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In Quarantine at Holdfast

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For the next three days, the children were in quarantine, as the Fair carried on below them and then, on the final day, packed up.

Ser Herys Bolton's tent disappeared - presumably he had returned to the Dreadfort with his son's body. From their vantage point on the roof, Godwyn and Gavrin were able to see (with some difficulty) that Ser Deryll did well in the lists, although Ser Anders was one of the top jousters.

The next day, Syndra joined the boys on the roof, with Trey in tow. She didn't care how much Gavrin scowled about it. After her shoulders gave out from holding Trey on them, she dragged up a stool for him to stand on to see over the wall.

Godwyn expounded on length to her, in an only slightly condescending manner, on who all the contestants were, and offered criticisms of how they were fighting. Since it was hard to make out exactly what was happening at such a distance his analyses were as much creative interpretation as anything else, but he gave all his pronouncements on the fighting as solemn fact.

While the tourney was in operation, Kenrith was out on the roof trying to give it his best attention. He didn't talk about the tourney much, except occasionally to point out an especially sound hit or the toppling of a favorite. He was trying to give the joust his full attention... reasoning that he would have to watch closely if he wanted to be a champion some day.

(OOC - on the subject of tournaments and how people followed them, one thinks of TH White's remark in tThe Once and Future King that Sir Thomas Malory in The Morte d'Arthur was like some old gentleman, keen on cricket, who'd got hold of the old scorecards for obscure county matches and insisted on giving them to you in full.)

When she was not watching the tourney from the roof, Syndra cooked for the group and played games and told stories to Trey. She also asked that her sewing be left on the stairs for her so she might use it to pass the time.

Godwyn several times told Gavrin what a good wife Syndra would make for some man, with all her womanly accomplishments. Then he and Gavrin started trying to decide which of the knights fighting in the tourney would be the best match for Syndra….

Any such comments rendered within Syndra's earshot were greeted with a strange mix of delight and distaste. She also promised a punch in the nose for any suggestions of a knight who was not AT LEAST as capable in the field as her father.

Rhys spent the days studying the book Sewell left him on summer fevers. He watched the others closely, dreading to discover any of the symptoms his great-uncle mentioned. During the day, when not reading, Rhys played draughts and taught anyone interested a few of the games he learned as a lad in Dorne. At night, Rhys found sleep eluded him, and he paced and brooded.

When the light failed Rhys and he could no longer read for the day, and the tourneys and footlists had given way to the nightly rounds of celebration that the knights and footmen engaged in, Kenrith played games with Rhys. He was especially fond of games of strategy, although he had yet to develop any great skill with them. Patience was something which came to him in fits and starts, and he would often grow restless and make reckless moves.

He also tried to maintain his exercise regimen as best he could by doing push-ups and squats in the halls... at least until he heard Syndra muttering under her breath about 'smelly boys.' He was fairly sure he wasn't meant to hear the comment, but owing to the tight quarters he silently decided to give it a rest until the quarantine was lifted and they could all go about their normal business.

Apart from servants leaving food at the bottom of the stairs, their only visitor was Sewell, who spoke mostly with Rhys. On the second day he told his great nephew that, as her time was near, Lady Godfrey Hardy had moved from her own quarters to a special lying in chamber in the base of his tower. In fact, he would have moved her earlier, but she wished to stay close to her own children (even if forbidden to see them) for as long as possible.

That news made Syndra cry. Her place was with her mother during the babe's birth, not in a dark, boring tower with a bunch of stinky boys. She had been looking forward to helping. Her mother had promised that she could be the first to hold the new baby because, of course, she would someday be a mother too. She asked if anyone had sent word to her father at Winterfell.

She learned that word had indeed been sent, but it would be at least a week before her father could arrive (and that was if he was in residence; he had not been at the Fair because he had been travelling back from a visit to King's Landing).

On the third day, he told Rhys that one of the younger kitchen maids had been taken ill.

Syndra knew the maid well. The girl was only a little older than herself. She imagined the girl staring up with pleading eyes, unable to move or speak. Or swallow. Or breathe. She retreated hastily to the hearth to stir the stew, silent tears running down her cheeks.

After finishing speaking to Maester Sewell, Rhys noticed Syndra was upset. He brought a chair over and sat down next to the hearth. "Why are you crying, little one?" he asked softly. "Did the news of the kitchen maid upset you?"

Syndra nodded and stared into the fire with a lost look in her eyes. In a tiny, sad voice, she said, "It's here now. We're all gonna die."

He wiped her tears away with his thumb. "I won't tell you that some people won't die, for they likely will. But I will tell you that Maester Sewell is doing everything he can to make sure as few people get sick as possible. It's a hard time for you, Syndra, I know. I wish there was something I could do or say to help you not be afraid."

Rhys sat back and regarded her. "What do you do when you're afraid, like if you have a bad dream? Do you talk about it...or do you think about something else and try to forget about it...?"

