Dressing For Dinner
Godwyn escorted Syndra to her room, and waited till she had assured him that there were no Boltons waiting in the room. "If anyone bothers you, just scream," he said. "I will be here immediately. As soon as I dress I will be back, and I will wait outside to escort you to dinner." Then he turned and started to head for his own room, pausing only to turn and add, "And Edlyn, too."
After Godwyn dropped her off at her room, Syndra entered and closed the door, falling backward onto her bed wearily. Edlyn was already in the room, in just a shift, washing up for dinner. Syndra rubbed her hands over her face and groaned. She should get up and wash, she knew, but she simply didn't want to. She wondered what she'd have to do to be placed under house arrest. It would certainly be better than facing the Boltons at table. At the thought of Herys Bolton's greasy face, she practiced the surreptitious pull of the knife a few times more.
Edlyn abandoned her washing - an unusual procedure for fastidious Edlyn! - and came over to the bed to throw herself on it and to hug Syndra hard.
Surprised, Syndra returned the hug with one arm, her other one covering the unsheathed knife on the bed so Edlyn wouldn't hurt herself.
"Uncle Anders told me everything," Edlyn said in a voice that shook a little. "I could have slapped him - although he seemed upset himself about poor, poor Rhys. Oh Syndra, what are we going to do? I even went and prayed in the godswood, but that didn't help!"
Syndra quirked an amazed eyebrow at her cousin, who had always scorned the old gods in favor of the Seven. Edlyn's distress brought out Syndra's protective side and she smiled at her cousin reassuringly. "We'll think of something," she said hopefully. "In fact, Godwyn's got an idea already, though I'm not happy with it."
She sat up and returned her knife to its sheath. "So what did Anders say? Exactly," Syndra asked, listening intently. Any little slip could be important. Edlyn was familiar enough with Syndra by now to recognize a fact-finding mission.
Edlyn sat up, and wrapped her arms around her knees. "After you left with Eryk, Uncle Anders and Ser Herys talked for a little. It was all very polite and sort of .... stilted. I don't know if that was because I was there, of it they actually don't like each other much. But the way they were talking - about how you and Eryk seemed well-matched ... well. It made me wonder.
Syndra nodded. There were no surprises so far.
"So when Ser Herys left, to go to his rooms, I asked Uncle Anders straight out. And he said it was true - that Lord Hardy made a marriage contract for you with Ser Herys' son, as part of the settlement for the summer fever."
Syndra frowned at that, but did not interrupt.
"But then he left to see that all was well in the courtyard, so I went to speak to Kenrith. I was trying to warn him ... but he was all horrible and sneering - he's not like Godwyn at all, is he? I think if you caught his eye and tried to make him laugh ... well. He'd just look down that long nose of his like you were a worm or something."
She brooded on this for a moment.
Syndra smiled in apology for her eldest cousin. "Kenrith is very... serious," she explained, searching for the right word. "He always has been. I think he was born with the 'lord's face' on. But he has a good eye for defense and that's what we need right now.
"If you introduced yourself as 'Lady Celia's daughter', that would've put you on his bad side right from the start. Like it did with Godwyn and me at first. Remember?" she said with a smile, reminding Edlyn how she had to earn their confidence as well.
Edlyn sniffed. "Godwyn still has his moments." Then she drew a breath. "Anyway, after that, I went to the godswood. I thought that as they were your gods, it might be better to pray to them for help. And it did seem ... " She hestitated, and then shook her head. "I suppose you have to believe awfully hard if you want a miracle. Anyway, then I came back to the castle, and there was this horrible Bolton man who thought I was a servant!" Edlyn's voice quivered with indignation. "He was insultingly familiar, and then when I told him who I was, he was all sullen. Horrid brute!
"They all are," Syndra frowned.
"And then, when I saw Uncles Anders and demanded he did something, he said he had more important things to worry him, and told me about Rhys and what Ser Herys had said."
