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A Not Entirely Welcome Visit: Corryn

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Since the conquest of Dorne, the Goose & Gander had served as a bastion of untamed revelry for the northern territories. Its brewer was greatly renowned and only five guests had yet to die of intestinal failure in the inn's long history. For a small amount of coin, travelers could be assured that the rats were clean and the beds were warm. As such, the common hall was regularly crowded and unruly with merchants, trappers, and men-at-arms. During festival, however, the smoke-filled den was positively lawless, verging on the murderous. Only a fool or a villain would brave the crush of drunken souls on such a night.

Perhaps a fool, and most definitely a villain, Corryn Manderly delighted in the quaint atmosphere of the place.

He stalked through the pressing bodies with a predator's confidence, slapping backs and trading smiles. The regular crowd recognized his handsome face and feral hair, raising their tankards and voices in welcome. Recent arrivals looked the wiry figure over, sizing up his fine cloths and brash manner. At the flash of his dark eyes, they quickly acknowledged the road-worn stranger as one of their own and returned to their business of drinking and dreaming of fortunes yet to be made.

Odette, the plump red-haired matron of the Goose & Gander, noticed Corryn approaching through the crowd. She straightened her green apron and waddled over to him hurriedly. "Lord Manderly, if I live and breath!" she called.

His infectious smile brightened at the sight of her, "Dearheart!"

Corryn slipped his arms around her wide hips, pulling her close to kiss her soft neck. She giggled at his ticklish beard, slapping his chest. He kissed her nose and held her tight. "Mrmmm, my love, you smell like rosemary and hops."

She wrinkled her nose, leaning back to slap his chest again. "And you smell like horseshit and old leather."

"You wound me, m'lady! Tis but the perfume of the road. I thought you northern women less discerning than the timid girls of White Harbor."

She touched his chin and chuckled, "No woman enjoys a man that smells like a horse's arse, m'lord Manderly."

He reluctantly let her go with a playful pat on her rounded behind. "Then I shall concede to your olfactory prejudices and indulge in a bath posthaste. He paused, lightly brushing his long fingers over her wrist. For a moment, his dark eyes softened. "It's good to see you again, my dearheart."

"And I you, m'lord," she said, blushing. "Your room is prepared as usual. Will you be eating in the common room tonight?"

"No," he sighed. "If you would bring my meal to me after my bath, I would be forever grateful. The road was difficult." He brushed the side of his neck, which was still bruised from his earlier encounter. "I would rather retire early, as I am sure Lady Hardy will send for me soon enough. Considering her love for me, I will need to rest beforehand."

Odette's face saddened, "So, I suspect you will not wish to be disturbed, then?" She regarded her feet, eyes downcast. He immediately raised her chin, gazing down at her with an impish smile.

"Madame," he chuckled, "I have thought of no one but you since last we kissed. How can I face the morn without you breathing some life back into me?"

She blushed brightly, slapping his chest. "Well, then, I'll, umm... get your food and hot water then."

Corryn watched her waddle off and sighed contentedly. Odette wasn't like the women of White Harbor. She was soft and warm where they were scrawny and cold. She was joyously honest where they were painfully proper. He enjoyed her laugh and the sounds she made in the dark. Ah yes, he mused, it is good to be back again.

Half lost in the shadows, the man with a cast in his eye leaned back against the wooden partition that covered the lower half of the wattle and daub walls. There was something uninviting about him, something that meant he kept his table alone, despite the crowded inn around him. Even Arney, the potboy who was held to be moon-touched, slammed the ale pot down on the table without his usual slightly vacuous grin, and instead turned quickly to more agreeable customers.

But the man with a cast in his eye seemed unaware of the veiled hostility of the patrons. His attention seemed focused on one man in particular - the River Wolf himself.

Distracted, as he typically was, by the sway of Odette's hips, it took the sharp rap of a tankard on wood to call Corryn's attention elsewhere. He'd frequented the Goose & Gander enough to know Arney's moods. Although the boy was crazed as a Harrenhall rat, he was a masterful judge of character. Corryn's gaze drifted over the drunken and ruddy faces to find eyes watching him in return.

Predators sensed their ilk wandering into their territory, and this was no different. The man certainly didn't belong here. It wasn't so much his appearance as the aura surrounding him. The others had noticed it too, but had chosen to ignore it. Corryn, on the other hand, rarely ignored such things. Except when a woman was involved, but that was another issue entirely.