Syndra looked Rhys up and down bashfully. She seemed to be studying him; considering something. Suddenly, she climbed into his lap and Rhys knew this was the first part of his answer. She nuzzled her head into his shoulder and for a moment, she didn't speak.

Rhys held her quietly and rested his cheek on the top of her head.

Finally, she said softly, "Father says if you finish the bad dream the way you want it to end, it won't be scary."

She paused, then added with a hint of pride, "An' he knows, 'cause Hardys aren't craven."

"No, the Hardys aren't craven," Rhys agreed, and Syndra could hear the smile in his voice. "So how does this end, little one?"

"Rhys... I wish I didn't have to interrupt. I've been trying to ignore it, hoping it was my imagination... but I don't feel well," Kenrith said.

Syndra sighed and gazed up at Kenrith sadly. "Like that," she answered Rhys as she climbed off his lap.

Indeed, [Kenrith's] brow was beading with sweat and he was leaning on one wall with his right arm as if he were having trouble keeping his balance. His shirt, too, was already drenched under the arms with sweat and his swallowing, perhaps psychosomatic at this point, was near-continuous as if he was worried he'd be having trouble swallowing at any moment.

Syndra fetched the kettle and hung it over the fire to boil water for the barley water the maester had recommended. She was determined to help Rhys take care of them all - while she could.

Rhys stared at Kenrith for the space of a few heartbeats, his eyes wide, then started talking all in a rush. "You need to go to bed. Godwyn...stay away from your brother for now. Syndra, you're boiling water, that's good. I have different medicines to give him. I also need to inform the maester. Kenrith, let me help you get to bed..."

Godwyn watched quietly from a corner, leaning against a wall. He frowned and shook his head, then pushed himself away from the wall, swaying unsteadily for a moment. Then he said, "Come on, Gavrin. Let's go play on the roof."

"All right," said his shadow eagerly. But as they went out of the room towards the central staircase, they heard a little voice calling from the other side - the room Syndra and Trey were sharing.

"Gavrin! Gav!"

"Trey," said Gavrin. "He always wants something. Well, Syndra can see to him," and he prepared to follow Godwyn up to the roof.

Godwyn hesitated for a moment, then said, "He's probably scared. We should tell him everything is all right." He turned and headed for the younger boy.

Trey was still in bed, looking forlornly over the blankets at them, although he was sitting up.

"Feel sick," he announced, and then to prove the point, he threw up all over the blankets.

Rhys assisted Kenrith to his bed, oblivious for the moment to the others, his attention focused on Kenrith. "Is your neck stiff? You keep swallowing...are you having problems with that?"

After climbing into bed, Kenrith replied "No, my swallowing is still okay... but I heard what the Maester said. I do feel rather stiff, though."

"It's the summer fever...but you knew that already, didn't you?" Rhys said. "Stay here, rest, and I'll be back with medicine." After glancing at Kenrith to make sure he was settled, Rhys headed back to the hearth.

"Yes," Kenrith said without looking from the spot on the ceiling.

Syndra checked on the water. Though it seemed to be heating up nicely, she noticed the fire was not keeping the chill off the room as it had been yesterday. "Must be getting colder out," she muttered under her breath with a shiver. She reached for another log, but as she was about to put it on the fire, it slipped from her grasp. Frustrated, she fished it away from the embers and tried again, this time with two hands.

This time she succeeded, but her arms felt heavy, and her head felt heavy and stupid too.

Syndra felt a cool hand touch her forehead. It was Rhys. "Time for bed for you too, little one," he said softly. "Come."

Syndra pulled away from his hand. "I'm fine," she argued irritably. "I just dropped the log is all."

"Trey's sick," Godwyn announced as he returned to the main room. He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned against the doorway for support.

Seeing a chance for escape, Syndra jumped up and trotted into the storeroom to comfort her little brother. From the main bedroom, the boys heard her disgusted moan. "Eeeeewwwww!"

"He's been sick," said Gavrin. He swallowed. "I'll take the blankets out and get fresh, Synnie. Will you get some water and wash him?"

Then he saw her face. "Synnie, are you sick too?" There was a sharp edge of fear in his voice.

"Nonsense," she said sharply, as if saying it would make it so. She touched his shoulder comfortingly. "Don't you worry. We'll be all right." Her voice was full of determination.

"Now, let's get him cleaned up," she ordered. "Check with Rhys about the blankets. I think we'll either have to burn them or send them down the privy shaft." She walked back to the main room for water deliberately, determined not to let Gavrin see any waver in her steps.

Rhys intercepted her there in the main room and knelt in front of her so he could look her in the eye. "Syndra, this is a serious matter. Pretending you're not sick will not make it go away. By continuing to work instead of resting, you weaken yourself even more. You will get sicker and take longer to get better than if you just rested like Kenrith."

"Look, I'll make you a deal," he continued. "I need your help getting Trey cleaned up and settled, and then you go to bed. Deal?"

As Rhys ended her ruse, Syndra's eyes started to tear up again, but she refused to let them spill over. In one last defiant effort, she said, "All right, but only if we can move the box bed in here. It's cold in the storeroom."

