Holdfast Summer Fair
For the smallfolk of Castle Holdfast, it was the most important three days of the year.
And for the small folk of Castle Holdfast, the children who bore the name Hardy, it was the most exciting three days of the year.
For seven days, every carpenter and joiner in the castle had been employed, setting up the stalls in the great courtyard of the Castle. The beasts had been turned out to pasture - even the Holdfast horses were out in the paddocks so that their stables could be cleaned out - nay, scrubbed to within an inch of their lives, for here would be the displays of ploughshares and billhooks, axes and saws that had been loving crafted in the quiet months of the year for sale at the great annual Fair.
The stables might hold the implements of farming and forestry, but in the courtyard itself were myriad stalls and booths. Some sold the standard fare that one could purchase on any weekly market day, but a far wider selection than usual, with peddlers and farmers travelling in from miles around. Others, however, displayed the produce and wares that had been produced over long months - the wood-whittled toys, the smocks with delicate embroidery, the painted boxes and decorated looking glasses, their frames studied with artful patterns of seeds and grasses, the gleaming glass bottles and stout ceramic jars filled with the relishes and jams that were prepared according to jealously guarded recipes passed down from generation to generation.
In short, this was the occasion when the smallfolk had the chance to parade the finest of their produce and their skilled labour, and to sell it to their neighbours from far and wide - and even to the inhabitants of the Castle itself.
But there was more ...
The paddocks outside the Castle - that small area of cleared forest used for crops and grassland, had been converted too. Here were the rings were livestock could be displayed, and bought and sold. Displays of skill and speed were also on offer - trials of obedience for dogs; races and jumping competitions for horses. Even the chickens were on display in a tent of their own - and the cockpit had been prepared for fights. There was talk that a merchant had brought along a great brown bear and was offering formidable odds to have him baited against any dogs any farmers could produce.
Nor were animals the only living creatures to be sold - or, at least, put out for service.
For this was also the hiring fair, and those desirous of seeking new employment might appear in the uniform of their trade, seeking new employers - while new employers would walk up and down the serried ranks of the hopeful, looking for likely lads and lasses to work on their farms or in their houses. Giggling servant girls with their mops, shepherds in their smocks with their crooks and their dogs, cooks with their checked aprons, foresters with their axes (and often their bows), and even clerks with their sheaves of pens - all waited to be chosen. But at night they would put care aside, and dance in the ring with light heels.
There was even, on the last day, to be a small tournament where the men at arms and their masters could show their skills.
And all around, stall and booths had been set up to sell sweetmeats and hot meats, wine, beer, cider and even fresh milk.
Every day would be given over to the displays, and the buying and selling. And every night would be given over to dancing in the open area in the centre of the courtyard for the smallfolk, and in the great banqueting Hall of the castle for their betters. But on the last night of all, there would be a huge feast in the largest of the open rings, and the fun and feasting, the dancing, singing and telling of tales, would go on until dawn.
The first day dawned bright and fresh and clear ...
Rhys woke up before dawn, excited by the possibilities that lay ahead for him that day, and way too excited to go back to sleep.
After trying for a brief time--maybe all of ten minutes--he gave up and jumped out of bed. He made an effort to stop his teeth chattering in the frigid air as to not wake his great-uncle and donned his clothing as quickly as possible in the dark. It wasn't hard--he wore the same thing each day and by now was intimately familiar with all the layers.
Dressing accomplished, Rhys pulled on his boots and slipped out the door, closing it quietly behind him.
There was activity in the castle, even at this early hour. Servants were carrying things and walking to and fro and from somewhere he caught a whiff of roasting ham.
Rhys paused outside his great-uncle's door, wondering if Kenrith and Godwyn were having as many problems sleeping as he was. He decided to go find out.
He turned and strode down the hallway, settling on a speed that was more than a walk but not quite a run. It wouldn't do to be caught at fifteen years running inside the castle like he was five or six.
When he reached Kenrith's door, Rhys didn't knock but opened the door quietly and slipped inside. He waited a moment for his eyes to adjust and listened for the slow, even breathing that would tell him whether or not his friend was still in bed.
As his eyes adjusted Rhys saw two large hounds lying on the bed, their heads raised and staring at him. He was positive that he remembered hearing Kenrith and Godwyn being told that they were to stop allowing the dogs to sleep on their bed with them, but there they were. A lump under the heavy covers was almost certainly at least one of the two brothers, if not both.
He considered jumping on the bed and startling the occupant or occupants, but the presence of the hounds gave him pause. He didn't want to start them barking which might get the boys in trouble which might lead to them to not being allowed to go to the fair today. So Rhys stood where he was. "Psssst! Kenrith! Godwyn!" he said in a loud whisper. "Hey! Louseheads! Wake up!"
Kenrith sat up suddenly, sending the two hounds scrambling off of the bed. One apparently stepped on Kenrith with a weighty foot, as he clapped his hands over his mouth to stifle a grunt. The hounds, for their part, made little noise other than a disgruntled 'woof' and the sloppy sound of empty mouths opening and closing meditatively. They had recognized Rhys, fortunately, or the whole castle would have awoken to a mixture of barks and growls.
