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(Continued from Morning Inside Marshend)

At first the ground seemed firm enough, as they rode out on what seemed to be a spit protruding into the lake. But before they had gone a mile, wheile the smoke from the chimneys of Marshend was still clearly visible, the ground underfoot began to become boggy. The horses slowed - each step they took was accompanied by a sucking sound as they pulled their hooves from the ground.

"We can't go on like this, Humble," Godwyn grumbled. "With the ground like this, the horses are a hindrance, not an aid. Is there a way that keeps us on solid ground?"

Humble nodded and pointed. "There is, but not for long. Especially if you want to go this direction. The only other way is around the lake, which leads us away."

"And leaves the way clear for them to come in and attack the village while we're gone," Godwyn mused. "No, we can't do that." He thought about it for a while, trying to decide what was best.

"These bandits, they had horses of their own, didn't they?" he asked Humble. "How are they getting around out here? Any thoughts on that?"

Humble smiled a rather nasty smile. "They have the same problem we do. I doubt they know where the trails are, but maybe they found one or three."

Indeed, just ahead, the mud of a particular spit looked rather more churned up than the others. A branch of the spur lay off to the right, also churned.

"If they went that way," said one of the younger men with a snigger, "they won't be coming back again."

Godwyn thought about this for a moment, then said, "Gabriel said you'd have good advice, Humble, and I'm not above listening to a man as knows the area. What do you suggest? How can we find them, and not walk into a trap?"

Then he blinked, and turned to the young man before Humble had a chance to answer. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Is that an especial dangerous place?"

Humble smiled and looked towards the younger man.

"Eel nest," said the younger man briefly. "You don't want to be stepping into one of them things."

"You've seen their handiwork, my Lord," Humble said. "Have you seen the eels themselves?"

"Just the one I slew," Godwyn answered. "A nest of them, huh? That would be a last step, sure enough. Pity we can't feed them all to the eels."

He looked around. "Right, then," he said. Then he paused, and added, in a less certain voice, "Right."

He scratched his head then. "So, trying to follow that track would be pure foolishness, right?"

"Wouldn't be hard for them to leave a false track," Humble says. "But you have to know. It's just... the farther we go, the more dangerous it will get."

"Aye, I see that," Godwyn said. "But what's the alternative? Waiting in the village for them to kill your folk one by one when you're too far away for me to protect you? I can't see that."

He stared out at the marshland, and then shook his head. "False trails, sending those dead men in to stir us up. I begin to think they know we're here, and are trying to tempt us into ambush. What do you think?"

"Of course they are," Humble said. He hesitated, then glanced back the way they had come.

"I hope you know what you're doing," he said to no one in particular, then turned back to Godwyn. He knelt, and began to draw a rough map of the lake in the mud with his finger.

"Maybe you'd want to split up. If you take the horses around the edge of the lake, here, then you'll eventually find an old cornfield that's been reclaimed by the marsh. There's an old scarecrow still on a post as a marker." He didn't mention that the scarecrow should have been long gone by then. "Cut through the field, you'll find an old trail that leads to a landing... here. Maybe you'd want some to follow the trail in the punts, and use the other men on horseback to come around and head them off. If they're there... and that's a big if... they got no place to go but out into the marsh... or north and west... up into the Ghost Fens."

Godwyn knelt down on one knees as well, ignoring the sucking mud and concentrating on Humble's map. "Aye," he said. "Phelam, what do you think? Men with bows in the punts, the rest of us on horseback? Think this will work?"

"That would work," said Phelan. "Most of us Knives, we're used to river work - we won't get sick in a boat. Put some of us in with the local men, keep the rest with you. Between us we can round them up, or drive them to these Ghost Fens they talk of. But what happens then? What's to stop them hiding away till we're gone - and then coming back?"

Godwyn looked back to Humble. "You speak of these Ghost Fens as a dangerous place. How dangerous are they?"

Humble looked acutely uncomfortable. "There's death in the Fens," he said. "And... most say... things that ought to be dead, but aren't. Stepping in the eels would be a cleaner way to go."

"Oh," Godwyn said. He looked back out at the marshland. "Old things?' he asked in a quieter voice. "Things it's best not to speak of, aye?"