Syndra looked intrigued. "Hmmm. I wonder if Anders might be reconsidering. Maybe he's feeling like he's in over his head now." She filed that information away to pass on to her father and Kenrith in private. There might be an angle there.
"I saw you come back. I was up in the Maester's tower with Godwyn and Rhys. From my side, after I left you, I showed Eryk the rooms. He doesn't seem a bad sort. He might even be all right as a husband if you could keep him away from the Dreadfort. His father showed up, though, and sent him out. When I tried to leave too, Herys blocked the door. He started talking about things that were scaring me a little, then he reached up like he wanted to embrace me." Syndra made a face. "When I tried to run away from him, he grabbed my hair and pulled me back. Rhys came in then so he let me go."
"I ran and told my father about it, but he got all noble and started talking about defending my honor." Syndra suddenly looked more frightened than Edlyn had probably ever seen her. She shook her head and her eyes grew bright. "I don't want that, Edlyn. I don't want him fighting the Boltons. They'll kill him, I just know it. He'd be fine in a fair fight, but they won't fight fair and he's so honorable, he won't expect it." Syndra had bottled these feelings up all afternoon around the men, but with her friend, they all came spilling out.
"Oh Syndra!" said Edlyn, sliding her arms around her once more and giving her another hug. "I'm sure he must know. I mean, he served Lord Eddard, doesn't he? And has a good standing in the tournaments at Winterfell ... he must know what Ser Herys is like! But ... poor Rhys! Couldn't we help him escape from the tower of something? I wonder ... "
She released Syndra and sat up, wrapping her arms around her legs.
Syndra returned Edlyn's hug gratefully, but as she pulled back, she chided herself for her momentary weakness. She nodded and tried to reassure herself. "Of course. He must know. And he'd be mortified if he ever heard me say such a thing."
Syndra pulled her legs up and sat cross-legged on the bed. "As for Rhys, he'd be better off to sit tight and let us prove he couldn't possibly have done what Bolton says. If he tried to escape and was caught, it would make him look guilty. As far as I know, he was with the other Maesters tending Lord Hardy all afternoon. I'm sure they could vouch for him."
Syndra looked Edlyn up and down and giggled. "Not yet we don't," she warned. Edlyn was still in her shift.
Still giggling, Syndra rose and stripped as she walked to the wardrobe. She chose a gown suitable for dinner, then washed and dressed. Lastly, she pinned her hair up in a loose bun. If Horror Bolton was going to make another grab for her hair, there was no sense in making it easy for him. Before leaving the room, she fastened the knife in its sheath to her arm once again, pulling her sleeve down over it. "I'm not going anywhere without this while they're here. Not even to bed," Syndra announced.
Edlyn, now dressed neatly in a soft blue woollen gown a little lighter than her eyes, nodded her agreement.
When Edlyn was ready, she opened the door to look for Godwyn.
Edlyn was behind her.
When Syndra and Edlyn opened their door to look for Godwyn, they found him leaning against the wall directly across from them. Syndra startled slightly, but then smiled at him. "My, you're efficient. How long have you been standing there?"
Godwyn just grinned in response to the question. "Ready to show the Boltons they can't ruin the Hardys' appetites?" he asked.
Edlyn smiled wickedly. "I think it would take more than the Boltons to ruin yours!" she said. But then the smile faded. "Will Kenrith do something to help Maester Rhys, do you think?" she asked anxiously.
"He'll do what he can," Godwyn answered, not wanting to give anyone false hope. "It's a hard situation, and Kenrith is going to be careful in what he does. He's not like me, he can think things through." He shrugged. "He's more inclined to give your mother the benefit of the doubt than I am, too. Thinks she's acting more from fear and avarice than malice."
Syndra had no sympathy. "So because of her fear and avarice, she sold me to the Boltons. Lovely," she seethed, her blue eyes icy.
