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The Holdfast dungeons had been designed along traditional lines. Dark. Dank. the occasional rat - and a variety of unpleasant insects. There were worse dungeons, no doubt - certainly the ones at the Dreadfort.

But these were clearly designed to make sure that prisoners were rather more uncomfortable inside the dungeon than they would have been outside and - as people could choose (or be forced to choose) some extremely uncomfortable places to lay their heads, some perverse artistry had gone into ensuring that the dungeons at Holdfast were worse.

There was no brutality in their handling. The cells were aranged a central spoke (which contained the stairrcase). Evan, Donnell and Volf were escorted into separate cells, wildly spaced.

Some time later, Evan heard activity outside the cell.

"This is it," the guard said, fumbling for his keys. In a moment, the lock was unfastened, and he slowly opened the door ...

Syndra reached over and stopped the door when the opening was several inches wide. She motioned the guard to brace behind it to be ready for a rush. "That's far enough, Edlyn. Look quick and let's leave." Syndra stood close behind her cousin, right hand holding left wrist almost casually. Beneath her skirts, however, she was on the balls of her feet, ready to spring in case of attack.

Edlyn hung back for a moment ...

"Oh, hurry up," Evan sighed from the dark corner of the cell. The weak sliver of moonlight that slunk unhappily in from the high, narrow crack of a window caught on his eye as he raised it to glance at the door.

Edlyn took a deep breath and stepped forward into the door, the torchlight from the open area beyond illuminating her golden hair in a nimbus of light. She stared at Evan for a moment - and then she said baldly, "Did you kill him? Was it because of what he said to me?"

Evan squinted from the corner where he sat carelessly on a pile of mouldering straw. "What?" He leant his head forward a little, until he could make out who it was. "Oh, it's you, lady," he sighed. "You Holdfasters are strange - your knights skulk like thieves, and now you send your women to beat a confession out of me." He turned his head away from the door. "I don't know who or what you're talking about, lady. Now if you want the guard with you to come in and try a few kicks, be my guest."

Syndra looked at the guard and shook her head, a silent order to stay put. "Edlyn, say your piece and let's be gone. You won't get anything out of this one," Syndra said firmly, her uneasiness rising the longer they tarried here.

Edlyn was glaring at him. "I wanted to help," she told him fiercely. "There was no need to be rude. As for kicking, I could do it myself, you know. But I shall leave it to Godwyn because I'm sure he'll be much better at it, if that's what you want."

With a toss of her head, she turned and marched out of the cell, her colour a little raised.

"You are quite right," she said to Syndra. "We might as well go now."

The man in the cell made no move to stop her, or even to rise. "There are only two ways you can help, miss, and one of those is to tell me everything about this accusation and who's made it." He inclined his head at the doorway. "Your friend doesn't seem especially inclined to stop and chat, though."

Syndra left the talking to Edlyn. Her face was set like stone.

Edlyn glanced at Syndra and shrugged her shoulder. She did not look particularly happy as she turned back to the cell.

"The accusation is that you killed Ser Herys's man - he was missing. They think it was you, but I don't know why." She hesitated, and then asked, "What's the other thing?"

One corner of Evan's mouth quirked in something resembling a smile. "You don't really want to know," he said simply, before raising his head to look at her more fully. "I heard the accusation, but I need to know more if I'm going to defend myself at a trial. Like, for instance, who it is I'm supposed to have killed, why I'm supposed to have done it, and who the knight and the Maester are who are making this accusation." He paused for a moment, and when he spoke again, his voice was softer, and a conciliatory tone had crept in. "Can - can you talk for a moment?"

Edlyn turned, looking worriedly at Syndra, and then back at the prisoner. "I don't know if there'll be a trial," she said. "It depends if you confess, I suppose. It's one of Ser Herys Bolton's men ... I should go. I just wanted to know ... if it was you they were holding. I'll ... I'll speak to Godwyn. He'll be fair, won't he, Syndra?"

Syndra started to answer, but the sellsword spoke first.

Evan chuckled humourlessly. "You can't even say if there'll be a trial, yet you're asking if they'll be fair?" He coughed, the disgust evident in that one sound. "I suppose condemning a man without a trial is to be expected - I've seen what the Hardys call 'fair'." With another sigh, Evan turned back to the wall, picking at the straw listlessly.

Syndra's blue eyes blazed at the affront to the Hardy name. "Leave him to rot, then, Edlyn," she seethed icily. "It appears he prefers the Bolton sort of justice." She nodded at the guard to close the door once Edlyn was outside.

Evan couldn't see who was speaking behind the door, but he heard her words well enough. "Ah, I see she has a tongue, your friend," he snapped sarcastically. "Don't speak of things you don't understand, Lady," he called. "The headsman's name is meaningless, when all's said and done."

Edlyn regarded him with a fulminating expression. "It's you who don't understand, Evan Tamm. We are here to try to help - Syndra has no reason to love the Boltons. And now you've managed to make her even more angry than Eryk Bolton does, which I must say is something of an achievement when she hasn't even seen your face!"

She turn to leave the cell entirely.

His head came up at the name, and for a second, Evan was silent, before a dry, hacking sound started to echo in the tiny cell. It was not a cough, though, or sobs - he was laughing, a slightly manic, humourless, dry chuckle that shook the shoulders and tore at the throat. It was all, apparently, too funny for words. "You're not here to help," he managed, between chuckles. "You want me to confess to some crime to keep your precious Boltons happy, and your friend there wants the Others to take me so she can pretend none of this ever happened. If you want to help, tell me what I need to know to defend myself in case they decide to go through the formality of a trial before the noose. Otherwise, spare me your notions of justice. I'm going to see Bolton justice soon enough in any case."