The younger man cast a surreptious look over his shoulder at the marsh that lay dark behind.

"Aye," he said and swallowed.

"We're warned," Godwyn said. "Let us speak no more of it."

"Humble," he said as he turned back to that man. "You'll guide those of us who are staying on land. I'll take your suggestion. Thank you."

And he and Phelam began to discuss which of the men to send on the boats, and which would stay on land.

There was something eerie about the marshes, even on land, even on horseback. For the most part it was easy enough to keep to firm, solid ways. But occasionally a horse planted a hoof on what it - and its rider - thought was good solid ground only to feel its hoof sinking.

"They say, in the Old Days, a whole army was lost in marshes like these," Godwyn heard one of the younger Knives say. His voice did not show fear, though - more a kind of awe.

Godwyn nodded his head. "The Northlands are a hard land," he said. "The Old Gods have made it a test for us. If we are not strong and watchful enough, then it will take us, as a wolf takes a careless rabbit."

It was soon after that they started to scent smoke borne towards them on the morning breeze.

Godwyn raised his head and took in a deep breath. "Smoke," he said. "Someone up ahead. Look sharp, everyone."

They soon saw that what had looked like mist ahead of them was actually a column of smoke, hugging close to the ground, it power seemingly disipated by the unfriendly marshes.

Phelan leaned forwards to spit over his hirse's shoulder.

"That don't look natural to me," he said. "All around being so wet 'n' all."

"Aye, " Godwyn said. "Humble, is that fire a danger to us? Is our prey trying to turn the tables and send fire into out midst?"

Humble was watching it closely. "Fires can start out here," he said sombrely. "Sometimes the marsh spits out bad air, and it takes flame. Sometimes we see it burning for days and days ...

"But this ... it don't look liike that. Looks more like folks set that fire - and some while ago. It's not amed for us - I'd say it was something that's gotten out of hand."

"Aye, then. We need to keep an eye on it, I don't want us caught between the fire and the marsh. Let's not have to choose between burning to death or being eaten by eels, aye?"

He looked back over the men. "On, then," he told them. "But look sharp."

The men began to follow his lead, moving forward. He did not seem to need to tell them to be cautious; their nervousness at what they were undertaking was all too apparent.

After a while, there came a shout from away to their right - where the boats were. And then there was the sound of something heavy, or several things, blundering through the reeds towards them.

Godwyn drew his sword. "Right, then," he said. "If it's wild boar or somesuch, let them through. No point risking the horses for them. If it's men, kill them, unless you know who they are." He chuckled. "If you know them, and we shouldn't kill them, sing out."

The reeds parted, and a veritable giant of a man surged forward, clad in rather battered chainmail that bore a crest well nigh hidden by the mud. He hefted a huge battle axe; when he saw Godwyn and his men, he let out an enormous roar and charged forward. At his heels came some ten or a dozen more, their appearance suggesting that these were desperate men, outlaws and sellswords who had banded together.

And who were now bent on attack.

"Hold Fast!' Godwyn shouted, and spurred his horse to a charge, sword held high, directly at the man with the axe. He well remembered the recent example of Evan Tamm, and kept a watch for the man to swing at his horse. He counted on being faster with the sword than his foe was with an axe, and on it being simpler to read what a man with an axe would do in combat.

The axe wielder stood straight and swung his axe once, twice, thrice above his head.

And on the third swing, Godwyn's sword found its resting place between his ribs ...

The giant sank to his knees wearing an expression of stupefaction. But the moment of the axe carried it on, tearing it from the dying man's fingers and whirling through the air ... until it landed deep in the throat of the gelding that Phelan was riding. The horse screamed, rearing back from the pain. Phelan fought to keep his seat - although it was clear he couldn't do so for long - and many of their enemy, sensing blood and weakness, turned towards Phelan.

"For Holdfast and the Old Gods!" Godwyn screamed. He pulled his blade from the dying man and spurred his horse again, directing him on a mad charge through the middle of the men ganging up on Phelan.

