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Gathering the Search Party

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Kenrith rode only as far as the front gates, then motioned for the four Laughing Knives to wait with Ser Anders and those guards he was bringing from Holdfast. He handed, rather than tossed, his reins to Horse before walking away.

He had spotted Mal and Jayne earlier, when he had exited the dungeons. Fortunately, they were still near the keep's entrance. "I have asked you for much already, and I have heard you have provided other assistance unbid, and I thank you. I trust you have heard that Maester Merivel has gone missing... but it is not Riverrun's honor at stake if he is not found. Are you willing to ride with me a little longer?"

Jayne scowled.

"Well," said Mal slowly, "it's not Riverrun's honour that troubles us at the moment ... so much as Holdfast's payments. That might be keeping us in check, you see. Or the lack of it."

"We ain't been paid," said Jayne bluntly.

"Fair enough... here you are," Kenrith said with a smile which was somewhat forced as he removed his own purse and passed it to Mal. He knew there was something funny about Holdfast's accounts, but hadn't had the opportunity to check it himself. With this many guests straining the stores, and his father sick, and winter coming any year now... he would not promise them Holdfast coin until he had seen the books himself and spoken with both Sewell and the steward.

Mal took it with a nod of thanks. Jayne grinned.

"I cannot guarantee additional funds, so I will not mislead you by offering additional coin to accompany me. I trust you will remain here instead, then?" Kenrith asked with a hint of formality.

"Well," said Mal, in the same slow, easy voice, "Seems to me as we'd be riding back that way now anyways. And better have company in that wood."

"We'll come," said Jayne. "And if we help, you can pay us."

Kenrith nodded. "Fair enough," Kenrith said as he considered that if they are forced to fight... the dead will surely have coin with which to pay. He could reward Jayne and Mal out of his share, at least to start.

He moved off to see to the rest of the preparations, such as making sure that each horse contained light provisions for the journey in its saddle bags. The kitchens could provide some of the loaves which these men would have eaten with supper anyway, as well as some salted fish and vegetables that they might have broken their fast with on the following morning.

The four Laughing Knives observed this conversation with some dissatisfaction. But then again, they followed a wealthy lord who was more than happy to give them their share during raids and trade missions. They'd never been wanting for coin. But payment or no, they'd have followed the Riverwolf over the Wall and back.

Felix glanced over at Indigo, "Well, don't that just tickle yer sack. Best have some coin handy te toss at these lot if we run inte trouble."

Indigo grunted, but didn't comment. Horse glanced at his peers, "What we talkin' aboot?" They other three ignored him, even when he persisted, "No, seriously, you guys. What we talkin' aboot?"

Felix leaned back in his saddle. "Just make damned sure to protect the Lord if things turn nasty, Horse. The Lady gave him her favor. She'll stick a dagger up yer strap if ye let her down."

The sergeant gave his horse a nudge forward. "Lord Hardy, we canna grab another man er two if ye need the extra hands." He gave Kenrith an empathic look.

"We'll watch his back," growled Jayne - it seemed he felt his abilities were being challenged.

At this moment, the stable boys appeared with Kenrith's own horse, ready for him to mount. Further back in the courtyard, it seemed that Tam and Rhys' horses were ready to - he could see them both, speaking with Godwyn.

Kenrith strode up to his mount with confidence and mounted with little difficulty despite having only one hand. Having ridden all the way from Riverrun, while he might not be an expert rider... he had certainly had enough recent practice.

As he did so, he waved for Tam and Rhys to mount up as well with a beckoning guesture, then saluted his brother.

"Ser Kenrith," Rhys called once he was within easy talking distance, and grinned. "I'm happy that you'll be accompanying us. So...who's favor do you bear so gallantly?"

"That of Lady Limosa. I imagine she would have given it to Godwyn, had he been going," Kenrith said with a smile.

"Please, tell me... you know best how fast your birds can fly, and when it was found and how long has passed since... Can you work out with sums an estimate of how far it was sent from, to have arrived back so soon?" Kenrith said in a conversational tone, but with a serious expression upon his face. As he spoke, he looked around to see that everyone who was leaving was ready.

Rhys pursed his lips in thought and looked up at the sun. "I'm not sure when the raven returned--I only noticed Basil was back when I checked during the break in the trial--but I'm guessing it's been about three-and-a-half or four hours between the time Merivel left and I went to check the rookery. I've seen the map that shows the route they would have to take to get to the Kingsroad and it winds quite a bit, so that would slow them down as opposed to a raven that can fly straight here--ravens can fly pretty fast too, up to ten leagues or so an hour. My guess is that they couldn't have been more than three or four leagues away when the raven was realeased, probably closer."

