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The meal, although long, eventually drew to an end - and the family were able to withdraw.

"I'm going to my husband," said Lady Hardy, once they had moved from the Hall to the corridor beyond. "Edlyn, you will go to the solar." She looked at Kenrith and Syndra. "I suggest you two go there as well. Maester Merivel, will you be accompanying me."

Kenrith simply nodded and cleared his throat softly.

"Yes, Lady." Merivel said with only a trace of hesitation. He turned to Edlyn and Kenrith. "Thank you for your company at dinner, the both of you."

"You are most welcome, Maester... I am sure you have heard we Hardies are not the greatest book-lovers in the seven kingdoms... but we do treasure knowledge," he said as he tapped his temple once with one finger before smiling and bowing ever so slightly from the waist, perhaps in deference to knowledge rather than rank.

He then moved to accompany Syndra and Edlyn towards the solar.

Syndra smiled at Eryk and politely thanked him for his company. She stepped in beside Kenrith and Edlyn and began to leave for the solar, but then tugged Kenrith's arm. "Godwyn!" she greeted her cousin as he approached, apparently just arriving from outside.

Kenrith turned as he felt her tug, his head spinning in advance of his body. He had heard the footsteps of Godwyn's approach, and perhaps had silently registered them as those of his brother and so hadn't reacted. He did shift his stance as he turned, but quickly rose from his natal boxers crouch as he saw that it was Godwyn. Kenrith's martial training had made it all the way to his bones, even if he would never be a lancer or fire a bow.

Godwyn nodded to Syndra, but looked only at Kenrith. "We need to talk," he said.

"Godwyn," said Edlyn, never one to stand on ceremony, "what's happened?"

Eryk Bolton was still standing with them, close to Syndra.

"I know you have no cause to like me," he said. "But ... this affects us all. My people - and your honour. Please ... tell me what's happened out there."

"The solar," said Edlyn, "all of us. And then you and Kenrith can go away and talk secrets afterwards if you want. But I want to know what's happened first."

"The solar is rather public, but our room is on the way there. Why don't we all go there to talk?" Kenrith suggested, perhaps thinking this had something to do with Syndra as well because of the earlier incidents, or perhaps he just didn't want to leave the two women unescorted with Ser Herys about.

"Mother," said Edlyn primly, "has straitly forbidden me to go there." She grinned. "So ... let's!"

Godwyn frowned, but didn't verbally object. He followed everyone, his frown growing deeper as he walked.

Kenrith motioned for the others to find seats while he leaned against the wall across from the (now curtained and shuttered) window.

Syndra sat in a straight-backed chair near the dresser. For the benefit of Eryk, who had remained at her heels since dinner, she had chosen a seat at some distance from Godwyn. However, she listened to her cousin attentively.

Eryk took up a station attentive beside (and a little behind) her chair - so that Syndra could see him out of the corner of her eye.

Edlyn cast a thoughtful look at the comfortable bed, and then went and sat in the window seat instead, curling up like a contented cat to listen.

Godwyn stood near the door. "One of Bolton's men, the one called Grunter, is dead," he announced. "Someone stabbed him. A single thrust, right to the heart. Whoever killed him knew just where to stab, and had enough strength and skill to do it right the first time, so it's no frightened girl from the inn. Then they buried the body, and dosed the castle dogs with anise to keep us from following the trail. Didn't do anything about mine or Tamlyn's hounds, though, which argues they are strangers, not locals. We tracked the trail to the Goose and Gander, and there are three men who Ser Anders took into custody. Two of them are sellswords, who came here from Riverrun." Godwyn met Kenrith's eyes as he said that.

Kenrith's face was even more severe and impassive than usual, a stone mask fit for an angry cenotaph. Still, Godwyn could see tired affirmation in his eyes. There was confusion as well, but it was buried underneath his quiet anger. Clearly, Kenrith understood the full meaning of his brother's words.

"The other looks to be one of Ser Corryn's men. He ran when Ser Anders accused him. If he's innocent, that was a d@mn fool thing to do."

Syndra's eyes widened as Godwyn told the tale. She glanced at Kenrith at the mention of Riverrun, but her gaze shot back to Godwyn when Ser Corryn's name came up.

"Grunther," said Eryk. He swallowed. "His name was Grunther. Of all the men with us, he's been the longest in my father's service."

Syndra winced slightly at this comment.

"An innocent man might run... if he were guilty of something else. Perhaps he had already found the knife, but rather than report it he chose to hide it in the dead of night?" Kenrith commented as he looked past Godwyn and Edlyn into the night.

Godwyn leaned back against the door. "Anders is bringing them in, we have cells prepared for them. I'll be going down to do a little questioning and softening them up some later on tonight. Ser Godfrey and Ser Herys are standing vigil in the Godswood tonight, they will be giving the men a full questioning tomorrow."

"I'd best go and join them," said Eryk. But he made no move to leave - he did not seem particularly upset by the news of Grunther's death.

