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Index | HomePage | GameLogs | HoldfastGameLogs | An Intimate Family Dinner

The family processed from the solar and along the corridor towards the stairs that led down to the dining room. Ahead, Lady Celia appeared to be conversing with every appearance of ease with Lord Bolton. Behind her, Syndra could hear her father and Edlyn speaking. Both seemed to be on their most formally polite behaviour, judging from their tones.

Taking advantage of these other conversations, Eryk said to Syndra in a low voice, "Your friend the Maester ... did you see him? How fares he?"

Syndra bit back the tart retort that first came to her mind. She would not dishonor her father nor give Celia the satisfaction of seeing her behave like a spoiled child. Father bid her to hold fast, and she would. "I did, with my cousin Godwyn. He's as well as one might expect under the circumstances," she answered politely.

"I'm glad you didn't go alone," said Eryk Bolton. "Had you done so, and it came to my father's ears ... he's not too impressed with your Uncle putting him in the Tower instead of a dungeon anyway ... But I suppose it has the advantage of proving he had nothing to do with Grunther disappearing."

Syndra didn't voice her suspicions that Herys Bolton planned the disappearance himself to cause more trouble, but she was thinking it.

He glanced sideways at her. "All in all, this is a pretty bad start to a courtship, isn't it?"

"It's not likely to be much of a courtship," Syndra replied. "After what happened this afternoon - what REALLY happened," she stressed in an undertone, "Father ordered that I be under his or my cousins' guard at all times. That's why Godwyn reacted the way he did when you showed up in my room." It was as close to an apology as Eryk was likely to get.

Eryk gave a sudden grin. "Well," he said, "that's crushed my hopes of stealing a kiss. Your cousin would tear me limb from limb before my lips got within a foot of your hand. Do you think he'd let me read you a love poem? I write terrible love poems - but I don't think he'd know the difference, do you? He doesn't look like a love poem man ... "

Syndra's startled glance at the mention of stealing a kiss almost turned to a loathsome grimace as Eryk dug himself in deeper. With effort, she managed to keep it to a look of slight nausea out of respect for his feelings. Inwardly, though, it was a struggle over what she wanted to do more - retch or run.

"No, I don't think he's the love poem type," Syndra agreed. She rubbed a hand over her temple as if she was developing a headache. "Look... Eryk," she began delicately, "maybe we should, um... not worry too much about courtship right now. I mean... I didn't even know about this betrothal until you arrived today and it's, um... I think I'm still a little in shock. Perhaps we should just stick with polite conversation this evening and worry about...," she stifled a gag, "love poems... at another time."

"Oh good," said Eryk, sounding much relieved. "Like I say - I'm really not much good at that sort of thing. Perhaps we could talk about something else instead, like art ... "

Rapid footfalls could be heard approaching, which slowed to a brisk walk as Kenrith neared the last turn. He strode up quickly as he brushed his hair back into place and smoothed his palm on his pant leg, and silently offered to escort Edlyn with his lone arm. He even managed a thin smile, but it did not quite reach his eyes.

Edlyn directed a slightly wary look at him - such as she might give the fiercest of Godwyn's hounds if it lifted a paw for her to shake. But she disengaged from Ser Godfrey and gingerly slipped her arm through Kenrith's instead.

"Did you see Godwyn?" she asked in a low voice.

Kenrith nodded and raised his eyebrows slightly. If he noticed her look and hesitance to take his arm, he showed little sign of it. "I would have assisted him in his search, except that I am not the woodsman my brother is. With the men he has with them, I expect them to find whatever there is to find," Kenrith said confidently, if slightly distractedly. Had he been raised in the North, with two good strong arms, hunting with his father and uncle would have been a frequent entertainment.

Syndra looked back at them, thankful for a different conversation. "Yes, Godwyn used to hunt with Father and I sometimes, back before Father returned to Winterfell. He was quite good."

"A hunt would be amusing," said Eryk. "A Holdfast hunt. Not a Bolton hunt."

He looked at his father's back as though he could say more ... but chose not to.

Syndra did not appear amused by this.

"A hunt would be a good entertainment," said Edlyn. "Although the tournament should be wonderful too - have you seen the wagons?"

