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A Not Entirely Welcome Visit

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"You protest too much, my dear brother," said Lady Holdfast.

One did not need to see Ser Anders Tollet's face the far side of the almost-closed door to know that he was scowling. That much was clear from his voice.

"It's an insult that he is allowed in the holdings of House Hardy!" he said.

"Because of his quarrel with you, dearest?" It was the Lady again, the faint drawl in her voice seemingly accentiated by the thick wooden panels of the door. "You were a fool to press your intentions on Alys Karstark. Anyone could have told you that the little idiot would scream rape as soon as you shoved your hand in her bodice."

"No-one could have predicted that the River Wolf would have had a fit of the gallants," complained Ser Anders.

There was a pause. "That is true," agreed the Lady. "Neverthless ... he coming here to the Castle with a cargo of rich silks, and my Lord insists he must be received. What are we to do?"

It seemed nothing more than a social question, an admission of helplessness in the face of a command from her Lord.

But there was a note in it ... a note of suggestion that plans ... might be made.

Ser Anders gave a laugh. "I'll tell you what we might do ... "

"No," said Lady Celia. "I'll tell you ... what we shall do."

And then her voice fell lower - as though they had moved away. No longer could the words be heard - only the rise and fall of voices ... and the low laughter of Ser Anders.

Syndra chewed her lip as she struggled to both listen harder at the door and at the same time look like she wasn't listening. As the voices moved away, she stamped her foot in frustration and turned to her cousin Godwyn on the other side of the doorway. "I wonder what she's up to this time," she mused in a whisper. "It can't be good."

Godwyn was the only person Syndra would allow to see her eavesdropping at doorways. He was about the same age as her brother Gavrin would have been and his presence at Castle Holdfast was one of the few things that made her extended stay tolerable. They also shared a strong dislike for Lady Celia, Godwyn's step-mother and Syndra's aunt. By marriage only, as Godwyn liked to remind her.

Godwyn frowned. "It won't do any good to tell Father," he whispered back. "He'd just punish us for listening at doors, and then tell that woman about it." He looked at the crack in the door, and Syndra could tell he was considering whether to risk opening it just a tiny bit more, to see if it was possible to see or hear any more of what was going on.

(OOC - and the fate that befalls young eavesdroppers being well documented in A Game of Thrones ... )

"What are you doing?" said a faintly peevish voice from behind them.

It was a girl no older than Godwyn, dressed with almost fastidious care in a warm rich red cloth, something that made her hair look even more ethereally fair. She had a doll-like prettiness, save for the slightly sullen set of her lips.

It was Edlyn, Lady Celina's daughter by her first husband, Ser Martyn and now adopted into the Hardy family as part of the marriage settlement. For some years she had been with her grandparents in the Vale of Arryn for her mother insisted that Edlyn was delicate, and the northern clime would be too harsh for her constitution. Three months earlier, however, Lady Tollet's health had worsened, and Edlyn had been dispatched to Holdfast, only to fall ill with a violent cold almost as soon as she arrived. Since then, her mother had ensured that she kept to her own room with her Septa, a Southern woman who clearly thought herself too good for the rude Northerners.

"Oh, Edlyn, you just missed it," Syndra exuded breathlessly. "It had to be the biggest, fattest mouse I've EVER seen in this castle! It scooted right in through that crack in the door." Her glance passed over Godwyn mischievously, but she didn't break her ruse. "Here, let me open it more. You might still see it!" She reached out as if to open the door.

Godwyn frowned as he turned to face Edlyn, and then looked blankly at Syndra as she began to speak. By the time she finished his eyes had lit up with understanding, and he said in a whisper intended to carry as far as Edlyn, "I still say it was no mouse, it was a rat!"

"A rat!" This time the word was almost a shriek. Edlyn clapped her hand over her mouth and stared at the other two in unfeigned horror.

Within the room there was a sudden silence, as though the voices had penetrated - and then the sound of quick, light steps crossing the flags. The door jerked open, and Lady Celia stood there, looking at the three of them in annoyance.

"Edlyn ... children. What are you doing here?"

Syndra winced as she heard the steps, but was fully recovered by the time Lady Celia opened the door. She moved to Edlyn's side and cooed sweetly, "It's all right, Edlyn. It's gone now." She looked up at Lady Celia with big doe eyes of bright blue. "She thought she saw a rat, Lady Aunt, but it's gone now. Godwyn chased it away for us," she lied, adding a good word for her cousin.

Godwyn crossed his arms and regarded Lady Celia with a cold expression, and remained silent.