"What... its early..." was all Kenrith said as he knuckled his eyes with both hands and focused them carefully on Rhys, as if wondering who could be so cruel as to awaken him at this hour. He was still sore from the previous day's training, and riding before that.
"Mmmph!" said Godwyn from underneath the covers. He pilled more of them over himself and off Kenrith.
With the hounds now off the bed, Rhys took the opportunity to leap onto the lump still under the covers. "Wake up, kid!" he said to Godwyn, then turned to Kenrith. "I couldn't sleep anymore. Want to go out early? We can scout it all out before the crowds come in."
Godwyn's head poked out from under the covers, eyes wide and sleep forgotten. "The fair?" he asked excitedly. "Everyone is here for the fair? Kenrith, we can go now, can't we? Please?"
Kenrith rolled out of bed with a mixture of grumbling and what might well be nodding. As he was in the process of dressing himself to go out, it was even more likely that he was nodding his agreement to the plan. Mornings, however, had never been his favorite time of day.
Godwyn scrambled out of bed quickly, pulling on his clothes while asking, "When does the fighting start? Will there be bear-bating? Can I have some coin, there will be so much to buy. I want a sword! Can I have a sword, Kenrith? I think I should have a sword.
I~Rm the second son of the Lord of Holdfast, I should
have a sword!"
Kenrith simply laughed, albeit grogily. "As the second son of the Lord Holdfast, you need pants... and as far as I know, there is to be bear bating," Kenrith said as he caught some of the festive mood from his younger brother.
"What do you want to see, Rhys?" Kenrith asked as he finished dressing.
"I want to eat my way from one end of the fair to the other. I'm starving right now. If you're both ready, do you suppose we can manage something from the kitchens before going out?" he asked plaintively.
(our happy trio continues in the other holdfast summer fair thread)
Syndra fidgeted madly as the handmaid finished brushing out her hair. "Can I GO yet?" she fussed.
"Yes, yes, yes. Go," the maid sighed with exasperation. The little lady's hair was as neat as it would get. Would that it would stay that way, but that was asking for miracles.
Syndra was off the stool and dashing for the door as soon as the maid put down the brush. Gavrin waited there for her. Her brother's impatient looks during the morning brushing ordeal probably contributed to Syndra's restlessness. The two were halfway out the door when Lady Morna called "Syndra!"
Syndra's shoulders sagged. They had not escaped in time. Their mother, Lady Morna, appeared from the nursery with four-year-old Trey in tow, his face scrubbed and pink. The little boy grinned when he saw his sister. Syndra sneered back.
"Syndra..." her mother warned, getting that "annoyed mother" look that she was so good at.
"Yes, Mother. Come, Trey," Syndra sighed with resignation. She held out her hand for her brother to take.
"Be certain you don't lose him," Lady Morna called after the two of them with a smile.
"Yes, Mother," her daughter's voice called back from beyond the door.
Gavrin had waited for her outside the suite, but his itchy feet showed that he would not have waited much longer. Once in the corridor, the children broke into a run, with poor little Trey being nearly dragged behind them.
The children slowed to a trot as they neared the common areas. They had been warned more than once about running in the castle. "Those rambunctious Hardy cousins," they were called, sometimes with a chuckle, other times a sneer. They were the children of Ser Godfrey Hardy, brother to the Lord of Castle Holdfast, Lord Oswain. The family kept a suite of rooms in the castle for the times that Ser Godfrey was away in service at Winterfell. Lady Morna was frightened to stay alone in the family's own manor, even though it was only a half-day's ride and filled with her own household staff. Each time the children arrived at Holdfast, they had to get used to the strict rules all over again.
"Is Godwyn coming?" Syndra asked Gavrin as they approached the nearest doorway into the courtyard. Gavrin and Godwyn were nearly the same age and got on fairly well. Too well, for Syndra's liking. Gavrin didn't want to play with her as much when there was another boy around. Being left out, especially because she was a girl, was a feeling she despised.
"Of course Godwyn's coming," said Gavrin, with the lordly air he had acquired in speaking to her sometimes. It was something that had come with the arms training he had started with Godwyn and the other boys; it had always been made clear to them that boys and girls would follow very different paths in their lives, but now it was becoming increasingly manifest. They still trained together, of course, but Lady Morna made it clear that this was an eccentricity on her husband's part to permit it. "He wouldn't miss the horse races, or the tournament!"
His dark eyes were glowing as he spoke of this last longed-for event.
"Tour'ment!" Trey squealed happily.
"And we'll probably go and watch the cocking today," [Gavrin] added, putting a swagger into his step. "With Kenrith and Rhys. But that's only for men, you know. You can take Trey to look at the pretty chickens."
Syndra's wince at the mention of cocking turned to a full-fledged grimace when he got to Trey and chickens.
"Chickens?! But I..."
Then suddenly the new air of superiority was thrown aside and he looked at her hopefully. "Please?"
For it was clear that Godwyn - to say nothing of Kenrith and Rhys - would not wanted to be hampered by a sturdy and determined four year old, even if they might tolerate the presence of a girl.