"I undertsand it will be more of a private test of skill than a proper tournament," said Eryk. "The full tournament should celebrate our wedding, you know."

Syndra's eyes narrowed warily. "What sort of 'private test of skill' is being planned?" she asked.

Eryk shrugged. "Jousting. Perhaps combat a-foot. I'd like to see Godwyn with a broadsword. Archery - your bowmen are good, I'll wager. We're too few for a proper melee."

"Godwyn's very good," said Edlyn. "I expect ... " She glanced at her own escort, Kenrith, and then fell silent.

"You needn't fall silent on my behalf... I am more than capable of taking care of myself with a sword. Given how tempers are running... a melee is probably a poor choice," Kenrith said calmly, although Edlyn could feel his bicep tense as Jousting was mentioned.

"Indeed," Syndra concurred under her breath.

Edlyn flushed. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sure you are very good ... they made you a knight, after all."

"An honour that has escaped me," said Eryk Bolton cheerfully. "Ah ... we're here."

And indeed they were, entering the great hall between the long ranks of the tables, and processing solemnly to the High Table at the end. Those who were seated below the salt rose in greeting as the nobles entered - but there was an uneasy silence - and everyone saw that the Boltons were seated very much in a cluster on one table.

Upon entering the hall, Syndra drew on the court face without even realizing it. She held her head high, showing the Holdfast smallfolk that even the Hardy women would hold fast when faced with a hoard of Boltons. She followed Celia's lead regarding the seating arrangements. Usually, she would be seated next to her father, but since, as the betrothed, she was presumably one of the stars of this show, she was not quite sure what arrangements had been made.

Kenrith had never dropped his lordly face, and so there was no shift in his posture or body language as he entered the room.

The seating arrangement was ... unusual. Faced with the absence of Lord Hardy and presumably reluctant to allow eith Ser Kenrith or Ser Godfrey to take his place, Lady Celia had arranged for Lord Hardy's chair to be kept, empty, at the table. As, she said, with her sweetest smile, a mark of respect for her ailing spouse. She took the seat to the right of that, with Ser Herys on her right. Ser Godfrey took the seat to the left of the empty chair, with Syndra between him and Eryk. Kenrith found himself next to Ser Herys, with Edyln on his other side. The rest of the table was filled with the Steward and his wife, Lady Celia's companion, who was one of her poor Tollet cousins, and two of the kinights who had accompanied Ser Herys. Even so, it was a little thinly stretched - the absence of Godwyn and the three Maesters hardly helped. But Ser Herys, chief of guests, seemed unmoved.

[The table order is this - as seen by people looking up from the hall:

Edlyn <<>> Kenrith <<>> Ser Herys <<>> Lady Celia <<>> Lord Hardy's chair <<>> Ser Godfrey <<>> Syndra <<>> Eryk <<>>]

If Kenrith found the seating arangements unusual, or unpleasant, he made no remark on it. Still, he was hardly smiling as he sat next to Herys Bolton.

Ser Godfrey smiled reassuringly at Syndra as they took their seats. "We shall speak properly in my rooms later," he said. "Not here."

She smiled at him and nodded. For now, just having her father seated next to her was enough.

Ser Herys was talking still to Lady Celia, but turned his head and said to Ser Kenrith, "I presume you will not be interested in the tournament arrangements."

"Actually," said Edlyn, "Ser Kenrith is very good at sword fighting, although I am sure he is far too modest to say so himself."

Lady Celia frowned along the table at her daughter's boldness.

At this, Ser Kenrith did smile slightly. The twinkle, though, went all the way to his eyes as he glanced in Edlyn's direction. "Actually, I'm sure that the tournament arrangements would be a fine thing to speak of as we dine," Kenrith said as he pressed his dagger down firmly into the venison. As he could not hold the meat steady as he cut with his other hand, he made due with controlled pressure. If the extra time it took him disturbed Kenrith, he didn't let it show.

"I'm afraid I haven't been able to follow the northern tourneys as well from Riverrun... is Ser Corryn still well-ranked, or has he retired from the lists?" Kenrith asked as he brought a hunk of meat to his mouth with his dagger's tip.

