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The first day dawned bright and fresh and clear ...

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.

Page last modified on December 14, 2005, at 07:55 PM