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"We could indeed," said Sewell, "but I would attend Ser Anders if I were ... ah - there is Ser Kenrith. He's waiting to speak to us, I think. Or perhaps to you."

Rhys looked up and saw him walking toward them. "Kenrith? What's wrong? You look...determined."

Kenrith worked his jaw to either side without touching his face, which produced a faint popping sound. He forced a smile, and took another step closer to the pair. "I am glad that I still look determined," he said as his smile slid into a smirk and his lord face broke as the very beginnings of crows feet wrinkled around his eyes. Something about the way Rhys had said what he'd said had struck Kenrith as funny.

Again more seriously, and a touch more softly, he continued. "I have a theory as to why so many... strange... decisions have been made in Holdfast since I returned. I think they have been happening for some time, but I've had the perspective to notice. I hope I am wrong, but in case I am not... would either of you be able to help me in looking over the accounts?"

Rhys glanced at Sewell and back to Kenrith. "I can help, certainly, but may I ask an awkward question?"

Kenrith nodded in his usual brisk style.

"Does Ser Godfrey or Lady Celia know about your desire to look at the accounts?" Rhys continued.

Once again, he nodded. "I have Godfrey's blessing, though he doesn't want me distracting the steward from his duties with all of these guests around," Kenrith explained.

Rhys nodded in return--that was the answer he needed. "I am supposed to have a conversation with Ser Anders. If you want my help now then I will need to ask him if I can postpone it."

"I still must secure the records we're to investigate. Perhaps I can meet you later this evening in the tower?" Kenrith asked, glancing between Sewell and Rhys to make sure he had both men's approval.

Rhys nodded--this was fine with him.

"You also wished to see my arm, Maester Sewell. I'm sorry I wasn't available earlier as we had planned," Kenrith added.

Rhys glanced at Sewell and then back to Kenrith. It was obvious from the expression on his face that his professional curiosity was piqued, though he maintained his self-restraint and avoided interrupting the conversation between healer and patient.

"I must see to your Father," said Sewell. "The drugs I gave him earlier are wearing off - I need to see if there has been any improvement in his state. Perhaps, Kenrith, we might meet early tomorrow, before the trial of arms?"

"I must see to your Father," said Sewell. "The drugs I gave him earlier are wearing off - I need to see if there has been any improvement in his state. Perhaps, Kenrith, we might meet early tomorrow, before the trial of arms?"

Kenrith shook his head once. "I am off before dawn tomorrow, but my arm has been much the same for some time now. After these matters have been dealt with, there will still be time," Kenrith said as way of an apology.

"Of course." Sewell looked at him curiously. "And, if I might ask, where will you be off to so early tomorrow?"

Ser Anders had come out of the guardhouse; he was deep in conversation with Mal, but he looked across at Rhys and gave a brief nod.

Rhys sighed. Apparently he wasn't looking forward to talking to Ser Anders. "Please excuse me. Kenrith, I'll see you later in the tower."

He left the two men talking and walked over to Anders. He stopped some distance from the Ser, politely waiting for him to finish his conversation with Mal.

"I expect a large band will be setting out from the castle tomorrow. There is trouble in the woods, and of more than one sort," Kenrith replied. "I believe Rhys will be able to explain more later, but it seems Merivel has been kidnapped by opportunistic wildings," he further explained.

Sewell frowned. "Wildings? So close to Holdfast? I wonder ... " He broke off, still frowing. "No," he said almost to himself. "No - that would be impossible."

He turned and addressed Kenrith directly. "Shall I convey any messages to your lord father, Ser Kenrith? Or will you be visiting him yourself ere long?"

"I will visit him after supper, briefly. I don't wish to tire him out again. But... what is impossible?" Kenrith asked.

"An old tale of the House," said Sewell. "A lost daughter, taken by the Wildings, far in the North. But it was generations ago, even if it was true. The girl would be long dead, if she survived the attack on her party at all."

Kenrith grunted and nodded. "I'm sure this is not the first maester they've grabbed. If we are fortunate, we will get him before they take him back over the Wall," he said, then sighed.