"Have you not heard?" said Edlyn. "His stepmopther was injured in a terrible accident, and Ser Corryn has been at White Harbour these two years or more, helpung his father while he tending the Lady Ciara. She died, quite recently in fact, so perhaps he will make his way North again. Syndra and I hope so - he always brought such wonderful gifts and told such wonderful stories, she says. But very sad too that the Lady Ciara died.

"Ah - there is Maester Merivel. With Rhys locked, up, I suppose Maester Sewell must stay with your father."

She raised her voice slightly. "Maester Merivel - please - there is a seat prepared for you here next to me."

With a more than slightly distracted air about him, Merivel looked about the room at the mention of his name, and then his eyes fixed on Edlyn. He gave a quiet nod and moved to the prepared seat.

"Thank you." he said quietly as he sat down.

Edlyn gave him a warm smile and then turned to Kenrith.

"Ser Kenrith - have you meeting our visiting Master? Maester Merivel, of Clearwater, and a friend of Maester Rhys."

"Ah... I'm pleased to meet you, Maester," Kenrith said as Herys turned to answer Clarisse. "I see that you have a silver link... what else do you study?" he asked curiously.

"Ser" Merivel said respectfully, giving a nod of respect to Kenrith.

"To answer your question, Ser, at present I study Ravenry. It was in that study that I began a correspondence and friendship with Rhys, and why I was invited to visit."

"You seemed very interested in the star-gazing too," said Edlyn. "Do you think you might set up lenses at Clearwater? And is it as beautiful as it sounds there?"

"I would have to learn the craft, perhaps from Maester Sewell himself." Merivel replied. "Before daring to set up one of my own."

Edlyn smiled. "I have heard him say that studying nature is almost as important as studying the stars, and we in the North will be the first to know when winter comes." She gave a little shiver. "I fear it."

Before she could say any more, a servant entered and hurried up to the table to speak to Ser Godfrey.

Kenrith looked as if he wished to rise, but then gazed out onto the smallfolk who were watching the high table with interest. Better to let his uncle speak with Ser Herys alone, and to maintain the image that all was under control at the high table. This show of composure, however, was somewhat distracting... he had half-expected Godwyn to return late for dinner after finding the man in the inn. That he had instead sent disturbing news must portent further troubles... and this distracted him from more than token conversation with his step-sister.

"Who is that?" Merivel asked Kenrith and Edlyn quietly. "What's going on, now?"

It was Edlyn who answered. "One of the Bolton men has gone missing. That's why Godwyn and Uncle Anders aren't here - they went off to see if they could find him. But if they're calling Ser Godfrey and Ser Herys away, I'm afraid it looks bad."

"When it rains, it storms." Merivel said in a slightly glum tone, as if quoting something.

Edlyn nodded. "But," she said, with the air of one gritting her teeth and sailing on regardless, "what we should do is show everyone that we are enjoying this perefectly =lovely= meal, so that all the servants don't panic and we have fights breaking out all over."

Sje drew her wine goblet towards her and quaffed deeply.

"Wouldn't it be odd if the missing Bolton is the one who was so rude to me?" she said brightly.

"It would be providence for your own sense of safety." Merivel said neutrally, looking down at his food and then taking a bite. "It seems that I will be leaving Holdfast and leaving its tumult behind for tumult awaiting me at Clearwater." he added.

Edlyn looked startled. "Really? But what calls you away so soon, Maester?" She lowered her voice. "Is it because the Boltons have come?"

Merivel shook his head. His voice was low and tense. "Something has happened at Clearwater. I just received a summons to return; my services required."

"I'm sorry for us," said Edlyn, "that we must lose your company. But ... a castlke without a Maester is a shaky edifice." She gave a sudden smile. "Or so the Maester at my grandfather's castle was always assuring me!"

Merivel smiled wanly, and nodded to Edlyn. "Perhaps one day I will return to visit again." he replied.

Kenrith smiled sadly and nodded to Merivel in acknowledgement of what he had said, but soon returned his attention to the dinner. This was as much a show for those below as for the Bolton guests who had sat at the high table, and he would do his part.