Syndra sighed heavily. She had been prepared to argue until he asked nicely. Her lady mother had spoken with her about Gavrin needing to be with other boys. There were none at the manor. At home, they did everything together. Here, he treated her like a...a... girl. Deep down, she understood that they would have to do things apart, but she didn't have to like it.
Her shoulders sagged. "Oh, all right," she relented, but added quickly, "But can we stay together until the boys get here?" She echoed his own plea. "Please?"
"All right," agreed Gavrin magnamimously. "And I tell you what, Syndi - I'll buy us all a hot pie - meat or fruit - with the silver penny I've been saving. Only we'll have to get it now - before the others come. Or some nut taffy if you want," he added, as the heady smell of a sweatmeat stall reached them as they walked between the stalls.
"Hot pie," Syndra piped up before Trey could vote. The children quickly followed their noses to the proper stall, Syndra on constant lookout for the other boys so she could distract Gavrin long enough to get her hot pie. As they gazed at the vendor's pastries, Syndra offered, "It's your penny, Gav. You pick meat or fruit."
Gavrin hesitated agonisingly. He was always like this ... he hated coming to a decision, even on so trivial a matter. The plump, motherly stall keeper smiled down on them, her face reddened as though she had spent long hours stooping over her oven.
"The venison is very fine," she said. "And sharpened with sharp berries from the woods - so you'll have meat and fruit together, my lambs."
This seemed to settle the issue for Gavrin who gave a sharp nod and passed his penny across.
"Your best venison then!" he said.
The woman beamed. "Certainly, my young lord!" she said cheerfully - and the next minute a large pie, arranged on a strip of tree bark, was being handed across to Gavrin. It looked far more than they could ever eat ... and she was pushing five copper coins back to them as well.
Since her brother's hands were full, Syndra snatched up the change and thanked the nice lady. Trey had scooted ahead of her to follow Gavrin, his nose turned up to take in the aroma of the pie.
At around this time, Kenrith turned a corner and spotted Syndra. He waved, and turned to Rhys and his younger brother, who were not far behind him. He hadn't spotted the pie yet, but it was clear he intended to come closer.
"Gavrin!" shouted Godwyn when he rounded the corner and spotted his cousins. He charged ahead at a full run, looking as though he intended to pile into his best friend and knock him to the ground.
Gavrin's face lit up. "Godwyn!"
He shoved the pie hastily towards his sister.
Off-balance, she grabbed the pie and juggled a bit to keep it from falling. The copper coins dropped to the ground. "Trey, get those, please," she begged exasperatedly.
A shadow appeared beside Syndra. When she looked up she saw Rhys's easygoing smile. "Here, let me help," her told her, relieving her of the pies.
Shouting "Holdfast!" Godwyn charged into Gavrin and the two went down in a tangle, wrestling and laughing, and paying no attention to anyone else as they rolled on the ground.
Gavrin wrestled with enthuisiasm but not very much skill. The clothes that had been put on so cleanly and neatly - and had passed his mother's careful inspection - were soon covered with dust and bits of straw from the courtyard.
Syndra smiled gratefully up at Rhys even as she stepped away from the rolling melee. "Thank you," she said demurely.
Trey grabbed the coins and then retreated to Syndra, clutching her hand and watching his brother and Godwyn with some alarm.
"Is they hurting each other?" he asked anxiously.
Syndra took the coins from Trey's hand. "No, I don't think so," she reassured him with more confidence than she felt. It was hard standing by while Godwyn trounced Gavrin, even if it was only in jest. 'The boys here will make a man of him. He needs that,' her mother had told her. Syndra hoped the process didn't kill him first.
Forcing herself to turn back to Rhys, she asked politely, "Have you all seen anything yet?"
Rhys eyed the pies in his hands rather hungrily, but looked away when Syndra addressed him. "Hmmm? Oh, lots of stalls selling just about everything imaginable. We stopped to watch the cockfights for awhile. But Godwyn wanted to see the bear-baiting, and so we've been looking for that." He spared an eye for the boys rolling in the dirt to make sure things weren't getting too out of hand. "What do you want to do next, Kenrith?"
Kenrith, for his part, was keeping one eye on the skuffle. "Thats enough you too... if you wrip your new clothes we'll never hear the end of it..."
Turning to Rhys with a grin on his face, Kenrith replied "I'm interested in seeing the baiting as well... but if these two don't settle down, we should probably put that off until later on. The edge of the pit... bad place to wrestle," Kenrith said with a wince.
Trey tugged on Syndra's skirts. "Can I see the bear too?" he asked hopefully.
"We'll see," she pacified him, sounding just like her mother.
"Here are the pies," Rhys said to Syndra as he handed them back to her. "Kenrith, you grab Godwyn and I'll take Gavrin."
Rhys waded into the fray, grabbed Syndra's older brother by the back of his shirt, and pulled him away from Godwyn.
Gavrin struggled against Rhys, but not very hard. Perhaps he was secretly rather relieved to be rescued; Godwyn was no older than his cousin, but Gavrin, alone at home with his mother, sister and small brother, had only lately been promoted to the status of student to the Master at Arms. What he currently lacked in science and skill he made up for in determination - but several times he had come home with a bloody lip or a black eye - and begged Syndra to help him keep if from his mother.