Never one to shirk from a threat, Corryn cut through the crowd toward the figure. He grinned in welcome, but kept his hand on his sword; loose and ready to impale the man to his chair.

"Well met, friend," Corryn chimed.

The other nodded, and then shifted slightly in his seat. For one moment it looked as though it might be to drawn a weapon from his boot - but then his leg jerked, shoving the chair opposite him backwards so that Corryn might, if he wished, take a seat.

"It might be well met," he said. "Or it might more timely met than well. I've been seeking the River Wolf."

Without pausing, Corryn grabbed the offered chair and spun it around in place. He straddled the chair in a fluid motion, resting his arm against its back. From his years of gambling along the Knife - gambling, mind you, not cheating as some, perhaps many, had said. Corryn thought it best to have an easy escape when first meeting with others. Besides, it felt nice to have a solid piece of furniture between him and his new acquaintance, lest he be acquainted with a sharp piece of steel in the belly.

"Well, found him you have, it would appear," Corryn boasted. "Although I must admit I am at a loss as to your name, my friend."

"Ser Fouchon," said the other.

A hedge knight then. Possibly a sellsword, on hire to the highest bidder. How he came by the 'Ser' was, perhaps, a matter open to question.

Inwardly, Corryn sighed. Sellswords were rarely without purpose or patron. That he would seek Corryn out did not bode well. Considering that he was in Hardy territory this did not bode well at all, in fact. "Surly Toilet" still had a grudge against him after their previous altercation. And his spiteful type was certainly not above hiring someone to do in his enemies and he possessed the gold to do so.

Stranger's Balls, he thought. Why does everyone want to mount my head on their mantle place?

[Corryn] cocked his head, smiling stupidly. "Firstly, I must ask if I have offended thee in some form or fashion during my youthful year, have I? I do have that tendency, and if it is so, it would be best to be honest and avoid the blithe lilly-lollying that interferes with the prompt making of amends and the comradely inebriation to follow. Otherwise, I, Corryn Manderly, a man of few words or pageantry, am at your service."

"Good," said the other man. "Good."

Now that he had Corryn's attention, he seemed less certain about carrying the conversation further. He signalled Arney, who brought over two mugs of the hoppy ale that the Goose and Gander sold, and waited until the boy had gone away again.

Then he said, "They call you the River Wolf. But how good are you on still waters?"

A thin eyebrow went up at that. Perhaps Ser Fouchon was a client and not a killer after all. Corryn wet his lips with the ale and wiped the form from his mustache. "Certainly more than fair, good Ser. I have sailed every type of water, from the Seven Kingdoms to Long Lake, and know their ways and tricks. The Long can fool a man with its glassy sheen and calm days. Once the Northerly begins to blow, however, she transforms into another creature entirely. Is that were you intend to go, then? Or do you have other waters to ply?"

"The Long Lake," said the other, slowly. "They say... there are marshes. Hidden ways. Dangerous paths to those who don't know how to keep themselves safe."

He shot a glance at Corryn - although the cast in his other eye made it seem as though he was glancing around the room as well.

"You know those paths?"

This particular question did not sit well with Corryn; nor did the man's furtive nature. Few had heard of the Ghost Fens, also called the Hungry Path by those that knew it well. And those that did know them avoided the Fens whenever possible. Even Crannogmen shied away from the choking maze of reed beds and thick grass. The mists /whispered/ there and sickly lights danced amongst the sedge. The bones of a hundred souls moldered beneath the black water; traitors, deserters, thieves, villains all. To actively seek the Fens out took a certain level of desperation. It was truly a place touched by the Others.

Of course Corryn knew the Ghost Fens, and he had traveled them a dozen times. Certain cargoes and missives demanded exceptional levels of secrecy. But like a great many things in his past, he wasn’t about to reveal this to a virtual stranger. At least, not without a significant amount of coin being involved.

He leaned forward, his smile fading into cold mistrust. “I know of them, Ser Fouchon,” he admitted. “But before I speak further, you must elaborate upon your interest in them. The question you asked carries great weight to it. So, let us hope the weight of your purse is greater.”

The hedge knight gave a short laugh. "Not my purse, truly."

Indeed, Corryn could have guessed as much from his threadbare, shabby appearance. But Ser Fouchon went on, "But there's one ... who is willing to pay a great deal of money for something from the Long Lake. Someone with purses long and deep - and filled with golden coin.

