After his interview with Lord Draupaud, Merivel walked slowly through the corridors of the castle, lost in thought, for about five minutes.
And then he stopped, raised his head and blinked his eyes, and then nodded to himself. Merivel began walking faster, until he found himself outside the guardroom.
"Is Ser Tomas about?" Merivel asked the first guard that he met.
"I believe he's in his own private rooms, Maester," said the servitor, who was the helpful sort of lad who would supply directions if Merivel needed them.
"Well, young man, if you could be so kind as to tell me where that is. I've never needed to visit him there before now." Merivel admitted. He listened intently to the boy's answer, thanked him, and set out again, with the boy's instructions in mind, for Tomas' quarters.
Once he reached the indicated door, he knocked at it hopefully.
"Come in!" called the voice of the Master at Arms. When Tomas Prinksett saw who it was, he looked a little startled.
"Maester! Will you take a seat? May I get you a cup of snow wine?"
"A cup of wine." Merivel agreed with a nod, taking a seat and waiting for Tomas to fetch the cup. He grasped the cup with two hands, but did not drink from it, as he waited for Tomas to settle himself.
When he was assured his guest was settled, he looked at him with some curiousity, clearly wondering what had occasioned the visit.
"Tomas. I need to speak with you." Merivel paused and regarded Tomas.
"Its about the Lady."
Ser Tomas' s face took on a guarded look. "Yes," he said slowly. "The Lady."
Merivel sighs. "I am in a professional quandry, and you have been here longer than I. I feel at a loss from what I see of the Lady's health, and our Lord's relation to it."
"What can you tell me of the history of her...ailments. I am not looking for a medical point of view, but what you, as someone who has been here, has seen." Merivel asked, and then took a sip of the snow wine.
Ser Tomas sighed. "There are things you should know, Maester Merivel and things that are hard for me to say, as sworn man to Ser Steffan. Do you understand?
"The Lady ... it was not a love match ... It was not even the usual contract between Houses for their mutual benefit. To put it bluntly, Maester, the Lady was a spoil of war. She was at King's Landing when it was sacked - she was Lady-in-Waiting to the Princess Elia. She played with those children. What she saw in the Sack ... what she underwent ... "
He sighed and shook his head.
"When she first came to Clearwater, she could not speak. She shook like a whipped dog if one so much as spoke to her. The women ... they coaxed her. It took two years, but she stopped shivering at a footfall, and something of the fear went out of her eyes ... "
He hesitated, and then spoke. "You must understand. My Lord is not a cruel man. Not an unfeeling man. But ... they bound him to this woman. She is his wife - if he was to have an heir, it must be an heir of her body.
"He waited. Nigh on three years he waited. And it did seem that ... that she was much improved. Sometimes ... she would dine with him - with just a few of us as well. She even smiled at him once or twice - I saw it myself. He was as gentle and patient as though taming a wild thing. And at last, he judged the time was right."
The older man paused and lowered his head into his hands.
"Her screams ... they could have pulled the dead from their graves."
Merivel listened quietly as Tomas explained the history of the Lady and the Lord. He nodded at a few points, and took a couple of sips of wine as Tomas spun out his story.
Finally, he looked up at Tomas.
"I...hadn't heard this side of the story." he admitted. "No one, when I came here, told me this." Merivel said. "It...makes a difference. A large one."
"She's...been like that, since?" Merivel asked.
"Afterwards the Maester treated her with syrup of poppy," said Tomas Prinksett. "He said ... her mind needed time to rest and heal. But, of course, she was a child. When he realised ... he stopped the syrup. But by then it was too late. Ranulf was born weak, and did not thrive. And she ... would not look at him, still less nurse him. When they brought the babe to her - she said they had taken her own sweet boy and given her a changeling in its place."
He spoke heavily. Ranulf, Lord Steffan's only child, was known to be an undersized weakling who was kept mostly to his room, for any activity seemed to exhaust him, and he seemed prey to every illness that was abroad.
"That makes sense." Merivel replied unhappily. "The syrup went from the mother to the son. I have rarely seen him depart his quarters, and even then, only at need."
"And so she remains today." Merivel continued and ran a hand through his hair. "And so I now stand on the edge of a knife, but at least the blade is clearer."
Ser Tomas nodded grimly. "As time goes on, I believe she grows worse, not better. And the old Maester ... he was increasing the doses. That concerned me."
"I'm still only a novice, and not worthy of the title." Merivel responded, with a self depreciating smile. "It concerns me, to see what she is like now, both when she is taking her dose...and when she is not." Merivel admitted.
Ser Tomas nodded. "And it hurts my Lord as well, this state of affairs. It twists him from the true, even as ... " He was silent suddenly and then asked, with a clear effort tochange the subject, "So, do you know of other drugs that might be efficacious?"
Merivel took a swallow of the wine before answering.
"Several, although they border on the dangerous. I may only be a novice, Tomas, but I've had long experience with dangerous drugs. While they can be useful in small and controlled doses, in any other, they are poisons."
"I do not know, however, how free a hand the Lord will give me to treat the Lady. I don't think much of one at all, however."
Ser Tomas was silent. Finally he said, "You have a raven of your own, I believe. Do you find it a good companion?"
It was a clear attempt to change the subject and, in the way, perhaps answered Merivel without words.
Merivel bit his lip.
"My apologies, Ser Tomas." he said after a moment. "I did not mean to discomfort you with my probity."
He paused a beat and then added.
"Yes, yes I do."
Ser Tomas, smiled, a little grimly. "Then you have succeeded. But I have had longer to observe the situation than you, and I will say this - my Lord is married to a woman who is as good as dead - for she gives him none of the solace or companionship or joy that a marriage is meant to bring. He is a stranger here, and although he rules well and fairly, the smallfolk look at him and fear him, not least because his own wife is so terrified of him - to the point of madness, as they see it. And for her part - do you think she wishes to continue her miserable existence? We saw her feelings today, did we not?"
"Possibly so, although I don't want to make any rash judgements on the events of the day, without serious reflection. I don't want to." he regarded Tomas "do anything rash, at all. This is a case where knowledge and reflection must and shall preceed any action, or decision not to act, on my part." Merivel finished.
"Which is why I came to seek you." Merivel finished.
Ser Tomas lifted a dark eyebrow. "And has finding me brought you any answers? Or simply made the answers harder to give?"
"It's complicated the situation further." Merivel admitted. "Not that it was simple to begin with, of course. You've given me much to think about."
Merivel paused and then added "And now I must go. I thank you for your time, Tomas."
He rose and offered him the drained cup and after any words from Tomas, left.
The Master of Arms watched him leave without speaking, his eyes dark and brooding.