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"Then we shall withdraw," said Ser Godfrey, "to consider our verdict."

He nodded to Corryn and to Sewell, and then offered his arm once again to Lady Celia. There were lines around his eyes though, and a tension to his lips as he led her from the room.

Godwyn fell in behind his uncle.

Kenrith left the hall only a pace behind his brother.

Ser Godfrey led the way to one of the small private rooms used for conducting business, and then sent a servitor for wine, while Lady Celia found a chair, and Ser Godfrey strolled over to kick the fire into life.

"I am sure," said Lady Celia, "that there is no need for Godwyn to be here. Or Kenrith for that matter. We should decide this on our own."

Godwyn leaned against a wall of the room and ignored That Woman's words.

"They are Hardies, and should have a say in the decisions Hardy makes," said Ser Godfrey.

Kenrith closed his mouth as his uncle replied, then nodded at Godfrey's words.

He waited until the servitor returned with wine and everyone had taken some (or not, if they chose).

Kenrith tasted the wine, then set it on the stone ledge beside an unlit oil lamp and oaken ceiling support.

"We need to decide," said Ser Godfrey, "in the two cases, guilt or innocence. And then, if necessary, determine punishment."

He looked at Kenrith, and then Godwyn for a response.

"I would say that Donnell's guilt is clear, as he has confessed," Kenrith said with some measure of sadness in his voice.

Kenrith shook his head, then continued. "He claims to have not held the knife when the blow was struck, but if he was as relucant to go along with the plan as he claims, he could have just walked up to the deceased and said 'a man has asked me to help kill you. Please have them arrested so I might be safe.' If he has lied and woven a tale from whole cloth out of fear of our justice, that is a crime in of itself. Still, confession should count for something."

"As for Volf, it seems he is guilty of little more than running from Ser Anders. He could not have committed the crime without assistance, and I do not think the rest of Ser Corryn's band were lurking in the woods to help murder a random Bolton retainer... while coming in the name of the Stark's no less."

"As for punishment... I feel Donnell should take the Black or face a merciful execution. Any promises made to him by Eryk or Ser Corryn... I saw both speak with him... were not made by Hardy, unless either has spoken with either of you?"

"Volf, perhaps, owes Holdfast a week of labors to repair the slight done by running from what he took to be a conspiracy against him. He is a squire, so I am sure he can mend saddles, polish, and clean. Locking him in a cell for a time would also suit, but seems a waste. We should also make mention that he was not released last night, but given parole on Godwyn's honor... unless you think this will give Evan's slights too much credence?" Kenrith said, then glanced at the other three faces in the room before recovering his wine cup from the ledge. Godwyn shrugged. "I am more lenient than my brother," he said with a smile. "Volf is clearly innocent of anything except being a fool, and his lord can beat that out of him. I say free him, we need not worry ourselves over what outsiders think, we know that justice is done, and that is what matters."

"As for Donnell, I can see that he was in a hard place. His captain told him to aid in killing a man, who is he to question that? And why would he think that anything good would come to him from going to the Boltons and telling then that his own captain had decided to kill one of their number? A man must be loyal to his own people first of all. I think banishment from Hardy lands, under penalty of death if we ever see him again, is sufficient."

"If what I hear is true," said Godfrey, "the man intended to take the black. A little compulsion to send him on his way will not come amiss. Godwyn, we'll not be popular with our neighbours if we kick villains like this over our borders and leave them to roam. If he's aided murder for one villain, what will stop him doing it again?

"Volf ... yes. Handed over to his master's mercy - but with an injunction to see he does not make the same mistake again. How would you treat a hound who turned from the chase, Godwyn?"

Godwyn nodded, accepting his uncle's wisdom.

"Before we conclude, though, I think there is another matter to discuss. As it stands, you are to face Evan, though Herys may demand to take your place. If he does not, I offer to take your place. Hardy and Stark both still have need of you," Kenrith concluded without looking at Godwyn.

"It should be Herys," Godwyn muttered. "It is a Bolton family affair. Let them kill their own [email protected], not manipulate us into doing it for them."

"It is Hardy justice they have faced," said Ser Godfrey bleakly. "I'll not ask another man to stand in our stead. As for your taking it ... how would it be seen if I sent you to take my place, Kenrith?"

"If I am always seen as half of a knight, that will not do either. It is your decision to make, but I am a Hardy as well," Kenrith said with a frown.

~If only he had accepted our hospitality, and told me of the trouble with the Boltons,~ Kenrith thought.

"I should face him," Godwyn said. "It will help assuage any lingering doubts about Volf, as well."

"How skilled are you in arms, Godwyn?" asked Ser Godfrey. "How many tournaments have you fought? And you too, Kenrith?

"This Evan Tamm might be young in years, but I judge him to be an experienced warrior - one who already leads his own band.

"Kenrith - if you are determined to face him yourself, and believe yourself capable of representing Hardy on the field, then I shall not gainsay you."

Lady Celia was watching, cool, beautiful and as remote as Fortune.

"Tamm does not lead them because he is the best warrior, but I am sure he has killed far more men than I. Neither of us have ever fought in a tourney, so far as I know... but I do not now how many single combats he has fought, where the arms and equipment of each man are equal. I am the one who judged Evan an honest enough sellsword to not endanger Riverrun, and so I am responsible for his being here in Holdfast. I am capable of representing Hardy on the field... but if you wish to assure the outcome, you should accept and choose horse and lance as the terms," Kenrith said with a frown.