"All right," Rhys agreed as he stood up. He looked over at Gavrin and Godwyn. "How are you two feeling?" he asked.

"We're fine," Godwyn said. He bit his lip and stared sullenly at Rhys. "Take care of the sick babies, not us!" Then he turned and ran for the stairs to the roof, stumbling and falling as he reached the first step.

Gavrin looked from his friend to his sister, and then to Rhys. "I'm not ill," he said firmly - and he showed no sign of it. I'll ... I'll look after Godwyn ... Or move the bed. Or do the blankets for Trey ... "

He looked up at the older boy, his lower lip quivering under the pressure of so many conflicting demands. But his eyes were clear and healthy, and there was no sign of sickness about him.

"I'll do what you need," he assured Rhys.

Rhys eyed Godwyn, but decided to leave him be for now. He'd tackle the problem of Godwyn's ego later when everyone else was settled. With a little luck, Godwyn might change his mind by then.

"Thank you, Gavrin," Rhys smiled encouragingly at the boy. "Please bring out the bed for us and then find new blankets. Syndra, start cleaning up Trey. I will come help you after I've informed the maester of our situation."

Syndra filled the basin and brought it into the storeroom. On the way, she gave Gavrin a wide berth, hoping with all her heart that he could stay healthy. She was already kicking herself for touching him before.

In the storeroom, she knelt beside her fretful little brother and spoke to him soothingly as she pulled off the soiled covers and rolled them into a tight ball. She washed him down gently, trying to hide her fear about how warm he had become. The hardest part was hiding her tears when he called for Mama. Syndra wanted Mama, too.

Gavrin followed her into the store room, but stayed at some distance.

"Leave the blankets here, Synnie," he said. "I'll pull the bed easier without them. And then when I get it into the other room, you can curl up with Trey an' I'll find you more blankets." He was trying to speak reassuringly. "It will be all right, Synnie. You'll see. Rhys an' Godwyn an' I can look after you all."

Clearly he was not prepared to declare Godwyn ill until Godwyn was ready to say it himself.

Godwyn sat on the stairs for several minutes, his head bent, breathing heavily. Then he forced himself to his feet, and turned and began walking unsteadily towards the storeroom. "I can help, too," he insisted. "Just tell me what to do."

"Help me pull the bed through," said Gavrin, who had already taken a good deal of the weight on himself. "And then I 'spect Rhys will want you to look after Kenrith, 'cos he looks really bad, an' he'll probably feel better having you close."

Indeed, there was very little bed-pulling or pushing for Godwyn to do, so strenuous were Gavrin's efforts, and the bed was soon arranged in the main room. Trey was tossing and turning with fever, and continuing to ask for Mama at intervals.

"I'll find the blankets," said Gavrin to Rhys, and disappeared to check the storeroom.

Rhys had stopped at the top of the stairs to yell down to the servant below that Kenrith, Godwyn, Syndra, and Trey were all showing symptoms of the summer fever and to inform the maester.

He left the stairs to help Syndra finish attending to Trey. When Trey was clean once again, Gavrin had returned with clean blankets and in a few minutes both Syndra and Trey were in bed in their new location in the main room near the hearth.

Syndra settled into bed with Trey, along with her sewing, a wash basin, and two cups of barley water - one for each of them. Apparently, she had grudgingly accepted her fate. To Rhys, she asked, "When the Maester comes, could you ask him about Mama? Trey wants her." It was obvious from her eyes that Syndra wanted her as well, but she refused to say so.

Rhys nodded, understanding.

Those two settled, Rhys turned to Gavrin and Godwyn. His gaze settled on Godwyn. "You need to go to bed too. You're flushed with fever--I can see it from here."

"I'm not sick!" Godwyn insisted stubbornly. "And you can't tell me what to do!"

Gavrin, who'd been watching worriedly, said now, "But Kenrith's sick, and Rhys is going to need you to look after him, like I'm going to be looking after Synnie and Trey. I'm going to lie down here for a bit, so's I can watch them close till they feel better, and you can do the same with Kenrith."

He cast a swift look at Rhys, and then suited the word to the action, curling up next to Trey on the bed, his arm around him comfortingly.

"Gav, are you sure you should...?" Syndra asked her big brother worriedly.

Gavrin managed a grin, and said, "Just for a bit."

Rhys looked askance at Godwyn to see if he would follow Gavrin's example.

From down at the bottom of the stairs, a voice could be heard calling. "Dornish! Dornish! There's a message from the Maester for you!"

After casting a swift look over his charges, Rhys called over his shoulder, "I'm coming!" He walked to the top of the stairs. "What's the message?"

Godwyn hesitated for a moment, then walked to Kenrith's bed and looked at his brother with too-bright eyes. He didn't follow Gavrin's example of lying next to his brother, but he did sit down on the foot of the bed and continued watching his brother without saying anything.

