Arrival of an Old Friend
Thus it was that Ser Corryn walked through the gate with two men on either side of him, and his wild daughter on his arm.
The courtyard seemed more crowded than usual. In addition to the routine day to day comings and goings, he saw the banners familiar from the Dreadfort, the banners of Ser Herys Bolton and - to one side, he saw Ser Herys standing with a young man. Ser Ander Tollet too was close by, a group of his men forming an armed escort for another young man - a sellsword, by his appearance. And there, at the door of Holdfast, was his old friend Ser Godfrey Hardy, with his daughter Syndra at his side ...
With Phalan, Bodb, Kolin, and Felix as escort, Corryn made his way into the courtyard. His eyes took in everything with keen interest. This was not a social visit, after all, and he intended to be on his guard. And thusly, it was the presence of the Boltons that first caught his attention. He'd met Herys during the War of the Usurper briefly, and between that and what his father had told of the man, his dislike for the fellow was without measure. If anyone deserved a dagger up the strap more than Herys, Corryn hadn't met him yet.
He nodded his head respectfully to Ser Anders as he approached. "Greetings Ser Anders," he said. "I'm sorry about the pomp and circumstance around our arrival. But you've trained some of the finest men in the North and I didn't want to surprise them unnecessarily." What was this? Corryn offering a sincere act of respect for Ser Anders? The world was going topsy-turvy, indeed.
Before he could say more, Corryn's breath caught in his throat and he stiffened, as if someone had just walked over his grave. "Morna?" he said quietly.
For a moment, Corryn thought he was seeing ghosts again. The gawkiness he remembered from two years ago was gone. The woman on Godfrey's arm was nearly as tall as Godfrey, lithe and slender, her Hardy-blue dress accentuating the graceful curves in all the right places. Morna's curves. Her soft honey-brown curls were pulled away from her face into a cascade that ran down her back - just like his love used to wear her own. As he drew closer, though, he could see her eyes were ocean-blue, not the deep brown of his heart-wife's, and her face carried the features that marked her as a true Hardy. Syndra had indeed grown up.
It's Syndra, you stupid fool, Corryn berated himself. He couldn't believe the similarities between the two, as if he were staring into his haunted past. His smile faltered only for a moment, but bloomed back to life a second later. It was to this pairing that he led his entourage, his expression truly overjoyed. "Godfrey! Syndra! Mother bless me, it is good to see you again. Forgive my tardiness. But things have beenů.complicated of late."
And in truth, for Syndra, seeing her old wolf thusly took her by surprise as well. He'dů matured in his absence. His skin had darkened from his time on the Narrow Sea. Gone were the long locks, replaced by a neatly clipped layer of stubble. Although the roguish smile remained, there were sorrows in those hazel eyes of his. He'd hardened somehow, his body more predatory in its gate and stance.
In years past, Syndra would've leapt into Wolf's arms with girlish exuberance. But this time, the combination of his new maturity and hardness, along with the presence of the girl/woman next to him, tempered her enthusiasm. Still, there was no mistaking how pleased she was to see him. She dropped her father's arm and stepped up almost shyly, wrapping him, armor and all, in a warm embrace. "I've missed you, Wolf," she smiled up at him. In his arms, she felt like Morna. Even her hair smelled the same.
Normally, Corryn would have picked Syndra up and held her and kissed her cheeks. Indeed, he wanted to do nothing more. But with her father and the others gathered, it would have been unseemly and improper. Instead, he held her tight and sighed with deep relief. She felt like home; one he'd almost forgotten. He tried not to think of how good she smelled, that scent he'd fallen asleep to so many times in another life. Gods, how she'd grown.
"And I have missed you, Little Bear," he said, lightly kissing her brow. He held her hand for a moment, only releasing it reluctantly.
And Godfrey moved forward, a word for the Laughing Knives (the older of whom he had encountered before). But then his gaze returned to Limosa who suddenly seemed aware of him and lifted her chin with a certain pride.
Kenrith emerged from the keep next. He was tall and strong of frame but for the lack of an arm on his young body which marked him. His expression was severe, his back straight as a rod. Certainly this Hardy did not seem to share Godwyn's bold humor, but he was no slender southern courtier either. If it was a mask he wore over his true feelings, it was a hard one... and one which had rested there for some time.
Corryn turned to the man and narrowed his eyes, as if remembering. The familial resemblance was there, to be sure. Although he had the refined look of the Riverlands, the man was Hardy borne. Kenrith. The boy had been hardly a minnow when Corryn saw him last. Before the Boltons. He bowed his head respectfully, "Ser Kenrith, I presume? I hadn't expected you back from Riverrun before I arrived. This is most fortuitous. You, Godfrey, and I have much to discuss it would appear. But first..."
