As Kenrith headed down the corridor towards his father's room, he heard the sound of brisk booted feet behind him. When he turned, he saw Mal, his face grave.
"Ser Kenrith, you should know. There seems to be a problem."
One of [Kenrith's] hands drifted to the hilt of his sword, and his already stormy expression darkened. "What kind of a problem?" he asked with a voice which was almost too calm.
"One of the Bolton men at arms has gone missing. He was last seen heading off towards Holdfast after a pickpocket. Some of his friends are demanding a search party goes to look for him," said Mal succinctly. He scratched at the back of his neck. "I'm getting the impression that the name Bolton isn't too popular around these parts."
"Holdfast has pickpockets? That steal from armed Bolton men?" Kenrith asked as he shook his head. "How many of the Boltons want to hare off looking for their friend? We'll need to send Hardy men along with them so they aren't... yes, in these parts that is true," Kenrith said as he touched his left shoulder with the tips of his right hand.
"Six of 'em," said Mal laconically, not making any acknowledgement of the gesture. "They said they'll soon get tongues wagging - or not talking at all."
"Well, that won't do... liable to get them lynched anyway. Do you think Ser Anders has heard about this yet? Where are they looming about?" Victor asked while his mind worked.
"They were in the gatehouse when I saw 'em," said Mal. "As for Ser Anders - I think someone was on their way to tell him."
"Then that is where I'm going to have to go to see to things... please express my regrets to the high table that I will be late to dinner. If this turns ugly... do you and Jayne want to stick your noses in, or to stand clear of the mess?" Kenrith said as he massaged his temples with his thumb and middle finger. This was not a great turn of events, to be sure, but it could certainly become a lot worse if Ser Anders didn't handle it carefully. He may not be acting in his father's name in fact, but he could certainly behave as if he were.
"We'll stand clear less'n you order otherwise," said Mal. "We go wading into North business with Riverrun livery on our backs, liable to make us unpopular with the folks around these parts. And unpopular with Lord Tully too, when he gets wind of it."
Kenrith nodded and strode in the direction of the gatehouse [as] Mal turned on his heel and headed for the dining hall.
As Kenrith approached the gatehouse, he saw a crowd of about twenty men, guards in Hardy and Bolton uniforms, engaged in furious argument.
Kenrith strode purposefully towards the group, his head high and jaw firm. He made sure to walk in front of the knot of bickering men, his eyes hunting for those of the arguing men. Between the rage of the men and the number of parties arguing, Kenrith had little hope of understanding exactly what it was they were saying... but fortunately, Mal had already explained much and he could deduce more still.
He did not clear his throat. He did not yell out for silence. He simply stood there staring at them, willing them to become silent and attend him. He did not look pleased at all, but his was the well-shackled anger of the first men. The north was a hard land, and they had tamed it south of the wall... what were these twenty bawling children before one who had that blood in his veins?
It took a long time - longer than he was expecting, but finally he had a kind of sullen silence that allowed him to speak.
Evan moved away from the window he had been trying to peer into - there were too many people in the courtyard at the moment for him to appear to be snooping. He wondered where Ser Kenrith was - he was hoping to run into him while he was here.
His wondering stopped when Kenrith appeared from the keep, flanked by one of the guards that had come with him from Riverrun. He approached the gatehouse and waited for silence before speaking, and Evan shuffled nearer, trying to listen in.
"This argument, this loud bickering, should shame you all. You are guests and hosts both... and are all old enough to understand that it is not for these guards," Kenrith said as he gestured towards the knot of Hardy troops, "to grant you permission to kick in every door and set fire to every haystack looking for your missing man... Just as you may not hare off searching for your comrade without permission from your liege lord, Ser Herys, they may not surrender their duties to you without word from their captain, lord, or one such as myself..." Kenrith said as his finger slashed through the air to point at the loudest of the Bolton retainers.
"Now... I trust you have secured such permission from your lord to locate your missing man, and how many has he given leave to do so?" Kenrith asked with his humorless lordface and steely grey-eyed gaze.
Angry voices arose, assuring him their lord had instructed them to find Grunther without loss of time ...
And Hardy voices jeered in response.
Kenrith held up his palm and glared. "You are men at arms, soldiers... they teach you to march in step so that you do not trip over each other, is that not so? Speak the same way, with discipline" he said, nearly quoting Ser Grell.
Glaring at the rest, a burly man in Bolton livery stepped forward.
"Our master, Ser Herys, has been greatly disturbed to learn that one of his own has disappeared after he chased after a sneak thief, Ser. He's ordered us to pursue him and search the town."
/Somehow I doubt those were the limits of his instructions, Colm,/ Evan thought dryly to himself. He turned away from the crowd - he was unobtrusive, he knew, but he recognised enough faces among the Flayed Men to want to avoid any suspicion. Even with his face wrapped, discretion was the better part of valour, he reasoned.
A roar of outrage went up from the aseembled Hardies - but the man who had spoken for Bolton was watching Kenrith.