Kenrith had heard the exchange from his spot in bed as he counted the cracks in the ceiling over and over. As Godwyn neared and took a seat, he half sat up and spoke in a voice which already sounded tired. "Godwyn... please listen to Rhys. We must muster our strength if we are to Hold Fast through this. Plague wishes to lay waste to our bodies... we must stand firm and hold our ground. The sickbed is our battlefield, and Rhys the general. He knows what he is about."

His small speech completed, Kenrith slumped back into the bed, although he could still see Godwyn's face from this position.

The servant at the foot of the stairs was Rhik. He waited till Rhys came sufficently down the stairs so that he could speak confidentially.

"Lady Godfrey has been confined - and Maester Sewell says there are complications. At the moment he dare not leave her. He tells you he will come as soon as he can, and in the mean-time follow the instructions he has given you."

Rhys passed a hand over his face and nodded.

"He says that if the fevers are starting now, they will not break for at least a day. If any of the children have difficulty moving, or lose feeling in their limbs, send him word. I'm to send old Sally from the kitchens to help tend them and after that I'll wait her at the foot of the stairs to carry any more messages."

Relief washed over Rhys's features at the mention of extra help. He nodded again.

He hesitated, and then said, "We lost a stable boy last night. And three children are sick in the village - but the fever has broken with four others."

"That's encouraging that some are surviving..." Rhys said, then trailed off lamely. Nothing really seemed encouraging to him right now. "Anything else? If not, then I really need to get back upstairs."

"No, Dornish," said Rhik, and he disappeared again.

So began one of the longest days of Rhys' life - and perhaps for the other children too (unless they fell into a feverish doze).

Once Gavrin was sure Godwyn was going to stay in bed, he slipped off of the folding bed and went to ask Rhys for instructions. And he proved invaluable at washing his siblings, changing their blankets, making hot barley drinks for all and coaxing people to drink them. He was surprisingly deft - unsure of himself at first, he gained in confidence under Rhys' tutelage. He was clearly still very worried about the others, but willing and biddable to do all he could.

Rhys encouraged Gavrin and made sure he knew what a help he was. He also kept an eye on Gavrin, looking for signs of fever.

Trey remained weak and grizzly all day. He was sick twice more in the morning - but after that he fell into a fretful doze, pressing tightly against his sister.

Syndra sat up in the bed and worked on her sewing, talking with Gavrin and the others as conversations arose. She found herself smiling proudly at her usually-indecisive older brother as he became quite competent at caring for the rest of them. She even commented to him that perhaps he should be a maester instead of a knight when he was a man grown.

As the shivers began to take over, Syndra retreated under the covers, working on her embroidery while laying back on the pillows. In time, though, her hands were shaking so badly that she couldn't make a clean stitch. She set her work aside, snuggled up with Trey, and dozed off.

Old Sally, when she came, proved to be a withered crone of some seventy years. In that time she had grown to be a competent nurse, even if at times her strength was unequal to the tasks. But she could give descriptions of what Rhys and Gavrin must do, and it seemed as though things were somewhat easier to manage - if not less worrying - now she was present.

The only disadvantage to her presence was that she took a singularly gloomy view of the situation. Every time she stirred the pot of barley drink, it seemed, she had a direful anecdote to share about someone who had looked just like one of the children, who had been struck by the summer fever (or something very like it) and how had died the very next morn.

Rhys, temper kept in check for the moment but showing signs of slipping, politely asked her if she had any happy stories to tell the children.

During the afternoon, Rhys took up a position near the top of the stairs and stared downward, waiting for the maester to come. When he could no longer stand to sit any longer, he wandered from child to child, checking fevers, refilling mugs of barley water, and asking if it hurt to move. Every once in awhile Rhys would stretch and feel his own forehead.

Kenrith, for his part, tried to remain social and to keep up everyone's spirits as best he could while his temper held, but he soon found himself becoming increasingly fatigued. Between doseings with Rhys and Old Sally's bitter medicines, which he took with a certain grim stoicism so profound it said volumes about the taste, he slept fitfully.

Eventually, his answer to Rhys' endless questioning about whether it hurt to move became "yes" from earlier "no's".

Rhys only nodded at Kenrith's response. There was nothing else to say. He squeezed Kenrith's shoulder, then left to tell Rhik the news.

After Kenrith's reply that it did hurt to move, when he believed Godwyn in particular to be asleep, he spoke to Rhys very quietly while he was making his rounds.

"Rhys... if this is going to be the death of me, if you or Maester Sewell feel I have no chance of recovering at some point... I wish to be brought out to the Grove to die. They can haul me in one of the blankets, by poles, so that they don't take ill... and after, my body can be burned in the clearing. Please... promise me you'll tell the Maester... when... he shakes his head." Although softly spoken, the words carried with them the fire Kenrith had shown earlier in the day when it had come time to send for Syndra and Trey. It seems that this, his end and how he wished to meet it, had been what Kenrith had thought of through his hours of staring at the ceiling.

