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While [Kenrith] was changing he heard a mellow bell tolling - even though he did not know the reason.

Kenrith did not know what to make of the bell, but as he reasoned he was unfit to walk around the halls without his shirt on, he resolved to conclude what he was doing before investigating.

As soon as Godwyn left Syndra he sought out a servant, and told him to find the Clearwater Maester and tell him he was wanted in the Maester's tower. Then he asked where his brother was, and hearing that Kenrith was in their room he sped there immediately.

He found Kenrith just as his brother was finishing dressing. As the door opened noisily, Kenrith spun on his heel with the now cool ladle which had dispensed hot water into his washing basin held high. He let it slip to his fingers as he saw that it was Godwyn.

He threw the door to the chamber open and ran in. "Kenrith!" he shouted, grabbing his brother in a smothering bear hug and lifting him bodily off the floor. "I couldn't say hello, before! Welcome home, brother!"

Kenrith moved to embrace his brother in return as he was lifted from his feet and grunted softy as Godwyn seemed to check the sturdiness of his ribs. Godwyn noticed that his brother's left arm was much smaller than the right, and even through the shirt and sling he could tell that it was curled up at a queer angle. His right, though, was more than capable of thumping his brother on the back in return.

"It is good to be home, brother," Kenrith replied with a grin which faded a few moments later. "Although... these are not the circumstances under which I would wish to return. I have much I wish to tell you about Riverrun, and my journey north... but first, what was that little bell I heard a few minutes ago?"

Godwyn made a face and turned to a chest, pulling out clean clothes while he talked. "That Woman insists on having a bell rung every day before dinner, as though we couldn't remember to go eat without it. Stupid idea, everyone here knows when dinner is, and guests wouldn't know what the bell means anyway. But it's typical of her ideas." He starts to strip off his old clothing, still speaking. "I left Syndra in her room with Edlyn. Hairy Bolton made advances to her, we told you about that already, and now he's claiming he caught her and Rhys together as a way to get out of it. Her father will know better, but I'm betting That Woman and Anders will side with Bolton. They want this marriage." He paused, a clean shirt half on, and looked at Kenrith. "We think they're trying to get Bolton to support them in trying to take Holdfast away from you, Kenrith. Syndra and I were calculating who would support you if it comes to war."

"That... is a larger lie than we were expecting. Godfrey, Celia and I had concluded that an open challenge of Herys would sully Syndra's reputation more than silence... and there is no sense in fighting for a woman's reputation only to destroy it in the same act," Kenrith said as Godwyn came to a pause. Kenrith himself paused to stroke his chin for a moment before finishing reattaching his belt over his tabard with the Hardy shield on the left breast.

He finally shook his head and continued. "Celia is, or was, just being a shrew with money. Marrying Syndra to make peace without a bride payment and with the blood debt was a good deal, at the face of it... she just doesn't believe what monsters the Bolton's are. Called that little room of theirs with the skins a myth," Kenrith said with a dismissive sniff.

Godwyn shook his head at the idiocy of some people as he continued dressing.

"Anyway... deep down, she is terrified of being cast out into the cold. She and her daughter both. That underlies all her bitter little statements and cruel courtesies... but she ought to know that getting rid of me won't bring her any closer to the fire. Not to say she'd shed more than marsh lion tears if one of us was killed in a duel with Herys, of course..."

"We are surrounded by Bolton men in this castle... if there is to be a war, if anything tretcherous happens to Herys..." Kenrith said with a warning glance into his brother's eyes... "I fear the war would be tragically short. They would claim we violated our obligations as a host, even as they wipe their asses with the laws of hospitality..." Kenrith said as he looked down at his tightening fist which he forced open and smoothed against a pant leg.

Godwyn made a face, but didn't interrupt.

"We still have the good coin of duty paid up with the Starks, however... and as difficult as the Boltons are for anyone to control, the old kings of the North can bring a host down upon the Boltons that would not leave one stone atop another, and the smug-faced flaying sons-of-weasels know it... Herys may not, but the rest of his family does."

