Arrival at Winterfell - Syndra
Benjen led Syndra to the main keep but instead of taking the main entrance to the Great Hall, he led her to a narrow entrance that gave direct access to the private quarters of the Lord and Lady - where Syndra had, in earlier years, sometimes gone with her father and brothers to play with the Stark children while her mother sat and sewed and spoke with Lady Stark herself.
Benjen paused to allow her to proceed him.
Castles change so very slowly, Syndra thought as she passed through the narrow doorway which led into the family quarters. As she gazed around, she was glad the First Ranger had allowed her to take the lead for she could only imagine how her face looked as faded memories took on color.
Syndra gulped to force down the lump that threatened to form in her throat. She remembered playing here with Gavrin and the Stark boys. Monster and maiden. Hide and seek. Robb Stark and Jon Snow were a bit younger than she, she remembered, but not much. A year perhaps, if that. Trey had been just a baby then, as had Sansa, their sister. Syndra had never met the younger children, but Father had told her about them in his letters. Headstrong Arya, thoughtful Bran. Now it was Rickon who was merely a babe. How time did fly.
The First Ranger did not seem inclined to conversation. He was much like his brother, Father had said. Syndra did not push. It was enough to simply accompany him through these halls of memory and silently work out what she would say to the Lady of Winterfell.
There was a curtain - a tapestery - across the door of the solar, to shut out any draughts. Benjen lifted it, and then motioned Syndra forward to pass through to where the sound of low women's voices could be heard.
Inside the solar, a warm fire was burning to keep the cold of the stones at bay. And within the room was a pleasant domestic scene. Lady Stark was seated on a low stool, her eldest daughter seated next to her, watching intently as her mother showed her an intricate stitch in embroidery. On a great bearskin rug before the fire, Lady Stark's younger daughter and her third son were sprawled together, playing some game (it was how Godwyn and Gavrin had once sprawled together, like young puppies, intent on their own affairs). A cradle stood at a little distances, being gently rocked by the nursemaid who sat beside it. Another woman, a Septa by here dress, was reading aloud from a book spread on her lap - it seemed to be a herbal.
And there, seated on a low stool near the Septa, sat Limosa, a piece of embroidery in her hands, but her dark eyes raised to see who was coming, as calm as though she had always been a daughter of Winterfell.
"Lady Stark, it is indeed ---" Syndra had begun to bow a proper greeting before she registered exactly who else was in the room. She stopped midway down and jerked upright, her eyes wide. "Limosa!" she gasped as a huge smile of relief blossomed on her face.
Limosa looked at her - and then beyond her, to where Benjen stood in the shadow of the door. Suddenly, her face was alive - and she lifted to her feet, the embroidery cast away, and was running to the door, her face alight.
Benjen stepped forward.
Limosa stopped dead, all light fading from her face. She looked across at Syndra, almost pleadingly.
Syndra took a step toward Limosa and held her hand out to her, hoping to appease the girl while she made the proper greetings. She bowed again to Lady Stark. "My pardons, My Lady. It is indeed an honor to meet you. Please forgive my appearance and my distraction. We've ridden hard to arrive here so quickly. You see, Limosa was taken from Holdfast several days ago and we feared for her safety. I am truly relieved to see her alive and well."
She turned to Limosa with a reassuring smile. "Ser Corryn will be also. He's outside tending to the men."
Limosa nodded, and even managed a quick smile - but it seemed as though there was someone else she had hoped to see with Syndra - for she cast another look towards the doorway.
"Come and sit down, Mistress," said Lady Stark to Limosa, the authority of Winterfell in her voice, but not unkindly. "And Mistress Syndra, draw up a stool yourself, my dear. Do you bring word from your father? I trust he is in good health."
Limosa had resumed her seat by the fire, but the embroidery was still discarded as she awaited Syndra's answer.
Syndra crossed to an empty stool near the fireplace and sat demurely, minding her manners despite the lack of feminine attire. The warmth of the crackling fire bolstered her as she delivered the bad news. "He is not, My Lady," she said quietly. "That is why I am here in his place."