"We don't have rats in the Vale," said Edlyn with a toss of her head. "At least, not in Grandfather's house."

Lady Celia pursed her lips. "Well. You will have to get used to a few rats here."

Her glance took in Godwyn, and then moved away.

"Now that you are here," she said to her daughter, "you can show your Uncle Anders that fine embroidery you were working on." She opened the door slightly wider. "Syndra, I think you should see it too. As an example of the kind of work I am expecting you to produce before your father returns."

Syndra knew it was not a suggestion. "Yes, m'lady," she responded docilely as she fell into step behind Edlyn. She carefully avoided Godwyn's stare as she passed him.

Before his departure, Ser Godfrey had bid her behave while she fostered at Holdfast. "It'll be difficult, but necessary," he had acknowledged with a sad smile. "Lord Oswain has not been well and I won't have you upseting him by warring with his lady wife. It's a war you can't win, sweet one, no matter how hard you fight." She had promised to do her best. That promise caused her to swallow more pride than she ever thought possible.

Godwyn leaned against the wall of the corridor, glowering but saying nothing.

Edlyn, however, had come to a halt.

"I shall have to fetch it," she said. "It's upstairs - in my room."

Her mother sighed. "Do so, then. And bring it down to show your uncle."

Edlyn dipped in a demure little curtsey and Lady Celia closed the door firmly. Edlyn stared at the door for a moment and then, in an unxpected and somewhat childish gesture, she stuck out her tongue and made her eyes roll into a grotesque expression of derision at the closed door.

Godwyn stared at her, an expression of almost comic shock on his face.

The voices on the other side were now completely muffled. But then, neither could the adults hear the children on the other side ...

Edlyn turned and looked steadily at Syndra and Godwyn, her features composed once more. The petulant pout had vanished, but there was a look of determination in her eyes.

"Now," she said, "tell me why you lied to my mother - and why I had to lie to my mother - and what you were really doing."

"Uhhh..." Godwyn said. He looked helplessly at Syndra.

Syndra never flinched. "Nothing, Edlyn," Syndra explained calmly. "Godwyn and I were just standing here talking, but I knew Lady Celia would never believe that. She'd rather believe there are rats in the castle than think us innocent of anything.

"And never fear, you didn't lie to your mother," Syndra reassured her. "All you did was scream when you heard the word 'rat' and say there are no rats in the Vale. That's true, isn't it?"

"Of course it's true," said Edlyn impatiently. "But do you think I care whether I lie to her or not? She's the one who's making me live here in this horrible cold falling down place, when I could have stayed in the Vale. If Grandmother was too ill for me to stay, Lady Lysa would have had me at the Eyrie."

She seemed to read scepticism in their faces because she gave a little stamp with her foot.

Syndra's eyebrow had indeed risen skeptically.

"It's true!" she insisted. "She said that I was a pretty little thing and that she would love to have a daughter like me."

Her underlip quivered. "Well - keep your stupid old secrets then. I have to go and fetch that hateful embroidery."

And she turned away in a whirl of red skirts.

Syndra watched her go, surprised into silence. After Edlyn was out of sight, she asked Godwyn uncertainly, "You don't think that was for true, do you?"

"I don't know," he answered, watching the retreating red skirts. "Imagine having that woman as your mother."

Syndra moved away from the door and across the corridor to a small-paned window. "I can't." She glanced out the window. "At least I have the consolation of knowing my father will take me out of this place eventually. I don't know how you do it," she said sympathetically as she turned back to Godwyn.

Godwyn looked at her blankly. "What?" he asked.

"Live with that woman day in and day out in the Hardy's ancestral home with no hope of ... aarrrgggh!," Syndra finished with a shiver and an unpleasant growling sound, as if the thought made her skin crawl. By the way she turned back and gazed at the door coolly, it's clear she didn't really expect Godwyn to expound on that. It's more her own frustration that made her run on.

"Oh," Godwyn said. He shrugged. "I ignore her most of the time." He looked at the door, then back at Syndra. "What was all that they were saying about Karstark? I didn't like the sound of it."

Syndra knitted her brow pensively, arms crossed, as she gazed at the closed door. "I'm not certain it was Karstark they were talking about. I think it was Ser Corryn."

She turns back to Godwyn. "Do you remember the Harvest Festival a couple of years ago? After the dancing started, there was a fight between Ser Corryn and Tollet." She can't hide the sneer on the last name. "Didn't that start because that rogue tried to have his way with Lady Karstark and Ser Corryn stopped him?"

