Syndra strode to her room purposefully, her steps firm and her eyes wary. She did not relax her stance until she entered the room she shared with Edlyn and closed the door behind her. Edlyn was already there. "What is it?" she asked her cousin in response to her urgent glances in Kenrith's room.
Edlyn was sitting up on their shared bed, her hands wrapped around her knees.
"Syndra," she said urgently, "the sellsword they've taken prisoner - I think it might be my fault!"
Syndra looked confused. "Why would it be your fault?"
"Because I'm sure that the sellsword who killed that man will be the one I spoke to in the wood!" said Edlyn. Her colour was a little raised. "It was just after I left him that the horrid Bolton was so rude to me! What if he saw and decided to defend my honour?"
She looked at Syndra worriedly. "His name is Evan Tamm ... we have to find out if he's one of the men they're holding!"
Any number of questions crossed Syndra's mind, but some of them would likely upset Edlyn further. Syndra crossed to the bed and sat down next to her cousin. "Edlyn, why didn't you tell Godwyn and Kenrith?" she asked gently. "You could've waited until Eryk left if you didn't want to speak in front of him. They have to know. It could be very important."
Edlyn shook her head obstinately. "After Kenrith was so horrid? He'd just be convinced it was something to do with Mother ... and he'd love to have a reason to throw us both out of Holdfast. If he could say that it was my fault the guest right was broken ... " Her face was pale at the thought. "If Godwyn knew, he'd think it his duty to tell Kenrith too ..." She reached out to clutch at Syndra's arm. "I have to find out!" she said urgently. "And Syndra ... don't you want to know about Volf?"
Syndra didn't like the sound of what she thought Edlyn was suggesting. "Of course I do, Edlyn. I've known Volf since I was little and I can't believe he's involved with this, but..." She worried her lip. The thought of acting on this matter without the boys made her very nervous.
"What are you planning," Syndra asked, keeping her voice low.
"To get down into the dungeon before Godwyn does," said Edlyn promptly, "and to speak to the prisoners. Oh, Syndra, didn't you hear the way Godwyn was talking? About doing all sorts of horrible things to them ... don't you think your Riverwolf would be saddened if he knew his favourite squire had been thrown in our dungeons and you did nothing to help?"
Syndra's eye twitched as a pang of guilt pricked her. Her wiser self screamed to go tell the boys. On the other hand... Volf DID know her better than he knew Kenrith and Godwyn. Perhaps he'd tell her something he wouldn't tell them. And she should at least notify Corryn that Volf was in custody. If Edlyn wanted to look around for the others while she talked to Volf, that was her perogative. Her attention returned to her cousin, who continued to plan.
She drew a breath. "We could disguise ourselves," she said. "Like scullery maids. And we could take down water and bread for them - I hid some from dinner in my sleeves. Bread, that is. And then the guards would let us see them, don't you think?"
"I am NOT going to skulk around like some sneak thief," Syndra stated firmly. "I'm a Hardy. I have as much right to enter our dungeons as Godwyn or Kenrith." She rose with a heavy sigh, smoothed her dress and checked her hidden knife.
"All right, let's do this," she said wearily, then added in an undertone, "Father's gonna kill me."
Edlyn climbed off the bed. "But if we go like this," she argued, "the other sellswords might tell your father and Ser Herys when they question them. Syndra, we really should wear a disguise."
"And if we're recognized in spite of the disguise, the whipping will be even worse," Syndra pointed out stubbornly. "When they tell Father, which I'm sure they will, I'll say I needed to find out whether Ser Corryn was about so he could be notified. I don't give a flying Dornish fig what Ser Herys thinks. As long as the two of us stay together, we can each be witness for the other."
There was a sudden wicked glint in Edlyn's eye. "Syndra ... what if you disguise yourself as a scullery boy?"
"No!" Syndra said impatiently, all the Hardy pride, honor and pig-headed stubbornness evident in her glare. "Now are we going or not?"
Edlyn, who had seen Syndra at her Hardiest before, gave a deep sigh but did not attempt to argue any more.
"We're going," she said. "And if we're going like this, you had better take the lead."
Syndra nodded curtly. She checked her appearance, drew up her shoulders and pulled on her court face. She looked back at Edlyn, clearly expecting her to do the same, then stepped out into the empty corridor.
Syndra strode toward the dungeon stairs much as she had on her way from the boys' room; her step firm, her eyes on alert for the approach of a Bolton of any sort. Finally, she arrived before the guards watching the stairs. "Good evening, sers. We wish to see the Manderly prisoner," she informed them, her voice carrying the authority of the Hardy she was.
The guards looked at her in blank surprise - and then at each other, doubtfully.
"Master Godwyn never said not ... " began one, deeply troubled.
"There are guards at the bottom too, yes? Neither we nor the prisoners will be in any danger," Syndra reassured him confidently. "And we certainly have no intention of releasing anyone from custody. We merely wish to notify Ser Corryn Manderly that his squire is being held for questioning. To do that, we need to ask the squire where to find him," she explained.
The guards looked at each other and nodded. "Very well, Mistress. But for no more than five minutes."
"Of course," Syndra agreed.
Edlyn, behind Syndra, coughed.
