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In the armoury, Kenrith found Ser Godfrey being fitted for armour. His squire and the armourer were in attendance; a journeyman was setting out the portions of a second suit of armour, cureent polishing the greaves.

Ser Godfrey glanced at Kenrith. "Did you find any sign of the Maester?"

Kenrith glanced from one armorer to the other. He had no doubts about Ser Godfrey's squire's discretion, but the same might not be true of the journeyman. Still, one would be in dire straights if one couldn't trust one's own armorer, and the man would keep his apprentice from gossiping dangerously.

After he had taken in the room, he started to report while standing at attention. "We did find sign of him. It seems that his guards were ambushed, though Cleeve may have been in on it. Dobbin and Jonkers certainly weren't. But ultimately, who decided to betray the maester does not answer where he is."

"Wildings ambushed the ambushers, and made off with Merivel. From what signs we saw, he was alive and they intend to keep him that way. He had been allowed to rest for a time, and there were no indications he'd been seriously injured. We continued to follow the trail, but they were keeping watch on their own trail from the trees. In truth, one or two of them were able to turn us back with just a bow. Indigo was killed, and Jayne was wounded. Before they decided to try their luck with Tamlyn, I orderred the retreat," Kenrith said with a wooden face.

"I proposed we split up, and Ser Anders followed the trail of those who, as I interpret what we found, sought to kill or capture Merivel but who were not wildings. Cleeve left in their company, but they murderred him brutally," Kenrith concluded.

Ser Godfrey nodded slowly. "And what makes you convinced there were two groups - abushers and wildings? Wildings have been known to mount ambushes themselves, you know. And why do you suspect one of the guards was party to it? It's a serious charge to lay against a man who serves your House."

Kenrith nodded somewhat longer than usual while he collected his thoughts.

"Cleeve behaved strangely after finding Jonkers' body. He sent Dobbin back alone when, from Ser Anders description of his character, he does not seem the sort to go after the maester alone. His earlier behavior was also suspicious. If he was concerned enough with his charge to go after him alone in the woods after Jonkers was killed, he shouldn't have been lagging behind in the first place," Kenrith said.

If his Uncle seemed unfamiliar with Dobbin's tale of what had transpired on the road, he was prepared to back up and fill him in.

Whether his uncle had heard the tale or not, he asked Kenrith to tell it - perhaps because it was news, or perhaps to listen to Kenrith's interpretation.

Kenrith repeated the tale as well as he could remember it, and without adding his own comments.

"Also, I find it quite interesting that a cart useless in the forest was found along the road. One might suggest the Wildings had stolen it... but that would require them to get uncomfortably close to Holdfast, and would be useless down those trails at any rate. That suggests others were present at the site."

Kenrith continued somberly, "Finally, the tracks of the skirmish where we believe Merivel was finally taken, there were many horse tracks and the footprints of many men... from the road. The wildings approached from the woods, and were much better about concealing their tracks. If we hadn't had Tam and the hounds, I don't believe we could have tracked them."

Ser Godfrey frowned. "How many horses, and how many men? Remember, Ser Corryn's troop rode in this morning. Some of the tracks could have been theirs."

"Felix didn't mention turning off of the trail there, though they might have. I would have to ask Tamlyn to be sure, but I would guess half a dozen... which would include whatever the Maester was riding. That still leaves the cart, of course, and the additional men on foot."

"A man was wounded in the skirmish, by a wilding arrow, and carried off by two others. One was as large as Jayne, as Tam reckoned from the tracks. Cleeve helped to carry this wounded man, and the two trails diverged. This grouping left heavier prints, and Tam judged they were wearing mail. Anders has a better idea where that trail led, but when we met up he explained that it did lead back to the road rather than deeper into the woods," Kenrith said as he clenched his jaw.

"Whoever finally met up with Cleeve along that trail, though, was not happy with him. If I am right, he dealt with the wrong bunch, and they did him in for failing to produce the Maester. If I'm wrong, wildings may have found him in the end," Kenrith concluded.

"At all events, he's dead," said Ser Godfrey. "And we have a nest of viopers in the forest - perhaps two. If these are true Wildings, they'll melt away vbefore we come to take them. But if they're not true Wildings...

He drummed the heavy fingers of his gauntleted hands on the trestle close by him.

"Kenrith - was there any indicatiuon - any at all - that these men - the ambushers - might have been Boltons?"

"I pursued the wilding trail, so I can't say. It is possible," Kenrith said.

Ser Godfrey sighed.

"My instincts tell me that I should be in the saddle before dawn, hunting out this Wilding curse," he said bitterly. "Instead ... we have a tournament - to determine the innicence or guilt of Evan Tamm."

Kenrith sighed, and nodded.

"With your leave, I will ride with them when they leave. As for the other matter," Kenrith said before pausing. When he spoke again, it was in a lower voice, and half to himself. "I wonder if it has anything to do with other peculiarities I've mentioned. Since filling in for your brother, have you had time to examine the books with the steward?"

Ser Godfrey looked at Kenrith with one slightly raised eyebrow. "Strangely enough, no," he said. "My efforts have been taken up by what seemed more immediate dangers ... If you find yourself at leisure, feel free to have the Steward wait upon you ... if the presence of all our guests allows him the time too."

"My thanks, Uncle. I will be sure not to take up much of his time. If I learn anything, I will let you know. I fear... I will learn more than I wish to," Kenrith said with a bow.

"Perhaps," agreed Ser Godfrey, before his attention was reclaimed by the armourer.

Kenrith headed straight to the steward's office. He was probably quite busy preparing dinner and seeing to the guests, but it wouldn't hurt to check here first.

To do so, he needed to leave the armourer's tower and cross to the main part of the castle. In doing so, he saw Rhys talking to Sewell.

Rather than finding them later, he thought now as good a time as any to request their assistance in his investigation. 'Knights of the mind', and all of that. Besides... if Sewell was in on it, he wasn't going to figure it out himself.

Page last modified on August 17, 2006, at 02:59 PM