"Seven Gods, Kenrith..." Rhys swore, his eyes wide as he stared back at his friend. He suddenly looked lost and afraid, more like the child he used to be rather than the man he was becoming. "You're not...die..." His eyes suddenly bright with unshed tears, Rhys looked down at his lap, blinking. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment, then swallowed. "This has been...hard...of course I'll tell the Maester."

The day drew on, the morning becoming afternoon, becoming evening - and even when the sun set to end the long Northern evening, Sewell had not come.

Instead Trey woke from his half-doze and began to whimper for his mother again.

Trey's whimpering woke Syndra from her nap. Wakefulness brought with it queasiness and she called for Gavrin to fetch the chamberpot - quick!

Running on mostly nervous energy by the end of the day, Rhys jumped from his spot at the top of the stairs, grabbed the chamber pot before Gavrin could move, then brought it to Syndra...

...Who promptly put it to use. When she was done, she limply reached for the rag in the wash basin to clean the remnants out of her long hair. The effort was greater than she expected and suddenly she was tired of being brave. She collapsed onto her pillow in tears, crying, "I want Mama! I want Septa Annice. I wanna go home!"

Godwyn woke, and lay quietly, staring at the ceiling. He refused to cry, no matter how much his head hurt or how dry his throat was. He pushed the covers off him, overcome by heat, then pulled them back on as the chills came. Then off again, and then back on. And again. And again.

For Syndra and Godwyn, it was all the misery of a fever - hot, cold and sickness. But in addition to the miseries of fever, Kenrith was aware of a numbness - a tingling in his toes and fingers that was followed by a feeling of deadness.

And Trey, supported in Gavrin's arms, muttered something. Gavrin looked up at Rhys, his face suddenly white, and shocked.

"Rhys ... Trey says his legs are heavy. He can't move them!"

The little boy's head was resting on his brother's shoulder. He lifted it slowly, as though it was very heavy, and looked at Rhys with great sad eyes.

"Mama!" he said.

At Gavrin's words, Syndra rolled over with a loud, wet sniffle, her own problems placed in check by fear for her brother. She stroked Trey's sweat-dampened hair out of his eyes and put on a calm smile for his sake.

"Mama's still havin' a baby, sweet one. Me and Gav are here. We won't leave you," she cooed maternally as she kissed his brow. "I promise." She nuzzled in beside him, taking comfort from Gavrin's closeness as well.

Kenrith heard the suffering child, and decided a short walk over to comfort Trey would be alright. He tried to sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed, but quickly learned that his legs were dead floppy things which didn't obey his wishes in this matter. He bit his lip and sought to stifle sobbing borne of frustration. He could steel himself and bravely discuss his own death... but to have his body betray his will, that was almost too much to bear. All he could do was keep himself quiet, and work on his labored breathing.

Godwyn woke from his fevered sleep, the dream images still clouding his mind. The Seven had come bearing axes and torches, even the sweet Maiden, trying to cut down and burn the heart trees of the old Northern gods. He heard the voices in the room, but he closed his eyes again, refusing to wake from the terror of his dream to the horror of reality.

Rhys stared at Trey, his face pale. He thought about telling Gavrin to lay Trey back down, that it might be easier for him to breathe prone, then thought that Trey would probably be less frightened held by his older brother. He couldn't make up his mind, and the indecision showed clearly on his face. This situation was rapidly becoming too much for him to handle.

He turned and shouted down the stairs at Rhik. "We need Maester Sewell now! Kenrith is having problems moving, and Trey can't move his legs!" He looked helplessly over at Old Sally.

There was the sound of running feet clattering down the hall. Obviously, Rhik was taking Rhys' words seriously.

Old Sally looked at Trey and shook her head dolefully. But then, she had been shaking her head dolefully all day. Surely it meant nothing more?

It seemed that the minutes crawled before Rhys heard Sewell's step on the stairs. Even before he saw him, he knew his great-uncle was weary ...

And Sewell looked to have aged about ten years.

He nodded at Rhys as he came in, and moved at once to examine the children - starting with Trey, but spending longest with Kenrith. He finished with Trey again, and when he stood up, he seemed wearier than before.

"Rhys, we need to talk," he said, and then smiled at Gavrin. "Can we leave you in charge for a few minutes? We must not strain your sister at the moment."

Gavrin nodded his dark head solemnly. "Trey ... Trey will be all right, won't he?" he asked uncertainly.

"That is in the hands of the Seven," said Sewell gently. And then he led Rhys aside into the storeroom.

"Rhys," he said, "I cannot stay. Lady Morna has lost her babe - we may lose her too. It will take all my skill ... but skill may prevail. Whereas here ... there is nothing that skill can do."

Rhys's face fell and he looked down at his feet. He wasn't greatly surprised at what his great-uncle had to say--he'd read the texts Sewell gave him about the summer fever--but to hear it said so bluntly...then the news about the children's mother sank in. He quickly looked back up. "Does Lady Morna have the fever as well?"

"There is good news," he continued. "Godwyn and Syndra - they have the milder form of the fever. It will actually protect them from the worse form - as a winter cold may guard against a winter fever. They will be wretchedly ill, but will recover in a few days. But Trey and Kenrith ... in either case, it would take a miracle.

