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Broken Bones, Shattered Hearts

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The brief trip from the courtyard felt like an eternity. As they entered the smoky interior of the castle, Corryn had hoped to forget the stink of blood and violence that hung heavy in the air outside. But deny it as much as he tried, the coy perfume of death clung to Celia; accented by the scent of scarlet from his arm.

The Riverwolf pushed onward, carrying Celia up the series of steps as he followed Sewell's lead. It was halfway to the next floor that they encountered a figure in the stairwell. Ollan... Osbain... Olsan; Corryn finally recalled. He nearly ran Sewell over, which would have sent the lot of them tumbling down the steps. Even so, Corryn was forced to take a step back; grimacing as his ankle twisted.

"Maester Sewell!" Olsan cried. "Ser Godfrey needs your help. Maester Rhys and Lady Syndra are with him now. He's... not doing well, sir."

Sewell regarded him for a moment, touching his face with his wizened fingers. "Too many. Too many," he said to himself. His old eyes regarded Corryn for a moment, as if seeking an answer to an unspoken question. The Riverwolf felt his heart sink, but the resolve never left his eyes. He knew Godfrey and all his flaws and strengths. He loved his friend, his mentor. It pained him beyond measure, but he spoke the words that needed to be said; the words that Godfrey would wish spoken.

"He is a knight, Sewell," Corryn said, unsettlingly calm.

Sewell nodded sagely and turned back to Olsan. "Tell my nephew he has my trust. I will join him once the lady has been tended to. Now go."

Olsan stood there for a moment, confused. A flash of hazel impatience from Corryn had him hurrying on his way. Left alone in the stairwell, the trio continued their ascent. Sewell's head hung low, as if with each step the strength was draining through his feet and into the cold stone.

"You made the right choice, Sewell," Corryn said as they entered Celia's room. "Godfrey would tear his heart out before allowing a lady to suffer while he was mended. I hope the Warrior will watch over him until we are done."

He set Celia down gingerly, supporting her head with some cushions. Finally, he stepped back and allowed Sewell to go about his business. "Should I stay orů" he let the question hang in the air.

There were steps on the stairs as he spoke - dragging steps and the tap of a cane.

"Edlyn," said Sewell. "She comes to see how her mother does - take care of her while I see to Lady Hardy."

And he turned to examine the unconscious woman more fully.

"Do your best, Sewell," Corryn said. It was not a gentle request.

He nodded solemnly and headed to the stairs. At the top step, the world shifted around him and gravity played tricks on him. His legs felt watery and indistinct. Only his superior balance prevented him from stumbling forward and breaking his stupid neck in a fall. He steadied himself with his good arm as the dizziness passed.

Just how much blood had he lost?

No matter. He didn't have time to consider such trivialities. As long as he was standing, the arm could wait.

Corryn took a deep breath and proceeded down the stairs, meeting Edlyn near the north wall. He offered her a faint smile, "Lady Edlyn. I swear I have not met a more persistent woman in all my days."

He offered her his hand, "I know I'm just a silly old man, but will you permit me to carry you the remainder of the way? We seem to be short on handsome, young lads at the moment."

"I will most certainly not let you carry me!" said Edlyn. "For one thing you have a terrible reputation and would probably pinch me most indelicately, and for another, you have blood on your sleeve. Unless that is someone else's, it would really be much better if you let me look at it and tend it. I'm not as good as Syndra and I do tend to turn a little green if there is an awful lot of blood, but I can do a competent field dressing."

Corryn snorted amusedly. "How very astute of you, Lady Edlyn. May I at least take you hand to steady you? And that way, I cannot possibly be untoward in any fashion." She moved in beside her, allowing her to take his arm. "As for the blood, yes, it is mine. Syndra, poor thing, thought me a Bolton for a moment. I don't think it is too deep. So, let's forget about it and keep your stomach settled shall we?"

"How is my Mama?"

As he slowly helped her up the stairs, his voice dropped. "Your mother... isn't well. I won't lie to you, Edlyn. It's worse than we thought. But Maester Sewell has been blessed by the Mother. He'll bring her through this, I'm certain. As will you. Talk to her. Your voice will guide her back to us."

Her hand shook a little in his, but he gave a resolute nod as she surmounted the stairs.

Behind him, Corryn could her mailed boots coming rapidly up the stairs. Edlyn heard them too, and she shrank back, her face pale.