Sewell nodded grimly. "I trust so," was all he said - and then, as he turned towards the door that led to Lord Hardy's rooms, he spoke again. "I wish you lucj with the Steward."

There was a certain dryness in his tone.

"I see," was Kenrith's only reply. It certainly approached the older man's dryness.

He then continued on his way to find Steward Pennyways.

He found the Steward in the small room that was used for storing account books and other Steward work. As he pushed the door open, Kenrith was immediately struck by the strong smell of stale alcohol.

Steward Pennyways looked startled as Kenrith entered, and rose to his feet he seemed to be concealing something under the table.

"Ser Kenrith! An honour for me indeed ... "

"Indeed," Kenrith repeated with neither a smile nor a frown.

"I've spoken with Ser Godfrey, and he would like for me to see the books. I need to keep a hand in, after all, if I'm to be Lord some day," Kenrith said without looking away from the other man's face. He just held out his hand, and waited.

"Oh," said Pennyways. "Yes, yes indeed ... most understandable. Indeed. However, you'll need to apply to Lady Celia. She keeps the books these days."

He sounded aggrieved.

"Surely, though, you have your own copies? How long has she kept the books?" He asked. What he didn't ask was 'and if you aren't keeping the books, what exactly do you do?'

He glanced around the room to see if there were any discarded, empty, barq bottles.

"My own cop ... " The Steward stared at him in bafflement, his colour slowly rising. Then he said, "Well, Ser, you see ... there was never the men nor the willingess for clerking. Hard it was to keep two boys at it when they'd rather be out in the tilting yard ... it was as much as I could do to keep one copy. Now ... if your Honour would see fit to persuade your father or or esteemed stepmother to grant me more help ... "

There was no sign of bargq bottles - but some oth the files that lined the shelves on the walls seemed to vbe sticking out rather a long way.

"Yes, I can see how trying your labors are," Kenrith said with a straight face and a serious tone. He was glad he had worked on his lord's face for so many hours in the reflection of a small cast iron pan. Perhaps that was why his countinance was always so hard, and dark.

"Well then, since you're looking after all the guests while Celia attends the records, I'm sure you can tell me how much flour the kitchens are going through, and how much we have left?" Kenrith asked as he smiled encouragingly.

Pennyways looked appalled.

"I ... I don't ... such things are in the Cook's province," he managed at last.

"Perhaps I'll just have a look at some of last winter's records, then" Kenrith said as he reached out to remove a stack of records which protruded helpfully from the shelf. He couldn't grab the whole stack with one hand, especially when he was looking at the Steward's face the whole time, and locating the records out of the corner of his eye.

The Steward gave a sound like a strangled moan, but said nothing as the records were pulled free.

Kenrith set the records down on the edge of the Steward's desk, then glanced at the hole he had created in the records and removed a single bottle of Barq.

The other two he left there ... but all appeared to be empty.

He kept the corner of his eye on the other man the whole time.

The Steward was white-faced by now, and shaking.

"Ser ... you must understand ... it was not my fault!"

Kenrith made an expressive gesture with his fingers, as if inviting one to dance then hooked his fingers around his left shoulder "Please, explain."

"The work," said the Steward. "It's been getting too much for me. No help ... I need more clerks - yes. Yes. Running an estate ... a castle like this. It's very hard ... no-one knows."

He was lapsing into whining self-pity.

Kenrith studied the man's face carefully, and clearly seemed to be listening. "Please, go on... has Celia taken charge of the cash box as well, or do you have some put aside?" he asked as he watched the other man's eyes.

"The cash box?" The man's eyes widened. "I ... yes, my Lady has it in her keeping. But I have ... ah ... a little for expenses."

"Well, that hardly seems fair, does it? How much was in it when she took it over, and how much do you have left for yourself then?" Kenrith said. His tone was conciliatory, even if his face was difficult to read and his eyes watched the other man like a hawk.

Hopefully, Pennysworth was drunk enough to answer.

"Oh," said the Steward, blinking at Kenrith foolishly, "it was most of what we had." A silly little smile started to creep across his face. "And we'd just collected the quarter moon rents."