Having felt the anxious pinch on his arm, he patted Limosa's hand. "May I introduce you to my daughter? Limosa Cerwyn-Manderly."
Syndra's eyes widened in surprise.
He blushed at her look and smiled weakly. With a private nod to her, Corryn said all would be explained in time.
Godfrey looked equally startled. "Your daughter? And ... no Snow?"
Syndra winced slightly at her father's unprecedented lapse of grace. Something had the stalwart warrior flustered. Syndra was pretty sure she knew what.
Godfrey turned swiftly to Limosa, as though in apology for the offense of the words, and bowed low, lifting her hand to his lips in greeting. Limosa, who had tensed, gave a shy smile.
Corryn noted his friend's reaction, sighing inwardly. Irony did have way of finding just the right moment and method to tease him. He'd have to keep his eye on this situation, to be sure. There were limits to what he'd accept, be it for friendship or guilt. He let his pride in the girl reveal itself in his manner, rather than the jealousy that had woven around his heart.
Noticing Limosa's hesitation, he lightly squeezed her arm to reassure her. "Ser Godfrey is an old friend, Limosa. We've known one another longer than I can remember."
"No Snow indeed," said Ser Godfrey gravely. "But an unexpected boon." He looked a little ironically at Corryn. "It seems that we both have tales to tell."
"Tales best left until we are in private," Corryn said lightly. "But a finer blessing I could not have dreamed of." He smiled tenderly at Limosa, knitting his fingers with hers. He could scarcely contain his delight in having her at his side and it burned in his eyes for all to see.
Syndra smiled at Limosa, but her smile faded slightly as she noticed their interlocked hands and Wolf's tender smile. She had seen this behavior from her friend before. If this was a father-daughter relationship, Wolf was swimming in dangerous waters.
Limosa was looking at her too - with something of the wariness of a wild animal. She edged a little closer to Ser Corryn.
Corryn raised an eyebrow at that, perplexed by the young woman's reaction. He patted her hand again, and smiled apologetically to Syndra.
Kenrith looked from the Riverwolf to his daughter, and smiled genuinely as he bowed with one arm. One had but to imagine that his second arm was neatly folded behind himself to forget, for an instant, that he was whole and bowing as any other man might. As he began to speak, Kenrith's smile faded. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Limosa. It is good to see you again Ser Corryn."
"I see you bear our Lord's banner as well as your own... is the matter we are to discuss urgent?" Kenrith asked as he studied the faces of Corryn and his men.
"I am here on the behest of Lady Stark, milord," Corryn nodded in return, his expression unreadable. "The urgency of our discussion, however, rests on the condition of your father, may the Mother watch over him. How fares he? Well I hope."
"There are other matters to hand as well, old friend," said Ser Godfrey. "Indeed, I might ask ... have you come to take part in our tournament ... or to attend your squire's trial for murder?"
Corryn stiffened, cocking his head in pure puzzlement. "Volf has been accused of murder? What trouble has he been up to?" he said, perhaps too loudly. His men shifted uncomfortably, but held their tongues for the moment. Having one of their own in peril would not sit easily without comment for long, however.
"It is, perhaps, something which should be discussed in private were Volf involved, and not at all before a trial... though I will say that Godwyn has given Volf parole," Kenrith said as he moved a few paces closer.
Syndra nodded her agreement. "I don't think it's as bad as it sounds, Wolf," Syndra assured Corryn quickly, with a reassuring glance at Phalan, whom she recognized as well.
Corryn chuckled softly, "Little Bear, if you knew what has transpired over the last few days, you'd know it's always worse than it sounds." He paused for a moment, considering the current state of Holdfast and shrugged. "On second thought, perhaps you know quite well how bad things can get."
"We should talk alone," said Ser Godfrey, "Just for a few minutes. Kenrith, perhaps you could find Godwyn and bring him to join us. Syndra - would you show Limosa to your room? Corryn - we'll need to decide where your men should stay ... "
"Of course," Corryn said, nodding to his men to stay.
Kenrith simply nodded to his uncle, and sketched a bow to Holdfast's newest guest, not to mention his banner lord's perhaps unofficial representative.
"Yes, Father," Syndra answered Godfrey dutifully, hiding her disappointment at the abbreviated reunion. "Wolf, we'll talk later?" she asked hopefully.
Corryn took her hand and squeezed it warmly. "The Stranger couldn't keep me away, Little Bear. I have missed you more than words can define. We have a lot of catching up to do, since someone forgot to write me while I was away." He gave her a playful smirk, so she knew he wasn't too disappointed at their lack of correspondence.