"That's what seems odd to me," said Edlyn, frowning. "Why is she so eager to marry you off, Syndra? Of it was me ... she's been telling me for ever and a day how important it is that I marry, and marry well. But she's never mentioned your marrying."
Syndra glanced over at her curiously. It seemed at first she was about to say something, then reconsidered as she thought more about what Edlyn had said. "Well..." she began thinking out loud, "she doesn't generally talk to me anyway, but... hmmm. My thoughts would be to get me out of the way - reduce the number of Hardys at Holdfast. But that shouldn't matter, because I couldn't inherit anyway. Or maybe she wants to get me out of the way to reduce your competition. So she can offer you to a bigger fish?" she suggested with a quirked eyebrow. "Did she ever mention any names for your match?"
As the girls talked Godwyn silently took Syndra's arm and began escorting them down the corridor towards the stairs.
Syndra took his arm gratefully, careful not to disturb the knife in her sleeve.
Edlyn look at Godwyn approvingly - clearly she felt Syndra need even the physical support of her cousin at such a moment. She took Edlyn's other arm and continued.
"Oh, she's mentioned names. Robb Stark - that's the height of her ambition. Uncle Anders told her she might as well set her sights of Prince Joffrey, because the Starks wouldn't be allying with a penniless landless knight's daughter from the Vale."
"Heh. Even I wouldn't have a chance at Robb Stark. He'll go to one of the major houses," Syndra commented.
"You know that, and I know that," said Edlyn. "But this is my mother we are speaking of here."
Edlyn continued, "Then she though of Jon Snow, because he seems to be in Lord Stark's favour ... oh, Syndra, I don't think there's a Lord's Son in the North or the Vale she hasn't thought of. You know, after Ser Corryn visited last time, she talked about him, even though he must be as old as your father."
Syndra's eyes widened in amazement. "Truly?!" she exclaimed.
"In fact, I think the only two males between birth and senility that she hasn't considered are Kenrith and Godwyn. And I would love to annoy her by pretending to fall madly in love with Kenrith, but if he is going to be so horrible to me as he was this afternoon, then it will be extremely hard to do it convincingly."
Syndra shook her head in disbelief as she continued. "Well, if you married him, he wouldn't throw you out," she said, only half-joking. "Or if you married Godwyn, he wouldn't have to go to the Wall and it would really annoy That Woman," she continued lightly, squeezing Godwyn's arm and grinning at him playfully.
Syndra grew more serious then. "That all might explain the Bolton match, though. If they could get the Boltons to take me as 'payment of a debt', like Eryk said, that would leave more to offer as a dowry for you, to attract a higher-placed House," she frowned. Yes, she thought, that made perfect sense, given how Celia's mind worked.
Edlyn frowned. "But won't your dowry come from your father?" she said. "Although I suppose Lord Hardy might augment that. As long as you were marrying someone he approved of."
"It would, but my father's not a lord. He's a ser, and a third son at that," Syndra explained. "True, he's better off than many third sons, but he still could provide only a modest dowry. I stand to inherit our manor, but only after his passing, and only if he doesn't remarry and father a son. I don't know if he and my Lord Uncle ever made any other arrangements, to be honest, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did."
"And if they can give you away without having to pay any of that, it's all available for Edlyn," Godwyn adds. "Or at least, that's probably the way That Woman will see it."
"It'll be a nice dilemma for her anyway," said Edlyn. "Should she spend the money on me, or hoard it up and spend it on my sister?"
But she stopped speaking, for now they were coming to the solar where the family gathered before formal meals so that they could process into the main hall. Ser Ander was already there, poking fitfully at the the fire, while Ser Godfrey was standing by the window, looking out at the darkening sky. As the three entered, he turned and smiled at Syndra, holding out a hand to her.
"Is your brother joining us, Godwyn?" asked Ser Anders.