Godwyn frowned and looked down, muttering something under his breath.

"Speak, Godwyn," said Ser Godfrey. "I asked for your opinion - be not afeared to give it openly."

Godwyn looked up, then his gaze flicked back and forth between Corryn and Kenrith. Finally, he sighed. "I don't doubt the skill of either of you," he said. "But this man's a trained killer. He's not going to fight fair, and he's fighting for his life. While none of us really think that Grunter... Grunther... whatever it was.... none of us really think his death was such a great tragedy. We're just concerned about Hardy honour in this matter." He raised his hands. "Don't misunderstand, I think Hardy honour =is= more important than the life or death of some random Bolton lackey, but Evann Tam is going to be fighting hard. And I don't know that the Gods will really feel that he deserves to die for killing that fellow. Holdfast can't stand losing either of you."

Godwyn's eyes went to Lady Celia, and they were hard. "Especially right now," he said. "Holdfast needs you both alive."

He turned his face back to the two men. "I'm not as important. I was for the Wall, anyway."

"It seems appropriate," said Lady Celia. "A younger son to face the [email protected] Bolton. Why not?"

"Godwyn," said Ser Godfrey, ignoring Celia, "you *are* important. But I will deal fairly with you both. We'll ride a tourney between you. The one who wins will face me. And the victor of that will face Evan Tamm the following day.

"Do you agree?"

Godwyn nods, and looks to Kenrith.

Before answering, Kenrith took a slow breath in and disciplined his features.

"I'm afraid I'll have to forfeit against Godwyn, but the proposal is a good one. Were I to accept the challenge of Evan, I could stipulate a single blade... but without the ability to control a shield with my off hand, I have no illusions about my chances in the lists," Kenrith replied.

"It will be a tourney that will be demanded," said Godfrey. "A tourney ... and then combat on the ground until one is dead or yields." He smiled grimly. "You and I need not take it so far, Godwyn. We do not need to be so injured we are unable to take our place in the field against Evan Tamm."

"And if Ser Herys demands to joust against you for the... honor... of killing his inconvenient son?" Kenrith asked carefully.

"I shall accept," said Ser Godfrey without hesitation. "And that is a fight that I must take on, Godwyn. I'm the better fighter when it comes to me and Ser Herys. But he is not above using low tricks. Experience counts in such a bout. Besides ...

"I have a score of my own to settle."

Godwyn nodded. "Right, then," he said. "We'll ride against each other, what, this afternoon? Or tomorrow? And then against Tamm the next day. Unless Hairy Bolton decides he wants to kill his own son, then you two will fight it out."

Kenrith nodded, his misgivings on the matter hidden well. "I think it would be best if we resolved Donnell and Volf's fate sooner, rather than later. Do you both agree?" Kenrith asked as he looked from Ser Godfrey to his silent stepmother and back once again.

Ser Godfrey nodded. "Then what have we decided?"

Godwyn silently looked at Kenrith.

Kenrith ticked off his fingers with his thumb as he repeated what he felt the decisions were. "Donnell is to be given a choice between the wall and execution. Volf is to be remanded to Ser Corryn, on the understanding that he will receive fitting discipline from him. Evan is to face trial by combat; a joust with the posibility of continuing from foot should he survive being unhorsed. The champion to face Evan will be selected by a contest between you two, and possibly Ser Herys should he insist." As he finished, his hand closed.

Godwyn nodded and looked back at their uncle.

"Then we're agreed," said Godfrey. He belatedly looked at his sister-in-law. "Celia?"

"Oh, do as you please," she said, rising to her feet. "I'd hang the lot of them as a warning to any others not to impugn the honour of the Hardies. But if you want to appear to be more honourrable than honoured, then go ahead."

Ser Godfrey's lips tightened, but he said nothing as he rose to his feet and offered her his arm. It was only then that he said, "Godwyn - Kenrith - can you make sure that the Hall is reassambled to hear the verdict?"

"Aye," Godwyn answered.

"Then do it now," said Ser Godfrey. "We might as well have this done with as soon as possible."

Godwyn nodded, taking this as a dismissal, and left the room. He immediately began informing people that it was time to return to the Great Hall for judgement. He refused to answer any questions as to what that judgement would be.

Kenrith sketched a bow to Lady Celia and Ser Godfrey, then followed closely behind Godwyn.

That didn't stop people asking, though.

All but a group of boys who had apparently been over near the meadow where the Laughing Knives were encamped.

"Did you see?" one was saying to another. "They were wagering on it too!"

"I wager I'd like to see the outcome of that!" said another, and they all guffawed.

In high good humour, they passed Godwyn.

Godwyn, focussed on his task, didn't even think to ask what they were talking about. He just said, "Trial's about to resume," as they passed.

"I'll round up the rest of this lot. Why don't you go to the guard house and send for the prisoners?" Kenrith asked.

Godwyn nodded. "Sooner begun, sooner done," he said gloomily. He briefly clasped Kenrith's right shoulder with his left hand, then headed on to the guard house.

But he did not need to go all the way for, alerted by the crowd streaming back into the Great Hall, the guards were already bringing the prisoners across, and all Godwyn had to do was to join the escort.

Godwyn joined in, and he just couldn't resist himself. He glanced at Volf, frowned with exaggerated sadness, sighed, and then looked away again.

Page last modified on June 28, 2006, at 06:15 PM