The early light slanted into the tower room where - for many years - Godwyn's only companions in the great bed had been his hounds. Now there was a human body beside him - his brother.
As the light fell across his face, Kenrith sat bolt upright. "I'm late!," he exclamed as he looked out the window. He still smelled faintly of tobacco, and strongly of sweat, as he carefully climbed from bed without stepping on Godwyn's alarmed hounds.
Godwyn yawned and rolled over as Kenrith left the bed. He rubbed his eyes and watched his brother with a somewhat unfocused gaze.
As his pounding head started to clear as he made his hasty ablutions in the wash basin, he remembered that dawn was much earlier in the North, and that he was not as late as he feared.
"Late for what?" Godwyn asked, not yet making any move to leave the bed.
"I'm supposed to let the Maesters poke at my arm," Kenrith said as he cleaned it with a cloth, "and then I need to join the search party for the Wildings," Kenrith said with a sigh.
Godwyn's gaze went to Kenrith's arm, then immediately away again.
"Though, I'm probably not late yet... dawn comes earlier in summer this far north," Kenrith added.
"Dawn comes at a different time in the South?" Godwyn asked. He sounded glad for the change in subject.
"Or so it seemed on my journey north, and so the traders at Riverrun remark when they speak of heading North," Kenrith said as he pulled a shirt over his head.
Godwyn shook his head, bemused at the strange ways of the world.
"Be careful today... the Boltons may have compromised some of the Holdfast guards, and if Evan should win by some ill stroke of fate... I should think they would seize the moment to see things go their way," Kenrith remarked almost casually as he pulled up his pants and belted on his sword.
"Aye," Godwyn answered. He rose from bed, stretching as the hounds also rose and began nosing around the door, eager for their morning run.
"Oh," he added. "I didn't get a chance to tell you last night. I went into the village to see about Tovis. It was his cart that you found out on the road. Seems like someone cut his throat and took it early yesterday. And whoever it was, they came back last night after I'd found the body. So it could well be someone from the village, or even one of our guards, just as you say."
"Cleeve was the gambling sort... and I'm told that debt is what drove the last lord of Leaning Stone into Bolton arms. Given his 'wandering off' during the Maester incident... I'm interested to know how many of our men have fallen into debt with Boltons in dicing and cards."
"Also, you should know... Corryn means to slay Herys in a joust to free Limosa from any risk of marriage to the Boar. Gods be with him... A busy day... and... Gods be with you, as well, brother," Kenrith said as he finished tugging his shirt over his head and clasped his brother's shoulder. Emotion had just started to tinge Kenrith's voice, but his brother could see the lines of concern etched into the premature lines of his lordface.
Godwyn chuckled. "They will be," he said ruefully, "But Their ways are strange, and Their will is not always to the liking of mortal men."
He turned to begin dressing. "At least something will be happening today," he said. "I'm tired of all this trying to figure things out. I want to be doing, not thinking."
"We'll Hold Fast, and leave the rest to Them, then," Kenrith said in agreement as he motioned towards the Godswood.
He plopped down onto the bed to pull on his boots.
"Herys might be goaded... if Corryn keeps a clear head, Herys' temper may be the death of him should the crowd 'boo' him as a brute and a wifebeater. Also... we haven't accounted for all of Evan's band. I'm sure there will be hot work for all of us, this day," Kenrith said with a sigh as he stood and stomped into his boots.
"Syndra and Edlyn, and Rhys too, should be able to untwist any riddles you can't handle with one of these," Kenrith said with a smile as he patted his own sword.
"I talk too much... anyway, we'll have more time once this has passed," Kenrith said with a smile as he paused to really look at how much his brother had grown since he had been gone.
Godwyn smiled back, a little shyly. "I look forward to that, brother," he said.
He finished dressing, then said briskly, "Enough wondering about what the day will bring. Let's be out and about, and find out for ourselves."
Kenrith finished scooping up the lighter set of armor he had worn into the forest on the day previous and the sling which would ordinarily restrain his left arm, then nodded to his brother. As his hands were full, he allowed Godwyn to precede him.
Once they left their room Godwyn bid his brother a farewell, and ran down the main stairs with his hounds at his heels.