However, not for the world would he back away from a fight, so he glowered at Rhys.
The glowering fazed Rhys not the least whit.
Kenrith, for his part, did his best to extricate his brother from the fight without catching a spare elbow. After they were separated, he proceded to dust off the worst of the dirt. Quietly, next to Godwyn's hear, Kenrith said "Our words aren't for play fighting, Godwyn Hardy." He was deadly serious, but saw no need to humiliate his brother in front of his cousins. As the eldest child, he had an assumed air of maturity which was, perhaps, a bit put on considering his young age.
"I suppose we could all *share* the pie," Syndra offered, loud enough so the tussling boys might be distracted by food. "Can we find some place to sit?"
Rhys's face perked up at the mention of food.
"I can carry the pie," Godwyn offered. "While we look for a place to sit." He was straightening his clothes, and trying to hold one hand casually over the rip in his shirt.
Kenrith gave up on getting any more dirt from Godwyn's clothes, but he hoped he had made it less obvious he had been tussling in the dirt.
"I already had something from the kitchen, but we can probably find a seat near the footlists... they are still setting up, but since the fights aren't for another two days there should be plenty of open space," Kenrith said as he pointed in what he hoped was the appropriate direction.
"Sounds like a plan. Let's go," Rhys agreed as he started the herding process to move everyone in that direction.
The small group moved towards the gate in the wall that gave onto the meadow beyond. Usually closed and guarded, if not locked, today it gave a vista of the prpearations in the fields beyond. Although, as Kenrith said, they were still setting up the torney stands, the wood was in place, and the Holdfast carpenters and joiners were busy not with saws and mallets, but with paint brushes and long bales of cloth which were being hammered into place around the edges. Small tents were being errected by the squires and pages for the Knights who would be contesting the tournament; the knights themselves, out of their armour, strolled too and fro or stood, a small group of them, in easy, laughing conversation, sampling the wares of an enterprising brewer who had set up a stall to sell mugs of ale from his fat barrels.
If they went to sit on the benches, there was a chance that they would be in the way. No-one would ask the Lord's sons and their cousins to move, but they would not be popular with those hurrying to finish. There was plenty of open ground to sit on, however, not yet churned to mud by the passage of men and horses.
Away to their left were the rings were cattle and other livestock would be displayed. Were being displayed in fact, if the lowing of the cows was an indication.
"It will be horses in the ring this afternoon," Gavrin offered. "Swiftfoot Jack's run a team up the Kingsroad for the Fair - there's bound to be some good bloodstock amongst them." He gave a sigh. "When my father comes home ... he's promised me a stallion of my own."
Syndra glanced at her brother, her expression a little sad. Castle Holdfast was grand, but it wasn't home. And she missed Father.
"A stallion would be fine... but I'm still working on my riding. One day, I'm going to lance at a royal tourney," Kenrith announced proudly.
Closer to them, a rather small page was struggling to put up a tent. It was too much of a task for one person, but no-one seemed prepared to come to his aid.
Syndra retained possession of the pie and settled herself and little Trey on a patch of grass out of the way of the workmen, but with a good view so her young brother might watch their preparations. She broke off a piece of pie for Trey and one for herself. "Who's next?" she asked as she offered the rest of the pie up to the older boys.
Kenrith grinned, and indicated Rhys with his thumb.
Godwyn looked at the pie, torn between that and a desire to run over and assist the page. Finally he said, "Come on, Gavrin, let's help him," and ran over to lend a hand.
Gavrin, always Godwyn's loyal follower, leapt to his feet and followed him willingly enough.
"You know I'm always hungry," Rhys smiled back. He accepted the pie from Syndra with a "Milady" and a flourish, then popped it in his mouth in one piece.
Rhys glanced over at Gavrin and Godwyn helping the struggling page. "I'll be back in a minute," he announced as he licked his fingers, then strolled toward the young boys.
With three of them working to help the page, the tent went up quickly enough, if somewhat unscientifically. The page grinned his gratitude, and then broke off to cough.
"You're not well," said Gavrin. "Perhaps you should rest.
The page shook his head vehemently, and looked nervously to where the knights were joking and laughing.
"He won't let me," he said hoarsely. "In fact ... you'd better clear off. If he sees you helping, he'd be angry."
Godwyn frowned and looked from the boy to the knights and back again. "Whose man are you?" he asked the page.
Rhys listened for the page's reply as he gazed over at the group of knights, curious as well to the answer to Godwyn's question.
"Ser Herys Bolton," said the page. "He's the cousin of Lord Bolton of the Dreadfort - that's where I serve."
He unfurled the pennant that would adorn the tent as he spoke - a bloody hand on a dark field. He started to haul it up the pole and then shrank back. "Look out - he's seen us. You'd better go."
The effort of speaking made him cough again, as Godwyn Rhys and Gavrin saw a tall dark man with harsh features and a long dark moustache detach himself from the group byu the beer barrels, and start to stride towards them.