"Something went into those waters, long years ago. And something may come out - for those who know how to look. And where to look."

“And I suppose you know where, then?” Corryn said skeptically. He knitted his fingers together, leaning on his elbows as he talked to the man. Although more relaxed, he still didn’t trust the man one whit. “Just what is this ‘something’ that was lost, may I ask? Forgive me, but I am not so much the fool as to escort anyone, knight or no, into the Ghost Fens on half rumors and tantalizing tales of gold to be had.”

"There's a map," said Ser Fouchon. "Half a map ... the best half. And I know ... I know where to buy the other half."

He leaned forward, and Corryn caught the stench of foul breath - an odour of rotting teeth, sour ale - and something else behind; a lingering sickly sweetness.

Corryn’s sensitive nose wrinkled at the hint of foulness. He’d smelled death more times than he certainly wished, and recognized its scent on his new associate. Wonderful, he thought. The old bastard will be likely be dead by the time we reach Long Lake to begin with. Corpses rarely paid their debts and were generally poor company.

"You have silks to sell, I hear. But maybe ... I could buy your company on your journey back. And maybe that could yield a profit for us both."

“Aye, that I do,” Corryn admitted, leaning away from Fouchon’s fetid breath. “Her grace and light of Holdfast possesses a taste for the finer things, it would seem. The transaction should be thankfully expedient and handsome, indeed, baring interference from her headstrong brother. So yes, I will be free to take you to this place you seek within a matter of days.”

His lips curled faintly; a half smile, half snarl. “Simply know this. I am a fair and honest man, Ser Fouchon, although many would attest otherwise. If you are true with me, I shall be true with you. My sword will be yours, and we shall share equally in whatever fortune we uncover. However…

“Be false with me. Try to take what is mine. And I will feed your soul to the hungry ghosts and sell your bones as trinkets to the Harbor’s whores. If my frankness offends thee, I apologize, but my last companion tried to take from me and I we had a permanent parting of ways. I pray we shall not have the same?”

Ser Fouchon smiled, showing teeth of a yellowed corruption.

"We'll hang true together. My word as a knight on it ... "

He extended a wrinkled hand.

"We can talk more in the morning, if you want ... Sleep on what I've said." He glanced over to where Odette was standing, pretending to polish a tankard but in reality keeping an eye on him.

"Or stay awake if you prefer ... "

And he winked.

Corryn laughed loudly and patted his new partner's shoulder, "You have a keen eye, Ser. All adventures begin with love, do they not? But yes, we shall speak further on the morrow. I am weary and smell like a stable. It is time I felt more like a wolf again, eh?"

He stood up, his hand still on the old man's shoulder. In mere moments, he'd accepted the old fart and wished to make it known to his peers. No sense that the hedge knight should suffer some indignation during the night or the cook's spittle in his breakfast. He placed a few coins in Fouchon's hand and shut the man's fingers around them.

"Enjoy yourself tonight. There shall be small happiness in the Fens, I assure you. We will speak more of this later. If I am not here in the morning, it is business with her ladyship that has stolen me away. I shall return by midday, however. Be well, good ser."

And with that, he sauntered over to Odette and kissed her plainly before leading her upstairs.

The early morning sun shone directly into Odette's room about the Goose and Gander. Slanting low between the steeply pointed roofs of the small town that clustered against the outer walls, it was guaranteed to awaken all but the heaviest sleeper with a start and have him bolt upright in bed in alarm. As good as a cock crowing on the windowsill, Odette maintained - although over the years her own awareness of it had been dimmed somewhat.

But it was hard to say whether it was the sun that woke Corryn Manderley the next morning as he lay sprawled beside the hostess of the Goose and Gander, or whether it was the plaintive tap-tapping on the door, and Armney's mournful voice saying, "If you please, Mun, it's the River Wolf. He's been murdered in his own bed, Mun."

If there are words guaranteed to wake a man, it is the news of his own murder.

"Ye gods, how many times do I have to die in one season?" Corryn grumbled, rubbing his sore eyes. "And WHY always so blasted early?"

The River Wolf sighed audibly. Warm and deliciously achy, he found himself trapped between rising to investigate the truth behind his supposed murder and 'rising' to the sight of Odette's striking behind. As smooth and rounded as Odette's posterior happened to be, the problem of being assassinated in his bed did, at first, appear to be more a pressing matter. "Bollocks and damnation," he cursed, disentangling himself from the bed sheets.