Corryn instinctively moved to defend Edlyn, "Stay behind me, m'lady." A sword would do him little good in the stairwell's cramped confines, so he drew his wrist knife in a fluid motion. Posed like a snake, he prepared to strike for the eyes of whomever came rushing around the corner.

Kenrith led the way up the stairs, producing a rattling of armor which Corryn was sure to hear.

Corryn recognized the face at the last moment and held his attack. His voice betrayed the pain and exhaustion he'd been trying to hide. "Bollocks and damnation, Kenrith. A man could get killed rushing up behind someone at a time like this." He turned to offer Edlyn a reassuring smile. "Breath easier, m'lady," he said. "It's your brother, returned."

As Kenrith realized what he'd almost charged into, he had raised his mailed arm without putting it between Corryn and his own eyes. If he had shieled his face, it might have ended much worse, and he once again gave silent thanks to the old gods.

"Your men and mine have returned without casualties, and nine Boltons are in chains. Godwyn and I have separately determined that Eryk took Limosa. Will you... Ser Corryn, you've been injured," Kenrith said as he saw the way he held his arm. He paused to consider this new detail while moving aside so that Godwyn could come up to address the group without raising his voice.

"Are you well enough to ride, and is Celia well enough to issue instructions?" Kenrith asked slowly.

Corryn sheathed his blade back under his sleeve. He gave a sigh of relief to know his men were well. He'd lost enough friends for one day. But the news regarding Limosa refueled his anger; mostly directed at himself. He should have known the Bastard would try something like that.

He followed Kenrith's gaze to his arm. The bleeding had become shallower, but the pain was beginning to filter through the adrenaline. "It's nothing," he lied. "As long as Limosa is in that blackguards hands, it can wait. He'll try to get to a septon, as soon as he can. He probably means to marry her by force, thus controlling me through her. I'll have him in a crow cage with his damnable brother before that happens."

Corryn stepped down and leaned into Kenrith, so he could speak low. "Celia is... unable to issue instructions." The darkness in his eyes revealed the true depth of that statement.

Kenrith nodded, and met Corryn's eye with a knowing look of his own.

"Evan isn't to be touched... on Hardy lands or by Hardy men without further provocation," Kenrith said with a sigh. "Eryk is of course another matter. Will you please take Godwyn and his hounds with you?" Kenrith asked as he worked with his one hand to remove the hankerchief he still had about one arm and to pass it to Godwyn.

"Aye," Corryn said, although to which statement remained unclear. "Thank you for your assistance, my friend."

By now, blood was beginning to seep out from under his cuff. "I should have Rhys stitch this blasted arm before I go," he added. "Bleeding to death rarely adds speed to one's pursuit. And I'll need him to send a raven to Leaning Stone, as well. Have a nice welcome waiting for the Boltons if they decide to stop there."

As he passed them, Corryn looked at Godwyn, "Tend to your sister and then join me in the courtyard. We'll need to ride fast, so be ready." He gave one last glance over his shoulder at Edlyn and sighed.

"Someday, we'll all have to sit down to a normal dinner, yes? It'll be a treat not to have a sword at our throats for once," he said behind him, heading for the tower in search of Rhys.

Kenrith nodded. "Be careful with that arm... you wouldn't wish to lose it," he said gravely.

"Thank you, Kenrith, I shall," Corryn said honestly. "But if it is between my arm and my daughter, I shall choose the latter. So, I will not fret if that is the cost of saving her. Besides, one of the finest men I know gets along quite well without one." He gave a respectful nod before going on his way.

Godwyn stepped up on the stairs, his eyes going to Edlyn. "Are you well?" he asked her quietly.

She nodded mutely.

Kenrith's attention shifted as well to Edlyn, and there was concern and guilt visible behind his usual stoic expression, if one looked for it.

"I should go to Mama," said Edlyn. "But please ... how is Ser Godfrey? And Syndra - is she all right too?"

Her words were addressed to Kenrith, but she reached out, almost without noticing it, to her old ally Godwyn and gripped his hand as tightly as the glove would permit.

"Syndra said her father will be alright. I'm off to see her after we visit your mother, and I can help you with your leg... but Godwyn needs to go get ready," he said as he made a deliberate effort to not make it sound like an order.