Syndra dropped Godwyn's arm when she saw her father. She smiled fondly at him and went over to give him a light squeeze around the waist. "We need to talk after dinner," she said in an undertone, so as not to draw the rest of the room's attention. "We haven't had a chance to catch up yet."
"Indeed," he said, drawing her closer. Under the covering a fatherly greeting he murmured into her ear, "Hold fast and bear up this night, my brave warrior." He released her, looking at her face with some anxiety.
She looked up into her father's eyes, his strength steadying her, and nodded almost imperceptibly.
"He was heading here when I left him," Godwyn answered. "He should be here soon."
"Good," said Ser Anders. "I suppose it is too much to expect either of you to join us in presenting a united Holdfast front on this, but try to restrain yourself from any boorish displays that might increase Maester Rhys's danger further."
Godwyn stared at Ser Anders with a bland expression and said nothing.
"Godwyn will, I am sure, as ever uphold the honour of Hardy," said Ser Godfrey quietly.
Syndra smiled at Godwyn, indicating her agreement with that assessment.
"Ser Anders?" It was a guard at the door. "If I might have a word, Ser."
"Excuse me," said Ser Anders.
He went swiftly through the door, and a rumble of low voices followed - and then a sharp, "By the Stranger!"
Then two sets of feet were heard moving hastily away down the corridor. Ser Godfrey frowned. "Not your father," he said to Godwyn. "A servant would have brought us that news. This is guard trouble."
His frown did not fade.
Syndra's right hand tightened on her father's arm as her expression turned anxious. Casually, she held her left arm against her body, ensuring that the knife was still in its place.
"What have the Boltons done now?" Godwyn wondered.
Before they could indulge in speculation, there was a knock at the door, and a guard in the livery of Riverrun strode in, one of those who had come with Kenrith.
"Ser Kenrith won't be coming to dinner," he announced. "There's a peck of trouble he's seeing to."
"What trouble?" asked Ser Godfrey, but before he could answer, Ser Herys swept in, Eryk Bolton at his heels, looking almost scared. Ser Herys's mood seemed uglier than ever.
"One of my men is missing," he announced, his eyes sweeping the room. "From what I hear, he has been abducted. There could be no greater outrage against the guest-right. I demand that my men are permitted to search the town at once!"
The expression of Kenrith's guard seemed to confirm the truth of his words.
Syndra looked up at her father, assessing his reaction to this.
"He dares speaks of outage?" muttered Godwyn. But he refrained from saying anything aloud, mindful of what his uncle had said earlier.
"You speak of abduction," said Ser Godfrey steadily. "Surely it is more likely that he ventured to the town to sup the ale. There's an excellent inn there."
"He set off after a pickpocket!" said Ser Herys. "That was a full three hours ago - and he is not yet returned!"
Ser Godfrey sighed. "If the pickpocket had any sense, he would dodge into the woods. Your man could easily enough become lost there. We will send a party to search for him with torches ... "
Ser Herys glowered. "I demand that the town be searched!"
"And you will lead me to wonder if your objective is to find your wanderer," said Ser Godfrey, "or to cause trouble within the town."
There was a moment's silence as the two men stared at each other, broken by Lady Celia sweeping into the room, her dress impeccable, her poise elegant. But it did not take her long to read the tension in the room.
"What is going on here?" she asked.
"Lady Celia, one of Ser Herys's men has not returned from his pursuit of a pickpocket," Syndra explained, relieving her father of the duty so he could concentrate on Bolton. "He's requested a search party. Father proposed a search of the forest where the thief would most likely have hidden, but Ser Herys prefers to ransack..." She smiled apologetically at Bolton, but her eyes shot daggers. "I'm sorry. I mean search the town first."
Godwyn stood silently by his uncle's side, watching Bolton with the careful attention one would give any rabid dog.
Lady Celia stood for a moment as though frozen, a lovely statue, carved from ice. Then suddenly she smiled.