Rhys stared back at Sewell, stricken.

"Pray to the Seven, Rhys. And take this."

He held out a small black phial.

"It is syrup of poppies, and it causes a deep, heavy sleep."

Rhys took the phial numbly [as Sewell continued].

"When they are completely paralysed and you believe even the power of swallowing is being lost, give them this while they can still take it. It will ease the path to death."

He looked at his great nephew with pity. "It will not be long, Rhys."

"Oh, Gods..." Rhys's face paled and he started to shake. He clasped the phial tightly and hugged himself but the shaking continued uncontrollably. "Kenrith w-w-wanted to die in the Grove. He told me to t-t-tell you that. Should I take him out there? How long...? When do I...? What about...?"

Sewell hesitated. Then he nodded slowly. "I'll send men to help you - when the time comes. If he wants to face his death like a man, I'll not deny that right. His father has gone now ... Lady Celia insisted he took her away, lest she caught the fever too. But Kenrith is his worthy heir ... he should be granted his wish."

He was silent for a moment, considering. "Trey is younger ... I think it will be swifter with him. Then Kenrith ... you will want to take him before he becomes wholly insensible, I think."

He reached out and land a hand on Rhys' shoulder. "This is a hard burden to lay on you, my nephew. If I could send anyone else, I would. But the fever has taken hold in the village now too ...

"I must go. But I will arrange for other men to be ready to help when you need."

Rhys nodded as he looked back down at the ground. He wiped at his face and sniffled. "II'll take of things here. Go where you're needed."

"Thank you," said Sewell, and then he was gone, leaving Rhys to return to the main room ... and the five children who were awaiting him.

Gavrin came to meet him as soon as he entered the room.

"What did he say?" he asked, in what he clearly believed to be an undertone. "Did he give you medicine for Trey ... and everyone?"

Rhys gripped the phial harder. "Of a sort," he said quietly.

Once Rhys looked past Gavrin, he noticed Syndra was no longer in her bed. Instead, she was gingerly picking her way along edge of the big boys' bed to Kenrith's side. A quick guilty look crossed her flushed face when she was spotted, replaced by a determined rise of her chin.

"I've gotta ask Kenrith something," she responded before any questions were even asked.

Rhys paused, then nodded and turned away to attend to Trey, giving Syndra and Kenrith their privacy.

"Yes?" Kenrith asked from his bed. He hadn't even turned his head to look towards her, but his eyes were looking towards where she spoke from.

She sat beside him on the bed, mainly because she was too weak to remain standing. She looked around at the others a little self-consciously, then leaned in close to Kenrith and spoke as if he were the wisest person in the North. "The Maester forgot," she said softly. "The Hardys don't pray to the Seven. But can the old gods still hear us if we can't go to the godswood?" She bit her lip hopefully as she awaited his answer.

Kenrith smiled from his pillows and said "We do not go to the godswood so that the gods may hear us, dear cousin... we go to the godswood so that -we- may hear -them-. Our fate is written in our blood and in our bones... all that we can hope, and pray, for is the wisdom and strength... to Hold Fast before whatever may come."

Syndra thought on that a moment, then nodded resolutely. She rose and planted a quick, bashful kiss on his forehead. "I'll pray that for you and Trey, then. And for the rest of us, too," she declared. Then she tottered back to her own bed, trying to ignore the way the room tilted at odd angles as she walked.

Kenrith smiled until Syndra shouldn't be able to see his face, then it returned to the stoic mask he had borne before speaking with her. He focused on his breathing, which was becoming more challenging as time passed.

Rhys watched her surreptitiously from the corner of his eye as he attended to Trey but didn't interfere. He let her climb back into bed then reached over and pulled the blankets back over her. "You're going to be fine, the Maester told me," he told her in a soft voice. "Sick for a few days, then fine."

Syndra grinned and hugged her little brother. "You hear that, baby? We're gonna be fine." She wiggled her arm under his head and pulled him close so he could rest his head on her shoulder.

Rhys stood back, gazing despairingly at Syndra and her two brothers, heavy with the knowledge from the Maester that Trey likely wouldn't live and struggling with whether or not to burden them with it. But Syndra looked happy, for the first time since this all began, and Rhys couldn't bear to change that. He bit his lip and turned away, back to the fire to heat more water.

Kenrith didn't wince, but he did pinch his eyes closed and bite his lip. He thought he knew what Rhys had actually meant...

During the upcoming hours Rhys focused most of his attention on Kenrith and Trey, watching for any progression of paralysis.

Kenrith was slowly growing weaker as time passed, and he obviously knew it. "You can do this Rhys..." was all that he said on the matter, however.