His sword was a blur, striking first on one side and then the other with all the considerable might of Godwyn's great strength. The frustration and fury that had been building up in him from all the troubles and confusions of the recent past added power to his blows, and he reveled in the clarity of combat. Finally something that didn't require him to try to understand people's motivations or try to out-think their plots. Just the purity of combat, the task for which the Gods had made him.

And they died and died beneath his blade as the fury of battle seized him. The Laughing Knives fell back a little, afraid to come between the young warrior and his fury. Indeed, they contented themselves with hurrying after those who attempted to flee ...

Not one left the clearing alive.

Godwyn turned his horse in a tight circle, searching for more foes. A disappointed look crossed his face as he realized they were all dead.

"Who's injured?" he called out, looking over Corryn's men and the men from the village. "Anyone badly hurt?"

No-one was. Phelan had taken a gash on the legs - and one young Knife had broken his collar bone when his horse went down. That was the worst of it.

He rode back to the large man, and leaned down, examining the crest he wore through the mud and blood that covered his corpse.

It was much obscured and battered, but Godwyn could make out the image of a brid of prey, stooping. A sellsword then , who had once belonged to an obscure company - at least, obscure to anyone who had spent less time and attention studying obscure sellsword companies than Godwyn.

"Matson's Hawks," he said. "Matson died near seven years ago. Last I heard his band had pretty much all split and gone their separate ways." He frowned. "Seems I recall he had a big fellow like this, said to be the son of a woman raped during a raid from the Iron Islands. They said he was good, did pretty well in the melees." He shrugged, and turned away from the body, no longer interested. "Must have lost some skill with age. That wasn't much of a fight."

"Humble," he said as he dismounted and began checking his horse for any signs of injury. "Do you and the lads recognize any of them? Were these the men who came to your village, or have we got more of them out here still to go?"

Humble was moving among the corpses, examining them carefully.

"He was," he said. "And him. Him too. And I think him. Maybe a couple of the others too ...

"But there's some who should be here too and aren't. Fellow with a big scar across his face that took his left eye. And another with the Stranger's handprint cross his face*."

(i.e. a birthmark)

"Aye," Godwyn said. He thought a bit, then said. "So, then. Either there are more on ahead of us, or else they were clever and doubled behind us. Could be heading for the village while we're here."

He looked at Phelan and Humble. "Your thoughts?" he asked.

Humble sighed. "We need Keary," he said gloomily.

Godwyn looked around, as though expecting someone to rise from the swamp without warning.

Phelan glanced at him, and then addressed Godwyn directly. "It depends what they want, Sir. If there's something in the village they want, then maybe they'll attack. But I'm thinking that the boat that was sent ... and the eel ... that wasn't an attack. That was more like a warning. And the warning was ... Stay Away."

Godwyn nodded thoughtfully. "Aye, Phelam," he said. "That feels right to me." Her grinned then, the grin of a rambunctious boy. "I've never been good at listening to warnings. Let's bind that fellow up," he indicated the man with the broken collarbone, "And send him back to the village with one of the local lads. And then we press on."

This was quickly accomplished, and the injured (another man was judged to be unfit to continue) set out with admonistions that if they saw or heard anything, they were to sound out a shout together.

The rest moved forward.

"We'll have to leave the horses soon," Humble told Godwyn. "The ways become too narrow and too treacherous. That smoke ahead ... I think we should make for it."

"Dismount," Godwyn ordered them, setting the example. He chuckled. "Corryn will have a fit if I lose his horses, won't he Phelam? Still, he'll be more upset if I lose any of his men."

He drew his sword again, and smiled. "We'll leave the horses here. Everyone, pay attention to what the locals tell you about where to put your feet. No drowning in the bogs, not even for a joke." He chuckled. It was clear the earlier fight had left him in excellent spirits.

"Let's do it," he told Humble.

They made their way slowly through the marsh ... until there was a sudden sound of struggling and thrashing up ahead, punctuated by screams of sheer terror.

Godwyn held up a hand, "Hold!" he ordered firmly. "We don't rush in like fools. Continue the advance. Slow and careful."

Humble swallowed - he looked greenish, more even than the greenish light of the marshes could account for.

"Sounds like eels to me, Ser," he said.