Godwyn nodded to her, and squeezed her hand. "I'm sure Celia will be all right," he assured her. "She's too mean not to get better. Soon she'll be lying in bed ordering us all around." He gave her hand a final squeeze before releasing it, then he looked at Kenrith. "I left Herys alive and in a cell in case you want to question him, or think we should ransom him or something. But the Dreadfort won't want him back. He'll never hold a sword again."

Then, before he could be questioned on that, he turned and ran back down the stairs, to saddle a horse and prepare to ride.

Kenrith offered his arm to Edlyn.

She took it and leaned on him as they mounted the final stairs. As they reached the doorway, they alsmost collided with Seward hurrying out.

"Kenrith!" he said. "We need the Septon here."

Edlyn drew in a frightened breath. "Mama?"

Kenrith simply said "Hold Fast, sister," gave her hand a squeeze, then moved it to the threshhold or Sewell, whichever would support her first.

Stairs were designed to be defended from above, so Kenrith's arm could rest on the central pillar the whole way down. If Corryn and Godwyn thought he had made a racket on the way up, he made twice as much noise on his way back down. He worried for a moment that it was his father who was ill, but that would most likely not call for the Septon.

The chapel was, to his surprise, deserted - but one of the serving men outside told him that the Septon was tending the dying on the tournament field.

Kenrith nodded and hustled in that direction. He would have thanked the servant under other circumstances, but he was saving that wind. He was glad this wasn't his training armor... that was even heavier.

The Septon was kneeling with a young woman (the one who one of the Boltons had grabbed in a vain attempt to shield himself. She was clearly dying, and clinging to the Septon's hand as he prayed with her in the name of the Maiden ... and of the Stranger.

Kenrith approached the girl from the other side, and removed his leather and mail glove with his teeth. "I know this prayer, I will fill in for you here. My stepmother needs you at my father's door," he said into the Septon's ear.

Kenrith was no follower of the Faith, but he had learned the more common prayers in Riverrun. As a knight, he had been sure to memorize last rights. He had them memorized even when he was still following along with the others to figure out when to sit, stand, or kneel during ceremonies.

Proving his words, he started to call on the Stranger to lead this one who lay dying into the next world.

The girl opened her eyes as she heard his voice and gazed up at him. Her eyes were brown, the rich colour one might see in autumn leaves new fallen on the forest floor.

"The Old Gods," she said, her voice very faint. "Pray for me to the Old Gods ... "

Kenrith blinked once, then smiled kindly. He glanced up at the Septon, and saw that he had not left. "Go," he said as he pointed. It was not a request.

He had often wondered how he would deal with a circumstance like this. He worried in bed at night how he would comfort a dying friend. He often feared the kindness had been burnt from him along with the fever.

The blood knew. As gently as he could, he lifted her head so she could look up at the top of the weirwood. His one hand held her head rock steady, and watched the tree sway in the breeze. When he spoke, it was just above a whisper, but loud enough that she could hear. "Old gods, who have watched over this land for thousands of seasons and longer... hear our prayer. May those who die on this field today pass with peace, and those that live live as you will it, for those hours of grace afforded us."

She was smiling - he could see the curve of her lips. Then her head sank back against his arm and she gave a little sigh.

"Ser? Ser Kenrith?"

One of the waiting women was speaking to him - he didn't remember her name.

"We'll take her to the Sept," she was saying. "The wounded ... we're taking them to the Maesters' Tower now."

And indeed, when he looked around, there did seem to be some sort of organisation going on; Ser Anders was in charge, it appeared.

Gently, the woman tried to lift the dead girl from his hold.

Kenrith blinked and sighed. He could not lift her off the ground and pass her to the other woman by himself, so he simply moved aside as best he could and let her take the dead woman's body from him. He stood and looked around, still a bit dazed, and saw that there was nothing else for him to do here. He could barely clean a wound with one hand, let alone stitch one shut. Suddenly, he had a thought and jogged to Anders.

"If this can be left to another, it should be. If not, I will spell you. Sewell called for the Septon," Kenrith said to him.

Ser Anders turned and looked at him. Beneath the weather-tanned complexion of his face, Kenrith could sense he had paled, and he reached for Kenrith's good arm, gripping it convulsively.

"My sister? Or her husband?"

Kenrith gripped the other man's forearm in return, to steady him, as he replied. "My father would not need the Septon, ser. I am sorry, but you should go to your sister," he replied.