"Which of Ser Corryn's men was it? Do you know?" Syndra asked worriedly. She had known many of Corryn's regular comrades since her childhood. While there was admittedly not a saint among them, she had a hard time believing any of them to be cold-blooded murderers.

Godwyn sighed. "It was Volf," he said reluctantly. "The murderer's knife was in his saddle bag, but that by itself means nothing. Anyone could have put it there. If the fool had just born up under questioning there wouldn't have been any problem. But when he was confronted he tried to run. That by itself is enough to get him killed, if Anders has his way."

Edlyn frowned.

"But why was one of Ser Corryn's men here in Holdfast?" she asked. "I mean ... isn't he leagues away at the White Harbour?"

Syndra looked very concerned. "It's not just that, Edlyn. Volf was one of Ser Corryn's favorite squires. I wonder why he was here alone." Syndra turned back to Godwyn. "There was no sign of the Riverwolf anywhere?" she asked, though she knew the answer. If there was trouble, Corryn would've managed to place himself in the middle of it. No one would've been able to miss him.

Godwyn shook his head in answer to Syndra's question, his eyes still on his brother.

"Eryk... I regret Grunther's death. We will get to the very bottom of this..." he said as he looked upon the man. "There must be justice done... we take the guest right very seriously" Kenrith said gravely.

"Thank you," said Eryk. "Whatever the problems between our Houses, such things must be sacred."

Godwyn nodded. "I donít think Volf had anything to do with the killing," he said. I think he was just scared. Ser Corryn was accused of a murder he didnít commit, after all, by the same man who now accused Volf. So he assumed he was being set up and tried to run. And, maybe, he didnít want to answer questions about why he was here, if Ser Corryn had sent him on some errand of his own."

Edlyn turned her head to look at Syndra, and then looked down, her expression thoughtful.

Eryk also looked at Syndra, and frowned. "What sort of errand would Ser Corryn have for his squire in Holdfast?" he asked. "How well is he known here? In the Dreadfort, he's seen as a scoundrel, but useful in a fight."

"He's been a dear friend to my family since my childhood," Syndra explained, her voice quiet with worry. "He fought alongside my father at Storm's End. He was always very kind to my brothers and I when he arrived on his trading journeys, and after my mother died..." Syndra chewed her lip, remembering, "well, he became almost like a second father to me."

She sighed and shook her head, thinking. "He hasn't been back since his mother's accident two years ago, but since her passing, it wouldn't have surprised me to see him show up." Especially since I sent the raven, she thought to herself, but that was only this afternoon. It had to be something else.

"But Volf alone, though. That worries me," she said anxiously, to the room in general.

Edlyn nodded. "Perhaps," she said, "some really appalling has happened to Ser Corryn and he was riding to tell you. Only when he saw the Boltons ..." Her eyes widened. "Perhaps he has been cruelly done to death by the Boltons!" she said with a relish for the dramatic. Then she appeared to realise that a palpable Bolton stood before them, and smiled apologetically at Eryk.

Syndra shot her a pained glance. "Edlyn..." she said disapprovingly.

Eryk spread one hand in a gesture that conveyed Edlyn was pardoned - and that her suspicions might - in other circumstances - be correct.

"A man sends his squire alone for only a few reasons I can think of... and he did not come to the castle immediately reporting misfortune," Kenrith said. "What was the state of his horse... and where was its brand from?"

Syndra looked from Kenrith to Godwyn, awaiting his answer.

"That, I don't know," Godwyn responded. "I followed the trail from the grave to the inn, Anders had already searched the stables. I never saw the beast myself."

"Perhaps he will be able to explain his situation to Godwyn in private... perhaps not... but," Kenrith said as he cleared his throat and looked around the room, "I think it would be best if we headed on to the solar before Lady Celia wonders what is keeping us. Godwyn and I can speak more later.

"One thing," said Eryk. He was looking at Godwyn. "When you go down to see the prisoners, to... soften them up... I want to come too."

Kenrith frowned slightly, but said nothing.

Syndra looked up at Eryk with concern and started to object, but then she reconsidered. This matter was between the men. It was not her place to interfere. If, despite her best efforts, this marriage did happen, Eryk and Godwyn would =have= to learn to get along.

"No," Godwyn said instantly. Then he straightened and looked at Eryk with a curious look on his face. "Why?" he asked.

"Because," said Eryk, "we don't know why the guestright was broken, and Grunther was killed. But the reason might be connected, don't you think, with the fact that he's a Bolton? And if that's the case, it would make sense to have a Bolton with you."

Syndra considered this. "He has a point, Godwyn. Perhaps he might even recognize the man where we Hardys wouldn't."

Godwyn looked to Kenrith, obviously deferring to his brother's opinion.

"You may see them, and ask your questions with Godwyn... but he must have an opportunity first to ask them each for their confession. Eryk may ask them to repeat it, if he wishes... but the audience matters much in such things. Don't turn your back on the sellswords." Kenrith replied after another long pause staring out into the night. As he delivered his reply, though, he looked at Eryk and Godwyn.

"I agree," said Eryk. He was smiling faintly as he looked at Godwyn. "Should we go now, or do you want to talk to your brother?"