"Your request makes no sense," Syndra said over Edlyn's shoulder. For the first time, Evan was allowed a good look at her. Tall and slender, she looked to be about fourteen. She had light brown hair, most of which was tied up in a soft bun, but escaped tendrils of soft curls framed her face. She was pretty, but not beautiful, as her features seemed a little too large for the size of her face. And she was familiar. This was the other girl from the dream.

She continued, "If you didn't do it, you would benefit from not knowing the details of the attack." Her lips curled into a wolfish smirk. "But if you did... why, of course you'd want us to tell you exactly how it happened so you could adapt your lies accordingly. I'll tell you nothing."

Edlyn glanced at her friend and took a step back, leaving the Hardy girl confronting Evan Tamm.

He stirred momentarily in the corner, but it was only to lift his head and stare at her more fully. Neither torchlight nor moonlight was enough to illuminate the filthy little pit that was the cell, but Evan was no longer laughing, and his eyes were now well and truly fixed on Syndra. "And I didn't think you would, miss," he said, after a moment, much more softly now. "Hence why I said you weren't really here to help."

He spread a hand in a vaguely theatrical gesture, though he didn't make an effort to rise from the mouldering straw. "I don't think we've met. Lady Syndra Hardy, I presume. Welcome to my cell." Evan chuckled dryly. "As it happens, though, Lady, I'm not especially interested in any details of the attack. Not knowing them doesn't seem to be helping me so far, given that I'm already convicted of the crime as far as your captain seems to be concerned. No, I'm more interested in other details, such as who that knight and the Maester who accused us might be, and who the Manderly fellow who had the bloody knife is."

Syndra considered the question, weighing what harm could come out of such information. Finally, she said, "I wasn't there, so I'm guessing at who went out. If the Maester you speak of was tall and young, that would've been Rhys. The knight, I presume, was Ser Anders, our Captain of the Guard. As to the Manderly man, he is a squire to Ser Corryn Manderly and is well-known in Holdfast."

Evan looked thoughtful, considering her words. "Rhys and Ser Anders, you say," he murmured, rolling the names around in his mouth as if committing them to memory. "Do you know why they are such great friends of Ser Herys Bolton?"

Syndra looked disgusted. "They're not! At least Rhys isn't. Anders, I don't know." She snorted skeptically. "I have my doubts there. But of course, he's no Hardy. There's not a true Hardy in Holdfast that has any love for the Boltons."

"Your Maester Rhys is no Hardy either," Evan said carefully, watching her eyes closely. "He seemed very friendly with the Boltons to me. I was just wondering what orders Ser Herys had given him."

Syndra stiffened as if she'd been slapped. Her eyes narrowed in anger. "You know nothing about Rhys," she informed him icily. "And even suggesting that shows how little you know about Holdfast." She turned to the guard. "Close the door, Oland. We're finished here," she snapped.

Edlyn stepped hastily out of the way to avoid being trapped.

"If I knew anything about Holdfast, I wouldn't need to be asking questions of girls who like to come down to the dungeons to taunt prisoners," Evan snapped, but he made no attempt to stop them. "So nice of you to drop by though. Do come again sometime." With some effort, he stopped grinding his teeth together as the door closed and left him in darkness again.

Syndra's teeth were grinding as well as she thanked Oland curtly and turned to leave.

Edlyn shot a worried look at Syndra as they walked back towards the stairs.

"Thank you for helping me to see him," she said quietly.

Syndra nodded, frowning. "Don't ask it of me again, Edlyn. I don't care if you found him in the godswood, the man makes my skin crawl." She trudged up the stairs silently. Edlyn could tell she was still thinking about the encounter.

"Syndra ... do you think he might have killed the Bolton man?"

"He or the one we didn't see," Syndra answered. "He kept trying to insinuate that his accusers were Bolton-lovers, did you notice that? Obviously, it couldn't be further from the truth. I think he's trying to muddy the issue."

"Yes," said Edlyn slowly. "Or there's something about Hardies that he dislikes almost as the Boltons. But then ... why come to Holdfast?"

"To do something about what he dislikes, perhaps? Or to cause trouble, stir up old grudges..." She slowed and narrowed her eyes thoughtfully as a theory began to form. "Start us fighting amongst ourselves to distract us from... something else?" she ventured thoughtfully. "But what?"

Syndra wished Godwyn and Kenrith, or better yet, her father and Wolf, were here to bounce these ideas around with her.

"I don't know," said Edlyn. "Do you want to find Kenrith? He must be the one who knows him best. I can go away if Kenrith doesn't want me there," she added, a little sadly. "Unless he wants to hear about the godswood, of course. You know, it was so strange, Syndra. I went there to ask the old gods that you be spared marrying Eryk Bolton - because I thought they would be more likely to help you than the Seven ... and suddenly, there he was."

"It's not so strange, I suppose," Syndra said. "He talked like a northerner, so it wouldn't be unusual for him to end up in the godswood."

They reached the top of the stairs. Syndra nodded a thank you to the guards as the girls continued toward their room. "As for Kenrith, I'll talk to him in the morning, after Godwyn finds out whatever he can from the men downstairs. Right now, I just want to go to bed. All this Bolton business has worn me out," Syndra said wearily. Her voice held a touch of sadness as well.

"All right," agreed Edlyn. "Would you mind going to the room alone?" Her faced twisted in an expression of disgust. "I had better find Mother. I don't know what I will be seen to have done wrongly today but I'm sure she'll want to scold me anyway. She always does."

"Good luck," Syndra smiled sympathetically as they parted ways. "I'll leave a candle for you."

Page last modified on April 12, 2006, at 02:43 AM