"I've only got two questions, right now... well, three," he said with a small grin. "First, what is for dinner... but moving on... what is Eryk's character, and what exactly has Herys claimed happened... it may be his tale itself contains obvious falsehoods. Also, now that I think of it, one more... does Syndra bear any overt sign of injury from his attack?" Kenrith asked as he stared out the window one more time this day at the tower where he had lost his dreams of becoming a lancer. The tower Herys' boorish incompetence had sent him to...

"Ummm..." Godwyn thought, bringing Syndra's face to mind. "I don't believe she has any marks. Herys grabbed her by the hair, and scared her, but he didn't actually strike her. Eryk... I don't know. He came to us, or to Syndra, actually, to warn her what his father was going to do. Either he's a canny one, playing a deep game, or else he doesn't approve of what his father is saying. He said his father was going to claim that he surprised Syndra and Rhys in an embrace. Syndra and I went to the Maester's tower, Syndra wanted to send a raven to the Riverwolf, asking him to come, and Rhys was in the tower. He's under guard, it appears Herys wasted no time in going to Anders with his story." Godwyn smiled. "Venison, I think, with duck and some honeycakes. She's probably had a lot more added, too, now that there are guests."

Kenrith shook his head periodically as Godwyn spoke until dinner was mentioned, which once again brought a smile to his face, however fleeting.

"Do you know how many men they've brought, and of what quality... I don't mean how many Sers, and how gilded their plate is... but how would these men stand in the lists, or the last melees? How many does Holdfast still have, counting Hardies and Tullies both? We must not seem too weak, or Herys will just taunt us further... but if we come across as too strong, he'll lash out like a wounded cornered animal... Manderly is a good man, I think, but he may well be too far to come in time. How long before dinner is served? Whether it is before or after dinner... I think I need to chat with Maester Sewell. After all... now, it is quite personal for him as well." Kenrith said as he stroked his chin and polished his boots on the back of his calf.

"Only a quarter hour now till dinner, I'd say," Godwyn replied, hurrying to finish dressing. He gave a quick accounting of Holdfast's forces, stressing who was known to be loyal to Anders and Lady Celia, who was likely to see their only true loyalty as to Lord Hardy and Kenrith, and the unpleasantly large number who fell somewhere in between. "I don't know what men Bolton brought with him," he finished, as he was pulling on his boots. "But that should be easy to find."

While Kenrith added the five sellswords who had accompanied him and the two swords from Riverrun who were already within the castle walls in their listing of assets, it seemed clear he considered war a last resort if only because the Starks would probably deal harshly with both parties if it came to full-blown war.

He stood. "I should get back to Syndra, I mislike her wandering the halls without escort as long as the Boltons are here."

Kenrith nodded. "Herys may try to provoke you... I know you won't allow any of our kin to come to harm, but if he dies it must be honorably done else there will be war and death," Kenrith said as he clasped his brother's shoulder with one hand.

Godwyn met his eyes. "Kenrith," he said. "I don't think I could take him honorably. If it comes to it, then war can be averted if the assassin is dishonoured for his actions, cast out of his family, and given the choice of death or the black." He shrugged. "I'm for the Wall anyway. While I'd rather go as a Hardy, if I have to go a nameless criminal I will do so, knowing that I have served the family by so doing."

"I fear Herys knows more about stabbing men in the back than we do as well, brother, but if he must die then he must die," Kenrith said quietly.

"I'm going to see the Maester before dinner, I think..." Kenrith said as he slid his broadsword back into its sheath. He had worn a bastard sword on the road, but it was not well suited to fighting within Holdfast's narrower passages. Although he did not say which Maester he intended to speak with, he did turn in the direction of his father's chamber rather than the outside of the castle, which suggested Sewell rather than Rhys.

Godwyn nodded to his brother in farewell, and walked briskly to Syndra's room, taking up a position against the wall across from her door.

Page last modified on March 10, 2006, at 05:01 PM