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After leaving Corryn's tent Godwyn led Limosa back towards the direction of the prisoner. "We will see whether the littlest Bolton is still taunting his brother, or if he has wandered off somewhere else," he told her. "After that I shall be going throughout the main areas of Holdfast, speaking with guards and seeing how things stand." He gestured at the huge expanse of the crumbling castle, "We do not use the whole place these days," he explained. "We are not so large a family as we once were, not is the garrison anywhere near what it was in the ancient days."

Limosa stood still, tilting her head back to gaze at the lofty old walls, clearly impressed by what she saw.

While she was gazing, Godwyn was able to see that Eryk Bolton had left his brother. Evan Tamm was lying on his back, still constrained as Godwyn had ordered, and guarded as well. There was no sign of Eryk.

For a moment Godwyn considered going over and asking the prisoner where Eryk had gone. Then he chuckled to himself. When Limosa glanced at him he explained, "No use asking that one where his brother has gone. Even if he knows he'll just take the chance to make some cutting remark.. Let's be about our business, shall we, and check with the guards."

And Godwyn led her over to the nearest guard, the one watching over Evan Tamm, to obtain a report.

From this guard, and from each one that Godwyn went too afterwards, he would ask for a brief report on what was going on, whether anything unusual had occurred, and whether the guard had seen either Herys or Eryk Bolton recently. It was a reasonable thing for him to be checking on, and he was confident that he would eventually be able to locate the Bolton boy without revealing anything more than the usual suspicion he was confident each and every member of Holdfast held towards that family.

Everything seemed calm and in order. The guard by Evan Tamm reported that Eryk Bolton had spoked with his brother for some time - neither had lost his temper, but neither seemed particularly happy with the outcome of the discussion. Eryk Bolton had then headed towards the castle. Other guards that Godwyn spoke to confirmed this.

Limosa continued to be interested in all that Godwyn showed her or explained to her. But as they walked into the main courtyard of the castle, they saw a group of three people speaking together - Lady Celia Hardy, Ser Herys Bolton and Eryk Bolton.

Limosa's steps slowed, and she glanced up at Godwyn beside her.

Godwyn smiled at her, and moved from guard to guard around the edge of the courtyard, continuing about his duties. He kept an eye on the Boltons and Lady Celia, but made no effort to approach them.

After a moment, Lady Celia turned and went into the castle. Ser Herys remained, watching Godwyn and Limosa with hard eyes. Eryk stayed by his side - he seemed to be speaking to his father; something in his posture suggested that he was trying to placate the man.

Suddenly, Ser Herys broke away and came striding over to Godwyn, ignoring Limosa. Eryk stood behind, irresolute.

"I hear you're pledged to the Watch and the Wall," Ser Herys said abruptly to Godwyn.

Godwyn looked at Ser Herys for a long moment before nodding, once. "There has always been a Hardy on the Wall," he said in answer.

"Indeed," said Ser Herys. "A worthy tradition, and one I'm glad to see maintained. I'd just like to make sure you don't leave a bastard in my wife-to-be's belly when you depart."

"Huh," Godwyn answered. He stared at Herys a moment longer, then said, "I'm sure there is something cleverly insulting that could be said here, about how no one in Holdfast would be willing to wed with you save for our most depraved sows, or some such. But we both know I'm not clever enough to keep that sort of wit up for long. So I'll just say that I'm sure I misunderstood you, and you didn't just insult a lady guest of Holdfast by implying that her honour is not above reproach, since as far as I'm concerned that will be enough to break guest right by itself. And if I decide you did that I'll give you half an hour to get your men out of Holdfast before I order you arrested."

He smiled.

"So think about what you're about to say next. 'Cause I'm really hoping you give me that excuse."

His smile grew wider. "And by all means feel free to go running to my uncle or my father's wife and carry tales on how I'm being mean to you, if you wish."

Ser Herys smiled. "Snap at my heels all you want, boy. When you're lying cold at the Wall, it's my bed she'll be warming. She's wild now - but she'll learn to come to heel soon enough."

Beside him, Godwyn could feel Limosa shaking - but he could not be sure whether it was fear or anger, or a mixture of the two.

"Boltons talk a lot, don't they?" Godwyn asked pleasantly. "I can see now where the one calling himself Evan Tamm gets it from."

Ser Herys jerked slightly - that, it seemed, was a taunt that had struck home.

"That misbegotten cur has nothing to do with me," he snarled, then turned on his heel and strode away, into the castle.

Limosa walked to a little distance and sat down on a piece of low wall, wrapping her arms around herself as though for protection. Eryk Bolton was still hovering - but now he came up to Godwyn.

"You ... shouldn't do that," he said quietly. "It only makes things worse ... later on."