After a protracted and chilly search for his britches, Corryn sat back down on the bed to get dressed. "Odette, my flower," he said to his lover, "Would you be so kind as to tell Armney to spread the rumors of my demise about? Let us allow my friends to believe they have succeeded in their quest. Not only will it be a boost for their obvious stunted egos, but will allow me to investigate my demise without interference, aye?"

He leaned over to kiss the top of her breasts, grinning broadly. "And would you be so kind as to fetch me a hooded cloak or such? No sense in blessing the world with my handsome face about quite yet."

Her heat and scent and proximity were almost too much for him to bear. Corryn shook his head to clear it of wickedness, failed, but gained enough strength to return to the regretful duty of dressing.

She stayed slose for a second longer, perhaps to tease him, perhaps as reluctant as he to see their idyll come to an end. Then she dressed quickly in a long red robe before leaving the room, and allowing Corryn to finish dressing.

She returned just as he was lacing up his boots, carrying a warm winter travelling cloak with a heavy hood.

"I've sent Arney to gossip in the kitchen," she told Corryn, a little breathlessly. "I locked the door to your room - here's the key. You'd best be quiet if you want to see what's inside - it may be that those who struck will be waiting for you. It was a stabbing - the eiderdown pulled up to smother you and hold you fast, and then long knives through and through - the room seems full of bloody feathers."

Her expressive shudder told him she was not speaking metaphorically - and also that she had lacked the courage to approach the bed herself.

Corryn slide his hand over the swell of her belly, tugging her close to him. With genuine tenderness, "Someday I should marry thee, for all the wonders you bestow upon me." He kissed her nose and hugged tightly. "And thank you for saving my life, Odette. For that alone I am forever in your debt."

He took the key and flipped it idly in his fingers. "Follow a moment after I leave here and you'll find this in the door to my room. Use it to lock the door behind me. I shall be departing through the window and into the stables, I suspect. Best not risk a walk through the common room, lest my assassins be enjoying a celebratory drink."

Sadly, he kissed her lips, not wanting to let go. Odette was fantasy and light to him. Leaving her would plunge him once more into blood and darkness. And there would be blood to follow soon enough.

Corryn slipped into the hall like a shadow, crossing the distance quietly. He could hear the excited voices echoing up from below. Undoubtedly, he was the talk of the town. Pity his popularity had only increased in death. It wouldn't last long. He wasn't about to stay dead that long. He'd fought long and hard to get his wares up from White Harbor. He was not about to let the vermin steal his profit.

At the door, he drew his stiletto from its sheath; no sense in dying for real. Suspecting who he'd find in the bed, Corryn unlocked the door and slipped inside, leaving the key behind him for Odette. Stupid old man, he though silently.

Odette had not lied. The attack had been violent, and drifts of bloody feathers that stirred with his steps showed how fierce the resistance must have been. Not only the eidersown, but the bolster too had been placed over the head to muffle sound.

Corryn covered his nose with his arm. Despite his experience with the depravity of man upon man, the stink of death and spilled blood had never ceased to sicken him. He edged over to the bed, avoiding the tacky pools that had formed around the bed. From the splatter marks on the walls, he recognized the true savagery of this attack. It was definitely personal in nature. That didn't reassure him much. He had enemies aplenty, but enough for murder?

When Corryn drew them aside, it was indeed Ser Fouchon, his eyes wide in the defiance with which he had faced his death - not the death after all his corpse breath had predicted, but no less a wasted death for a Knight.

"I'm sorry, my friend. No one deserved this," he said, closing the man's dead, yet defiant, eyes. "I swear upon my sword, you will be avenged. And you will receive all the proper rites worthy of a knight. Sleep well, Ser Fuchon."

Then Corryn noticed the hedge knight's right hand was tightly gripped, as though, in extremity, he had clutched tightly at something ...

So it definitely wasn't a robbery, he thought as tried to pry the hand open. Either that or they were disturbed. Or stupid. That chilled Corryn more deeply than cold-blooded murder. Stupid assassins were the most dangerous to be sure. You could make sense of intelligence, predict its movements and actions. Stupidity was without reason, without thought, and therefore harder to figure out and prepare for. Corryn grimaced as he wrenched the fingers back, making a sickening creak. "Sorry, my poppet, but your grip is as strong as your stink."