Godwyn grinned. "I remember that, Tollet couldn't walk for a week." The grin fades. "They want vengeance, do you think? We should warn the River Wolf."

"How can we contact him? We don't know where he is now, so we can't send a raven," she asked.

"Well, we can keep an eye out. We may not be able to stop them if they're sending an assassin or some such, but if their plan is to do something to hurt him when he next comes here, we can warn him about it. Don't you think?"

Syndra nodded, looking thoughtful again. "You know... someone had to have told her he's coming. Perhaps we can find out when he's expected." She glanced at the closed door again. "But we can't do that if I'm stuck in there. C'mon," she urged as she started down a corridor toward the Great Hall.

Godwyn followed his cousin down the corridor. He wasn't concerned at all about Syndra not following that woman's orders, despite everything his father said he still didn't believe that she had any right giving commands to a Hardy.

It was early the next morning, and both Godwyn and Syndra were allowed to go riding (providing one of the guards went as escort.

"Why don't you ask Lady Celia's daughter to ride with you?" asked old Septa Annice as she brushed out Syndra's hair. "She looks so lonely, poor little mite."

Syndra opened her mouth to argue, but stopped before the words came out. She remembered Edlyn's unexpected reaction to her mother the day before. Perhaps she should learn more about her.

"Does she even ride, Septa?" Syndra asked politely. "I thought the Eyrie was too vertical for real horses."

"Then you could teach her!" said the Septa with the enthusiasm of one who had never ridden a horse in her life. "It would be good for her - as pale and moping as she is - and it would be good for you to have another girl to ride with too instead of running wild with your cousin!"

"Ah," Syndra nodded as she realized what the septa was up to. Yet another ploy to get her to act more like the lady nobody thought she was.

Septa Annice started to create a neat braid, one guaranteed to stay in place - unless Syndra managed to ride through a thorn thicket again.

Syndra patiently allowed the septa to complete the braid. If truth be told, she preferred to wear her hair braided or tied back. It didn't get in the way that way. Her lady mother used to make her wear her long hair down, which made climbing trees with Gavrin infinitely more difficult.

Syndra shut her eyes hard, as if the septa had suddenly pulled her hair painfully tight. The thoughts of loved ones long gone didn't trouble her as much as they used to. Still, they occasionally crashed in at her unexpectedly, catching her breath in her throat. She forced her thoughts back to Edlyn.

"Perhaps I will," she conceded. "She does look like she could use some time outdoors."

The Septa beamed. "That's my good little girl!" she said - managing to squeeze at least two forbidden words into a short sentence. "You're ready now, my poppet. Run along to your cousin!"


Godwyn, meanwhile, was already entering the stable - even though he knew Syndra would not be there. So it was that he heard two of the young grooms talking.


"Stabbed. In his bed. 'Orrible, it was. So they say."

"Who was murdered?" Godwyn asked the groom as he entered the stable. "Where? Not here in the castle?"

The grooms started and looked at each other.

"Oh no, my Lord. Not here. In the town it was."

"The Goose and Gander, stabbed in the night," added the other by way of explanation. "That Ser Corryn Manderley ... "

"They say he's a bad sort," added the first.

"Was a bad sort," the other corrected. "He's dead now."

"What?" Godwyn looked angry. "Murdered? Do they say who did it?"

The grooms shook their heads. "No-one knows. Stabbed in his bed, he was, while he slept. Some villain in the inn, belike, who forced his way into his room."

The other shook his head. "They saw the door was locked and the window fast bolted. It was someone he wronged, some ghost looking to take him to his grave..."

"I've never heard of a ghost who stabbed his victims," Godwyn observed dryly. "Saddle my horse, I shall ride to the inn to inquire as to this matter."

"Yes Sir," said the first groom. "At once, Sir."

And both of them rushed off to saddle Godwyn's horse.

"What are you doing?" asked a clear, cool voice which Godwyn recognised from the previous day.


She walked into his view, around the corner of a stall. She was dressed in an elegant riding habit of dark blue, which showed her dainty figure off to perfection. But Godwyn was experienced a rider enough to recognised that the suit was almost new, with none of the signs of hard usage that would be visible if Edlyn were an experienced rider.

"Doing the work of a son of the Lord," he answered her. "There was a murder in the inn, I'm going to go see what I can find out about it."

Her pale blue eyes lit up.

"A murder?" she breathed. "Take me with you!"

"Huh?" He stared at her for a moment. "I can't do that! Your mother would be furious!"