Rhys glanced at Godwyn next to him, then back to Kenrith. "Godwyn is going to be fine too, the Maester said." Rhys paused, wondering whether to continue, but this was Kenrith, this was the heir, and he deserved to to know the truth like a man and not be protected like a child. Rhys lowered his voice. "You have a stronger sickness," he continued, barely above a whisper. "Maester Sewell said you could go to the Grove when...if...that time comes." He took the younger boy's hand in his own. "There is still hope, Kenrith. Never forget that. As long as you can breathe, you will live."

Kenrith's reply was just as quiet "I know that my gods have already decided my fate... but I do not presume to know what it is. I understand..." Kenrith said before a coughing jag momentarily silenced him.

Rhys dropped his hand.

"I understand how serious this is. You can do this Rhys... just a few days more, I think, one way or the other." His voice did not sound forlorn, simply resigned to take what came.

A disbelieving smile crept over Rhys's face. "You're the one sick and yet you're comforting me?" The smile grew as Rhys shook his head. "You'll be a good Lord someday, Kenrith."

At this, he did smile. ~What else do I have to do,~ Kenrith thought to himself.

Godwyn lay quietly with his eyes closed, listening to Rhys and Kenrith talk. In his fever the words ran together...

"... going to be fine ... a stronger sickness ... go to the Grove ... Kenrith ... never forget ... breathe ... live ... gods have already decided ... do not presume ... understand..."

The words grew fainter and the sense left them as Godwyn slipped once more into unconsciousness, the face of the heart tree appearing in the swirling light behind his eyelids, its dark eyes watching him and its lips moving...

"You can do this ... one way or the other ... Lord ... Kenrith ..."

Rhys stared at Godwyn, his eyes wide, then looked back at Kenrith.

Not receiving a reaction from Kenrith to his brother's fevered words and feeling rather spooked by them, Rhys left the brothers and retreated to the main room to check on Trey again.

Godwyn's dream continued in The Difference Between Living and Dying

Godwyn and Syndra both seemed to have fallen into feverish sleep. At first Rhys thought that Trey had too, but when he moved to look at his sister, Trey's huge dark eyes opened and fastened on Rhys' face. He swallowed, and his lips parted as though he might say something, but nothing came out - and Rhys saw a flash of fear in his eyes.

"Trey?" said Gavrin, gazing down at him fearfully. "Trey ... what's wrong?"

But the little boy, seemingly unable to move his head, continued to stare up at Rhys.

Rhys laid his hand on the boy's chest and talked to him softly. "Trey...can you blink?"

Trey stared up at him for so long that it seemed he was prehaps unable to move at all. Thern, very slowly, his eyes began to close. Lower and lower the eyelids sank, until his dark eyelashes formerd two perfect hemispheres on his cheeks. Then he began to struggle to open his eyes again ... until they were half-open. And there, as though the ffort of will was too much, they stopped.

Beneath Rhys' hands, he could feel the slow surge of muscles as Trey breathed in ... and out ... and in ...

Gavrin looked up from his brother to Rhys anxiously.

Rhys fumbled at the pocket where he'd put the phial. "Gavrin, be strong for your brother," he told the young boy in as calm a voice as he could muster. "Hold his hand so he knows you're near. Talk to him."

Rhys opened the phial and dribbled some of the liquid into the corner of Trey's mouth. "Try to swallow, Trey," he coaxed the toddler, stroking his throat downward.

Trey struggled for a time - and then suddnely gave a convulsive swallow that made him cough. Exhausted, he lay back, his eyes a little wider now, still staring at Rhys.

"What was that?" asked Gavrin. "Was it medicine? Should you wake Syndra up and give her some too?"

Trey's eyes were slowly beginning to close again.

Rhys looked up from Trey. "It's syrup of poppies," he explained, his voice very soft. "Syndra will be all right. Trey has a stronger sickness than her. The paralysis from the stronger sickness started in his legs, then moved up. When it reaches the lungs, he won't be able to breathe anymore, and he'll...die. Maester Sewell told me to give Trey the poppies if the sickness got that high. The poppies will make Trey sleepy and he'll just fall asleep, rather than go through the panic of not being able to breathe. No, I shouldn't give any to Syndra."

Gavrin gazed at Rhys in horror for a moment, and then turned his face away, to bury it into the pillows next to Trey's little head. The younger boy's eyes were slowly closing now as the drugged sleep took him, and his chest seemed to be rising more slowly - although it was hard to tell whether that was syrup of poppies or the encroaching paralysis.

"Hmm?" Syndra murmured, hearing her name through the fevered fog. She immediately dropped back to sleep.

The dream came on quickly. Syndra awoke in the tower room. She was better, but all the boys were on the floor or in their beds, stiff as logs. Dead. Frightened, she ran to the window to call for help. She arrived just in time to see an owl rip apart the raven with the message to her father. "No!" she wailed. "He won't know! He won't come!" She ran down the tower stairs two at a time to tell the Maester to send another raven. Rhik was dead at the bottom of the stairs. She jumped over him and found the Maester - also dead in his tower, beside her mother. She and the babe were both dead.

Syndra ran terrified through the castle, crying. All the servants, all the stablehands, all the men-at-arms, Uncle Oswain, Septa Annice - everyone Syndra saw was lying on the floor, stiff with the summer fever's paralysis.