Ser Anders needed no second bidding. Like a hare he shot away across the field ... and Kenrith was left in charge of the wounded, the dying, the dead ... and the bemused able bodied.

Kenrith gave those who were bemused a moment, then looked at them with his grey eyes and his lords face. Mummer-time was over, and it was back to work in mending the wounded and tending the dying. He was prepared to hold his share of hands before the day was gone, but his place was in organizing the whole show.

He saw that Anders had been organizing those who could be moved safely into neat and orderly rows around those who could not, and it was for him to continue what he'd been about. He might have chosen to do a few things slightly differently, but it would be best to pat someone on the back and continue with something which would work rather than seek some martial ideal. When Rhys or Sewell were ready to help, they would find everything in order.

After he had seen to Ser Godfrey, Rhys came down and reevaluated the wounded. Kenrith quietly conferred with him, and listened carefully to who he wanted brought in, in what manner, and in what order. Then, he made sure it happened.

He sent the few kitchen lads back to the kitchen after their present tasks were completed, and arranged for others to take their place. Everyone would need to eat sooner or later, and bread wouldn't bake itself.

After two hours had past, things seemed to be quietening down somewhat. But neither the Septon nor Ser Anders had returned.

Kenrith waited another quarter of an hour for the guard to finish changing, then took the new watch commander aside to brief him. Once he was done with his instructions, he informed the man he would be checking in on Godfrey, then Celia, but if any serious developments took place, he should send someone for him.

While he looked in on Godfrey, who was still sleeping, he noted that Syndra and Rhys hadn't eaten. "I'm going to check on Celia," he told Syndra. Rhys was clearly too busy to take note of the situation, but she might remember.

As he walked to where Celia lay, he passed through the kitchen and gave instructions that someone was to bring Rhys and Syndra food, and threaten to spoon-feed them if they didn't eat it.

Then, it was on to Celia's deathbed and his father's silent reprobation.

The very stairs seemed hushed as he climbed them - and as he approached the room, he heard the Septon's voice in prayer. This was not his father's room - since the old man had been brought home stricken, Lady Celia has slept in a small room close at hand, and this was where she had been laid.

Kenrith climbed the stairs slowly and carefully, mindful of how much noise he had caused when last he had climbed them. He knocked softly at Celia's door, then opened it himself so that those within wouldn't have to, and so that he wouldn't startle Anders and the others.

Celia was lying straight and still on the bed. Her complexion was pale, and the right side of her face was disfigured by an ugle purtple bruise that seemed most intense over her temple.

Ser Anders was sitting on the bed, holdonng one of her slender hands in his and gazing down at her intently. Beside the bed the Septon was standing, an open book in his hand, reading aloud prayers that Kenrith recognised for the gravely ill (who might well die).

All of them ignored him.

But Edlyn, seated on a stool in the corner of the room, looked up at him pleadingly.

Kenrith froze for a moment. He had considered not intruding on the private scene, but Edlyn's glance had led to a moment of indecision. He crossed to her side, and rested one hand on her shoulder. That Sewell wasn't present conveyed a meaning of its own. He bowed his head, and prayed silently. Hardy could not endure another protracted illness. He prayed for recovery or mercy, but understood the Gods would work as they saw fit. Looking down at Celia, battered by Herys' own hand, evoked sympathy. He did not like Celia, but he needed her, and she did not deserve to die like this.

His hand raised to his face for a moment, and when it again rested on Edlyn's sleeve his fingertip was damp.

Aloud, so quiet only Edlyn was likely to hear, he said "Hold Fast," then leaned down by Edlyn's ear "and you Hold Fast too..."

Edlyn nodded.

"I shall," she said earnestly. "Only ... please tell me, Ser ... are Syndra and Godwyn unhurt?"

Her anxiety for the two who had been brother and sister to her was very evident.

"Syndra is fine-- she was helping Rhys tend the wounded and looking after Godfrey," he replied softly, to avoid disturbing the septon or Ser Anders.

"Godwyn had a few scrapes, perhaps. He and the Laughing Knives have gone after Eryk. I think Godwyn l- cares for her... Eryk took Limosa," he continued.

Edlyn looked at Kenrith, her blues eyes wide with ... was it shock? And then she said quietly, "They have always told Godwyn that he's for the Wall. Even if he cares for Limosa, he'll believe he must go to there - for all your sakes. Because he's a Hardy and he holds fast."