Syndra's frown deepened. "There's been trouble at Holdfast."
"Perhaps," said Lady Stark, "you should tell me about it ... or is it not something that should be discussed before children?"
Arya look up from her place on the rug, her sharp little face alive with intelligence.
Syndra gave the girl a faint smile, then turned back to her mother and nodded. "That would probably be for the best, Lady Stark. The tale is quite involved," she replied.
Catelyn Stark regarded her for a moment, and then rose to her feet.
"Come," she said. "Let me show your where you will be taking your rest. You can change into clothing more fitted for your time with us, too. The wisdom of dressing for the road no longer holds here. Septa, stay here."
"I would be grateful for the kindness, my lady," Syndra said wearily, her long legs aching with fatigue as she rose and stepped away from the tranquilizing warmth of the fire.
[Catelyn] smiled at Syndra, but as Limosa rose too, she shook her head.
"No, stay here, my child."
She laid a gentle but firm hand on Syndra's shoulder to guide her from the room, even as Limosa sank down on her stool once more.
Syndra smiled gratefully as Lady Stark led her into the hallway. Though she tried to maintain the proper air of nobility, she found herself melting somewhat under the compassionate touch of this woman. This mother. She allowed her shoulders to sag, conserving her remaining steel to keep from shedding tears of fatigue and relief.
"I know I'm a sight, Lady Stark," Syndra apologized. "In the last three days, we've stopped only to sleep and water the horses. Father and my cousin, Ser Kenrith, charged me to get to Winterfell as quickly as possible. A raven would've been faster, but you see..." Syndra's voice dropped significantly, "...our rookery was destroyed and the birds have flown. It's all part of what's happened." Syndra looked up beseechingly, hoping Lady Stark would understand that she wished to tell the rest of the story in private.
Catelyn Stark nodded understandingly, and then guided her up some stone steps, past several bedchambers and into a high, small one with a great bed and a vast clothes press. There was a ewer of water there too, and a footman was placing Syndra's saddlebags on the bed. Lady Stark signalled to him; he bowed and left.
"You will share a room with Lady Limosa here," Catelyn Stark said. "Syndra, my dear, what has happened to your father?"
Syndra sighed. "You might want to sit for this, my lady," she suggested, indicating the most comfortable-looking chair in the room. "The story is long."
Once Lady Stark was seated, Syndra perched at the foot of the bed, maintaining her noble demeanor even though she would've preferred to kick off her dirty boots and pull her feet up under her.
"It started several days ago," she began. "The same day Father and my cousin Kenrith arrived at Holdfast. A large contingent of Boltons showed up, led by Ser Herys Bolton. Unbeknownst to all but Lady Celia, apparently my Lord Uncle had made an arrangement years ago... for a blood price for... Ser Herys bringing the summer fever to Holdfast."
Lady Stark nodded slowly. Her expression suggested that this was not entirely news to her.
Syndra paused to take a deep breath. She hadn't realized how difficult it would be to tell this tale. She called upon all her strength to relate the events as objectively as she could. "There was to be a marriage," she continued, "between myself and Ser Herys's son, Eryk. While the Boltons were settling in, however, one of their number, a long-time man-at-arms, was murdered. There was evidence to implicate one or more of the men who had arrived with Kenrith. The leader of this group went by the name of Evan Tamm.
"Tamm and his associate were placed on trial the next day, along with one of Ser Corryn's men, Volf, who had also been seen in the area. My father stood in judgment and presided over the trial. When the trial appeared to be going badly for Tamm, he demanded a trial by combat, which was of course his right. As regent of Holdfast, my father stood as the champion.
Lady Stark looked bewildered. "Your father allowed a common sellsword to claim the right of challenge?" she said.
Syndra looked intrigued at the question, reacting to a good point that she had never considered. "Well, as it turns out, he was not quite a common sellsword.