Those men who had seen the dead bodies in the boat - and those who had merely heard the tale - exchanged rueful glances. The screams from the marsh redoubled.

"Aye," Godwyn nodded. "So, then. Justice, if it's them being eaten by the same creatures they set on our men. We'll move ahead, but careful. I count on you to keep us out of any eel nest, Humble."

He started ahead again, sword at the ready.

Through the tussoks of marsh grass they could see a boat out on the water, one of the flat bottomed boatts the villagers used. Byut this was half-sinking. to one side a man was kying, his head and shoulders (or what was left of them) hanging out of the boat and into the water, where a flurry of eels were roiling slickly in the water as the snapped and gouged at the pretty treat he made. Seated in the boat was a man in his late thirties, perhaps. It was he who was screaming. One arm was hanging at his side - no longer an arm, really - a bloddy rag that dripped into the water, enraging the eels more as they attempted to slither into the boat.

The only one trying to fend them off was the third person in the boat - a woman, or perhaps a girl. Like the men, she wore the dress and insgnia of a sellsword - but there was no mistaking her gender, even as she fiercely attacked the eels with her only weapon - a boathook. Her fair hair was splattered with blood, but her vigorous attack suggested that it wasn't her own.

"Arrows!" Godwyn snapped. "Kill as many of the eels as you can, let the rest feed on them. I'm not leaving a girl to die like that."

His eyes roved through the marsh grass, making certain that no one was using this as a distraction to sneak up on them unnoticed.

Startled, the men first gaped at him, and then hastened to obey his orders. They seemed to be the only ones present ...

The arrows flew and the girl swung round, startled, trying to see who her rescuers were through the marsh grass. Another scream from the man in the bow drew her attention back and she fell to her bloody work with the boathook again.

The injured and dead eels fell back into the water where their fellows fell on them, thrashing and writhing. The boat rocked violently back and forth and the girl, realising her danger as it began to take in water, looked around wildly.

"Rope," Godwyn snarled. "Any of you bring rope?"

One of the young village men nodded and unslung a coil of rope from around his shoulder. "People get caught in the sucking mud..." he started to explain, but Godwyn waved off his explanation. He took the rope and held one end, then with a powerful heave of his shoulders he tossed the coil out towards the boat, aiming over and past it.

He sent a silent prayer to the Old Gods that it would be long enough.

It was - and she caught it, deftly. But her first motion was to turn and attempt to tie it to the injured man in the boat, even as the connection of the rope began to pull the boat steadily towards them. Clearly she valued saving her companion above her own life ... and yet there seemed little life left to save.

Godwyn said nothing, just set himself to pulling the sinking boat to shore as rapidly as he could, without risking jerking the girl or her companion into the dangerous water.

The boat came closer and closer - and Godwyn could see the fear that showed in her eyes, although she was making every effort to conceal it.

"Take him first!" she gasped, pointing to the man who lay in the welter of gore at the bottom of the boat. "I .. I can jump!"

"Stubborn girl," Godwyn muttered under his breath. He began to back up, continuing to pull as quickly as he could, attempting to pull the boat completely out of the water and onto the marshy ground before it sank completely.

The boat came out in jerks. The man whose head had fallen into the water was dead, and messily so. The other man, younger and sallow-faced, was in danger of dying from blood loss from his lost arm. The girl waiting until he was hauled ashore before she left the boat too. Her concern for her injured comrade seemed balanced by a certain pugnacious attitude towards Giodwyn and his men. Then she saw the Marshenders - and paled.

Godwyn dropped the rope, and let his hand drop to his sword. "Tell us who you are, girl. And speak truth, if you wish your friend there to live."

"I'm Anna Faher of Bravoos!" she said. "That man is my brother - Lazlo. Let me go to him!"

"Bravoos?" Godwyn looked bemused. "You're a long way from home." He nodded to his men. "Let her see to her brother. We can decide later what needs to be done about them, but there's no recovering from death."

He watched as she went to her brother, then asked quietly. "Any of you village men recognize her or her brother? Were they among the ones who came to your village before?"

They shook their heads - although one pointed to the headless corpse in the boat. "See that tattoo on that on'es arm? The arm he's still got, I mean. See'd one like that on a sellsword was drinking in the Sheep, two nights afore it was burned down."