"Why - of course this must be resolved at once. And you are both of you quite right; both the forest and the town can be searched. And to show you what a high priority we will attach to it, Godwyn will lead the search of the forest, along with five good Hardy foresters, and five of your own men. And our hunting dogs are excellent. And Godwyn works so well with them - I am sure in another life he must have been a kennel boy!" Her laugh rippled like an ice wave.
Celia was the only one laughing. Syndra frowned.
Godwyn listened impassively as Lady Celia talked.
"As for the town, we can send a party there as well. I am sure you will see the sense of ensuring that there are Hardy guards as well as your own men, Ser Herys. My brother will assist there - unless Ser Godfrey would prefer ... "
Godfrey's arm stayed firmly around Syndra. "I believe I should stay here for dinner, my sister." He gave Syndra an encouraging squeeze to assure her of his support.
If Lady Celia was disappointed, she did not show it. "As you please."
Ser Herys was still glowering, but he gave a curt nod of agreement.
Syndra cast wary glances between Celia and Bolton, her expression outwardly stony. Only Godfrey could feel his daughter's tension diminish slightly at his decision.
Godwyn turned to his uncle. "Ser Godfrey?" he asked, clearly leaving it to his uncle to give the order for him to begin the search, rather than accepting Lady Celia's instructions.
Ser Godfrey smiled at him. "Gather your best foresters, Godwyn. It will be a tricky task to search the woods by night; you might be best to stay on the fringes during darkness, and penetrate further in when it's light. But I know you'll do an excellent job. And perhaps you should tell those at the gate ... "
But before he could finish his sentence, the door opened and Ser Anders walked in. He took in the gathering with a glance, and nodded towards his sister. "I presume you've heard, then."
"Oh yes," said Lady Celia, and she gestured towards Ser Godfrey.
"Godwyn will make up one search party to search the forest," said Godfrey. "And you will lead another party - Hardy and Bolton together - to check the town."
Ser Anders nodded. "Five of Ser Herys' men - and ten of our own. For ... safety."
Ser Herys snorted. "My men are capable of dealing with smallfolk!"
"It was not necessarily the safety of your men that was my concern," said Ser Anders. "Passions are running high." He turned to go, then looked back at them. "What shall I do with Ser Kenrith?"
"Tell him to come in to his dinner," said Lady Celia. "He is late already."
"Ser Kenrith will decide what is proper," said Ser Godfrey sharply. "He's a man grown, and will chose if his duty lies with dining with us, or taking part in the search."
Ser Anders gave a curt nod and departed.
Ser Godfrey had kept his arm around Syndra - but now he smiled at her, seeming to relax. "And the rest of us ... perhaps we should dine," he said. "I hope you told the cook to serve vension is redwine sause for me."
"I'm sure I didn't have to once they knew you were coming," Syndra grinned up at him. Despite the troubles, she was so happy to have her father home again.
"Oh, Godwyn," Syndra remembered suddenly, "before you leave, did you give Maester Merivel his message?"
"Yes," Godwyn answered. "Or, rather, I told a servant to tell him." He bowed to his uncle. "I will gather foresters and begin searching the forest," he said. "Uncle." He clasped Syndra in his arms and whispered, "Be brave, cousin." He nodded to Edlyn, and left the hall without a word to Lady Celia or the Boltons.
"Then let us go in to dinner," said Lady Celia, moving slightly towards Ser Herys. He bowed and offered her his arm.
Eryk Bolton stepped up to Syndra and bowed.
"May I escort you, my lady?" he said, as was right and proper.
Even though Syndra knew this was the proper order of things, she couldn't stop the apprehensive glance up at her father. Reluctantly, she released his comforting grasp and gingerly took Eryk's arm. She glanced once at the young Bolton with a small, forced smile before staring straight ahead again. Syndra offered silent thanks to the old gods that Ser Godfrey would be right behind them, no doubt watching Eryk like a hawk.