"I should also mention, my lady, that during the course of the trial, Evan Tamm claimed to be the real Eryk Bolton and that the one who had arrived with Ser Herys was an imposter, a Snow of Ser Herys's. Ser Herys had not wanted Tamm to be permitted to speak and this was apparently the reason. Herys denied it, of course, but the accusation shed some doubt on the marriage contract."
Syndra sighed. "And it might've been reconsidered, had the trial by combat turned out differently." She paused and looked down at her hands in her lap, the knuckles of her increasingly tense fingers whitening as she continued softly. "Father rode in full armor. Tamm had been offered armor but chose not to wear it. I knew something was wrong then. The first tilt was uneventful. On the second, however, Tamm impaled Father's horse. Father had apparently been expecting it, because he cleared the horse without injury as it went down. Instead of descending to fight on foot, however, as was proper, Tamm... wheeled his horse and... rode Father down." Syndra gulped as she struggled to control her emotions.
Lady Stark was pale. "Your father ... is he dead?"
Syndra shook her head hastily. "No. Thankfully no, my lady. But he was badly injured. Severe fractures of the ribs and hip, according to our maester. He's expected to survive but..." The girl shook her head again, more sadly this time. "Maester Rhys is not certain how well the bones will knit. He might not... ride again. At least not well."
Syndra met Lady Stark's eyes. "But the worst for Holdfast was still to come."
She gazed away at the nighttime sky out the window as she remembered. "Tamm withheld the killing blow - he had a mace, by the way. He said Father had yielded. Whether he had or not, the combat was over. The Old Gods had spoken and Tamm was free to go. But Ser Herys jumped up then and grabbed Lady Celia. He started screaming orders at his men to kill Tamm. He shoved our lady to the stands, injuring her badly. When Godwyn saw that..."
Syndra looked back at Lady Stark. "My cousin Godwyn," she murmured, her voice soft with worry. "He was the only Hardy man left to give the orders. When Herys struck down Lady Celia... he ordered the Boltons killed.
"It was a melee after that," she continued, brusquely shaking off her melancholy. "I stood over Father with his sword to try to hold everyone off while the maester tended him. Tamm helped to defend us some. Through the worst... before he took off. I think Godwyn went after Herys. I don't know for certain. I didn't see anything but the field. Ser Corryn was there too. I think he helped Lady Celia. Yes. He did. He said he did when I spoke to him later."
Syndra shrugged as she ran out of story. "The rest... was just the cleaning up. Kenrith returned... he had been investigating... something else. An attack from the forest. Wildings possibly. He might say more in his letter," she said, patting the pouch at her hip.
"I believe he wants his letter to be given directly to Our Lord, my Lady," Syndra said, inquiring with her large blue eyes about how she should handle that.
Lady Stark nodded. "I understand. But, Syndra, we have heard another tale her - from the young man called Eryk Bolton, who brought Limosa to us, for herfeared for what would become of her. What do you know of Limosa?"
Syndra resisted the urge to ask which Eryk Bolton. Obviously Lady Stark meant the one who had made off with Limosa.
"I had wondered what he would say," Syndra began thoughtfully. "Most of what I know of Limosa comes from Ser Corryn, my lady. He arrived with her in tow the day after the Boltons did. Father had apparently sent for him before leaving Winterfell. He introduced her as his daughter. This naturally surprised us all, but she did seem to have some affection for him, and the rest of the Laughing Knives were quite protective of her. Wol... I mean, Ser Corryn later explained that he had come upon her at Leaning Stone where she had suffered severe abuse at the hands of her father, Ser Cerwyn."
Syndra paused to think, trying to stitch together the pieces as she had heard them. "Cerwyn had abandoned the family, I gathered. Though he must've died at some point recently. Corryn said that he married Lady Cerwyn on her deathbed in order to protect her children, presumably from another house that might seize an opportunity to swoop in on their holdings.
"As I recall, they're also some relation to Ser Corryn. By marriage, I think. I believe Lady Cerwyn was sister..." her voice turned up as she questioned herself on this point "...to Ser Corryn's step-mother." Syndra shook her head. "I'm not certain of that, my lady. You might want to ask Ser Corryn. He arrived with me."