"Very well then... as your hosts, we would be happy to help you search for your missing man. Moreover, as generous hosts, we will send two men with you for every one... if something ill has befallen your friend, it would not do to go running for him one by one. None of our vassals are to be harmed... I should think none of our serfs are so stupid as to try to pick the pocket of a blade-bearing-Bolton... but if it seems one in our lands is guilty, the Hardy guards are authorized to arrest them. Remember that you are guests," Kenrith said turning to the Boltons, "and you would not want to bring dishonor onto your Lord by violating our hospitality or harming any of our people... you have asked for your wine, salt, and bread, and so we are responsible for your defense... and for any retribution against those who would do you harm. Do not think to insult our hospitality. Am I clear?"
After he was finished with his little speech, Kenrith stood and waited for their bobbing heads and yessirs.
There was no head bobbing - just fixed, sullen stares.
"Am I -clear-" he said as he shifted the full weight of his gaze onto those who hadn't already agreed, or who looked as if they planned mischief at the edges of what he had left unsaid.
"Oh, I think you are," said a voice from behind him. "And more than generous in offering to leave Holdfast so undefended in pursuit of one sneak thief and a careless guard."
It was Ser Anders Tollet.
(continued with Kenrith after the interlude)
Evan gritted his teeth as he went around the other side of the gatehouse, ostensibly looking for a chamberpot. He knew that there was little chance of them finding Grunther's shallow grave at all, particularly in the dark, but he now regretted not burying the man deeper. Dogs would turn it up without much problem, he knew that.
As the attention turned towards Ser Anders, Evan made his way across the yard towards the servant's entrance, around the far side of the keep. Once out of sight of the gatehouse, he picked up his pace a little, straightening his back, but slowed again as he rounded the corner next to the entrance, and bent his back, feigning infirmity under the weight of the buckets slung across his shoulders.
A few of the scullery maids and potboys were emptying out and scrubbing dishes in the dim light that came from the kitchen windows, and they raised vaguely curious glances as he approached, but a nightsoil collector produced the desired blend of pity and anonymity, so they didn't speak to him until he approached one of the girls and spoke first.
"Pardon me, miss, but I was hoping you could have a little pity on a poor fellow who has to work with this much stink?" The look on her face showed that he had that, at least. "Could you be sparing a few sprigs of anise from the kitchen there? A couple of those in me mask and I'll be breathing easier, gods be praised."
She cast a look of revulsion at the buckets, and looked like she might bolt, but nodded, and said a word to one of the potboys, who scurried off. Evan kept a respectful distance till the boy came back. He held out a hand gratefully, and the boy dropped a few black seeds in his outstretched hand carefully, as if not wanting to touch him. /Can't really blame him,/ Evan thought, but he gushed his gratitude profusely and went on his way.
He circled around the back of the piggery, crushing the anise in his hand as he went. When he reached the trough, the combination of scents was starting to make his eyes water, but he reached his hand in and grabbed a few lumps of unidentifiable foodstuffs, mixing it with the anise as he headed towards the kennels. A few of the dogs started to growl as he drifted past, but he glanced around to make sure the coast was clear, before dropping some of his handful of food into each kennel as he passed. Even as he went on his way, he could hear a few whimpers from the first hounds curious enough to take a bite, and allowed himself a grim little smile as he made his way around the far side of the keep towards the gatehouse again. /That should buy us a few days at least./
The dogs, attracted by the aniseed smell, were pushing and fighting to get at the food, unaware of the damage this was doing to their scenting abilities for the moment.
At the gatehouse, there was less sound and fury, but the arguments appeared to be continuing.
Evan considered as he approached, noting the faceoff between Kenrith and Ser Anders, before deciding that pushing his luck was more than he cared to do tonight. He hadn't managed to speak with Kenrith, but that could wait for another day. Shrugging, he turned and shuffled out the postern gate, nodding absently at the distracted guard who stood there.
The guard nodded to him - and Evan was nearly past when the guard spoke.
"Oy!" he said. "Where's old Tommo, then?"
"Sick," Evan said without hesitation, half-turning. "I'm his nephew up from Marshend. Just helping out." He pretended to lose his grip on one bucket and sloshed a little of the filth out next to the guard's boots. "Sorry about that," he mumbled apologetically as he headed off back into Holdfast town.
Continued in Evan in Holdfast
It was Ser Anders Tollet.
Kenrith turned, although not as quickly as instinct bid. There was a shadow of surprise in his hard eyes as he took in his step-uncle, but his face was turned and the men behind him couldn't see it.
"When I left Holdfast, I did not recall their being such brazen pickpockets as to try to steal from a foreign guard," he said, meaning any man wearing the colors of the Dreadfort. He did suppose, silently, that there was the occasional suicide... although skinning was not a preferred method.
There was a sudden tension from the Hardy men - as though Kenrith had suggested their might now be pickpockets amongst their number.
"No-one native to Holdfast would do so," said Ser Anders. "But you might be surprised at the riffraff that have drifted up the Kingsroad lately."