Syndra blushed, with a guilty shrug.
Corryn turned to his daughter and let her hand go. "Syndra will watch over you. She is and has been one of my closest friends, so you'll be safe with her." Even so, it was obvious he was nervous about leaving the girl alone in the company of others, even those he trusted. He turned to Syndra and smiled, "At the earliest opportunity, can you take her somewhere she can take off her shoes?"
He winked at Limosa as if sharing a private joke.
Before accompanying Godfrey, Corryn bowed his head to Kenrith, "With your leave, ser. We will talk further momentarily. And yes, I believe it would be best if Godwyn were present as well. My news involves the Hardy men, after all."
"You need not ask my leave, Ser... Ser Godfrey and Lady Celia have been named my father's stewards while he recovers," Kenrith said as neutrally as he could manage. If nothing else, he had learned to control his temper in Riverrun.
Ser Godfrey bore his old friend off to the private offices to speak with him and to explain all that had happened, leaving Syndra and Kenrith with Limosa.
Corryn followed Godfrey off, casting one last glance at the group. One would have expected him to look at Limosa, but his hazel eyes focused on Syndra. He notably shivered, as if struck by a sudden chill. With a shake of his head, he entered the castle's dark interior.
Continued in Subtle Diplomacy
Ser Corryn's daughter looked at Kenrith, and then started to frown, tilting her head a little on one side. It was clear she was puzzled why only one arm was visible.
As Kenrith looked from Syndra to Limosa, an expression of resigned familiarity crossed his face. He did notice, however, that there was something slightly odd about Limosa, as lovely as she was. Perhaps it was just that she was shy, but her face seemed unusually expressive, as well as lovely in a thin sort of way.
To Syndra, Kenrith said "I didn't see my step-sister at Breakfast. I hope she is not feeling ill. Do you know where she might be found? I agreed to bear her a message to her mother last night, but Lady Celia was not where we expected her to be. I should apologize. It might also be well if I were to escort you both to her," Kenrith said with a note of caution in his voice. Syndra knew what sorts of men presently enjoyed the guest right within Holdfast's walls, but Kenrith did not seem eager to tell Limosa moments after she arrived to avoid rapatious Boltons.
"That's probably a good idea," Syndra agreed. "It might also be good if you could look for Edlyn if we don't see her. She left for the hall ahead of me this morning, but I never saw her arrive." Kenrith was keenly aware that Syndra's concerns mirrored his own.
To Limosa, he simply said "An illness when I was young." A shadow crossed his face as he remembered, and he looked away towards the tower he had spent those many summer days.
Avoiding that subject altogether, Syndra smiled at Limosa, this time much more graciously. "So, Limosa, you'll be rooming with Edlyn and I. Do you have anything you need to bring up with you?"
Limosa looked at her curiously, and then nodded. She made a gesture, a long sweeping gesture indicating her dress, and looked hopefully at Phalan.
"She'll be wanting her clothes," he said. "I'll see they're brought to the castle."
Syndra glanced from Limosa to Phalan and back, curious about the exchange, but too polite to ask.
Limosa nodded her satisfaction - and then did something unexpected. She walked over to Kenrith and laid a hand, gently, on the crippled shoulder, all the while looking at him steadily. There was sympathy in her gaze, but no pity.
At Limosa's gesture, Syndra's breath caught in her throat and her eyes widened. She knew how sensitive Kenrith used to be about his arm, back before he left for Riverrun. She stood frozen, watching and waiting.
Kenrith's first reaction at Limosa touching his arm was shock. As she had moved closer, he had taken a half step backwards, but she had continued so that she might reach his left side and he had frozen except to turn and stare at her face.
Perhaps it was the first time in many long years that anyone apart from a Maester or an measuring armourer had come so close to Kenrith's withered arm. Some people feared it; those who were his friends were more likely to ignore it.
But it was as though Limosa had said, "This is a part of you too, and I am sorry."
Her clear expression of sympathy must have registered with Kenrith, as his subsequent reaction wasn't one of outrage. On those few occasions when a woman had touched his arm over the years, he had gone red in the face and heatedly refused to accept what he had taken as pity. When men had made mention of it in the training yard, his first reactions had been even more dramatic before he had learned some measure of self control.
Instead of rage, Kenrith simply remained frozen for a pregnant pause. As this gave way, his face betrayed sadness before he turned his steel grey eyes aside. He gently took her fingers with his calloused right hand and moved them off, then nodded as if to indicate he understood what she meant. Syndra, who could see more of his face as he turned away, might guess that Kenrith was mastering himself to avoid crying.