Ser Anders now joined them at the gate - and so too did someone else.

It seemed to be a young boy at first, coming from the tourney field on a remarkably pretty little mare.

But no boy had that profusion of dark curls, or, perhaps, that heart-shaped face with its expressive dark eyes ...

Limosa was proposing to ride with them.

Rhys raised his eyebrows in surprise and glanced over at Ser Anders for his reaction.

Ser Anders was frowning.

"Is this your doing?" he said to Kenrith.

Felix stiffened on his horse as he recognized his lord's daughter. "Aie! What in the sodding hells is she doing 'ear? Lord Wolf will shite if he knew." The other three were equally perturbed by this surprise, but were also stuck between their loyalties. They could scold her, but what if Lord Manderly had allowed it?

Felix, a little bolder, turned to Kenrith. "Ser? Did ye and me Lord discuss this?"

Kenrith returned his frown, and answered "No, though I will see if I can fix it."

Kenrith rode over towards Limosa.

"Limosa... if you ride with us, I fear your father is going to go charging after you as soon as he realizes you are gone. In such haste, he may make a mistake and the same fate which has befallen Clearwater's maester may befall him... and should something happen to you, he will be truly inconsolable. Perhaps you should ride out with him tomorrow, so he does not worry?"

Limosa looked across at him - and he saw in her expressive little face both her longing for the freedom of riding away, and her worry lest her actions place Corryn in danger. Finally she gave a curt nod and wheeled her horse away, towards the tourney field where the Laughing Knives were encamped.

Rhys watched after her retreating form thoughtfully.

She disappeared from view, behind the gaily painted tents of the Laughing Knives.

They were free, it seemed, to set out.

Kenrith motioned for Horse to come closer as he rode up. "Go mention to someone else from the Laughing Knives that Limosa has a mind to follow us... if she erred on the side of accompanying us on the sly, I don't want to find out a league down the road. You can catch up with us with little trouble, perhaps before we're even over the first hill," he said.

He thought, rather than said, ~ I'm guessing, from your name, that you're the best rider... and so won't get into any trouble you can't ride away from~

Horse nodded and rode away towards the encampment.

To the rest of them, he said "Horse will catch up with us shortly. Tam and Rhys will lead the way... those of you with small bows, keep them handy. Once we're a bit out, we will use the dogs at likely points of ambush. Be wary of any on the road... for if they seem like peddlers without a care in the world, or traveling silent sisters... but the same fate hasn't fallen on them, then they may be the source, rather than just lucky."

With that said, the men started to head out.

Rhys took the lead with Tam as bid, silent, his eyes intent on the road and the surrounding woodlands.

They had ridden for perhaps two hours when Tam raised his hand, signalling for quiet.

After a moment of two, they all heard it, the sound on a cart being driven over the rough earthern track that led to Holdfast.

Kenrith motioned for half of the band, including Corryn's men as well as Mal and Jayne, to move off to either side of the road and take cover in preparation for circling around behind. As he had only one hand to signal with, he added a few silently mouthed words to clarify he wished for them to lead the horses. He seemed willing to let the cart approach, but should there be more men sculking along the sides of the road, or should the cart try to break and run when they saw armed men in Holdfast livery, he wished to be prepared. He looked to Anders, then quietly walked his horse to the front of the group.

Rhys stayed on his horse, but moved toward the back of the group.

Although jovial and pleasant during the trip, Felix and his companions turned deadly serious at the first sign of trouble. They dismounted and prepared their crossbows; keeping them readily at hand. Once they were prepared, they followed Kenrith's lead while maintaining enough distance from each other, so as to not put a bolt in someone's back if things turned nasty.

Slowly, the sound of the wheels grew louder - and another strange sound - the sound of someone weeping. A man, by the sound of it.

Then the cart creaked round a bend in the road - and Ser Anders stepped forward with an oath.

Kenrith's growing frown deepened, and not merely at Ser Anders' cursing.

The man driving the cart was a hulking giant of a man, dressed in Holdfast livery. He it was that they heard weeping - and the cause seemed to be the two men that were lying in the back of the cart - also dressed in Holdfast uniform - and both clearly dead.