"I wouldn't be; that was precisely my point Ser" Kenrith said easily.
[Kenrith's] voice fell now that he was addressing only one man, but the nearest of the Bolton and Hardy guards, including the Bolton spokesman, could still hear him clearly. "That he has not returned is even more curious... but if you feel we need every man for the defense of the castle, and can't adjust by involving those guards who would have left the gates to attend a reported theft and rousing a few men early and holding a few late in exchange for a lighter round in the training yard tomorrow, by all means... I will wait here with these men while you speak with Lady Celia and Ser Godfrey. I do not pretend that these men answer to me, now that you are here to resolve this disagreement... but I am a Hardy, and this is my home, and these are our guests," he said, leaving out 'whether we like it or not'.
Kenrith planted his fist on his hip and waited, his eyes staring into Ser Anders. He did not expect the other man to flinch, but he had no intention of showing him a young boy shattered by disease either. Still, it was a hard stare.
Ser Anders smiled. "Yes, I am sure my sister has matters in hand so that this may all be accomplished. If you will excuse me? Unless you prefer to consult with her yourself?"
"No, please go right ahead," Kenrith said calmly as he turned back to the crowd and smiled a little smile. Inside, he was dreading what they must be thinking of him, but it could have gone far worse. Better that they learn to respect him than to love him... loyalty from love took time he did not have right now.
He heard Ser Anders walking away. The men were watching him warily - Hardy and Bolton both. But it seemed they were ready to await further instructions. Kenrith himself seemed satisfied with the exchange, as if he expected the outcome would be to his liking when Ser Anders got back.
"You got trouble?" growled a voice behind him. It was Jayne, willing to stare down the assembled mob.
Kenrith couldn't suppress a grin at that, but when matched with his hard eyes it was not a pretty smile. "No, things are just fine. If you feel like helping, we are organizing a search. If the trail leads into the woods, you'd be a great help," Kenrith said with a note of humor in his voice.
Jayne muttered under his breath - Kenrith could imagine it was a strongly-voiced disapprobation of all things woody in general.
Then he heard Ser Anders approaching.
"I'm taking a search party into town," he said to Kenrith. "Your brother's taking another to search the woods."
He made no mention of what Kenrith's role in all of this was to be, but moved at once to the assembled men.
Kenrith simply stood his ground and waited for Godwyn while Jayne grumped closer.
"Right!" he said. "I need ten men to come to the town with me. And five Boltons." His eye swept the crowd - and then he grinned. "Not you, Walt. We all know you searching is liable to be of Mistress Odette's ale barrels."
It was a good humoured jest, it appeared, and taken so by the men. The afore-named Walt grinned as he was jostled by his mates, and the tension among the Hardies notoicably relaxed.
Kenrith noted the rapport that Ser Anders had with the guards carefully. If nothing else, he had gotten that right.
The Boltons, however, remained wary, drawing together to discuss the arrangment.
While this was happening, Godwyn arrived.
Kenrith took two steps in his brother's direction, and indicated Jayne with a sweep of his hand. "Godwyn, this is Jayne, one of the men from Riverrun who came north with me. He has a sharp pair of eyes, and would be an asset in your search if you would have him with you. Jayne, this is my brother," Kenrith said as if this were high praise in of itself. Indeed, Jayne couldn't have helped but overhear Kenrith praising his brother's steadfast loyalty and determination on the long journey north.
"I am expected at dinner, so I should be on my way?" Kenrith asked his brother with a tone somewhere between a question and a statement.
"You're welcome to join me, Jayne," Godwyn said with a nod to the man. "Kenrith, Ser Godfrey leaves it to you to know what you should do, join them for dinner or accompany me or Ser Anders, or whatever else you may think necessary." He gave a sharp whistle, and was answered by barking from the other side of the stables, as his personal hounds answered their master's call and came running.
Kenrith nodded and patted his brother on the shoulder briefly. "Good luck, and good hunting brother..." then turned on his heel and strode in the direction Godwyn had arrived from. Once he was out of sight of the courtyard, he jogged to catch up.
Godwyn turned his eyes to the men huddled in two distinct groups. "I'll be leading a search of the forest," he told them, "In case this fellow has gotten himself lost. You," he pointed at the Bolton men, "Your master said to pick five of your number to come with me." He turned to the Holdfast men and looked them over, then quickly named five of them. "You'll come with me," he said. "I have servants coming with torches for us, and foresters are on their way."
The five Holdfast men Godwyn had chosen were all experienced men, who were accomplished in woodcraft. Three of them were older men who had served since before the Tollets came to Holdfast.
Three large hounds came charging out of the darkness, followed by two half grown pups. The older dogs gave barks of happy recognition at Kenrith's scent, and surrounded him with tails wagging furiously. The pups added their frenetic barking to the general din.
"Master Godwyn! Master Godwyn!" A shout rang out across the courtyard. "It's the dogs!"
The servant who Godwyn had dispatched to collect the Castle hounds (as opposed to Godwyn's own dogs) was runnng towards them, looking worried.