"Oh, come now... we are both men of the world. You're more clever than any give you credit. I bet you've been preparing for your own personal winter for years," Kenrith said with a small grin.

Pennyways drew himself up to his full height.

"I have always been a good Steward to this family, Ser! Your honoured father - many's the time I've heard him say ... there's no-one like Pennyways!"

The smile turned mean in the blink of an eye, and Kenrith bored into the man with his eyes as he drew himself the rest of the way up to his full height. "Then why... are you lying to me, Pennywise?"

Pennyways was sweating. "It's her!" he said suddenly. "All her! She made me do it! All her - ask her!"

He sank down in his seat and covered his face with one hand, shaking.

"I'm here now. And I'm asking you. It would be best, I think, if you told me the whole truth now," Kenrith said as he continued to watch the other man intently.

"I don't know!" said Pennyways, looking up desperately. "She has the books ... and the rents ... ask her!"

"She made you do something more than hand over the books and the rents, and you know what it is. You had best tell me that much, to begin with. I -will- know if you lie. Don't make this any more difficult than it needs to be," Kenrith said.

The Steward shook his head.

"Nothing ... nothing more," he gasped.

It seemed that Kenrith would get nothing more out of him.

Kenrith tapped his lip, and thought, and stared, while the other man watched him.

"She took the lock box, and the books... and bid you tell any who asked that you had kept some bit for yourself... and perhaps she did leave you with some small bit of coin. She threatened to do something terrible to you if you talked... and then she took that bit of silver, and paid someone else with it. Isn't that right?" Kenrith asked, his voice growing softer and his face closer until he was all but whispering.

"Yes ... No ... I don't know!" cried Pennyways, wrapping his arms around his head. "I ... I just did what I was told!"

Kenrith simply sighed, and moved away from Pennyways' foul breath. "Would that you could explain to me what that was, apart from giving over 'most' of the returns. I don't suppose you're going to show me what it was you held aside?" he asked with weary disgust.

The other man blubbered incoherently, and as Kenrith moved to put a hand on his wrist he scuttled towards the corner and cowered there.

"Get up, I'll not leave you here to your drink," Kenrith said in a tone which made it clear this was no request.

As he expected, the other man only responded by continuing to cower.

Kenrith was in no mood to mess around. Curled up as the other man was, he could not strike at his head or ribs, unless he wanted to try hitting him on the back of the neck. Still, Kenrith was already giving up an arm. He saw no need to make other concessions to fairness, and punched the Steward in the back.

Pennyways collapsed forward with a great "Ouff!" as breath escaped him, and lay inert, half-spread across the table.

Kenrith just stared at the man's back for a minute. He could feel all the frustration of the day, from the wildings to the confirmation of his fears with the finances to his inability to wrestle a man with two healthy arms, flaring up in the heat of his face. All he wanted was to lash out, to continue hitting and stomping on Pennyways until he had driven him through the floorboards.

He felt sick to his stomach. He had just punched a drunken retainer in the back, albeit one who had disobeyed an order from his lord and who had lied to him.

"Now then... you are drunk and out of your wits with fear. Try to pull yourself together," he said as he attempted to haul the man onto his feet.

"I had intended to have you in a cell tonight until you sobered up... but who is it you are so afraid of. Celia? Anders? Someone else?" Kenrith asked with genuine concern.

But the man seemed, between the blow and his intoxiucation, to have lost consciousness entirely.

Kaizan sighed, and shook his head.

Kenrith considered where he had hit the other man, and while it had caused unconsciousness, did not think it likely he had broken the man's spine, as he had struck to the side of it.

It was, indeed, far more likely that the main cause of his collapse was his intoxication, for he was now breathing in stentorian tones that were rapidly escalating into snores.

Kenrith realized that he must plan how he would accomplish what came next. First, he moved to the door and opened it just an inch.

Next, he carefully turned the man over, which was made more awkward, as he only had one hand to do it with.

Once he had finally struggled the other man onto his back up against the desk, he bent over so that his shoulder was level with the man's navel and wrapped his arm around his legs. Standing was difficult, but within the bounds of his strength.