Rhys could recognise the man driving the cart - it was Dobbin - one of Ser Anders most feared fighters. He was slow of thinking; he relied upon his quick-minded friend Jonkers to do his thinking for him. Together, they were among the best men in the castle - no niggardly guards for Merivel.

Interesting. Perhaps Ser Anders did indeed think for himself rather than always following the wishes of his sister.

And if Dobbin were in tears, that would suggest the identity of one of the men in the cart ...

Indeed, as soon as he saw Ser Anders, Dobbin let out a wail.

"Oh Ser, Ser, he's dead - he's gone - and what am I to do without him now?"

Kenrith looked first to Tamlyn, then to Rhys before dismounting and heading towards the cart. As he caught their eyes, he made a motion with his head towards the cart.

Tamlyn moved at once towards the back of the cart, but Ser Anders was ahead of him, gazing down at the men stretched out there with a face that, even in the green light of the Holdfast woods, looked a little grey.

"Jonkers and Trowen," said Anders grimly. "No sign of Cleeve?"

Dobbin shook his head. "He went back," he said simply. "To go to the inn. I went back to look with him - but there was no-one there! And when I got back - Jonkers was dead!"

Tamlyn moved at once towards the back of the cart, but Ser Anders was ahead of him, gazing down at the men stretched out there with a face that, even in the green light of the Holdfast woods, looked a little grey.

"Jonkers and Yrowen," said Anders grimly. "No sign of Cleeve?"

Dobbin shook his head. "He went back," he said simply. "To go to the inn. I went back to look with him - but there was no-one there! And when I got back - Jonkers was dead!"

Kindly, but firmly, Kenrith asked "How did this happen?" He wished he had learned this guard's name, but if he had known it once, it had fled.

"I don't know!" wailed Dobbin. "Trowen ... he wanted to stop for a drink, and the Maester said no, and then he dropped back ... and I thought he'd gone there - and the Maester sent us back to look - me and Cleeve ... but when we got there, there was no-one there - and I found their bodies in the water ... and then I went back but he was gone ... and so I rode back but ... but ... Jonkers was dead."

"I don't know!" wailed Dobbin. "Trowen ... he wanted to stop for a drink, and the Maester said no, and then he dropped back ... and I thought he'd gone there - and the Maester sent us back to look - me and Cleeve ... but when we got there, there was no-one there - and I found their bodies in the water ... and then I went back but he was gone ... and so I rode back but ... but ... Jonkers was dead."

Rhys dismounted, wound his horse's reins once around a nearby branch, and followed Kenrith. "Dobbin," Rhys supplied to him in a low whisper.

Anders had moved back to Kenrith and Rhys.

"He's overwrought," he said. "Maester - you speak to him. That might calm him - though it will take a while to get muct sense out of him."

Rhys sighed as he glanced at the bodies. "All right. Perhaps he can shed some light onto this riddle. Where is Merivel?"

Not expecting an answer, Rhys shook his head and gently led Dobbin off to the side of the road out of sight of the bodies. He talked softly to the man, calming and reassuring him.

Kenrith turned to Ser Anders and quietly spoke, "You know these men. It sounds as if he went off with Cleeve, found Trowen's body but lost Cleeve, then returned to find Jonkers dead... and, presumably, the maester gone. Regardless of where it stems from... do you have a theory?"

Anders shook his head.

"Not before I hear what Dobbin has to say."

But the man seemed calmer now - and was explaining to Rhys what had happened.

There had been some disagreement, it seemed. Trowen and Cleeve had wanted to stop at a wayside cottage where they might be sure of a mug of ale; the Maester and Jonkers (and so, of course, Dobbin) had been eager to push on. They had ridden forward, but Cleeve had ridden far ahead, while Trowen had dropped behind so far - they thought - that he had neglected his duty in order to visit the cottage. The Maester had called a halt, and sent back Dobbin and Cleeve to find him. They had reached the cottage - and discovered the two inhabitants were dead - killed with swords - Wildings, perhaps - for who else would attack? Their bodies had been dumped in the stream near the cottage. Cleeve and Dobbin - well, Dobbin had done most of the work - had dragged them clear.

Then they had ridden back to the place where the had left the Maester and Jonkers - but there they had found the cart belonging to Tovis, the farrier in Holdfast - and beside it was Jonkers - dead. There was no sign of the Maester. Cleeve was anxious to look further and see what they could find. They went on through the woods - searching either side. After a long hour, they found the body of Trowen, killed with a sword. Around him the ground was much disturbed, but there was no sign of the Maester. Cleeve said he would search more - but that Dobbin should take back the bodies to Holdfast. Which, he concluded, he was doing.