"Aye," Godwyn said, still speaking softly, so the girl could not hear. "Well, that's enough evidence for me not to weep over the man's death. But we'll hear out the girl and her brother afore we condemn them. For now, any of you have enough leech-craft to help her keep him from dying right off?"

He set the men who claimed such knowledge to help the girl, then called Humble and Phelan over to him. "Seems to me we're getting into marshland that's hard to walk through now," he said. "You two think there's any point in us pushing further ahead? Any likelihood there's anyone else out this way other than the ones we've already killed?"

He looked out over the fens, frowning. "I don't want to leave a job half-done, but I don't want to waste time on a fool's errand, either."

"They're out there, though," said Phelan. "And that girl - I reckon she could lead us to them. And maybe she'd do it - to see her brother safe."

"Aye," Godwyn said. "Though I'd rather offer taking her brother back for care as a reward, not hold his safety over her as a threat. She seems a plucky thing, and may well lead us into a trap if she has cause to hate us."

He walked over towards the girl and her brother. "How does he?" he asked.

She looked up at him, her face blotched and stained with tears. Her face was homely; no beauty here. But then, no beauty was likely to survive long as a female sellsword.

"He needs the blood staunched," she said. "And there may be poison in the wound. I ... I need fire to cleanse it."

Godwyn frowned, staring down at the bleeding man. Then his eyes met hers, and he nodded, decisively. "Phelam," he said to Phelan. "Get a fire going. We can spare her a quarter hour to save her brother, if she can. I have a spare shirt in my saddlebag, give it her for bandages."

"Talk while you work, girl," he said. His voice wasn't especially hard, but neither was it soft. "Buy your lives with truth. I would know why there are so many sellswords on Hardy land."

"Hardy land?" she echoed. "Is that what this is? Marshes and all? Well, you're welcome to it as far as it concerns me. No offence, lordling - but this is a benighted place." She glanced around and shivered. "Were I from the Ghost Fens away and clear, profit again should hardly draw me near. But we were promised a mortal amount of money to find it safe. I'm guessing we all were."

"Huh?" Godwyn said. "What are you talking about? Promised money for what?"

"They didn't tell me," she replied. "Nor any of us in the ranks. The knights might have known ... we just knew that it was a box ... a box made of glowstone. And so large that we would not mistake it. Long enough to bear a man, they said, a small man. As wide as his body ... and not too deep."

"Glowstone?" Godwyn said. His voice seemed a curious mixture of awe and disbelief.

Then a frown appeared on his face. "Knights?" he asked. "What knights are these?"

She shrugged. "Sellsword captains, hedgeknights ... idiots who sometime, somehow had started calling themselves knights while we do the work. There's several companies on the hunt - they say the Brave Companions are coming - or some of them."

Godwyn's frown grew deeper. "Someone must be offering a great deal of money, to draw all these bands," he said.

He grew silent, thinking about what she had said, as he watched her tend to her brother.

Her brother seemed in a bad way, having lost a lot of blood. She dealt with the wounds with efficiency; it seemed she had considerable experience of field medicine and her dealings would probably have met Sewell's approval.

Phelan came up to Godwyn as he stood watching her.

"What now, Master?" he said.

"I'm not inclined to head back yet," Godwyn answered. "Not if there are still more of them out there that we can take." He frowned. "But try to keep the villagers from getting overconfidant. Things have been easy so far, and I hope they stay that way. But counting on it is the surest way to walk into trouble."

"Girl," he said, turning back to her. Then he shook his head. "I can't call you that. What's your name?"

"I'm called Bree," she said. "though my father called me Brelind. Bree will serve - although any man who uses it ill might expect my dagger between his ribs."

Her expression suggested she meant what she said.

"And my brother is Jaquard," she added. "Though most here call him Jack."

"Bree and Jack," Godwyn acknowledged, with a nod of his head. "I am Godwyn Hardy. You didn't come into the village, did you? The villagers would have remembered a girl. What about the rest of your band? Did any of them go to Marshend?"

Bree looked uncomfortable. "Some did," she said. "Not Jack, or me. They're deeper in the marsh."