"You should go see Maester Sewell about that cough," Rhys said to the page as he watched the man approach. "Tell him Rhys sent you---he'll see you then. I hope we didn't get you into too much trouble.
"Godwyn...Gavrin...let's go back to the others."
Godwyn hesitated. Leaving felt like running to him, and he hated to run from trouble. But he'd been taught to listen to his elders. He glanced back over towards Kenrith to see if his brother was watching.
Kenrith, for his part, had been watching the scene play out. He walked over to the group and said "We should be moving along... I believe I recognize the banner of this knight's squire, and it would be best not to offend the good Ser by providing help unasked," Kenrith said a bit nervously. He was fibbing, slightly, as it was the sight of the knight's grim expression which had spurred Kenrith's memory about his heraldry. Heraldric items with gauntlets and fists on them were hardly new to him, of course, as they were in some ways so similiar to his own...
As the boys walked away, Syndra, sitting with Trey to finish the last of the pie, saw the Knight stride up to his Page and start to question him angrily. The boy seemed to be replying placatingly - but it was not enough for the Knight. One gauntleted hand shot out and caught the bow a ringing blow on his cheek that swept him from his feet and sent him crashing back against the pavillion they had worked to assemble, knocking it over once more.
"Oh!" Syndra yelped as she cringed in sympathy at the blow. She pulled Trey close and looked up at the bigger boys, her eyes as big as saucers, wondering if they were going to intervene.
Ser Herys' bellow of rage at this attracted the attention of half the people in the meadow, it seemed.
Kenrith's jaw set and eyes hardened when he heard, more than saw, the man strike his squire with his gauntlet. He froze where he was, and looked around at the other banners. While he wanted to rush up and leap on the knight... he knew in his heart what it meant to be 11 and to attack an armored adult.
Godwyn looked back over his should as they walked away, thinking that while the knight looked mean he didn't look like the kind of blood-drinking monster he would expect to some from the Dreadfort. But when he struck his page with an armored hand Godwyn's eyes widened in shock. "He shouldn't do that, should he?" he asked his brother.
"No, most certainly not. You all stay with Rhys."
Rhys paused, taking his cue from Kenrith. His look said "if you want to get involved, I'm right there with you."
Kenrith looked over and up at Rhys, then shook his head for a moment. "Take them to see... something else. Maybe the bear," Kenrith said steadily.
He then turned and walked towards the tent of a knight with a particular banner. He did not run, but he moved with a purpose.
Soon he saw a rather shabby banner, and an elderly squire fussing around and making sure everything was well-organised. The banner was actually that of Ser Deryll Ryswell - or rather that of his father, Lord Ryswell of the Rills - a black horse's head, eyes and mane red, on bronze within a black engrailed border. Sewr Deryll had a reputation for favouring the underdog, and good naturedly accepting the teasing that resulted from his comrades.
There was no sign of him at present, but his squire had pursed lips as he glanced towards Ser Herys' tent, and then at Kenrith - it was hard to say which of them had irritated him.
"I need to speak with Ser Ryswell... where may I find him?" Kenrith said a trifle more hastily than he wanted to. He was both nervous and angry, and these factors gave his words speed.
The squire gave a sniff.
"How should I know? D'you think he tells me? Oh no, it's all "Set up the tent, Osric, tend to my horse, Osric, see my good are well-ordered, Osric - and mind you polish my armour. Not a word of where he might be going in case anyone should come to call. Oh dear me know."
He paused and considered Kenrith.
"You might look in the horse ring ... or where they're setting up. He's mindfyul to buy a new horse ... "
He glanced over Kenrith's shoulder to where Ser Herys' tent stood. "You be careful there," he suddenly said in an altered tone, his voice a little hushed. "That man's dangerous - and he had no business bringing the boy here. Anyone can see the choild#'s sick. Summer fever, I'll warrant."
Kenrith looked over his shoulder towards where the knight had struck his squire while he considered how long it would take him to run to the horse rings. A man might strike his squire... but killing him was still murder. Striking a sick young man in the head with a metal gauntlet hard enough to send him flying... was not acceptable.
The page boy was still lying on the ground, but Kenrith saw he was starting to move. He pulled himself up onto his hands and knees, and began to tug at the bedraggled canvas when suddenly he stopped, bent over, and vomited - which did not improve the appearance of the canvas at all.
This, apparently, was too much for Kenrith. Rather than ask the squire to fetch his lord, or go and find him himself, Kenrith turned on his heel and strode over to the squire on his knees as he withdrew his cloth. He would clean off the boy as best he could, then bring him to the Maester himself if he had to carry the lad. He was certainly skinny enough for young Kenrith to carry him. At least... this is what Kenrith intended to do if he wasn't stopped.
He reached the page, who was now making no attempt to get up, simply holding his stomach and groaning.
There were rags enough around to clean him off, but as Kenrith started to lift the boy, he heard another speak.
"Here - let me take him. You're heading for your Maester, yes?" It was the tow-headed Ser Deryll Ryswell. "Best not to handle him," he added. Best for you, at all events. If my squaire Osric is right, and this is summer fever, it's dangerous."
