and cane of yours. I thought you stole them."
The corner of his lip trembled.
"Fools we both may be, but I find I do not care if you are here with me."
His thumb stroked the tender skin under her eye, hand cradling jaw.
"I'm sorry for running. I panicked, and I couldn't breathe, and so many people were looking at me, and it's normally Viserys who does all those grand speeches and things, and I did not sleep at all last night and I thought I was dreaming and-"
His forehead knocked against hers, butting, bending, binding, his eyes slipped closed as they breathed the same air, snickering the same laughter. Together.
"In truth, I am grateful for the distraction. I too was flustered and I think I was moments from loosing my senses and passing out. You saved me from making a spectacle of myself."
Her face turned from his, a raw kiss laid upon his palm, and it was a fiery flick of flame that sent a belt of heat, glorious heat, shooting to his chest as she murmured between his fingers.
Years to come, when asked about the song of the Barefoot Bride and the Love-drunk Lord, Garlan solely responsible and outrageously proud for that horrendous title, it was that kiss, short and sweet and soothing, coupled with that promise that Willas would say brought on his spell of madness.
Haraella dragged away only enough to blink up at him.
"Yes, I suppose that was the purpose of today and-"
"Marry me. Right now. Right here. Just us, in an apple orchard that will be ours, and… And just us. Marry me."
Willas took a step back, mourned the wash of cold breeze between them, and pulled her lax hands into his own, hot skin against his flushed flesh, the lily crown he had dropped in their kiss at their feet.
"Marry me as Willas and William, knowing if you don't, neither me or my family would betray yours, knowing I give myself, and passage through the Reach come what may. And Marry me as Haraella, the girl who danced with me, who saved me from a river, who rides a dragon and protects her family, and has a lopsided grin and one dimple and… Marry me as I am, as you are, just us, here, right now."
Bowing down, careful of his leg, Willas plucked up the crown, now crooked and skewed and missing a few flowers, and offered it out to Haraella, and with it, more than a silly flower crown, more than even a real one as Lady of the Reach, more than a name and a cloak and a castle. He offered his heart. For a long while she only looked at him, searched the plains of his face and the valleys of his angles, the scope of his own eye, the honest twist of his lips, and with a grin, all teeth, she took the tiara.
"Give me a goat called Willas, and I might."
He laughed until it hurt. A good hurt. The right kind of hurt.
"I will give you a hundred goats, with all the names of boring Lords you know and will come to know, and we both can shave them bald every eve when they annoy us, and make rugs of their fur to walk upon."
Haraella balanced the flowers upon her head, askew even as they were they clung to her pale brow.
"I don't look too ghastly, do I? Oberyn is always saying I look like an urchin the Targaryens have kidnapped and dip-dyed in their own coat."
He smiled lovingly, sincerely, and swept a curl from her cheek. So much hair, like her own shroud of light.
"I have never seen anything sweeter."
She crept closer like ivy vines, on her tiptoes, and kissed his chin, the only place she could reach when he didn't stoop down. Then, perhaps, they went a little good-mad, as accidents could be happy, and hurt could feel nice. Waving over to the men across the way, to the Septon and Connington and Margaery, the former there all by luck, and when they came over, cautious and restrained, Willas beamed.
Connington was the first to react, drooping in relief under his heavy gleaming armour.
"I am sure all will be glad to know once we get back and-"
Haraella cut him off.
"We're marrying now. Here. Right here."
Connington took a rather sudden turn at impersonating a blinking owl.
"But the Tyrell's and Targaryens are waiting and-"
Willas regarded the Septon, his arm winding around Haraella's back to settle on hip. She knocked his boot with her foot.
"Can we? Marry here? Now?"
The Septon, so devout, so righteous, so sour and dour, spluttered.
"I-… Well-… You see… I-… Why, yes, I suppose, if Ser Connington and Lady Margaery carry watch, then the requirements are met, one witness from House Tyrell and one witness from House Targaryen, but I-"
Willas nodded, having gotten what he wanted.
"Then we wed, here, in the apple orchard."
The Septon abstained from trying to reason any other conclusion to the day upon Willas's bold stare, unmovable, as Margaery, a grin splitting from ear to ear, clasped her hands together in delight, and Connington, upon seeing Haraella's chin tilt proudly, daringly, ultimately backed down.
That's where the song of the Barefoot Bride and the Love-drunk Lord goes charmingly awry. In the song, Willas washed her feet with his cloak, and she blessed the crown of his head with a kiss. In the song, the moon came out at dusk, and for a moment it was both day and night and neither. In the song, they are both a little divine, a little mythical, a little not real.
In truth, they laughed through the Septon's speeches, much to his chagrin. They gave vows of promising goats called Willas, and dancing until they died, and spending at least one day an eve blackberry picking. Willas swore he would not snore too loudly, and Haraella promises not to steal all the blankets and furs. Willas declares to never force her to wear shoes, and Haraella pledges never to force him to tidy his study.
Most of all, they vow one thing sincerely. That they, Willas and Haraella, would always have this place, where apples grow, and sunshine gleams, a place where they could be a girl with mud on her feet, and a boy with ink on his fingers, a place for just them to be just us.
NEXT CHAPTER: Willas and Haraella tumble into a possible diplomatic disaster, wedding celebrations take place, and Garlan tries his best to stop himself from pulling his beautiful hair out right from the roots...
A.N/ I didn't want to keep you all waiting too long for this chapter, after all, I made you wait a horrible two years for the last one, and I know everybody was waiting for this moment lol. The next work to be updated from me, for those who read my other work, will be In The Ruins Of Our Glory. So for those looking forward to that, keep an ear out as it should be coming by the end of the week/early next if all goes to plan. I also wanted to say thank you all for the lovely reviews, and I hope you all enjoyed this chapter, it was nice writing something sweet when the real world is such a mess right now lol. Hopefully, I will see you guys soon, and if you could, don't forget to drop a review! ~AlwaysEatTheRude21