Then he paused, thinking of what he had just said.

"Right, then." He looked at her too clean clothes and smirked a bit. "If it's a stabbing there's going to be a lot of blood. Have you ever seen a gutted rabbit?"

Edlyn's already pale complexion seemed to whiten slightly.

"N ... Why yes," she said, with a tolerable assumption of ease. "Dozens, I expect."

Syndra rounded the corner of the stables in time to hear the words "stabbing" and "blood" and made a face. When she saw who Godwyn was talking to, though, her eyebrows rose in surprise. "Edlyn! I didn't expect to see you here" she said.

She turned to Godwyn with a confused look. "Are we stabbing rabbits now?" she asked, clearly expecting an explanation.

"Not a rabbit," Godwyn answered, catching her eyes. "A murder, in the inn. Someone killed a traveler. That fellow they call the River Wolf. I’m just riding down there now to look into it."

"And I'm going too!" announced Edlyn.

Syndra's eyes locked on Godwyn's incredulously, remembering yesterday's conversation. At Edlyn's revelation, though, she looked over at her dubiously. "You can't be serious," she said, deadpan.

She looked back at Godwyn. Can she? Syndra's eyes asked him without words.

Godwyn fought to keep a straight face as he said to cousin. "I'm sure she's no weak flower. She can bear the sight of blood. And, depending on the ferocity of the attack, the possible sight of entrails scattered about the room as well. Not to mention the stench of a man whose bowels have been sliced open. Shall I have the grooms saddled horses for all three of us, then?"

Edlyn looked at him for a minute, weighing his words with slightly narrowed eyes, in a way that made her look disconcertingly like her mother (although Lady Hardy would never have pouted and Edlyn, unquestionably, pouted).

"I," she said at last, "shall accompany you - but while you're examining the ... the body," and she made a gallant effort to keep from gagging here, "I shall question the innfolk.

"Because," she added dangerously, "I am sweet and pretty and charming, and they will talk to me."

A long, thoughtful look at Godwyn followed.

Syndra smirked.

"Of course," she said, "my mother will be =very= angry that I have been in such a place."

Syndra giggled at that. "She's got you there, Godwyn," she grinned evilly. "She has to go now."

Godwyn laughed. "How can I resist?" he asked. He turned back to the grooms and ordered two more horses saddled immediately.

Edlyn gave him a sudden smile, and followed Syndra to where they should mount.

As they set off, it was immediately clear that her experience as a rider was limited - at least in Godwyn and Syndra's eyes. Clearly she had been used to pleasant hacks in to countryside of the Vale, with disciplined grooms to make sure she did nothing reckless.

Based on Edlyn's obvious inexperience, Syndra decided it would be best to have Edlyn ride behind Godwyn while she herself brought up the rear. As they rode, Syndra evaluated her step-cousin's riding ability.

Edlyn's seat was good, although she said pointedly that Northern saddles were awfully uncomfortable, and her hands were light. But the idea of taking the quickest way to the Goose and Gander, which involved pressing yourself flat against the horses' neck as you galloped under the low branches of the wood, and then riding down a long slippery slope that was nothing better than a mud slide (and, incidentally, forbidden as a shortcut because the horses came back filthy) filled her with unabashed horror.

"Isn't there a proper way?" she demanded.

"What do you think, Godwyn?" Syndra deferred the question to the leader.

Godwyn shrugged without looking back. "You can take the cart trail," he said, gesturing off to one side. "It's longer, but it's relatively flat. And no doubt it's the ladylike thing to do." He spurred his mount to a run, and charged towards the woods.

A Not Entirely Welcome Visit: Godwyn

Edlyn, her expression mutinous, wheeled her horse and headed for the relatively uneventful cart trail. She might be in rebellion against her mother, but she clearly had no intention of risking life and limb to prove it.

As Syndra drew rein, she glared off at Godwyn's back and growled angrily. "Boys!" she grumbled. Frankly, she hadn't cared which way they went, but she had hoped he'd have the sense to stay together. Even Edlyn might have managed the shortcut if they'd taken it slow, but obviously that wasn't his intention.

She urged her horse into a trot and followed the cart path. Godwyn was a boy. He could take care of himself. It wouldn't do for Edlyn, inexperienced as she was, to ride alone through these woods. Even with the two of them, Syndra was nervous. She kicked herself for not bringing at least a knife.