Kenrith looked relieved when he saw Ser Deryll, and carefully passed the limp and feverish boy over to him. "Yes, I was. Thank you for your help, Ser."
The boy groaned as he was hoisted on the strong young Knight's back. He did look very pale now.
"You're Lord Hardy's eldest, aren't you?" said Ser Deryll. "Lead the way, boy."
"Yes, Ser" Kenrith said as he moved ahead of Ser Deryll and back towards the castle, where he might find the Maester. He tried to part the crowd as he went, with his arms out to the side a bit, so that Ser Deryll wouldn't be bumped into as he carried the sick boy. At the same time, he kept his eyes open for the squire's knight.
A wriggle in the crowd, and Kenrith realised that Rhys had forced his way through to his side. A larger crowd was gathering now, murmuring, but they parted for Ser Deryll and his burden. There was no sign of Ser Herys.
"Which way now?" Ser Deryll asked as they came to the open gates of the Castle.
"Kenrith, what happened?" Rhys asked.
Just at the moment, Godwyn raced up, closely followed by his cousin Gavrin.
Rhys frowned at the two boys, but said nothing.
"Keep them back," said Ser Deryll briefly. The boy on his back groaned. "Not far now, lad," the young Knight said bracingly, before looking at Kenrith again.
"Kenrith?" Rhys asked again as he eyed the boy.
"What's wrong with him, Kenrith?" asked Godwyn. "Did the Dreadfort man kill him?"
"He was cuffed off his feet by a gauntlet, and may have the summer feaver on top of it. Gavrin, Godwyn... stay back. Rhys, where do you think the Maester is at this hour? His tower?" said Kenrith
Rhys nodded. "Looking over the tasks for the day would be my guess."
As he gave Rhys a moment to think, he turned to Godwyn and Gavrin. "You two run ahead to the tower. Just stay in front of us... no sense in you getting sick," Kenrith said. The two boys younger boys, he, and Rhys had already interacted with the child too much... sickness liked to hop, they said... and if they were unlucky, it would already have hopped to them. He hid his worry as best he could, but it was just dawning on him how bad this could be.
Kenrith saw by Rhy's expression that similar thoughts were running through his head. "Maester Sewell will want to see all of us," Rhys said to Kenrith. "Probably even Syndra and Trey."
"In winter, he'd hang for this..." Kenrith muttered angrily about the knight who had knowingly brought sickness into Holdfast.
"What's going on here?" A voice cut across the courtyard; Lady Hardy, dressed in her finest Summerfair clothing, was descending the flight of stairs from the Keep, two of her maids trailing her.
Lord Deryll looked looked beneath his burden. "A sick child, Ma'am. We're bringing him to your Maester."
Lady Hardy gave a little gasp and lifted her hand to her face, as though to protect it from the evils of illness.
"Is that really necessary? Surely there are Maesters at the Fair ... "
Godwyn, still standing too close and trying to get a good look at the sick page, made a rude sound at the display of cowardice and unconcern that woman exhibited. He looked at Gavrin and made a face.
Gavrin, less bold than his cousin, gave a taut, nervous grin in response.
Rhys had words he wanted to say to Lady Hardy, but they were innapropriate considering his rank, which was essentially nonexistent. He bit his tongue instead and glanced at Kenrith or the knight to speak on behalf of the page.
"If he does not see our Maester immediately, it would be just as if we had killed him ourselves," Kenrith said to his stepmother as politely as he could while essentially lecturing her.
Shortly after he spoke, he turned and glared at Godwyn. He was tempted to grab Godwyn by one ear and Gavrin by the other, but these were the hands which had helped to clean the page after he had thrown up. It would not do to touch them until he had scrubbed until his skin was raw.
Gavrin coloured, his lower lip jutting out slightly.
"What's this?" said Maester Sewell, hurrying across. "Someone injured? Someone hurt?"
"A boy sick," said Ser Deryll. "Do you have a private room where I can set him down?"
"The infirmary ... " began the Maester, moving to look at the boy - and then he stopped. For a long moment he was silent, resting his hand on the boy's forehead and then he said, almost hesitantly, "Yes. Yes ... we will make up a room in my Tower. This way, come."
Rhys swallowed visibly. It was indeed a serious illness if his great-uncle wanted to treat the boy in the Tower.
He moved towards the Tower, and then appeared to see Rhys and the others for the first time. He seemed about to speak - and then shook his head, turning instead to Lady Hardy.
"I'm afraid, my Lady, the Fair will have to be cancelled."
"Cancelled!" she said. "Because of a single sick child! Nonsense!"
Kenrith looked surprised, then asked "So he does have summer fever?"
"We've got to bring Syndra and Trey here," Rhys said in a low voice to Kenrith. "They've been exposed and they're exposing others. Can you send someone to go find them?"
"Is it really that serious?" Kenrith whispered back. He knew you could get disease from people who were sick or from the things of sick people, but Syndra and Trey were both healthy... surely they wouldn't make anyone sick until they'd fallen ill themselves, or so he reasoned.
"I think so. The Maester wants to take the boy to the Tower. That means it's serious," Rhys replied.