"Well then, Bree," Godwyn said. "Here's what I offer you. Those as came to Marshend treated it ill, and I'm here to see to their punishment. Lead us to them, fair and without trickery, and I'll see you and your brother back to the village, and him treated as best we can. If it's true that the two of you weren't involved in what happened at Marshend you'll be free to go."

Bree's head lifted and she looked him fully in the eye - a look he would expect more from a man than a woman (except for his cousin).

"Do you expect me to betray my companions?" she said. "We are sellswords - but we are loyal to our own."

Then she sighed. "But ... there are three ... who came lately. And boasted of what they did." She was silent for a moment, and then said, "If you will care for my brother, I'll take you through the marshes to our band. Just you - and two others. You can pose as sellswords and talk to our leader. He's an honorable man - he will give you those creatures when he learns what they have done. But I won't have my own companions harmed."

"Huh," Godwyn said. His brow furrowed as he thought. "Honour can mean different things to sellswords than to nobles," he observed. "And I've heard men say that honour doesn't sit well on a hungry belly. Still...." he thought a little longer, then asked, "This captain of yours, what's his name? What band does he lead?"

"He name is Josslyn of Highgarden," said Bree. "They say he did something so wrong as a young man that his family disowned him and he travelled to Braavos ... They don'r say it to his face. But he deals fairly with his men - and made sure I was safe too. There's many wouldn't take on a woman or, if they did, would see her as sport. For Josslyn, I am one of the band - and I won't betray him."

There was a certain, revealing softening in her face and voice as she spoke of their leader.

"Josslyn?" Godwyn repeated, interest in his voice. "Aye, him I've heard of. And I'd dearly like to meet him. I've heard it said he has all the honour a sellsword can afford, and then some. Well, then, I shall come with you."

He turned back to his band of men. "Phelam, you're in charge till I return. Take her brother and see to his health, as well as the village is able. Guard the village against any more attacks. If I'm not back by tomorrow noon, then hang him." He looked back to Bree.

She was biting her lower lip, her expression strained.

"Sorry, girl, but I am a lord's son, and there must be a hostage to assure no one thinks to hold me ransom." He chuckled. "Not that any Northerner would be so foolish. Hardys don't pay ransom."

She managed a nod.

He pointed to one of Corryn's men, seemingly at random, "You're with me," he said. And then to one of the young villagers. "And you, to help us find our way back out of this marsh without falling prey to eels."

"Lead on, Bree," he ordered.

She hesitated, looking at the half -ruined boat. "It's qquicker by water," she said. "In the marshes, the paths change. But ... "

She shrugged. Clearlyy her recent experiences by water had discouraged her - and the corracle was in no state to be poled out into the sliggish stream again.

"I can find a boat," volunteered the villager. "If that's what you want."

"Aye," Godwyn said. "Better a boat than stumbling about, not sure where we are."

As the villager disappeared in the marsh Godwyn soften his voice. "Here, Bree," he said. "Let's get your brother ready to travel back to the village, see that he's as comfortable as may be. You'll go easier knowing that."

She looked at him and managed a tired and grateful smile. Then she set to work with him and Phelan.

She was practical and efficient, and dealt with the men not as though she was used to being obeyed as a lady, but used to being worked with as a comrade. Soon he brother was settled with the best comforts that could be arranged for him, and the party were ready to head back. But Phelan, taking Godwyn aside, was pessimistic.

"There's not many survive an injury like that," he said. "Leastways - not without good maester care."

"Aye," Godwyn replied quietly. "Well, make him comfortable, and do what you can. I've told the girl we'll do the best for him we can, and a Hardy's word is good. But we can't do more than we can do."

He clapped Phelan on the shoulder. "Take care," he said.

Phelan nodded sombrely, and set off. Bree, after a last squeeze of her brother's hand as she knelt beside his bier, rose to her feet.

"Let's go," she said, her voice more husky than before - but a sudden, fierce glower at Godwyn defied him to find her eyes overly shiny.

"Boat," Godwyn said to the villager. He set off after the young man, pretending not to notice the girl's emotions. He'd learned a few things from Syndra, at least.