Edlyn looked up at Syndra, and her expression was a little troubled.

"I haven't eaten yet," Godwyn said to Eryk. "I'm to the kitchens now. I want to let them sit and worry for a few hours anyway. I'll go down around midnight to talk to them. I can wake you then, or you can come find me in the kitchen before then if you want. He looked back at Kenrith. "We should talk before then, too."

Kenrith nodded twice, once at the mention of Godwyn getting something to eat and again when he suggested they needed to talk.

"Come and find me," said Eryk. "I doubt I shall be sleeping much."

He rose to his feet. "If, my ladies, sirs, you will excuse me ... "

He gave a brief bow and withdrew.

Godwyn nodded his head, but said nothing to Eryk as he left, [and] Kenrith did likewise.

Edlyn watched him go, and then rose to her feet as well.

"I shall retire too." She directed a look at Syndra that suggested she was anxious to talk to her, but then turned to her two step-brothers.

"Good night, Godwyn. And good night, Ser Kenrith. It's been a melancholy homecoming for you, but for myself, I am glad to be able to make your acquaintance."

Then she dipped a curtsey and was gone, leaving the three cousins alone together for the first time since the summer fever.

Syndra smiled wearily at her cousins as she rose from her chair. "I should retire as well. I know you two want to talk." She gave a brief glance at the door, remembering her father's orders, but then said, "I should be all right just to go to my room. Father has watch of Herys in the Godswood."

"If you're certain.." Godwyn said.

As she passed Kenrith on her way out, she gave his arm an affectionate squeeze and smiled. "It's good to have you home." She included Godwyn in her glance when she said "Good night", then left the room quietly.

Once they were alone Godwyn sighed, and went and sat on the bed. "Do you want me to try to find some way to keep these sellswords alive?" he asked Kenrith.

"They refused hospitality... at the time, I did not know what they were up to, but they may have planned this as soon as they saw the Bolton man. Perhaps he had some old score to settle with them. I would not see them harmed if it were possible... but they refused hospitality and attacked our guest, if it was them and not the Manderly man who did this..." Kenrith said with a tone which indicated how unlikely he thought it that one of the River Wolf's men was responsible.

"It is not possible," Kenrith concluded. "However... I should want to see as many of them on the wall rather than dead," Kenrith said before his voice raised slightly "And I want to know -why-!" he said as his balled fist thumped the nearby table.

"The Manderly man has a message, or some secret parcel which hasn't been discovered in a search. It may be he will not trust you with whatever this missive is... but ask him about it quietly. It could be he is an imposter, although I trust you'd recognise Corryn's squire so that is most likely not the case. Again... should by some madness he be responsible, I want to know why and I want him on the wall so long as his reason is not so foul the wall would not want him..."

"I trust you take my meaning?" Kenrith asked as he rested a hand on his brother's shoulder and softened his tone. He felt some measure of guilt for ordering his brother so, but he found the whole situation quite frustrating.

"Aye," Godwyn said. He rested his own hand on top of Kenrith's for a moment before continuing. "Having the Bolton boy with me will make it more difficult to get the truth out of them. And suppose the truth is something we don't want the Boltons to know...?"

"Thats why I wanted you to try to speak with them before Eryk is present for questioning... so that they might confess, if they intend to speak plainly. If they do not do so then... so long as he helps uncover the mystery, he has as much right to the truth of things as we do... and as if it wasn't obvious, watch your back around him as well," Kenrith said.

Godwyn nodded. "He'll think I'm conspiring with them when I go in and talk to them first," he pointed out. "At least, that's what I'd think if I were in his place. I don't see any way around that though." He grinned. "Especially since there's a good chance I may be, if I decide he shouldn't hear what they say."

Kenrith nodded once more. "I think you should head to the kitchen for your dinner, and I to the solar before someone wonders where I am. From what I heard, Evan's men are mostly Southerners, but he is originally from the North... hasn't been in the north for some time, though. Perhaps he had some past with this guard... time will tell."

"There are still two men left at the inn, assuming they haven't saddled up and ridden out yet. The big one, and the boy. I don't know whether they will try to save their companions, or take the wise course and stay out of things." Godwyn shrugged. "Might be worth talking to them, to see if they know anything."

"Their number was greater than four... and I don't think questioning them will yield much in the way of honest answers without Evan about. If any acted, most likely they all acted together... and fearing group justice, they are most likely gone by now. I can't be certain... but I think the young one was with me when this crime was committed. If I knew when he had been killed, I could be more certain."

He shook his head then. "I'm sorry this was all waiting for you first thing when you got home, brother, but it's just an indication of how things have gone while you were gone. It's time you were back, Holdfast needs you."

Kenrith shrugged and nodded as the two moved to the door. "We will Hold Fast, brother... come final winter or dragon's flame. I pray that will be all that is required of us..."

"We do what we can," Godwyn said with a matching shrug. "The gods cannot ask more."

He clasped his brother's arm in a firm grip, then turned and headed for the stairs.

Page last modified on April 05, 2006, at 07:17 PM