He was not the first to have attempted this, Corryn quickly saw. The old man had been holding a sheet of parchemnet, flimsy with age. Someone - those who had murdered him - had taken the parchment - or what they thought was the parchment - for a small wad of it lay clutched in the old hedge knight's hand.

With careful prising he was able to open the fingers and withdraw the small wad ...

"I stand corrected," he muttered to himself, pocketing the wad of paper inside his cloak. "Stubborn to the last, old man. We would have been good friends you and I."

Corryn stepped back from the bed, trying to find some fresh air away from the old man's corpse. There was no relief to be found in the dark enclosed space of the room. He looked about for his possessions, hoping they'd not been looted. He was about to begin collecting his things when something caught his attention.

There was a sound behind him ... in the fireplace.

And there was a thickset, burly figure, his face grimed with dust and soot, and a wicked looking dagger in his hand.

"So," Corryn said coldly, "You stayed to die did you? Thank you for saving me the trouble."

With a steady hand, he grabbed a nearby chair and flung it across the room. Bulky as it was, the improvised weapon had little chance to inflicting serious harm the man as it struck his legs. However, the combination of the chair and the tight confines of the chimney, the assassin's mobility and reach should be seriously restricted. An advantage Corryn intended to use it its fullest as he descended on the fool, his stiletto flashing in his hand.

The man swore and kicked in an attempt to be free of the ruined chair - it was a distraction as he faced Corryn's attack. But his eyes were stead, and so too was the dagger in his hands. Suddenly he kicked out and a chair leg went spinning across the room to bang against the locked door. He kicked again, but this time the piece of chair was wedged and he cursed again, drawing back his leg, a little off balance.

Wasting no time and providing no quarter, Corryn jumped over the chair as it went spinning by, closing the distance between them otter quick. Despite the gravity of the situation, he remained relaxed and fluid in his movements. Now was not the time for anger or foolishness. As young boy, he'd watched the Water-Dancers dueling on the docks of White Harbor. He used those memories now to guide his blade and hand. Stabbing downward would be useless here, as would maintaining his distance. He needed to get in and finish this before the man recovered.

So, Corryn took advantage of his opponent's loss of balance and attempted to grab the man's weapon wrist; smashing it against the stone mantle. Simultaneously, his blade slashed across his belly. Although the blow would not kill him outright, a gut wound typically stole all resolve from any man. Better that than risk the knife's edge skipping off bone or lodging in something soft.

The man cried out as Corryn mashed his wrist on the mantel, but not as loudly as he screamed as he felt the knife cut deep into his belly. Blood spurted out - covering Corryn's hands and sleeves, but the man's own clothes protected the Riverwolf from a greater flood. He collapsed forward ontop the bloody feathers that covered the floor, making a high keening sound that was remarkably similar to that of a stuck pig.

For some reason the noise offended Corryn to the core. He gripped the man's hair and savagely bounced his head off the floorboard, driving his knee into the center of the pig's back. "Is that how he sounded when you cut him, you bastard? I bet not!" It took everything he had not to slit the man's throat then and there.

But all this noise had attracted attention. There were people running along the corridor, arguments outside the door ... and someone rattled the latch. It would only be a matter of time before they forced a passage into the room ...

"Stranger's Balls!" he hissed. Time, is would seem, lacked compassion or pity. That could not be helped or avoided now. But, this filth would speak or Corryn would know the reason why. He wrenched the man's head back by his hair and pressed the tip of his stiletto to the skin just beneath the man's left eye. He kept the pressure off, so its edge did not cut him. Yet.

"Shut you mouth!" [Corryn] growled, tightening his grip. His voice became low and dark. "You're dying, my poppet. Now, just how you slip into the next world is up to you. Tell me who sent you and why, and I shall give you blessed release. Tell me not, and you will die in such a fashion it will be told across Westros for a thousand years. I will peel your face like an apple and keep it as a coin purse. Am I being in any way unclear in this?"

The man shook his head, his eyes rolling so much with terror that Corryn could only see the whites. He seemed incapable of speech ... but he made a jerky, unco-ordinated gesture to the purse he wore at his waist.

Corryn snorted faintly, "SO there is some sense in you after all." The blade hovered beneath the man's eye, as he released his grip on the man's soot-blackened hair. With his free hand, he grabbed the purse and torn it off. "Woe to you if this isn't worth my while or if you try to breath, let alone move."