Ser Godfrey had taken his daughter hunting many times and he always warned her never to venture into the forest alone. The woods were full of wolves, and bears, and occasionally deserters from the Wall. There was safety in numbers, he had cautioned. Hadn't anyone ever told Godwyn that?

Syndra drew up abreast of Edlyn and matched her pace, a fast walk, still muttering something under her breath. Edlyn could make out the word "pigheaded," but not much else. Syndra constantly scanned the forest warily as they rode.

A Not Entirely Welcome Visit: Syndra and Edlyn

"It's Godwyn - and he's hurt!" said Edlyn in shock.

The boy, recognising a Hardy, had already running into the road, calling his dog off.

"Godwyn!" Syndra exclaimed as she dropped her reins and sprang from the thicket.

Godwyn pulled his horse to a stop, making an angry face at seeing Syndra on her feet. "Where's your horse!" he demanded. "Mount up and ride back to Holdfast. Bandits!" He spun his horse around to face back towards the woods he had just left, pulling his sword, determined to make a stand long enough to give Syndra a chance to escape.

Syndra skidded to a stop and raced back to her horse, mounting easily. "C'mon," she thrust her hand out the apprentice, offering to pull him astride the horse.

The boy, nothing loath, scrambled on behind her, while Edlyn stared, open-mouthed.

"I'll leave you Whiteface, sir!" shouted the boy, flapping his arms at the young dog in an attempt to encourage it to stay. It sat down, bewildered but obedient.

The woods that Godwyn was facing seemed quiet for the moment ... ominously quiet. There was no sound even of birdsong (although, of course, that could be because Godwyn's flight through the trees stunned them into silence).

Syndra glared at Edlyn. "What are you waiting for?!" she seethed at the girl. "Let's go!" Syndra's mare pranced impatiently.

Edlyn returned her glare for glare.

"I can't mount on my own!" she snapped. "Doubtless all the Hardies leapt straight from the cradle to the saddle as soon as they spat out their mother's teat - but I didn't! So ... just ... go!"

She ran forward and slapped her riding crop against the flank of Syndra's mare, causing the horse to leap forward.

"And bring help!" she called.

Then Edlyn bent down and flicked up her skirt hem, revealing a boot dagger strapped snugly in place. She drew it - a short blade, more of use for cutting meat or cheese, possibly up to dealing with trees or branches encountered, or any on the hundred and one tasks where a short goof-bladed knife would be useful. But not a weapon. The glower she directed at Godwyn suggested she knew this full well, but she was defying him to say anything about it.

Syndra pulled her horse under control and whirled back toward Edlyn. Upon seeing the wimpy knife, she spat, "Don't be stupid. Get back behind the bush!"

Edlyn gave her one last glare and then, clearly seeing the point of her words, dived back behind the bush, leaving Godwyn to face whatever came alone.

Crossly, she spun the mare again and kicked her into a run in the direction of the castle.

"Useless git," Syndra growled under her breath; words heard only by the apprentice clinging to the back of her horse.

She did not need to ride as far as the Castle. Five minutes up the track, she turned a bend to see a party of horsemen riding towards her. Holdfast guards - she knew their faces as well as she knew their livery. And riding at their head was their Captain, Set Anders Tollet.

She reined up before them. "Ser, down the road. Bandits," she gasped, pointing behind her. "They attacked Godwyn."

Ser Anders frowned - he seemed about to say something angry (perhaps about riding unescorted), but something in her face made him nod instead, and signal to his men. They sprang forward, and Ser Anders barely had time to roar, "Follow! Keep up!" at Syndra before the guards swept forward, their trot increasing to a canter, a gallop, as they pounded down the track towards where she had left Godwyn and Edlyn.

Syndra turned and followed in their wake.

Two of the guards looked back, and then slowed so that they could form an escort, one either side. Soon they caught up with Godwyn, and drew rein.

The trees and the bushes on the other side of the track were still ... silent.

"Can't even get on a horse by herself," Godwyn muttered, keeping his eyes on the too quiet woods. "That's just wonderful." He leaned down and whispered calming words to his mount. "Easy, lad. I need you to keep your head here. No panic, all right?'

There was still silence - well, apart from the blowing of Godwyn's own horse, who moved a little awkwardly from his own wound, which Godwyn had not yet been able to check, and the ragged breathing coing from the bush behind him where Edlyn was crouched now.

Then ...

Godwyn heard the pounding of hooves - more than one rider - many more than one rider - on the track, coming towards him at speed ... from the direction Syndra had taken not ten minutes before ...