Godwyn looked at him. "I'm sure it would, if I were in his power. Or someone I cared for was." He glanced at Limosa, worry passing over his face. Then his expression hardened. "So we'll just have to be sure that doesn't happen," he said firmly.

He leaned towards Eryk and lowered his voice, "I spoke with Ser Corryn about what you said to me," he said. "He wants you to meet him in the Godswood in a quarter hour or so."

Eryk's eyes gleamed as he understood - and he gave the slightest of nods.

Godwyn straightened, and raised his voice so everyone nearby would be able to hear it. "Off with you!" he said in a hard voice. "I can't waste time speaking with Boltons!" He winked at Eryk as he said it.

Eryk's face held the ghost of a smile ... and then he said, as loudly as Godwyn, "And this is what you call Hardy hospitality, is it? Well, be damned to you then!"

And he strode off, towards the godswood.

Limosa was still on the wall. (If Godwyn looks at her ... ) She looked up at him and gave a quick, unhappy smile.

Godwyn walked over and sat on the wall next to her. "Your father is a clever man," he said. "I trust him to find a way through this dark forest. You won't have to go to the Boltons." He sat and stared at her for a few moments, Corryn's overheard words going through his head.

Marriage. It was something he'd never given any though to. He'd always known he was meant for the Wall, marriage wasn't for him. But if it was....

No. He pulled himself up short. She wasn't for him. This didn't bear thinking on. Better he concentrate on the defense of Holdfast, not be distracted by such a beautiful, spirited, clever, fascinating girl....

She laid a hand on his arm, and then pointed the way Ser Herys had gone. Then, suddenly, she made a quick gesture - a single slicing movement across her neck.

~Sooner than let that happen, I'll kill him.~

Then she hesitated, and made the gesture again, slowly, her dark eyes searching Godwyn's face.

~Sooner than let that happen, I'll kill me.~

"Don't do that," Godwyn said softly. "I'd just have to go and kill him in vengeance for you. And I'd rather kill him to save you, than to avenge you."

She looked at him, as though assessing that he meant it. And then she smiled and extended her hand towards him, as though to seal the agreement - for it was unlikely that Limosa expected such courtly gestures as hand-kissing.

Godwyn took her arm in his, in the clasp of comrades, and said, "It's settled then!" He stood up, pulling her to her feet.

"So let's stop lazing about and get on with our duties. You have a knife, aye? I'm acting as Captain of the Guards till Anders gets back, and you're my deputy. Keep an eye out as we make our rounds. You're sharper than I am, let me know if you spot anything you think I've missed."

She rose with alacrity to accompany him, but she shook her head sadly when he mentioned her knife. Clearly, she did not count the weapons she had amassed from her early game with the Laughing Knives ... and it was true that those men had sooner parted with their breeches than their blades.

She tilted her head on one side, hopeful.

"We can't have that," Godwyn said with a frown. He unfastened his sword belt and slid his scabbarded dagger off. "Here." He handed her the dagger, still in the scabbard. It was an 8" long double edged dirk, with an unadorned handle.

"It's not fancy," he said apologetically, "Not a lady's weapon, but it's good steel and it's been freshly sharpened. It will do the job."

Limosa accepted it eagerly, and tested the truth of his words by resting it gently on the ball of her thumb. Her eyes widened, and she looked with respect at the blade (even as she popped her thumb into her mouth to suck away the blood). Then she prepared to go with Godwyn cheerfully enough as he made his rounds, unconscious of the fact that it was not customary for a Guard Captain to do this with a pretty young woman as escort.

Godwyn seemed equally oblivious that there was anything unusual about combining a tour of Holdfast for a young noblewoman with overseeing the security of the keep. As they walked from guardpost to guardpost, followed by Queenie and her two half-grown pups, he pointed out places of interest, and told her stories of the history of the Hardys and their ancestral home, even as his eyes sought out anything out of the usual.

There was little to trouble Godwyn in the orderly running of the place; Ser Anders had his men well under control. But there was a clear tension in the Castle. The Holdfast men were not happy with the Boltons being quartered in the Castle, and it showed in a sort of jealous tension that pervaded all the guards, it seemed.

But nor were they entirely happy with the Manderly contingent camped at the gates. There seemed to be rumours about this - and as Godwyn finished an inspection of the parapet along the top of the curtain wall, one of the guards drew him slightly aside from Limosa and said, "Begging your pardon, Master Godwyn, but is it true Ser Corryn has become Lord Bolton's liege man?"

Godwyn pointed out the smoke from the distant village to Limosa, and left her leading over the parapet gazing in that direction as he stepped aside with the man.

"He's going to hold Leaning Stone in vasselage to the Boltons," Godwyn said in answer to the guard's question. "As always with us nobles there's all that confusing web of obligations about who is under whose authority in what situation." He chuckled, "Makes me glad I'm not the eldest," he said in a joking tone of voice, "I can never figure these things out, and always end up just doing what I think is the right thing."