Unless stopped by someone with a desire to talk while he was still in the castle, he planned on taking the dogs on a quick run around the main keep, and then he would head into the Godswood.
From her spot in the herb garden, Syndra heard the telltale sound of heavy, running feet and happy, barking hounds. Godwyn was on his morning run. She smiled to herself as she picked the last few weeds from the thyme bed. When she heard the barking veer in the direction of the Godswood, however, she rose hastily and flew out the garden gate at a run. She had wanted to go to the Godswood this morning and if she could catch Godwyn, she wouldn't have to cajole one of the guards into escorting her.
She hiked up her skirt and sprinted, her long legs covering the keep at a very unladylike speed. "Godwyn, wait up!" she called over the baying of the hounds.
Godwyn looked over his shoulder, then slowed and finally halted. He looked around as she came towards him, and scowled.
"Out by yourself?" he asked. "I thought we'd agreed you'd have a guard with you 'till these Boltons are all gone?"
"I wasn't by myself. I was helping Rhys in the garden until just a moment ago." As evidence, she held out her filthy hands. For Syndra to help Rhys in the garden was not unusual. For her to have a comfrey blossom woven into her hair was, however. Still, the purplish flower looked rather pretty in her honey-colored mane.
"Now I'm with you. If you'll allow me to be," she said, looking at him with innocent blue eyes, her expression not unlike Queenie asking to accompany him on a walk.
Godwyn's expression softened. "Sorry," he said. "I reckon I'm a bit jumpy. Someone killed Old Tovis, and whoever it was, he was still around in the village last night."
Syndra's eyes widened in alarm.
He looked around, to be sure they couldn't be overheard, then lowered his voice anyway. "Kenrith thinks it could be that the Boltons have bought off some of our guards. I'm afraid that it could be true. Most of the men are loyal, but there are always going to be some who can be bought. So I want to be certain you have a guard with you all the time, to protect you."
Syndra looked about anxiously, then nodded in the direction Godwyn had originally been headed. "You're off to the godswood, aren't you? Let's talk there," she suggested quietly.
"Aye," he said. "I feel the need to ask the Gods to be sure to watch what's going on here."
Syndra worried at her lip nervously as they walked, occasionally stroking the ears of the nearest hound to reassure herself of the dogs' presence. Once they entered the ancient, hallowed wood, Syndra spoke again softly. "So we're back to the question we asked at the beginning. Who can we trust? And how do I know the guard that I choose to protect me hasn't been bought?"
Godwyn stared at her, dumbstruck. "Uhhh...," he said.
After a few moments he continued. "I .... didn't think of that."
Syndra smiled at her cousin ruefully. "It's all right, Godwyn. You shouldn't have to. By rights, we should be able to trust every man here." She sighed wearily. "I'm of a mind to ask Ser Corryn to let me take Volf's parole so I can use him as a bodyguard. He's fawned over me since I was little and he's good with a sword. And at least we know where he's been the last couple of nights."
Godwyn snorted. "And if he stays in that gown, no one who wants to do you harm will take him seriously. Which could well be their death."
Syndra giggled. "Good point. I think I'm warming to this idea."
As they moved deeper into the godswood, a reverence arose in Syndra's manner, much like a worshipper inside a sept before the service starts. She breathed deeply of the damp aroma of wood, leaf and moss as if it were incense.
"Godwyn, I want you to keep an eye on my father today," she said suddenly. "Stick close to him. Keep watch. Could you do that? Please?" Her expression was deadly serious.
"I will try," he answered. "But I may have duties of my own. I can't promise where I'll be sent, or what I'll be told to do. But as much as possible, I'll do what I can to protect him."
"Thank you," she smiled over at him. "I'm just worried about what Herys is up to. He sounded suspicious when I overheard him yesterday. I'm probably just jumping at shadows, but it never hurts to have extra sets of eyes open." She reached down to pet Queenie's head as the dog padded beside her.
He looked around at the trees, and sighed. "It's so peaceful here," he said. "I know the Gods can see us wherever we are, but I always feel closer to them here."