Lady Stark nodded. "My Lord will want to question Corryn. The tale we have been told is ... not substantially different. But what has happened to Leaning Tower?"
Syndra shook her head, her hands neatly folded in her lap. "I don't know, my lady. I've heard naught of it since we left Holdfast."
She paused for a moment, then asked, "Lady Stark, do you believe the Lord will wish to question me tonight as well? Or will he wait until tomorrow? Father was concerned that he be informed of everything as soon as possible, but I know it's very late."
"Questions will wait till the morning," said Lady Stark. "But my Lord will return shortly, and then you will dine with us, I trust."
Syndra smiled brightly. "I look forward to it, my lady," Syndra beamed, dropping her head in a grateful bow. "I shall clean up and change immediately. Thank you so much for your hospitality."
As they finished speaking, a horn sounded.
Lady Stark stood up.
"My Lord has returned. We will dine within the hour. I shall send Limosa to attend you to the Hall."
Syndra walked her to the door and dropped a polite curtsey, despite still being in trousers. "Thank you, My Lady."
After Lady Stark departed, Syndra closed the door and turned around, staring at the room dumbly. Then she squeezed her eyes closed, her noble face crumbling into silent tears. It was all too overwhelming. She fell backward against the door as though she could not longer stand, her head lolling back to rest on its solid timbers.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. If she was at Winterfell, Papa should be here too. This was his place and she missed him more here than she ever had when he was absent from Holdfast. Her heart felt like it would burst through her ribs as it longed to escape her chest and fly home. She had never felt so tired and weak.
Finally, alone at last, Syndra allowed herself to cry. Great sobs shook her body as she slid to the floor like melting ice, still leaning against the door. Strangely, the sobs felt good as they released her loneliness, worry and fatigue like the spillways of a dam. The flash flood of emotion swept away the snags and tangles that had begun to clog her mind over the last several days. At the end of the rush, she felt clearer.
She sat and breathed for several moments to regain her composure, eventually pulling off her filthy riding boots to get more comfortable. That was a mistake. The odor and grime that lingered there was suddenly set free to slap her across the face. Syndra wrinkled her nose in disgust and immediately began cleaning up.
By the time Limosa arrived, Syndra had scrubbed her entire body nearly raw and was beginning to feel like a girl again. She had changed into an emerald green gown with oak leaves and acorns stitched around the sleeves and hem in golds and browns. Limosa entered to find Syndra leaning forward with her now shoulder-length hair hanging in her eyes as she worked with a hairbrush to remove a few stubborn knots.
Limosa sank down on the edge of the bed to watch Syndra at work. Her own appearance was a remarkable improvement on how she had appeared at Holdfast, even with Corryn's best efforts. Then she had been a gyspy. Now she seemed to have been tamed.
Perhaps wisely, though, she made no gesture that might suggest she would help Syndra's appearance.
Syndra peeked through her locks as Limosa entered and sat down. "Hello, Limosa," she smiled. "I'm pleased to see you're none the worse for wear." She set the brush aside and pulled at the final knot, trying to separate it gently with her fingers. "Did they treat you all right? The Boltons, I mean?" she asked cautiously, hoping not to set the girl off again.
Limosa looked at her - and there was something a little strange in her expression - as though that was not a question she had expected Syndra to ask. Then she nodded, as though that was unexceptional.
Syndra resumed her concentration and finally conquered the offending tangle. She ran the brush through a few more times, then pulled a small silver hair comb from her bag, deftly sweeping back the strands over her right ear. Since her hair was now relatively short, she allowed the left side to remain down, as Edlyn had once demonstrated to great effect. Syndra doubted that her own honeyed curls could compare with Edlyn's brilliant locks, but for Winterfell, she made the effort.
With a nervous sigh, she turned to Limosa. "All right. I think I'm ready," she announced and followed Corryn's daughter to the Great Hall.