He stroked his chin thoughfully, letting the smile fade a bit. "Holding a place like Leaning Stone isn't the same as being Bolton's man, though. I know that Ser Corryn paid a visit to Winterfell before he placed that claim on Leaning Stone. And Lord Stark is a deep one, who understands politics far better than you or I ever could. Ser Corryn's just the sort of man he might choose to get closer to the Boltons, to find out what they're really up to." The smile came back, but sharper and more feral now. "We all know the history of friendship between the Starks and Boltons, hey?"

He shook his head then. "Forget I said that," he said. "We don't want to start any rumors. But that's how it looks to me."

The guard nodded slowly, seeming to take Godwyn's words to heart.

"There's been talk, see?" he said. "About why he should come back now, after two years away. Right at the time the Boltons arrived. And right at the time Ser Kenrith comes back with his fancy Southron ways. Mayhap he wants to have us all fal-de-lal like Southrons."

Again there was a covert glance at Godwyn - this was clearly a worry that more than one guard was feeling.

"I've talked with my brother," Godwyn replied easily. "He's still a Northerner, whatever pretty polish he may have picked up. As for why everyone's showing up at the same time..." he fell silent, staring into the darkness for a moment, then continued slowly. "No, I don't think it's just coincidence. But I don't think it's a plot, either. The Southerners, for all their oaths and their knighthoods and their fancy statues of the Seven, they don't really have much faith. They think they're in charge of what happens, and that it's men who make their own fate. But up here, in the North, we know that the Old Gods watch us, and sometimes they take a hand in things. Sometimes...."

He fell silent again, and then, with a jerk of his shoulders and a laugh he broke from his reverie, clapping the guard on his shoulder. "Listen to me go on," he said. "We're men, we should be about men's affairs, and not worry ourselves about what we can't control. And tell the others that as far as being fal-de-lal," he laughed once more, "No one has to be any more fal-de-lal than I am."

At this juncture, Limosa came running along the parapet towards them, sure-footed and swift. She was pointing towards the road - in the dimness of twilight that was beginning to set in, it was still possible to make out a cart coming through the gate and into the courtyard - although not light enough to make out who was driving. But there seemed to be bodies in the back.

"Right," Godwyn said. "Enough talk, it's back to work for honest men. Let's see what this is about."

He clapped the guard on the shoulder once more, then headed for a stairway down to the courtyard.

He heard Limosa's light step behind him, keeping pace.

The wagon was drawn up in the courtyard near the guardhouse, and a number of guards - including two of the Laughing Knives and several Boltons, were gathered around. The giant Dobbin was sitting on the driving seat, sobbing bitterly. In the back of the wagon where the bodies of two of the guards - Dobbin's boon companion Jonkers and the arch malingerer, Trowen.

"We can't get no sense out of him, Sir," said one of the guards, turning to Godwyn as he approached. "He says Ser Anders sent hin home ... that's all."

"See what you can tell from the bodies," Godwyn ordered him, "Stab wounds, arrows, bite marks, whatever." He swung himself up into the wagon and sat next to Dobbin. "It's all right, Dobbin," he said gently. "You're back home now. And you did what Ser Anders told you to. Now, tell me, what happened?"

It was easier to find out from the bodies what had happened than by talking to Dobbin. Jonkers, it seemed, had been killed by a dagger wound to the throat - a thrown dagger, perhaps. Trowen had been stabbed in the back.

Dobbin was largely incoherent until Limosa suddenly slipped up onto the seat next to him, on the other side from Godwyn. She took one of his great beefy hands in her slender ones, and looked at him intently whiile he spoke. It seemed to work - under Godwyn's questioning, with Limosa's support, the story emerged:

There had been five of them to begin with: Maester Merivel, Trowen and Cleeve and - at Ser Anders' orders - Dobbin and Jonkers. At first Dobbin had found it a pleasant ride. But then 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. On the way he had met Ser Anders and Ser Kenrith and Maester Rhys and lots of other men ... they had told him to ride back too, and had pressed on, deeper into the forest.

"See to the bodies," Godwyn told the guards. "They're Holdfast men, and we see to our own." He had a guard with a good memory sent to find Ser Godfrey to tell him what had happened.

"Dobbin," he said gently. "Do you want to go with Jonkers? He'll need someone to stand vigil for him."

Dobbin nodded, runbbing the back of his sleeve across his eyes.

"Aye," he said. "I'll do that."

Godwyn was sensing uneasy murmurs all around as the words of Dobbin's story spread through the growing darkness.

Then a shout went up:

"Riders approaching the gate!"

Page last modified on August 08, 2006, at 06:58 PM