"Me too," Syndra said, looking up into the intricately-laced canopy of branches. "I find it hard to believe now that before the fever, I used to be scared of this place. Kenrith helped me get past that," she remembered.
Godwyn nodded, but didn't say anything for the moment. Instead, he sat down with his back to a tree, and stared up at the branches, following Syndra's gaze.
"Sometimes," he said after a long pause, "Sometimes I come here, and I think I can almost hear Gavrin. We used to come here and dare each other to climb the heart trees. Sometimes I think I can hear him, whispering in the branches."
Syndra sat on a nearby rock and looked up silently, listening, her long hair dangling behind her. "I still talk to him sometimes," she confided softly. "Mostly out here, but sometimes by the pond." She paused thoughtfully. "It's funny," she mused, "Trey and the baby and Mama never change. They're always the same age in my mind. But Gav..." She looked over at Godwyn. "Gav's always your age. Always just a little older than me. I wonder why that is."
Godwyn chuckled. "It's cause he's not willing to let us leave him behind," he said. "He's always got to be your big brother, and he won't let me grow up without him."
Syndra giggled softly at that, in complete agreement, a warm smile lighting up her face in the dappled shadows of the leaves.
He fell silent for a moment, then added in a quieter voice, "Everything I do, I do it for Gav as much as for me."
"Really?" Syndra replied. "I thought it would've been more for Kenrith. For your own brother."
Godwyn shook his head. "Kenrith's never really needed me," he said softly. "I do what I can to help him, I always will. He knows he can count on me to be his arm, to hit anyone he tells me to hit. But I'm not really smart enough to serve him the way he needs. He needs someone who can see through the plots and treachery, all the things that are going on. I'm smart enough to see that things are going on, but that's all."
"Sometimes that's exactly what's needed, though," Syndra pointed out. "Kenrith doesn't need you to see through the plots because he can do that himself. What he needs - what WE need - is for someone to point out what's right in front of our faces. Like you did with Volf just now. The fact that he's actually more deadly in women's clothing than if he was wearing his own. People will underestimate him, to their detriment. I didn't think of that. You did. You have a knack for pointing out the obvious in ways that make others see things more clearly. That's something to be proud of, Godwyn," she grinned encouragingly.
Godwyn blushed, and busied himself with patting the dogs, keeping his face averted so Syndra couldn't see how pleased he was at her words.
Still smiling, Syndra turned away so as not to embarrass her cousin further. She gazed upon the heart tree before them, saying silent prayers for strength and vigilance for what was to come, and maybe a little apology for some things in the past. And she thought... past, present... future...
"Godwyn?" Syndra ventured after several minutes of silence. "If anything happens to Father today and... and... he can't..." It was unlike Syndra to be so tongue-tied. She was even blushing. "What I mean to say is... when it's time for me to marry and... if Father's not... here...um, would you, um... do the honor of um, removing my Maiden Cloak? I mean, only if Father can't, of course?" She raced through the last few words, then winced sheepishly.
"Oh!" Godwyn stared at her, not even trying to hide the huge grin on his face. "I'd love to!"
He blushed again, then stammered, "Uhh, I mean, I wouldn't love it that your father couldn't, I mean, if he couldn't then I would, but, uh, he will of course. But I'd be honoured to do it if... if he was off at a war. Or... or something."
He grinned again, and shrugged. "You know what I mean," he said.
Syndra grinned widely with relief. "Good," she said. "Ser Corryn's like a second father to me, but... well, I feel that that's a task that should be done by a true Hardy, and..." she shrugged, still blushing. "You're more than just my cousin. You're like my brother now. It's only right for you to be the one."
"We'll find you a good husband," Godwyn said. "Someone you can respect, a man who can protect you, but who appreciates you." His smile grew slightly wicked. "A man who'll be glad to have a wife who knows how to use a blade."
Syndra's face lit up brightly at that. "Yes!" she exclaimed, though not so loudly as to disturb the sanctity of the godswood. "That would be wonderful. I hear Dornish men allow their wives to learn swords." The brightness faded from her features somewhat, as if she'd suddenly remembered something that weighed heavily on her mind. But whatever it was, she locked it away just as quickly, and reached over to pet Queenie, who had curled up next to her.
