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When Syndra arrived back at the hall, she found Edlyn seated on a bench in the antechamber. While it appeared she had been made as comfortable as possible, the fact that she was now being summarily ignored brought a pout to her dainty features.

Syndra, her eyes sparkling and her cheeks still a bit flushed, took a place beside her. "How's the ankle?" she asked as she watched guards and smallfolk bustle around the chamber. In all the excitement of the trial, no one seemed to be paying particular attention to two girls on a bench.

"Sore," said Edlyn dolefully. "What have they been talking about?" Wide blue eyes were lifted to Syndra. "You promised to tell me everything."

"I didn't hear much," Syndra said with an apologetic grimace. "I left to tell Rhys something before they finished talking. For all I know, they're all still in there."

She looked into Edlyn's eyes and lowered her voice to avoid being overheard. "But you're right. I do owe you a lot of information. Where would you like me to start?"

"Last night," said Edlyn promptly. "When you were out so late - did you go to see Evan Tamm again? After all he said to you?"

"I hadn't meant to, but yes, I did," Syndra began. "You remember I told you about following the lady in the courtyard, yes? I was coming back from that when one of Kenrith's men, the one called Mal, stopped me. He said Tamm wanted to speak with me; that he had information that could void the marriage contract, but that he would give it only to me. So I talked to him, through the window of his cell."

Syndra dropped her voice even lower. "Remember what I said back in the hall? About him saying he was the real Eryk Bolton? That's what he told me. I didn't know whether to believe him or not. I still don't, if truth be told. He's lied about other things, but the thing was, he didn't want anything for the information. I told him I couldn't release him, but offered to speak with my father on his behalf. He didn't even want that. All he wanted was for his name not to be used falsely to lure me into marriage." Syndra looked at Edlyn with a puzzled expression, inviting her analysis.

Edlyn gave a little shiver. "I don't like that," she said. "It's too like the answer to my prayer after all ... oh!" Her eyes widened suddenly. "Perhaps that's why he said it! Because I told him that I was praying the gods to release you from the marriage ... perhaps he thought if he could prevent the marriage, we would help him to escape!"

She regarded Syndra thoughtfully. "Do you think we should?"

Syndra paled visibly, her eyes wide. "What? Help him escape?!" she whispered incredulously. "Are you out of your mind?!"

"Well," said Edlyn with her most reasonable air, "it would stop him killing your father."

Syndra was stunned into silence. For a long moment, she merely stared at Edlyn, then she slowly glanced away. Edlyn knew her mind was working feverishly behind those seemingly placid blue eyes - rolling the argument over, examining it, searching for the weaknesses, evaluating the strengths. Finally, she sighed and gazed up at the ceiling, then closed her eyes wearily.

When she opened them, she looked back at Edlyn and shook her head. "I can't, Edlyn. After all we've gone through here, if anyone found out... If Father knew..." She shook her head again and it seemed she was trying harder to convince herself than to sway Edlyn. "How could I even do it? I can't get the keys... I... I can't..." she whispered desperately.

Edlyn considered. "We'd need to find out where they're holding him," she said at last. "And who. And that he's ready to escape. He might be a sellsword and a murderer, but he's a man and they sometimes have strange ideas about what they should and shouldn't do."

"But Edlyn, he hates us. You heard him. If we let him go, how could we be certain he'd simply leave and not stick around to cause more trouble?" Syndra asked, still very uncertain about the whole idea.

"Well, he may hate us at the moment," said Edlyn, still at her most reasonable. "After all, we have just condemned him to probable death. But I can't see any reason why he would hate us over and above that. And he won't exactly be getting away freely - there'll be a hunt and a price on his head. Would he really choose to stay here, when he'd be safer in the rest of the Seven Kingdoms or beyond?"

"He would if he were in league with the Boltons," Syndra pointed out. "The man's a consummate liar, Edlyn. There seems to be animosity between he and his father, but what if that's an act? I find it too convenient that Herys's long-lost son just happens to show up here at the same time the Boltons arrive."

Finally gaining control over her emotions, Syndra began thinking like her father once again. "And as for motive, it could be more than mere hate. The Boltons are power hungry. By striking at us, they stand to gain our timber holdings, for which House Manderly is a prime customer. That would give them leverage over the Manderlys, who they've despised for years. If they're strong enough, and can weaken us enough by splitting our forces on these wild hunts for missing persons or by killing or wounding our leaders, then who's to stop them taking over Holdfast?"

"Your father," said Edlyn promptly. "Unless this Evan Tamm kills him by treachery. Syndra ... surely the most important thing is that they don't meet in combat? However we prevent it?"

She was looking at her friend and companion worriedly.

Syndra frowned. "I see your point, Edlyn, but I'm not sure letting the man loose is the answer. I'll have to think about it. Besides, who's to say my father won't trounce him? He might not be treacherous himself, but Father has jousted enough treacherous men in his life to be able to defend against it. Especially if he expects it, and with Evan, how could you not?"

Edlyn nodded, admitting the truth of this argument.

"I still think it's too dangerous though," she said firmly.

"What's too dangerous?" asked Ser Godfrey who had come up behind them as she spoke.

Edlyn coloured, freezing into her polite demeanour. She shook her head.

"Nothing, Ser Godfrey. Just our foolishness."

Syndra smiled at her father, then at Edlyn reassuringly. "Of course, it's dangerous, Edlyn. Combat is always dangerous, isn't it, Father?" she said in a tone meant to ease Edlyn's embarrassment.

"Speaking of which," she turned to look up at Godfrey. "Should we perhaps discuss with Ser Corryn what you talked to me about this morning? If you have some time, that is?" Though Godfrey could see the trepidation in her eyes, she asked the question matter-of-factly, like the warrior's daughter that she was.

Ser Godfrey hesitated, and then nodded. "If you'll excuse us, Edlyn," he said politely.

Edlyn nodded. "If you could send someone for the Septa, though, that would be wonderful," she said with a little sigh.

"Of course," said Ser Godfrey, beckoning a page.

Syndra rose but leaned down to touch Edlyn's knee in a gesture of friendship. "We'll talk more later, Edlyn. This can't wait," she said in apology.

Page last modified on July 15, 2006, at 10:51 AM