Meanwhile, Syndra looked over at Eryk with a small resigned smile. "So...," she began, a little awkwardly, "I suppose we should get to know each other. How old are you?" It was the only thing she could think to ask that wasn't likely to lead to an uncomfortable subject.

Perhaps to her surprise, he hesitated. "Eight ... no, Seventeen." Then he smiled, apologetically. "We don't take much account of such things at the Dreadfort. You're judged not be what age you have, but by what you can accomplish." His smile twisted slightly. "And my father suspects that I accomplish as little as possible."

He speared a piece of venison. "You're fifteen, aren't you?"

"Fourteen," Syndra corrected. Her response to his comment was blunt but not unkind. "Why would your father not think you capable of accomplishment?" she asked as she daintily began eating.

"Because my tastes don't exactly sit with some of those of the Dreadfort," replied Eryk. He glanced along the table towards his father. "He would at times like to see more enthusiasm for some of his more ... bloody pursuits."

Syndra scrunched her nose up at that with a look of distaste. "Cruelty is more like it," she frowned, keeping her voice low. "So what are your tastes? Besides terrible love poems, I mean," she asked with a small smile indicating her jest.

He shot her a glance and then suddenly smiled. "I could show you, later," he suggested.

Syndra's eyebrows shot up dubiously.

"Oh ... I mean nothing improper! But my talents lie in directions that I prefer to keep ... a little hidden. My father would hardly think it a 'manly' pursuit."

Syndra considered this, putting it together with Eryk's comment about discussing art. In a very low voice, with her head turned completely away from the other end of the table, she asked, "You don't draw, do you? My brother used to draw." She sounded a little hopeful.

A swift look along the table to make sure his father was not listening, and then he nodded, his eyes alight with amusement.

Syndra grinned at him, but to ease his worries about being overheard, she said no more on the subject. Instead, she turned back to her meal and continued eating. She stole a glance in her father's direction, as always alert to his moods and concerns.

He was eating slowly, unsmiling. Once or twice he responded to a remark addressed to him by Lady Celia. He and Lord Herys seemed to be ignoring each other.

But Syndra did notrice her father glance further down the table once or twice. He seemed to be looking at Kenrith.

For a moment, she seemed almost about to say something to him, but then her gaze returned to her plate. Smalltalk didn't feel right with her father. They had too much of importance to say to waste words on meaningless dinner conversation, and there was not one thing that she thought Godfrey would feel comfortable talking about in front of their guests, or Lady Celia. Father had always had a keen sense for defense. She saw no reason not to trust it now.

After several bites of her meal, she turned back to Eryk. "Do you know how long this marriage contract has been in effect?" she asked softly.

Eryk shrugged. "I only found out I was intended for you recently," he said. "But I gather it was agreed longer ago than that." He looked at her for a moment, as though weighing what to say. "There are worse than me who come from the Dreadfort," he said at last. "You could have ... "

"Oh, I know," Syndra cut him off. "Your house's reputation is well known." She smiled to soften her words and once again turned away from the rest of the table. "It's not you personally, Eryk," she consoled softly. "If it was just you, I think I'd count myself lucky. It's just..." She sighed. "I'm sorry. It's just that when I think about marrying you, I think about the family I'd be marrying into, and that reminds me of that summer seven years ago and..." She shook her head and picked once again at her vegetables.

"I know," he said softly. "My brother too. He wanted so much to be a knight ... He stood up to bullies, you know. And he could make birds come to his fingers to feed. I've never known anyone else who could do that ..."

Syndra smiled sadly down at her plate. Before she could stop them, tears welled up in her eyes and threatened to drop into her lap. She bit her lip. Gavrin had wanted to be a knight. And he had been gentle, like Eryk and his brother seemed to be. Mentally, Syndra chastised herself. She wanted to hate this man, this Bolton, sitting next to her. Damn him for making that so difficult. Damn him for being kind to her. For being like Gavrin.

Syndra took a sip of her wine to cover her efforts to regain her composure. She was a true Hardy, a noble lady. She would not cry at the high table. She forced herself to face the memories as if looking at a painting, divorcing herself from the meaning behind the pictures.