"Could be help, could be more foes," Godwyn thought. "If it's more trouble, then Syndra rode right into them." He turned, trying to split his attention between the silent forest and the approaching riders, and waited.

The forest remained silent, but thundering down the road towards him was a band of Holdfast guards, with a grim-faced Ser Anders Tollet in the lead, and Syndra, flanked by two careful guards (who had dropped back) on either side. Whiteface raced forward, barking, and then sprang back, howling, as Ser Anders kicked out at him as his dismounted, before striding over to Godwyn.

"Well?" he demanded. "What happened?"

In the back of the pack of guards, Syndra leaned back to the boy behind her. "Why don't you go get your dog," she suggested quietly, but not unkindly.

The boy nodded, scrambled down and ran to retrieve Wihiteface, who was more cowed than hurt.

Then she watched, looking at Godwyn in particular to determine how badly he was hurt.

There was blood on Godwyn's thigh and on the horse's flank - and the leather of the saddle was slashed too, as though someone had slashed at his leg, and the cut had continued. But although the horse was favouring that leg, Syndra knew enough about horses to be sure it was a flesh wound, one that might leave a scar, but that no muscles seemed to have been severed.

Godwyn's leg, however, probably needed treatment as soon as possible.

Godwyn relaxed somewhat and sheathed his sword as the knight approached, and bowed his head slightly to Ser Anders. "I ran into a bandit in the woods, just off there," he said, pointing in the direction. "Black leather, might have been a deserter from the Wall. I think there's more than one, at any rate there was someone in the woods other than the one I saw. They have a camp, looked like weapons for more than one man." He looked Ser Anders directly in the eyes. "My fault we were riding without escort, Ser. Stupid of me, and I'm damned lucky it wasn't worse."

"Indeed," growled Ser Anders. "We'll see what her Ladyship has to say about that when we return."

He signalled to his troop. "Crastow - take four men into the woods and find this camp. Take prisoners if you can - kill them if not. Bring me all you find - to the Goose and Gander."

He glanced at Godwyn and Syndra. "You're riding with us," he said in a tone that brooked no arguments. "We're on important work - and you've held us up long enough."

Syndra looked alarmed. Godwyn's leg needed tending right away. She had assumed they would be going directly to the maester.

She bit her lip. So be it, then. She was good at stitching, regardless of what Lady Celia thought, and she'd seen the maester stitch skin before. She felt confident she could hold Godwyn together until they got home.

There was a rustle of thornbush at this (and several of the guards pointed their swords in the direction) and Edlyn walked into view, mudstained and determined, and leading her horse.

"Godwyn saved our lives," she said. "So I think you should thank him."

Ser Anders bulging eyes threatened to leave his head entirely as he stared at his niece.

"It was my fault," she said. "I made Godwyn ride through the forest because I wanted to see what it was like. He said we should come along the cart track. So did Syndra. But I insisted because I'm a guest." She turned to the others. "That's what happened, isn't it?

From her mount in the rear of the group, Syndra half-nodded, half-shrugged, uncommittally.

Godwyn twisted in his saddle and examined the wound on his horse, hiding his confusion over what Edlyn was saying. Once he assured himself that the horse was capable of continuing, and had mastered his expression, he looked back at Ser Anders. "Someone needs to help Lady Edlyn mount," he said. "And then shouldn’t we be off?"

Ser Anders' eyes bulged even more, but instead he strode over to his neice and lifted her into the saddle with a force that saying her landing with such a bump that her horse shied nervously.

"And we'll see what your Lady Mother has to say about that," he said ominously.

Edlyn smirked.

The rest of the journey along the track to the town proved uneventful.

If allowed by the guards, Syndra rode alongside Godwyn, protectively keeping an eye on him to be sure his injuries were not giving him too much trouble.

Soon the trees were thinning out and parting, and they were coming to small buildings - shabby and mean at first, just hovels. This was the small town of Holdfast where lived the smallfolk who tended the few fields cleared in the forest, and pursued other forest-based occupations. As they rode further into the town, the houses became more substantial - an indication that the little town was prosperous.

But everything was made out of wood. There was no stone - apart from the Castle iself, nor any sign of adobe, or even the wattle and daub that was common in some of the lands to the south. No - it was all wood.

As they rode towards the centre of the town (where stood the Sept, and the large inn called The Goose and Gander, two of the men that had ridden into the forest in search of the bandits Godwyn had seen rode up. Syndra and Godwyn were close enough to hear their report.

"No sign of any camp, Ser, nor any bandits. Sergeant Crastow has the others looking, but he reckons there's nothing to be found."