He increased the pressure of his knee on the center of the man's back. It'd keep him pinned effectively and allow Corryn to know if the idiot was tensing up to try something. HE carefully drew the blade away, and then smashed the man's head into the floor again for good measure. While he was too busy moaning, Corryn quickly examined the contents of the purse.

There were three gold coins, and a collection of silvers and coppers.

There was also a heavy seal, the sort one might use when travelling on official business for a house. In the darkness of the room, it was impossible to make out the insignia ...

"Whoa-ho," Corryn exclaimed. "I think this just saved you wretched hide for a few moments longer." This was a treasure, indeed. A small fortune. Now if only he could see the damned seal in the poor light. He silently cursed, flipping the it over in his hand, squinting. Still nothing. He pocketed them quickly.

The door rattled and the sound of voices increased. With mere seconds to spare, he returned his attention to the man beneath him. He tapped the man's ear with his stiletto. "Did the Hardys give you this? Ser Tollet? If your hearing isn't so good, I can certainly rid you of this faulty ear, old son."

The man shook his head, his breath wheezing in his chest. Corryn sensed that he was slipping away fast.

"No ... Hard ... No ... Toll ..." His breathing was slowing.

A heavy slam at the door suggested that the people outside had given up looking for the key, and were attempting to break it down. Either Odette was keeping to the letter of her promise to him or ... something had happened to her outside.

"Odette!" he finally called, "Let them in and fetch the guard. And a maestor!"

He pocketed the coins and seal to examine later. "Do something right, my friend, and don't die quite yet. I still have need of you."

He sank the blade into the floor beside him, out of reach of his friend, but well in hand if, indeed, Odette was not his soon-to-be visitor. Confident that the man was too weak to put up much resistance, Corryn rolled him over. The belly wound was far deeper than he'd expected much to his disappointment. "Of course! Take the easy way out, why not, eh?" He placed his hands on the man's wound and tried to staunch the blood. He could tell it was a fool's errand, but that had never stopped him before.

He stared down at the man's dulling eyes. "If you have any confessions to ease your soul, now would be the time."

The man's lips parted, and breath escaped in a high, wheezing whine. If he was making his peace with the gods, then that was going to be between him and his gods alone ...

Odette was suddenly kneeling neside him, still in her red robe and with her glorious hair spilling over her shoulders and her half-exposed breasts.

So they had got the door open then.

"Who was he?" she asked. "Did he kill ... " She waved a hand at the bed. "Whoever they mistook for you?"

Although ... perhaps it had not been a case of mistaken identity at all.

Corryn doubted the motive was personally directed at him; at least until the evidence pointed otherwise. But until he was certain, it benefited him to perpetuate the rumor. "Aye. And he nearly killed the right man as well," he said. "I fear he's escaped the hangman's noose though. My friend deserved a better end than this filth gave him."

He retrieved his blade before letting someone help him up from the floor. "Can someone fetch me some water?" he said, showing his hands. "And the maester, if you haven't already. My friend was a knight and a gentleman. He is entitled to the proper rites and I shall see that he receives them."

Odette nodded. "And the Septon too," she said. "For those rites afterwards. Unless he followed the old ways - though he did not seem like the sort to seek his gods in the woods."

Without staining her dress, he kissed Odette deeply. Corryn leaned into her, closing his eyes. He whispered to her, "I thought I'd never see thee again, my love. Thank you."

She buried her head in his soldier for a moment, and he caught her whisper - "I cannot spare my wolf."

Corryn could not remember the number of women he’d bedded over the years. Enough to keep him warm most nights to be sure. Their names and bodies were but river water, flowing into the distance and forgotten. Until this moment, flattering words and expressions of adoration had meant little to him. To him, they were but the heady words of lovemaking and desperation. However, hearing Odette’s words now struck him so profoundly that his heart raced. Perhaps it was the proximity to death that affected him so, yet that did not hold truth to it somehow.

He held her tightly to him, kissing the top of her head with an affection he’d never experienced. It made his heart hurt and skin feel uncomfortably tight, but calmed him, soothed him. “I would not leave you, dearheart,” he whispered. “Not now. Not ever.” Corryn surprised himself upon realizing he actually meant what he’d said.

The adrenaline and tension began to turn toxic in him, stealing his strength and resolve. For the first time, he truly took note of death's heady stink permeating the room. "I need some air, please," he said firmly, heading for the door with Odette's help.

She lent him a steady - and somewhat sturdy - arm as he made his way to the corridor beyond.