"I know. I--" Kenrith began.

There was a knock on the doorjamb to the room. Rhys stood there, looking tired and anxious. His gaze settled on Kenrith and Ser Anders, those being the two men he wanted to find. "Excuse me, but I have news."

Kenrith looked up as soon as Rhys entered, and as he started to speak raised his hand from Edlyn's shoulder to bid him keep silent.

Rhys blinked, surprised, but closed his mouth and waited for Kenrith to come to him.

Kenrith crossed the room to the doorway and shut it softly behind him and Rhys, so that both men stood in the hall.

Rhys continued, "The rookery has been ransacked, all the ravens belonging to other holdings set free. We're currently cut off from communicating with anyone."

Kenrith's mind immediately went to Sewell's fine maps of the North. It was about a two day ride to Winterfell, almost due south as the ravens flew. It was almost as far to Marshend or Clearwater. There was no way to tell where Eryk had taken Limosa for sure, but his immediate path was sure to take him by Leaning Stone. No rider who left from Holdfast now could beat them to the Kingsroad at any rate. Eryk might well open the gates of Leaning Stone with a knife to Limosa's birdlike neck, and take the Fort before Corryn even reached him.

While Celia's life hung in the balance, he couldn't send Anders. Corryn and Godwyn had already left, and there was some question as to whether Godfrey would ever ride again, let alone ride today. The Riverwolves had all left, as had Tamlin.

Jayne was hurt, and he didn't have the money to pay him and Mal on hand anyway... not without risking the guards rioting. He couldn't send a baseborn sergeant to Winterfell to tell the tale, and he couldn't abandon his post himself.

The town was presumably in shock over the handfull of civilian deaths from this morning, and the guards were growing fatigued from being overworked and underpaid.

The worst case scenario though... the worst case was that there were enough Flayed Men in the woods to assault Holdfast, and prevent a Hardy account from ever being heard. He glanced to the arrowslit and saw that there was little time left before dark.

"Go back to your tower. Get your fareyes. Count campfires, glints of metal, anything unusual... and don't tell anyone else about the birds. I'll inform Sewell. If something happens to me before then, tell Anders and Edlyn*... I assume Syndra already knows?"

Rhys nodded.

"If I haven't sent for you after you've done that, take stock of the food stores. Eat-- it may be the last chance you get for some time," Kenrith said with the implacable confidence of a stone wall.

Rhys smiled at him wryly. How did Kenrith know he hadn't eaten yet? Lucky guess? "Ser Corryn wanted me to send his messages to Winterfell and Leaning Stone concerning the situations with Limosa and the Boltons. Obviously, they will not get there.

"How is Lady Celia? Is there anything she needs?"

"She took a blow right here," Kenrith said gravely as he tapped his own temple. "Unconscious. Sewell is with my father, I think... the septon is reading the rights of extreme unction. She needs prayers, not medicine... but Sewell may wish for you to consult with him, I think," Kenrith said with an uneasy look in his eye. He had not forgotten what had happened so many years before.

Rhys grimaced, lost in his own thoughts on the matter briefly, then he looked back at Kenrith and nodded. "I'll go find him. Then I'll be back in the Tower if you need me."

He turned to leave.

Kenrith intended to head in the same direction for the moment, towards his father's chambers.

Rhys walked with him. "Do you think this is it?" he asked Kenrith. "Do you think the ravens were set free in preparation for some hostile takeover by the Boltons that was suppose to happen at the tourney? Or do you think we've yet to be attacked? Or do you think Eryk did it before taking off with Limosa?"

"I think... that if you are to be a knight of the mind, you'll need to learn more about morale," Kenrith said. "What you see through the fareyes will help answer some of that," he added.

"I'm too tired for games, Kenrith."

"You don't need to understand it. Your obligations in this are limited. One of them, however, is to preserve the morale of the guards by not allowing them to understand how desperate a position we may be in is. I know as much as you as to what the Boltons have planned," Kenrith said with his voice lowered.

"I appreciate that you are tired... but until I know more, there is nothing to discuss. I shall plan for the worst, and pray for the best," he said more patiently. The chainmail, and duty, weighed heavy on his shoulders today.

Rhys said nothing more.

[EoT. Continued in Again at Lord Hardy's Deathbed ]

Page last modified on January 19, 2007, at 03:37 PM