"Girl! You, the Hardy girl!" The wicked voice startled Syndra and she spun around. Lady Celia was dressed in mourning black and pointed a crooked finger at her. Of all people not to be dead, Syndra thought.

"Lady Celia, please! Everyone..."

"OUT!" Lady Celia shouted at her. "OUT! NOW!" Syndra felt herself being drawn backward and she was as helpless to stop it as all the corpses in the courtyard. She was drawn through the gates and the portcullis slammed down behind her with a hollow clang.

She stood barefoot in ankle-deep snow, wondering how there could be snow if everyone died of summer fever, when she heard a horse wicker behind her. She turned. Ser Corryn's horse! He'd help her. She knew he would. The horse bobbed its nose up at the castle wall, as if pointing at something.

Syndra looked up. His head was there on a pike, sandy hair drifting on the breeze. Syndra fell to her knees in the snow, screaming hysterically. She couldn't breathe... she couldn't...

She cried out in her sleep - and woke up sobbing.

And felt Gavrin's arms around her, holding her tight.

"Synnie," he whispered. "Synnie ... you have to say goodbye to Trey."

"Huh?" Syndra was confused. Where was she? Where was Trey going? She tried to clear her head but it was so hard - so foggy. There was snow and... they were dead, but no - Gavrin was here, alive, and Rhys and Tr...

She turned to look at her baby brother and her heart stopped cold. He was pale and his lips were! She looked up at Rhys desperately. "But...but..." was all she could say as her eyes filled with tears.

Rhys looked away.

She scooped Trey into her arms and grabbed Gavrin's wrist as well. She struggled to speak through sobs and sniffles. "Baby? It's all right....It'll be...*sniff*... like the fair... there'll be *sniff* bears... you can feed. And... *sniff* ...the gods ...*sniff* ...'ll take you to find Mama ... they'll help you...*sniff* ...just like Kenrith said...."

She could go no further. She buried her face between Trey's little head and her own shoulder and wept.

From his bed, Kenrith quietly wept along.

Rhys stood nearby, watching quietly and clutching the phial, tears running down his cheeks. What was there to say? Nothing. He said nothing.

Trey's eyes were closed now. Rhys could see, although Gavrin and Syndra between them were holding their little brother protectively, the final struggle as his chest rose and fell in a desperate effort to breathe even as the paralysis settled on those muscles too.

And then the struggle was over. A last sigh, and Trey was still, and as peaceful as though he had fallen asleep after a good night story, to dream of his adventures at the Fair.

But Kenrith was still alive ... if weakening fast. If Rhys was to meet his request, there was no time to waste.

Rhys called downstairs to Rhik. "It's time! We need to take Kenrith to the Grove!"

There was the sound of hasty footsteps on the stairs, and then Rhik came into view.

"How many men will you need, Dornish?" he asked.

Old Sally was moving to heat water over the fire, shaking her head sadly. Her role, it was clear, would be to prepare Trey's body for interrment.

"Only enough to carry a litter," Rhys replied. "I can help carry."

Rhik nodded. "It's prepared. It should take me no more than a few minutes to fetch. And there are four of the guards - they drew lots for the honour. His father ... ordered that all should be done that could, before he left with his Lady."

Rhys saw, from the look that the serving man give to where Kenrith lay on his bed, that this loss would hurt the whole castle.

"What of his brother?" asked Rhik. "He looks bad too ... "

Rhys shook his head. "The Maester said he'd be fine in time. Godwyn can stay here."

The serving man nodded and departed, leaving Rhys to make any arrangments he considered necessary.

Rhys gathered extra blankets to make sure Kenrith would be warm, snagging one for himself. He replaced the phial in his pocket.

"Kenrith, the men are coming to take you to your Grove," Rhys informed him, taking a moment to assess Kenrith's condition again. "I'll go with you," he added.

During the preparations for Kenrith, Rhys stole occasional looks at Syndra and Gavrin as they sat together near the fire, wanting to offer comfort to them but having no good idea what to say. He couldn't bring himself to look at Old Sally attending to the lifeless form of Trey.

Some ten minutes later, the heavy tread of armed men was heard on the stairs, and then they entered with a small but servicable litter that would convey Holdfast's heir to the weirwood.

Kenrith had already wiped the tears of Trey's passing from his eyes by carefully turning his neck and daubing them onto the pillows. It was a lengthy chore, but he would not let the men who would bear him to his final living communion with the old gods see him in tears... they might think that he had shed them on his own behalf. Perhaps he had, in part... but he would never want it thought that it was so.

Rhys picked up Kenrith and placed him in the litter himself, not wanting to expose any more people than necessary to Kenrith's sickness, then covered him with blankets. He threw one over his own shoulders then nodded to the men.

Kenrith continued in In The Grove and Syndra in The Difference Between Living and Dying

Categories: WinterChillsGameLogs, CastleHoldfast

Page last modified on February 15, 2006, at 12:18 AM