Finally, he walked to the door with the other man over his shoulder and opened it with his foot. Careful not to strike the other man's head on the narrow doorway as he made his way through, he walked out into the courtyard and towards the guardhouse.

As he was moving down the corridor, a laconic voice asked, "Do with a hand there, Ser?"

It was Mal.

Kenrith grunted in the affirmative. "Do you think you could keep an eye on the Steward until he comes to? He had far too much to drink, and became a bit hysterical. More than a bit," he said as he shook his head and sighed.

"I'm concerned there was something to what he was saying beforehand... and that he'll either run off, or meet a bad end," he said as way of elaboration.

Mal nodded, as he helped slid the Steward from Kenrith's back and into a position where they could both support him as they carried him away.

"I suppose this means Jayne and me won't get paid this evening," Mal said. "Where are we after taking this 'un?"

"Not this evening, no. I'll be sure to tell my brother of the debt, and leave you something in writing, in case something ill befalls me tomorrow. You will have the money I owe you, but I can't speak for any more until I understand what madness has become of the records," Kenrith answered quietly.

"Perhaps 'twould be best if you and Jayne rested here tomorrow... unless he is that eager for revenge," Kenrith added at a more conversational volume.

"Jayne won't be movin' for a week with his leg like that," said Mal bluntly. "That's if it has no poison from the arrow in it. Seems clean enough - not that you'd think it to hear Jayne." He rauised a dark eyebrow. "So it looks like you might have a Riverrun escort for longer than you were expecting." He heaved the unconscious Pennyeays more nearly perpendicular. "Where're we taking him?"

"If we take him to the guard house, he'll be humiliated. If I thought the Maester was in, I might take him to the tower, but I know he is looking after my father. I was thinking we'll take him to the cells, with instructions to not let him out until his sobriety is assured, noon perhaps," Kenrith asked as much as said.

"And he'll find the cells more in keeping with his dignity than the guardhouse?" said Mal, with a certain scepticism. "Well, Ser, your Castle. But I know where I'd choose to rouse myself, and it's not in the dungeons."

Kenrith shrugged and nodded. "You are probably right. We'll take him to the guardhouse," Kenrith said as he returned to the direction he was on when Mal had encountered him.

Perhaps running into Mal had made him reconsider what might be taken for leniency in taking him to the guardhouse instead of the dungeon.


Once they had reached the guardhouse, Mal was able to knock on the door with one hand while helping to support Pennyways. Kenrith forced his jaw to unclench as the door opened. He recalled the jeers of the others at Riverrun when he was younger, about how he would never be a knight. They usually involved clapping.

"The steward has had too much to drink, and was a hair hysterical. I hope you'll be able to keep an eye on him until he sobers up," Kenrith said.

The guards seemed surprised by the request, but not surprised by the Steward's condition - from several looks exchanged, Kenrith could guess that it was not the first time the Steward had been seen in such a condition.

"We'll take care of him now, Ser, never you fret," said a Sargeant cheerfully.

Kenrith nodded. "If he complains that his back hurts, remind him that he was hysterical," Kenrith said cryptically. "Thank you for looking after him," he concluded.

ooc: brief correction, thanks to inspiration from your question below.

"Would you like what was left of the barq? I recall you're somewhat of a wiser drinker than our new Steward seems, but he wasn't using a glass..." Kenrith offered with a note of warning.

(the below might change slightly, but won't impact the further below)

After a brief detour to retrieve the bottle of barq from beneath his desk to stash it inside the door to the Maester's tower where it would be seen, he headed to his father's chambers.

He saw no-one other than the regular guards and scurryng servants on his way to Lord Hardy's rooms.

ooc- if Mal is still along

"Good evening, Mal. Give Jayne my regards... I'm off to see how my father fares."

Outside the door of his father's room, the guard saluted him. "A little easier this afternoon, Ser," he said. Are you wishful to see him? Lady Celia is with him now. And Maester Sewell."

"Yes, I'd like to see him. I'm glad to hear it," he said as he patted the other man's shoulder and worked up a smile.

Then, he knocked on the door.

Page last modified on August 24, 2006, at 03:12 PM