"Father said last night that when things are settled here, he wants to take me to Winterfell," she told him. She sounded pleased about this, but not as ecstatically happy as she might have been in days past. "He has someone in mind for a match and wants me to meet him. Do you remember Ser Deryll Ryswell? I think he helped Kenrith with the Bolton boy during the summer fever."
"He's a good man," Godwyn said with a nod. "I've seen him fight in a number of tourneys. And he'd understand about... about Gavrin. The summer fever took his younger brother, too."
"Yes, I remember," Syndra nodded somberly. "That's probably one of the reasons Father chose him. He seemed nice enough, as I recall, but..." she shrugged, "I don't know. I just can't seem to get excited about it. Too much on my mind, I guess, and too many other things to do first."
Turning the conversation away from herself, Syndra looked down at the ground, then back up at Godwyn slyly through lowered lashes. "And what about you? Limosa likes you, y'know," Syndra said mischievously.
"Oh! Uhhh, ahhh..." Godwyn stared at her as he tried to frame an answer. "She's a really nice girl," he finally said. "We talked a lot about history. She was interested in the castle, and in the history of the Hardys. And the dogs like her."
"Wow." Syndra gaped at him in stunned amazement. "You got more out of her than I did. All I managed to do was make her flee from the room. I don't think she likes me."
"She's just shy," Godwyn said firmly. "Once she gets to know you she'll love you."
That prompted a raised eyebrow. 'Shy' wasn't exactly the word Syndra would have chosen, but she wasn't going to argue. "Ser Corryn said almost the same thing. I hope it's the case."
She petted Queenie's ears thoughtfully. "So... are you going to... um... pursue the matter? I could put in a good word with Ser Corryn if you like," she offered.
Godwyn shook his head. "No," he said. "Don't... I..." He stopped, shook his head again, and then tried once more.
"I can't offer her anything," he said. "And I shouldn't even think about it. I'm for the Wall, Syndra. Maybe not right away, not till Kenrith is firmly in place and has good men he can trust to look out for him, and not till we find you a good husband. But sooner or later, I'm for the Wall. I can't be thinking of marriage."
Syndra regarded him sadly. Serving on the Wall was an honorable task. There had always been a Hardy on the Wall. She knew that. But whenever her cousin said that, something inside Syndra simply balked. She didn't want the next Hardy on the Wall to be Godwyn.
"So says Lady Celia," Syndra frowned. "But is that what you really want, Godwyn? And what of Kenrith, and my father? Have you talked to them? What are their wishes?"
"It doesn't matter what anyone wishes, Syndra," Godwyn explained patiently. "Would you rather see Kenrith go? Or Celia's little boy? That would be honour, wouldn't it, to cleanse our house of Celia's blood my making her son take Uncle Mallador's place on the Wall."
She shrugged noncommittally. "Well, he *is* a third son," Syndra reasoned, trying not to sound callous. "In the generation before us, Father should've been the one on the Wall, but he was so much younger than his brothers that he couldn't go. Uncle Mallador went instead."
She rubbed Queenie's ears gently. "It could happen, Godwyn. You're right. All I'm saying is that it doesn't *have* to happen. My Uncle Leobald is castellan for his brother at Torrhen's Square. Perhaps Kenrith would rather have you serve him that way," she suggested.
"And perhaps I can," Godwyn said agreeably. "For a while. But just as your father was too young to be the one to go in his generation, so the boy is for ours. And eventually I have to go. Unless you want your father to take Mallador's place, and have the boy join him later?" He shook his head. "It won't do, Syndra."
She gazed over at him and she knew he was right. It struck her that in that moment, he was the grown man and she the child, clutching at possibilities just to keep her fragile life from changing yet again. She sighed heavily and ran her fingers up over her face and into her hair, nearly dislodging the comfrey blossom. "I'm sorry, Godwyn," she apologized. "You're right, of course. I think I'm having a hard time realizing that we're grown now. Things are changing so fast and it won't be long at all before we'll go our separate ways."