"Well, the boy didn't come by his his injuries by accident!" said Ser Anders impatiently. "Look harder!"

The men rode off, back into the forest. Ser Anders regarded the children with suspicion. "This is no fair frolic of yours,is it?" he demanded roughly.

"No, Ser," Syndra replied solemnly. She glanced over at Godwyn, following his lead.

Godwyn paused for a moment before acknowledging Ser Anders' question, then, just before his silence could be considered insolent he looked over at him. "No, Ser," he said in a slightly bored voice. "I did not stab myself in the leg just to annoy you."

Godwyn was clearly waiting for Ser Anders to dismount first, before he did so. Perhaps it was dutiful respect for an elder?

Ser Anders dismounted, glanced around, and then moved towards the tavern. He paused, and then said, over his shoulder to the children. "Wait here. Or in one of the taprooms."

Then he disappeared through the door.

Godwyn was already sliding off his horse as Ser Anders entered the building. He smiled at Syndra as she helped him down. "It's not so bad as it looks," he said, trying not to wince as he put weight on his leg. "Ser Anders is probably right that it's best for you two to remain out here, this is no place for ladies. The men can be very rough." And with that Godwyn set off after Anders.

(Godwyn moves into The News of My Demise Has Been Greatly Exaggerated)

Syndra watched her cousin limp off and shook her head in exasperation. "You'd think he'd learn," she muttered as she strode over to Edlyn, who was still astride her horse. Looking up, she asked, "So do you need as much help dismounting as mounting?" It's a backhanded-kind of an offer, but an offer nonetheless.

Edlyn shook her head, slid her feet from the stirrups, and descended gracefully to land in the mud. "You'd better teach me how to mount if I'm going to be spending half my time jumping on and off horses to deal with bandits here," she said. "In the Vale there were always obliging knights to throw one into one's saddle, but I can see it's going to be different here."

Syndra smirked as she wondered how many bandits Edlyn had dealt with in the Vale, then grinned about the knights throwing her into the saddle. She herself hadn't needed to be thrown into a saddle since she was four. Syndra didn't say that, though. She merely nodded in agreement. "Yes, it's very different."

[Edlyn] looked around the small innyard. "I'm thirsty after all the excitement," she announced. "Do you have any coins to buy some ale? I think a mug would be very pleasant, don't you?"

"I do," Syndra answered, "but perhaps we should try a few mounts before we go in. You're absolutely right about needing to learn." Along with the necessary lesson, Syndra hoped to listen for any sort of commotion before they ventured inside.

"Not here!" said Edlyn, looking around the square. Althought there were not many people present, there were a few, including the guards. "Let's go somewhere more private - is there a stableyard round the back of the inn?"

Syndra glanced around at the guards, then stepped closer to Edlyn. She spoke softly. "The way the guards fell in around me when we met, they'll likely follow us around back as well. If it's privacy you want, you'll not have it here, so perhaps the lesson should indeed wait."

Edlyn pouted and tossed her head. She turned slightly to consider the guards - solid, middle-aged men all - and then she sighed.

"Very well."

She looked over at the nearest guard and smiled sweetly, then she turned back to Edlyn. "Perchance, though, we can persuade them to accompany us inside?" She raised her eyebrows to ask Edlyn's thoughts on the idea.

A raucous roar from inside the inn seemed almost the shake the timbers. "Ser Fuchon!"

Edlyn winced. But before she could say anything, they heard another voice from the upstairs room, a woman speaking, her voice sharp with anger.

"I tell you, Ser, Ser Corryn Manderly is no more guilty of this foul crime than you are!"

"Perhaps not in person," came the drawling response. "But he lost no time in putting the one who held the knife out of the way, did he? When the man could have been questioned, had he lived?"

"That's Uncle Anders!" said Edlyn in an undertone to Syndra. "Do you think we could shake the guards off and get close enough to hear more?"

Syndra glanced up at the window, then surveyed the area. Trees dotted the side yards here and there, casting shadows in the morning sun. However, the front of the Goose and Gander was bathed in the sunlight of the clearing before it. Syndra pursed her lips with the beginning of an idea. "Go along with me," she mumbled softly to Edlyn without looking at her.

"Of course, Edlyn. I should've thought," she said kindly, but loud enough for the guards to hear. She put her arm around the girl and led her closer to the building. "It's never this cold in the Vale." She glanced at the guards with a look that said everything was under control. "Let's go stand in the sun over here. It'll be much warmer."