After drawing a deep breath through his nose, he said "We should be on our way to see if we can't find Evelyn... sorry, Edlyn. I hope she simply tried to find Lady Celia rather than break her fast," Kenrith said before glancing to Syndra and leading the way ahead.
"Let's hope," Syndra concurred. After Kenrith turned away to lead, Syndra touched Limosa's elbow lightly. When Limosa turned, Syndra nodded almost imperceptibly, smiling in approval. "C'mon. We'll get you settled," Syndra said to her, her voice almost sisterly.
Limosa nodded and, casting a look back at her escort (Phalan smiled and nodded encouragingly), she went meekly enough with Syndra and Kenrith. She looked around Holdfast, her eyes wide and awed - it was clear she had never seen anywhere so large or so grand.
The girls followed Kenrith back toward the hall where the servants were clearing the tables. While Kenrith spoke with the servants, Syndra acted as tour guide, showing Limosa where things were and how to get around in the castle.
Limosa nodded, drinking in everything, but making no reply.
Syndra noticed Rhys and Merivel at the high table, still talking. "Here, there's someone I'd like you to meet," she said, motioning for Limosa to follow her.
She approached the table, catching Rhys's eye. "Maester Rhys? Maester Merivel?" she began, in her best hostess manner, "I'd like you to meet Limosa Manderly, Ser Corryn's daughter." Syndra managed to say the word without hesitation because she'd prepared herself for it.
Rhys's eyebrows raised in surprise as he regarded the visitor. The girl looked about Syndra's age and yet there was something...old?...about the eyes that gazed out of that young face. Another riddle.
"Limosa, this is Maester Merivel. He is visiting us from Clearwater," Syndra said, indicating Merivel. "And this is one of Holdfast's own maesters, Rhys," Syndra continued the introductions, but an extra sparkle graced her eyes as they met Rhys's.
Rhys met Syndra's gaze gladly and the corner of his mouth twitched upward in a quick, brief smile. Then he turned his attention to Limosa and nodded. "Limosa, it's a pleasure to meet you. Welcome to Holdfast."
Limosa gave a grave nod in reply, but then slowly she smiled, a smile that extended to Merivel.
"Greetings. Although my duties call me back to Clearwater this very day, it is worthwhile to see your smile ere I depart." Merivel said with a smile of his own.
She smiled again, this time a special smile for Merivel, but she still did not speak.
Syndra looked from the maesters to Limosa and back, then shrugged. "She doesn't say much," Syndra explained casually, with a quick smile for Limosa, as if it was perfectly normal for the girl not to speak.
Limosa looked at Syndra, and bit her lower lip, a slight frown between her dark eyebrows.
She turned to Merivel. "I'm sorry to hear you'll be leaving us so soon." Then something occurred to her. "Oh! That wasn't the raven that arrived while Godwyn and I were with you yesterday, was it, Rhys?" Though she looked first to Rhys, she turned back to Merivel, leaving the question open for whoever wished to answer.
Rhys nodded. "It was." He left the details to Merivel, since it was his place to explain, or not.
Rhys turned his attention back to Limosa. "Is your mother here with you too?" he asked.
Limosa took a step backwards ... her eyes suddenly filled with unshed tears. As they watched, a tear began to trickle down her pale cheek - then another ... and another ...
Syndra looked panicked for a moment, but recovered quickly. "Limosa," she said gently, touching the girl's arm, "perhaps we should continue on to our room. We'll t... um, figure things out there, all right?" Syndra looked into her eyes. 'Please' was what she said without words.
Limosa gave a little nod, responding perhaps more to the silent appeal than to the words.
Rhys sat still and let Syndra comfort Limosa, pretty sure that if he tried to help he'd only make things worse. He stole a glance to Merivel, his expression clearly asking if he saw something strange with the girl, too.
Merivel gave Rhys a tiny nod of the head, in recognition that something was askew here.
"Excuse us," Syndra nodded politely to the maesters. She gently took Limosa's elbow and guided her toward the corridor that led to her rooms, speaking gentle words of comfort on the way.
When she passed Kenrith, she said, "Kenrith, I think Limosa needs some quiet time straight away. I'll take her on up myself. Could you continue looking for Edlyn, please?" There was concern in her voice, and tears on Limosa's face. Syndra barely paused as she spoke to him. It appeared she would continue on her way regardless of his answer.
Kenrith nodded as he finished speaking with one of the kitchen staff who had been cleaning up the tables after breakfast. "Of course, though I will accompany you as far as your room to see if she can be found there," Kenrith said as he handed a clean cloth from his pocket.