"You did nothing wrong, Dobbin," Rhys reassured him. "This is not your fault. Stay here and rest for now while I go back and tell Ser Anders your story."

Rhys made sure the man was settled and calm, then returned to the others. He related Dobbin's story to them. "Sounds like Trowen and Cleeve were the ones with mischief on their minds. I would surely like to find Cleeve and question him...and perhaps where we find Cleeve, we'll find Merivel."

"Perhaps," said Ser Anders slowly. "But then again, I hope not."

Kenrith looked again to Anders after he had a chance to ask the Maester his questions. "And now, Ser?" he said simply, clearly referencing his earlier question. Anders was the man who knew his men the best... and would know whether Cleeve was fool enough to go out on his own, or had some malign intent.

Ser Anders sighed. "Cleeve ... is not one of my strongest men. A shirker - one who gambles away his wages and tries to persuade others to gamble away theirs. My gut feeling is that - if he was in danger - he'd stay with whoever he thought would offer him the most protection. And that would be Dobbin who has the strength of any other three men - and who's handy with a broadsword too. I doubt he's be with the Maester instead. At least - not by choice."

Not knowing the dead, Felix and the others turned their attentions outward. They'd fought alongside Lord Manderly many a year. And during that time, they'd encountered an old trick of distracting a group with the dead, so as to ambush them. They scanned the trees carefully, remaining silent and unobtrusive. However, Felix made special note to stay near Kenrith. His Lord had told him specifically to watch over the one-armed nobleman, and the Lady showed him favor. It was a task he would not fail at.

There was no sign of anyone else anywhere around within their immediate vicinity. Indeed, Dobbin looked up and said, "I didn't find Trowen here, you know. He was half a mile further down the road."

"It ain't the dead man I'm worry aboot," Felix said. "They don't usually go walking aboot. Now killers. Aye, they slink and scuttle with the best of them. And right now, I'd rather err to caution before ending up in a wagon me self."

Felix nodded to Odur and Indigo, falling quiet again.

"I think we should go on," said Ser Anders to Rhys and Kenrith. "At least as far as the place where Dobbin found Trowen. Maester, would you be able to read anything from the ground as you read from a dead man's body?"

Rhys shook his head. "Sorry. I'm not a tracker."

Kenrith looked over to Tam, and his expression seemed to be asking him the same thing.

Tam gave a brief nod.

"Do you agree we should send Dobbin the rest of the way on his own?" Kenrith asked.

"I'll send Crastow back with him," said Ser Anders. "The rest will ride forward with us."

Kenrith nodded.

"While we continue, perhaps Rhys can fill us in on the rest of what Dobbin had to say... and you can relate whether Trowen would wander off on his own to grab a pint," he said to Anders, ending much more sofly than he began so only Felix and Rhys could overhear the later half.

Rhys raised his eyebrows and glanced at Anders.

"I'd like to say he knew his duty better than that," said Ser Anders slowly. "But ... it's the sort of trick that he might pull, if he thought he could get away with it, I'm afraid. Tam - will your dogs be able to show us where the body was?"

Tam nodded. "If they sniff the body first," he said.

"Then shall we do that," said Ser Anders, "and ride on?"

Kenrith nodded.


As the band got moving, and Crastow split off from the group to accompany the mourning giant, Kenrith rode up so that he was beside Ser Anders.

As Felix continued to stay glued to his side, he motioned for him to hang back a bit and shrugged apologetically.

Finally, Kenrith said to Ser Anders, "My brother speaks very highly of the pride you take in doing your duty, and doing it well... but it seems someone has suborned the loyalty of some of your more coruptable men against others. Do you yet have a theory as to who else might be involved?" Kenrith asked without raising his voice or allowing anger to bleed into his tone.

Rhys had a theory who's responsible. And he knew Ser Anders was having problems with said person by things he said to Rhys earlier. The young maester kept silent but watched Ser Anders out of the corner of his eye, curious to how he was going to respond to Kenrith's question.

"No," said Ser Anders dryly. "I'm a soldier - Captain of the Guard. I deal in practicalities; I leave speculation to my betters."

He rode for a while in silence, and then he added, more quietly, "But I will learn the truth of this."

"I'm sure we all will, in the end," Kenrith said gravely. He seemed to have his own suspicions as to what had happened, if only because of his leading questions to Ser Anders.

Page last modified on July 27, 2006, at 05:49 PM