The villager proved his worth; he took them swiftly to a half-hidden, overgrown creek. Pulling back the tangled reeds revealed a servicable corracle in good repair concealed beneath.

A blackened "K" has been burned into one side.

"Keary," said the villager succinctly. "'E won't mind - not if we're offing Outsiders."

Bree gave a little shudder as they pushed off from the bank.

"I hate this place," she muttered.

"It's not a kind place to outsiders," Godwyn says with a firm nod of his head.

He turns to look at the villager. "Keary," he says, "I'd like to meet that man. I've heard tell of him."

The villager gave a reluctant smile. "He don't hold with lords and suchlike, sir. Keary goes his own way."

Godwyn nodded thoughtfully.

There was a note of respect in his voice, as he started to pole the corracle along the long narrow channel. The Laughing Knife was looking around uneasily, far from laughing now. Bree was frowning with concentration.

"These channels all look alike," she said worriedly.

"To us, aye," Godwyn replied complacently. "But only because we don't know them. It's like my dogs. Some people claim as how they can't tell them apart." He chuckled at the absurdity of that.

Then he frowned. "Bide a moment," he said. "Are you lost, Bree?"

She glanced up at him and then gave a quick, unhappy nod.

"We twisted and turned so," she explained, "to try to escape those eels."

Godwyn continued to frown for a few moments, but then he relaxed. "Don't fret," he said encouragingly. "Fretting doesn't help in trying to think. Think about where the camp was, and how you got here. It'll come."

Bree frowned.

The villager cleared his throat and addressed Godwyn in an undertone. "If she can remember any particular things that stuck out, I might be able to help."

Godwyn nodded. "Tell us about the place where you camped," he suggested. "What do you remember about it? And was there anything odd, anything that you noticed special, when you were headed to or from it?"

"There was a tree," said Bree. "Some some of fire there ... recently. It still smelled of smoke ... JOsslyn said that it was well out though. We camped just near there ... "

The villager nodded eagerly. "There *was* a fire, a few days ago," he said eagerly, and began to pole their craft along more rapidly. "I remember well, the part the smoke came from ... that should help us."

"Good, good," Godwyn replied with a smile. "That's good. Anything else? Think about what was around the camp. Where did sentries keep watch from? What sort of cover was there?"

She frowned, trying to remember. "By the tree," she said slowly. "There wieren't many trees around. And something else about it ... it was like the air was colder there."

"That's good, that's good," Godwyn said encouragingly. He looked at the villager. "That sound familiar?" he asked.

"Not the cold," said the villager. "But the tree - I reckon it will be near Gallows Gap as we call it. About half a mile north of here - shall we pole for it now? We could be there in an hour or so if the reed beds haven't shifted."

"Aye," Godwyn said. "Sooner begun, sooner ended." He looked around, his face showing relaxed watchfulness. "It's not like the forest," he said, "But the marshland has its own beauty, doesn't it? A hard land for outsiders who don't respect it. I like that."

The villager nodded, a faint smile on his face. "The old Lord loved it too," he said. "Your father. He came through these beds with my da, many's the time, in the Winter, with the snowing falling soft and silent. My da told me silent it is - and how colour is gone. Even the sky would be grey, he said, in the depths of winter."

Bree gave a little shudder. "I respect it," she said, "but I don't like it. Give me sun and sand ... I think I'll take service in Dorne when this is over."

She pulled her jacket closer about her, and, indeed, the air did seem to be growing chill.

Godwyn frowned. "No talk of Winter," he said. "Tis ill luck. Such talk is better saved for a warm fireside."

Bree, who had seemed on the point of sayiong something, subsided.

Then suddenly she gave a little cry. "Over there! See? That tree? That's where it is - the camp is hard by there."

"Ayes," said the villager youth with satisfaction. "That's where I was thinking you were meaning."

He started to steer them closer ... and all around was still ... and chilled.

"Where are they?" Godwyn wondered. "Did they see us coming? Are they lying in wait for us?" His eyes swept over the bank, searching for signs of life.

They should have seen us by now," said Bree wiorriedly. "They ... can't have moved on so soon. Not without us."

In her anxiety, she seemed prepared to scramble overt the side of the boat and up the bank.