Edlyn's first response to Syndra's arm around her was to stiffen slightly, but when she heard her words, she began to relax.

"Yes," she agreed, allowing herself to be led. "Oh, this is lovely!"

She moved slightly away from Syndra and stretched herself slightly, seeming to soak up the sun like a contented and rather sleek cat. A couple of the guards, middle aged or not, cast admiring glances.

But to Syndra, in an undertone, she added, "That was clever!"

For now they were in a much better position to hear the argument going on inside.

"Thank you," Syndra whispered with satisfaction. "We'll have to look like we're not listening, though." To accomplish that, Syndra turned to face the sun, her eyes closed, as if enjoying the warmth.

"What I say is - Ser Corryn rid me of a dangerous rogue that was a-murdering the guests in my inn, and I thank the Mother he came when he did!"

"Dangerous rogue? They don't come more dangerous than the River Wolf! Now ... show me where his pack is stored. I need to inspect it ... for contrabrand."

A loud sniff was the only answer.

"Show me!" demanded Ser Anders. And then his voice took on a silken note. "Or do I have to ... persuade you?"

The threat was palpable.

At that, Syndra turned back to Edlyn. "If he strikes her, I'm running for the River Wolf," she murmured.

Edlyn nodded her agreement.

"I think you should ask Ser Corryn that yourself," the woman said.

"Very well then," said Ser Anders. "I shall be inviting him to come to the Castle for questioning - and I think, Mistress Odette, you had better come too."

There was a silence - for some reason, the girls could tell, the prospect did not please her much at all. Finally she said, "Wait there. I'll bring you the pack."

And they heard her footsteps as she moved out of the room.

Edlyn looked at Syndra. "When I found you and Godwyn listening yesterday," she said quietly, "what were Mama and Uncle Anders talking about?"

"The River Wolf," Syndra told her in an undertone. She tossed her head and glanced around at the guards again, trying to make their conversation look casual. "He was on his way to Holdfast with a load of silks," she explained quietly. "Tollet was angry about it because of what happened before. He and your mother were talking about 'doing something about it.' "

Syndra paused, then asked hopefully, "I don't suppose she said anything to you?"

"My mother?" Edlyn rolled her eyes. "My mother wouldn't tell me the time of day unless there was someone standing by for whose benefit she could play the Good Mother. No, when I got back with my sewing, she just pushed me in a cold corner of the room to get on with sewing it while she discussed her precious babies with Uncle Anders."

Syndra was taken aback by the venom in Edlyn's tone. She had always thought Edlyn was one of Lady Celia's "golden children."

She looked at Syndra seriously. "I think I'm almost as much of a nuisance to her as Godwyn and Kenrith. But at least she can marry me off ... " She was silent for a minute, and then asked, "What did happen before? With the River Wolf?"

"Oh, that's right, you weren't here then," Syndra remembered. She lowered her voice. "It was at the Harvest Festival two years ago. After the dancing began, Tollet," she nodded toward the building with a sneer, "tried to have his way with Lady Karstark. She screamed and Ser Corryn came to her rescue. Beat Tollet bloody, but the rogue deserved it. Tollet's never forgiven him for it."

"Oh!" Edlyn's eyes went quite wide, and somehow very blue. "That's almost ... romantic. I'd like to meet the River Wolf, I think."

Then they heard the sound of feet coming back into the room, and the woman's voice spoke. "Here's his pack, Ser."

"Good," came Ser Anders voice. "I shall confiscate it - what Ser Corryn was carrying may be important in discovering the truth of this murder."

There was a gasp. "You can't do that, Ser! That pack is his livelihood!"

"Then," said Ser Anders, "he will be most eager to answer my questions, so that it can be returned."

Syndra's eyes widened at the turn of the conversation. "I think I'm getting thirsty," she said suddenly and looked at Edlyn to see if she was of the same mind.

"I'm parched," said Edlyn promptly. "Do you get cider this far North? I'd love to try some!"

She glanced around at the guards. "Only ... do we really want to do traipsing in with a retinue. It would make people stare so. And I do hate it when people stare," she said plaintively (and clearly quite untruthfully).

"Well, then, you stay out here and let the guards watch you. I'm going in," she hissed under her breath. In a voice loud enough for the guards to hear, she announced, "I'm going to check on Godwyn. That leg looked bad." Then she strode purposefully inside without a backward glance.

Continued in The News of My Demise Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Categories: WinterChillsGameLogs, CastleHoldfast

Page last modified on February 15, 2006, at 12:14 AM