"And ... and can I see the sellswords, please?"
The guards looked startled.
"Why?" asked the first.
Edlyn nudged Syndra, clearly hoping that her resourceful friend would help her out.
Syndra smiled tolerantly to the guards, as if letting them in on the fact that she was humoring a whim of her cousin's by allowing Edlyn to accompany her. "We really should stay together, ser. With Boltons about, a lady should not be wandering around by herself, should she? Come, Edlyn," she said as she stepped authoritatively past the guards.
The guards let her pass, and then one called after them, "Wait, mistress! I must open the door for you!"
He came after her, a thick ring of keys in his hand, young, with sandy hair and an abundance of freckles. His name was Oland, and he was planning to marry the very giggliest of the kitchen maids.
"Oh! Of course. Thank you," Syndra replied.
With a nod he moved passed them into the circle around the base of the stairs - with all the cells set around the circle, like spokes on a wheel. He selected a door and moved forward to open it with his keys, fumbling as he opened the door.
Syndra entered cautiously, with Edlyn at her side.
Volf was inside, sitting on a heap of mouldy, stinking straw that he had attempted to cover with his cloak. He was in his shirt sleeves, breeches and stocking feet and his handsome face was pinched with the cold. He rose at once on seeing Syndra.
"My lady!" he said, and then tried to sweep something of the old gallant bow. "What are you doing here?"
"I should be asking you that, Volf. What happened? And where is your master?" Syndra asked him, a touch of worry in her voice at the last question.
Volf looked at her, and then glanced at the guard who stood impassively by the door. "My master sent me - to protect you, and to see all was well with you. He ... " A pause, and he glanced warily at the guard again. "He will not be pleased with me, when he finds out where I am held." His eyes were conveying a frantic message. Soon.
Syndra's relief was evident in her smile. She nodded slightly, acknowledging his concern. "I'll talk to him," Syndra assured him. "But first I have to ask you...," She lowered her voice. The guard could probably still hear if he strained, but no one in the other cells could. "Why did you run?"
Volf flushed, and lowered his voice in turn.
"It was Ser Anders. When I heard his voice ... well, I panicked. I thought if he found me, he'd do his best to fasten any crime on me, just to have his revenge on Ser Corryn. And it looks like he has. Murder! What shall I say to my master?"
There was a note of panic in his voice.
It was all Syndra could do to hide her amusement. Volf was genuinely frightened, so of course it wasn't funny. What amused Syndra was that Volf could possibly think Corryn would believe anything Anders charged him with. In fact, the Riverwolf would probably knight the lad on the spot just for standing up to Anders.
Syndra spoke softly but calmly, trying to ease his panic. "Volf, don't worry. You're just here for questioning. My cousin Godwyn will be down later to talk to you. You remember him, don't you? Just tell him the truth. Tell him everything you know and you'll be fine. As for Ser Corryn, I'll talk to him for you. He'll listen to me and I'm sure he won't be angry with you.
Volf sighed. "He won't be angry with me for the accusation," he said dolefully. "He'll be angry that I tried to run."
Syndra nodded, understanding his concern.
"In the meantime, though," she continued, "my cousin Edlyn here was wondering about the men you came in with. She thinks she might have seen one of them earlier. Did you catch their names? Or could you describe them?"
Volf looked a little bemused. "They were ... sellswords. Young, dark. Both of them. I think they were Southerners. No, their leader sounded like he was from the North - but with some years in the South to give his speech a lift."
Edlyn nodded. "That's him! And did he have a cut, or a bruise on his forehead, about ... here?"
Volf nodded. "Yes, mistress, he did."
"It's the same man. Syndra - I =have= to see him," said Edlyn urgently. And then, in case Syndra was still unconvinced, she added, "I met him in the godswood. He came in answer to my ... my invocation!"
Syndra winced slightly and turned back to Volf. This was a bad idea, but how could she argue with the gods, especially the old ones? "Thank you, Volf. You've been a big help. We must be going. Remember what I said," she smiled encouragingly as she departed, motioning the guard to close the door.
As the guard stepped forward to turn the key in the lock, Syndra leaned back and whispered to Edlyn, hoping against hope, "Are you certain you can't just speak with him through the door?"
Edlyn gave this due consideration. "Well," she said, "I would like to make absolutely sure. And calling, 'Are you the man I met in the godswood?' would give him some idea of how to answer. I think I need to see him."
Syndra turned to the guard accompanying them, "Ser, if you would be so kind, could you tell us which cell is the leader's? Lady Edlyn believes she saw him earlier. She'll need to identify him conclusively to report to Master Godwyn. It will only take a moment."
"Very well, Mistress," he said, with some reluctance. He locked Volf's cell door and then led them some sixty degrees around the circle of the cells, before stopping at another locked and barred door. "This is it," he said, fumbling for his keys.
In a moment, it was unfastened, and he slowly opened the door ...
Syndra reached over and stopped the door when the opening was several inches wide. She motioned the guard to brace behind it to be ready for a rush. "That's far enough, Edlyn. Look quick and let's leave." Syndra stood close behind her cousin, right hand holding left wrist almost casually. Beneath her skirts, however, she was on the balls of her feet, ready to spring in case of attack.