A chill breeze blew over them suddenly - it came from the North.

"Wait," said Godwyn. His head came up, like a hound scenting the wind.

Distantly they could hear noises and shouts. A fire, it seemed, was burning somewhere. But where they were was cold, so cold that a thick mist began to rise from the water ...

And then there was a rustle in the marsh grass of the bank, as though something heavy was dragging itself forward.

"Get us away from here," Godwyn said grimly. His hand went to his sword hilt, and his eyes swept the shore. "Get us away from here now."

His lips moved as he silently added to himself, "Old Gods defend us."

"But Josslyn!" said Bree. "Josslyn - what of him?"

As if in answer, from the bank where the rustling had been, a dark, heavy figure broke through the undergrowth and slid, ungainly, down the back to crash into the shallow water. Its hand moved, as though stretching out towards them in supplication.

Godwyn swore violently. Then he said, "Fine. Get us to him. We'll save him if we can." He moved to the front of the boat and stared at the figure in the water.

The man was now face down in the water. He was turning slowly ... around ... around ... He might be dead - but one hand made feeble splashing motions at the water.

Bree gasped. "It's Josslyn!"

And then there was a roar as the vegetation on the bank burst into flame.

"[email protected] it all," Godwyn swore. He stood, and the boat rocked alarmingly. He took a deep breath, then plunged into the chilly water.

With powerful strokes of his arms and legs Godwyn propelled himself underwater to where Josslyn lay face down. He grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and pulled him underwater, away from the flames. Godwyn swam backwards, pulling the man after him, for ten feet or so before splashing back to the surface, bringing Josslyn up with him. He gasped for air, then stared into the man's face, looking for signs of life.

Josslyn's face awas still, waxy ....

And then suddnely he gave a huge sneeze and his eyes opened wide quite abruptly.

A second later, the pole of the boat came crashing down, horizontally held, like a club, not three inches from Godwyn's head.

And Bree screamed.

"Eels! EELS!"

"Gods [email protected] it!" Godwyn swore. He swung Josslyn up and into the boat, then grabbed hold of the side to slide himself over into it without dunking them all into the water with the eels.

He felt something slide against his leg in the water - and then the pole came down with crashing force on his shoulder.

"Sorry!" shouted the Marshender - and then the pole crashed just to his right as Bree and the Knife grabbed at Godwyn's shoulders to haul him the rest of the way into the boat. For a moment then all lay together in a tangled heap on the mercifully flat bottom - and then Bree crawled to Jossyln's side ... while the Knife was trying to haul godwyn up into a sitting posuition demanding, "Did it get you, lad?" and the Marshender smashed away at the eels with cries of excitement.

They were drifting closer to the fiery bank.

"Don'," Godwyn gasped, looking down at his leg to be certain it was still there. Then he sat up. "Get us away from the fire!" he shouted.

The Marshender started to apply his pole to the purpose for which it was intended, and the craft pulled rapidly away from bank, fire and (seemingly) eels altogether. Bree was still crouched worriedly over Josslyn; the other two seemed shaken but not harmed by their experience - although the Knife said quietly to Godwyn, "I reckon that were no natural fire."

"Nor no natural cold, neither," Godwyn answered, equally quietly. "There's things abroad in the marsh. The sellswords are welcome to it."

"Here, Bree!" he called out then, raising his voice. "How does he? Did I risk my life for a corpse, or no?"

"He's alive!" Bree called back. "But barely - we need to get him back to dry land quickly!

"I'm going as fast as I can!" called the village youth.

"We're none of us maesters here, girl," Godwyn says. "In the boat, or on dry land, it's in the gods' hands if he lives or dies. We'll get back to the village as quick as may be. If he lives that long, mayhap there will be someone who can do more for him than we can."

He shrugged, looking back at the smoke of the fire. "But we're not putting into shore anywhere near hear," he muttered.

It took a half hour of steady paddling to bring them within sight of the buildings of Marshend.

"How's he doing, Bree?" Godwyn asked when the village came in sight. "We're nearly there."

He watched the approaching village closely, worried that it might have been attacked in their absence.

Page last modified on January 12, 2008, at 10:21 PM