Godwyn was still trying to peer through the adults and older children to get a better view of the page. "Is he going to die?" he asked. "Why do we have to cancel the fair just because one boy got sick? That isn't Fair to everyone else!"
Gavrin giggled at his cousin's pun. "Yes," he said. "That isn't Fair!"
Lady Hardy turned and looked at him, her eyes narrowing, and Gavrin slowly went beet red.
"The children had best go to their rooms as a precaution," she said decisively. "But there is no need for the Fair itself to be closed - not when people have travelled such a distance, and have made such an effort."
Godwyn opened his mouth to protest being sent to his room, then glanced and his elder brother and thought better of it. The rebellious look on his face made it clear that he wasn't the least bit happy, however.
She turned to regard her elder stepson. "Kenrith, see that your brother and your cousins go to their rooms and stay there till I send."
Maester Sewell turned to his great nephew. "Go with them, Rhys." His expression was stern - clearly he would brook no argument.
Lady Hardy looked ready to protest - and then clearly thought better of it.
"Yessir," Rhys answered Sewell gravely, his gaze settling on the sick page.
Kenrith nodded and led the way to the rooms with his head held slack. He looked over his shoulder periodically, to make sure the other three were still there.
Gavrin pushed ahead of Godwyn for once in his anxiety to speak to Holdfast's heir.
"Kenrith," he said urgently, as they entered the keep. "What about Syndra and Trey?"
"I... they didn't go near the page, did they? I thought Syndra was taking care of Trey while you tried to help him, and later when I helped clean him up," Kenrith said as he paused in the corridor and looked from Gavrin to Rhys and back again.
"We were in contact with the page, and then we were in contact with Syndra and Trey," Rhys replied quietly. "I even put Trey on my shoulders. Please...ask my uncle. I think he'll agree with me."
Gavrin's lower lip was trembling, for all he wanted to be a proper boy, like his cousins.
"Please," he said, "Please ... Kenrith ... please send someone to get them."
Godwyn listened with wide eyes. "I don't understand," he said. "Are they going to get sick, too? Are we all going to get sick?"
"Not necessarily," Rhys replied as he tousled the boy's hair. "We'll probably be fine. You are the Lord's son, however, and so extra care is taken with you and Kenrith. Don't worry." There was a note of tension in his voice, however, that belied his reassuring words.
Kenrith simply nodded once. Rhys was the Maester's student, and he knew well enough to trust what he said when it came to medicine. It was said that he'd have his first link before too long, and that it would be silver... which Kenrith -thought- was -probably- healing. It was certainly what he -thought- they were talking about, at least...
He paused at a door and knocked sharply on it twice. Within were two young men who were at work cleaning out the fireplace. "Todd and Rhik, right? I need you to leave off this chore for a time... it is important. Rhik, go to the Maester's chambers in the tower. He'll say he wants no disturbances, but beg his pardon and tell him that I've sent for young Lady Syndra and Trey, for reasons he'll understand. Todd, you are to go find Syndra and Trey and tell them that it is very important that they both... Syndra and little Trey... return to their rooms right away. If they ask why, say Rhys and Kenrith feel it is of the -utmost urgency-".
As had happened only once or twice before when a matter of gravity had fallen on his young shoulders, Kenrith had taken on the mantle of responsibility as if he had borne its weight for years. He stared into the eyes of each man as he spoke, as if judging the heft of their souls in the meat of his palm as one would a hammer before a day's work with it. His voice was steady, his tone confident beyond his years. These moments were why they said the blood of the first men flowed through the Hardy line, and clearly that gravitas was with him today... if only for a few moments.
Todd and Rhik exchanged startled looks and then murmured, "Yes, sir," with a bow of their heads - something they would not usually have given.
"They were over by the bear pit!" Gavrin called as they hurried away to perform their new duties, leaving the cousins and Rhys to make their way up to their rooms.
They were housed in one of the towers. Kenrith and Godwyn shared a room on the second floor, next to the school/playroom that all the children shared, where the Maester occasionally taught them their letters, and where Lady Hardy banished the whenever they intruded too much on her notice. Gavrin slept in a smaller room a floor lower, next to the room his mother shared with Syndra and Trey. Trey was waiting for his fifth birthday, when he would be promoted to sharing Gavrin's bed. Gavrin was dreading it.
"Do we have to go to bed and be ill?" asked Gavrin worriedly.
"I'm sure you don't need to go to bed," Rhys answered him. "Just stay in your room for now and play." He looked around at the adults as he talked, taking in their reactions.
The door of Lady Godfrey's room opened, and she came out. "Back so soon?" she said. "Is something amiss?"
She noticed their grave faces and subdued manner and she frowned slightly. "Have you been misbehaving?"
And Rhys realised something that he had known and yet had not thought important until this moment - Lady Godfrey, Syndra, Gavrin and Trey's mother, was heavily pregnant - so pregnant that she had not left her room to go to the Fair.
"Lady Godfrey!" Rhys exclaimed. "Please...there's been an outbreak of summer fever at the Fair. We were exposed. Please return back to your room and shut the door! For your health!"