"Where would you go, my knife walker?" she asked softly. "There will be people who'll want to question you. When the Castle hears, they are sure to send."

Corryn allowed her to lead him back to her chambers. “I’m not entirely sure, my love,” he said flatly. Once there, he sat down at the table and began to clean his hands in Odette’s washbasin. As the cold water swirled crimson, he considered her question. The natural instinct was to make a run back to White Harbor and allow things to calm down. But the knight lying bloody and murdered in Corryn’s stead deserved far more respect than that. And there was the matter of who’d hired the assassin in the first place.

That thought reminded him of the items he’d taken off the murdered and murderer alike. Quickly, he toweled his hands dry and removed what he’d found. He blessed Odette for choosing the best lit room in the building. He needed some light now, for more reasons than simply examining his finds.

“Angel, could you watch the door, please? I’m certain people will be coming soon enough. But I need a little more time to consider my next move.” He reached out to squeeze her hand before realizing what he’d done. He smiled oddly up at her and chuckled. An odd morning indeed, thought.

[Odette] nodded in response and moved to the door. "There'll be people wanting to ask you questions," she warned over her shoulder. "The folks with sense will see why you wanted to play dead at first. It's the ifiots who without who'll be pestering you."

“Rumors spread like the pox, m’lady,” he chuckled. “Let them suffer from the sickness for a while longer before we alleviate their curiosity. I shall be here for those that would seek the truth. The River Wolf is an honest man above all else after all.”

Then with a final nod, she moved through the door, closing it behind her and leaving him in peace for his investigations. Perhaps this was tact - perhaps it was that, as a prudent woman, she didn't want to become too involved.

And Corryn was left to study his finds ... the scrap of parchment and the seal.

He turned the sea over in his nimble fingers, narrowing his eyes as he studied the seal in better light. The assassin, for he was no common thief to be carrying such a treasure, must have been in someone’s employ. It troubled Corryn that the obvious culprits were not mentioned in the man’s last words.

In the clear light of day, he could see that the seal bore a familiar - if perhaps somewhat unexpected - imprint.

The mark of the lion of Lannister.

“Well isn’t that just a friendly kick in the sack, eh?” Corryn muttered flatly. He turned the seal around again, hoping it would change somehow. Disappointment, it would appear, was the pleasure of the day. The shining gold lion stared up at him menacingly, unnerving him further.

He could deal with the likes of Ser Toilet and his sister; usually a subtle as a lance to the noggin. The Lannisters were a whole different type of animal though. They repaid their debts in more ways than one. Crossing their path rarely ended well. Still, what were they up to? What would inspire them to murder a simple hedge knight? Or worse yet, seek the death of a Manderly?

Corryn opened the parchment he’d pried from his friend’s cold fingers. He flattened its wrinkled surface with his hand. “So, old friend, what did you die for, I wonder?”

It was only a small scrap of parchment - the corner, perhaps, of some larger document that had been torn from Ser Fouchon's dying grasp. It appeared to be from a map of great complexity - drawn in once-black ink that had faded to brown. But, more clearly, a line in red had been drawn upon it, obviously showing some route ...

It was hard to make out where it was meant to be. There was water clearly marked (in a blue ink that had faded even more), a body of water that could be the sea - although the coast was unfamiliar.

It did, however, look more like the southern shores of the Long Lake.

Corryn recalled the old knight’s request to enter the Ghost Fens, as well as his mention of another half of the map. Considering those elements, it felt probable that the map represented the southern reaches of Long Lake. He would have to compare this one with his own documentation on the lake and its maze of tributaries and bogs.

But just where did it lead to? And what was waiting at the end of this journey? Something worth killing for, obviously. For the Lions to be willing to part with their precious coin, it must be worth its weight in gold. A reasonable man would have turned from this venture right now and forgotten the last few hours. Corryn had been accused of being many things, but ‘reasonable’ was amongst those characteristics.

Besides, he’d sworn an oath to the old man to help him. Death did not negate such oaths, especially for a Manderly. And aside from a warped sense of chivalry, greed and curiosity also played a significant factor in his decision to oppose the Lions. Corryn couldn’t have people thinking him altruistic and valiant, now could he? Leave that lot to the shining Tyrells; the pouncy gits.

Carefully, he folded the parchment and placed it close to his heart. His absence would be noted if he tarried any longer. So, with a cocksure smile and spring in his step, he left his sanctuary and went down to face his adoring public.

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