"I remember your brother," she finally said. "My brother and cousins helped him put up the tent at the fair."

"Did they?" He smiled. "Devlin was really looking forward to the tournament. It was the first time he'd squired for Father, you see, and he was afraid of making mistakes. Father can be ... impatient. He's not the most tolerant of men."

"No, he certainly wasn't that day," Syndra frowned. "The tent was too big for Devlin. It would've taken two people on the best of days, but still your father was angry when they helped him." She shook her head soberly. She thought it best not to tell him about Ser Herys's actual reaction.

"Do you have any other brothers or sisters?" she asked, trying to make more pleasant conversation.

He hesitated, and looked down the table towards Ser Herys. "One," he said. "My father ... was not always true to the oaths he swore to his Lady."

"Oh," Syndra said awkwardly, once again finding herself in dicey territory. She turned back to her plate and poked at her venison, taking a few small bites even though she was not particularly hungry. She glanced down the table, hoping Edlyn was doing better with Kenrith. The silence between herself and Eryk grew uncomfortably long.

It was broken by a servant hurrying to the table and speaking to Ser Godfrey. Seated next to him, Syndra caught only a few words.

"Woods ... Holdfast ... Godswood."

Whatever it was, seemed grave. Ser Godfrey pushed back his chair, his face more stern and set than ever Syndra had seen it.

"If you will excuse me," he said to Lady Celia. "Ser Herys, perhaps you will come with me ... "

There was a forester lurking at the half open door of the Great Hall.

Syndra frowned silently as she watched her father leave with Ser Herys.Godwyn had been leading the search of the forest. She hoped no harm had befallen him. She glanced over at Kenrith, who watched the procedings intently, but made no move to follow. As Kenrith was now the only other true Hardy in the room, she decided it was best to follow his lead. She remained seated, picking at her food half-heartedly.

Besides her, Eryk Bolton tensed as he watched Ser Herys go with Ser Godfrey to the door. They were speaking to the forester ... none of them looked happy.

"This is not good," said Eryk is a low voice. "Not good ... How long will this meal last, my Lady? I want to find ... " He broke off and shook his head, frowning.

"Find what?" Syndra pressed quietly.

"Find out what's happening," he finished. He smiled at her, but she could see that he was still tense, still nervous. "it's not easy," he said ruefully, "to come a-wooing among people who seem to think most Boltons would be improved by a knife between the shoulder blades. And that's what I fear has happened to Grunther. He's a good man in a fight ... "

Syndra glanced again at the other end of the table where Kenrith and Edlyn seemed determined not to cause a stir in front of the smallfolk. "I believe we need to stay and make a good show of it," she told him in a undertone. "If our fathers have need of us, they'll tell us. Besides, I couldn't leave without Hardy escort, anyway."

"Thanks to my father," he muttered. "As though my task was not hard enough!"

She smiled sympathetically. She certainly did not envy him that task.

He shot a swift glance at her. "Our Lords may have made this marriage, my lady, but I want no reluctant bride in my bed. I want ... I want ... " His hand clenched suddenly on the bread he was holding. "I want there to be liking between us, even if there cannot be love."

Syndra listened considerately, inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but she frowned when he nearly strangled the bread. "Eryk, we met today for the very first time," she said, trying not to let her impatience show. "You can't expect me to immediately be comfortable with you. It takes time. I don't know why you're in such a rush. It's not as if we're to be married tonight."

She raised an eyebrow as a sickening thought occurred to her. "Is it?"

He looked almost as horrified as she felt.

"Oh no!" he said. "These things ... take time to arrange. Don't they? For women, I mean ... "

"Oh, they do," Syndra replied, seeing this as a bit of a reprieve. "The feast must be planned and the invitations sent. And I don't even know if I have a maiden cloak. Usually the bride's mother would make one but..." she shrugged sadly and took another sip of her wine. The end of that statement was obvious.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I am in the same situation, though. I never knew my mother."

He spoke almost matter-of-factly.

"Really? I had wondered," Syndra said. "I had never heard mention of a Lady Bolton."

For a second he looked startled, and then he said. "Oh ... she died. When I was a baby."

Page last modified on March 30, 2006, at 02:40 AM