She gave a little gasp. "Summer fever? All of you?" Her eyes swept over them anxiously. "Where are Syndra and Trey?"
"They were feeding the bears," said Gavrin, his strain showing a little in his voice. "Someone's gone to get them. Mama ... "
"Gavrin and me are going to go play," Godwyn announced. "Come on Gavrin."
Normally Gavrin would have raced up the stairs, delighted for the treat, but today he followed slowly, looking back at his mother until they passed out of sight round the curve of the stairs.
Once the younger boys had gone, Lady Godfrey, who had not moved, said, "Tell me exactly what has happened, boys."
"Ser Herys Bolton brought his page to the fair sick. The page was having trouble setting up the tent, so some of us moved to help him. He refused any assistance... once I saw whose tent it was, I sent the others away. When Ser Herys saw that someone had offered to help his page... I guess he thought it was insulting. He backhanded the page with his gauntlet on... sent him flying three yards. I tried to find Ser Ryswell... Deryll Ryswell... to help, but he wasn't at his tent... that was when I saw him get hit, and Ser Bolton stalked off. The page started to throw up, and I thought he might have gotten the brain swell from his blow to the head, so I went over and helped to clean him up... but he was real sick. Ser Deryll showed up and carried him up to the castle... Rhys, Godwyn, and Gavrin saw some of this and came back over to help but I tried to keep Godwyn and Gavrin away... they'd already touched the page though, earlier when trying to help, so I guess the sick might have hopped to them then. They were over with Syndra and Trey, and it might have hopped from Godwyn or Gavrin to Syndra and Trey... Ser Deryll must have known something was wrong with his page, ma'am. He is just... a really, really bad man," Kenrith said while facing half away and placing a hand between his mouth and the lady. Once he had finished talking, he took a half step further back. His eyes were downcast and he was sniffling angrily... he'd heard tales of the summer fever, and he didn't want to be a cripple.
Lady Godfrey stood steady in the doorway under the torrent of words. When Kenrith finished she said, quite mildly, "Ser Herys is accounted a vicious man, but not a stupid one. I would think he did not know how sick the boy was - the summer fever, they say, comes on quickly." She gave a sudden shudder, as though she suddenly realised what she had said, and she folded her hands protectively across her belly.
The sudden sound of footsteps startled her, and she looked around as Syndra and Trey came running up the stairs.
"Mama! Mama!" shouted Trey, preparing to run to her as he always did.
Syndra's eyes were wide. "Mama, what's wrong? Is the baby coming?" she asked, breathing heavily from her run up the steps.
Kenrith turned towards the two, started to move then froze in place. "Syndra, catch Trey up! You both might've caught the page's fever."
Reflexively, Syndra reached out and caught Trey by the back of his shirt before he was too far ahead. She looked from Kenrith to her mother, confused.
Once they were away from the adults Godwyn stopped and looked at Gavrin. "They'll all be alright," he assured his friend. "I had a fever two years ago, I had to go to bed and I hurt all over and kept throwing up, but Maester Sewell made me all better."
"Sweeting, they think the page you saw earlier has summer fever," said Lady Godfrey, "and it's best you keep to your rooms for the moment. In fact - I think you should all stay on the upper floor together - there's a small room, isn't there, where the servants could make up a bed for you and Trey, Syndra?"
There was - a storeroom next to the room Kenrith and Godwyn shared.
"Yes, but Mama, we didn't go near the page," Syndra argued.
Kenrith looked to Rhys for an explanation, as he was the one who had convinced Kenrith of the possibility that well people could spread illness to others.
"We went near the page, though," Rhys replied to Syndra. "Then we went near you and Trey. It takes some time before you know you're going to get sick, but during that time, before you show the illness, you can get others sick. It may be that nothing will happen. It may be that we'll all get sick with summer fever. It may be that some of us get sick and some stay healthy. I don't know what will happen. Maester Sewell will undoubtedly know more."
"I shall have them come up to you," said Lady Godfrey. "And if you do get ill - which I'm sure you won't - I shall come to you at once." She tried to smile at Syndra. "Can you be very brave, sweetheart, and take care of your brothers for me?"
Syndra's blue eyes welled with tears. Mother wouldn't send them away unless something was VERY wrong. But Mother was also depending on her. She bit her lip and nodded bravely. "Yes, Mama," she whispered.
"There's my brave girl," said Lady Godfrey. She swayed a little on her feet, and then nodded to the children. "Go ... go now."
It was clear that standing there and talking with them was taxing her strength.
Rhys looked at Lady Godfrey with some alarm, then put a hand on Syndra's shoulder. "Come on, I'll take you upstairs. Take Trey's hand. I'll stay with you both so you won't be scared. It'll be fine."
Syndra did as she was told. As she led Trey away, she looked longingly back at her mother, then up at Rhys. As kind as he was, she didn't think he could make her not be scared.
Kenrith, too, was there as Syndra and Rhys moved. He hoped, inarticulately perhaps, that he was supportive as well. While he couldn't have put it into words, he knew that Syndra felt closer to Rhys than to himself, that she saw him as too harsh. He could have to deal with it, that was all.