Her eyes began to grow bright. She looked down at the sleeping dog to give herself a moment to regain control. She chuckled dismissively. "Forgive me for trying to hold off the changes for just a little while longer?" she asked.
"There's nothing to forgive," he answered. He looked around at the trees surrounding them and sighed. "I came out here to ask the Gods for wisdom," he said. "To help me know the right thing to do. But that's wrong. They've already given us Their aid, the wisdom to know the right thing, and the strength to do it. They've been with us all our lives and will be forever."
Syndra looked up at the face on the heart tree again and smiled serenely. "And coming here reminds us of that," she reminded herself.
He rose to his feet. "I suppose we should be about Their business," he said, holding a hand out to her.
"Yes. It's going to be a long day," she agreed as she took his hand and rose.
As they began to walk back, Syndra said, "Rh... Maester Rhys told me this morning about Tovis and the men in the woods. Do you really think it might be related to the time you were attacked?"
"I don't know," he answered. "It may just be me trying to make things simpler by assuming they are all tied together. But we had men who may have been Wilders in the wood, and someone who went into town and knifed someone. And now we've got the same thing. And Ser Corryn was around both times." He shrugged. "I don't know," he repeated.
"Yes, but the last time they actually attacked Ser Corryn. This time the victims were Tovis and our men. It might not be related at all," Syndra said, feeling an overpowering need to defend her old friend by pointing out the differences. She paused in thought. "Except for the coin. I still have it, you know, if you need it."
"That's another thing," he said. "Last time they left a coin, which gave us a clue about who they might have been working for. But this time, they came back after they killed Tovis, and cut his hand off to get the coin they'd given him. Like somene remembered about leaving it last time."
"Oh," Syndra gasped, suddenly wary. She lowered her voice to nearly a whisper. "Perhaps I should keep that quiet then. So far, only you and Maester Rhys know about it. Oh, and Edlyn, if she remembers from two years ago. She was with me when I bought it from Tamlin."
"Edlyn's clever," Godwyn said thoughtfully. "And I trust her. Do you think you should tell her about all this, and see if she has any ideas? Or can keep her eyes and ears open?"
"I could, I suppose, if you're comfortable with it," Syndra responded, trusting his judgment. "And she might remember something we're forgetting from back then."
She glanced up at him tentatively, then added, "And I want to tell Ser Corryn too. I meant to do that when he was here before, but he left so quickly that I never had the chance. Since he travels so much, he might know more than we do about how it's connected."
Godwyn was silent for a long moment. "A couple of days ago, I would have said yes without any hesitation," he finally answered. "I still trust him. But..." He shrugged.
"I don't know, Syn. These last two days, I've been made to see that people have different loyalties, and even our friends may end up tied to people who aren't our friends. And Corryn, he's busy talking and making deals with everyone. I'm sure they all think they understand where his true loyalty lies, just like I do. So I just don't know anymore."
He turned to face her. "But I trust your judgement," he said. "If you say to trust the River Wolf, then I do."
"He's complicated, I know," Syndra explained patiently. "And he's not like a Hardy. He is driven not by honor, but by love and loyalty. He loved my brothers and I as if we were his own, and he loved my mother... like a sister. He'll never forgive Ser Herys for taking away what he considered to be his family. He'll never bow to the Boltons. Not truly.
"But you need to understand that he's also cunning. In trying to help us, he might do things that look like he's supporting the Boltons to throw them off their guard. Don't let it fool you. Shortly after my mother died, Ser Corryn swore an oath to protect me, and I swore one to him. He takes that seriously and he'll carry it out to his last breath. I know that like I know my own name." She paused for emphasis. "Despite his takeover of Leaning Stone, he's never sworn an oath to the Boltons. That's why I trust him."
She looked up at Godwyn with a little smile. "So don't run him through, all right?" she requested.
He grinned back at her. "Not sure I could," he said cheerfully. "He's so sneaky, he'd know before me that I'd decided to fight him, and he'd stab me in the back while I was trying to make up my mind."
Syndra laughed merrily. "No, he wouldn't. He likes you. He'd just knock you out and dress you in Volf's frilly frock."
Godwyn's answering laugh was loud and open, and he continued chuckling over the idea as they made their way back to the keep.