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Merivel Derron and Mariam have Visitors

Derron sighed aloud. He could see where this was going. "You expect he will be in Marshend during this gathering of Boltons an Hardys, eh? Are you telling me you wish to go and look for him there? If so, we could take a couple of men and go check..."

"Both myself and Mariam would be unwise choices for this." Merivel began. He smiled briefly and looked to Derron more fully. "You, however, good steward, are the man suited for the task."

Derron shook his head emphatically. "No. I don't know this fellow at all, and asking around will only raise too many eyebrows. No, if any of us go, we all go. Otherwise we remain here and hope for the best."

Merivel nodded slightly to Derron, and glanced to Mariam for her reaction and response.

"I think ... we should all go ... " began Mariam.

Just then, there was a knocking on the door.

Derron's head started, but realizing there had been no cries of distress, he simply opened the door and was pleasantly surprised to see Catriona and Niko.

Merivel bobbed his head.

"Good timing, you two." He paused, then look back into the room. "Come in and rest. Binnder, take care of their horses, if you please. Water, brush, the usual. We might be heading back out shortly." Binnder acknowledged the request with a wave. As Derron let the pair inside he said, "We're going to be heading into town shortly. Mariam is worried that one of the sons of Lord Bolton, who is in hiding from his father, might need our help. At least, that's my understanding. Mariam, if I have that wrong, please explain it again for us all. Myself especially." Once the door was closed he said, "Have something to drink and eat, and tell us of your travels. What news from Clearwater?"

"I found Aerin wandering in the marshes," Catriona replied bluntly as she walked into the cottage, Keir at her side. "She's safe now, and on her way back to Clearwater with your Lordship. As are the errant Minstrel and Callon. Lord Draupaud asked us to come as his messengers instead, though Niko knows more of Clearwater's tidings to Marshend than I."

Derron cursed under his breath, then said aloud, "Thank you for taking care of her. I'm sure Lord Draupaud, and her father, will see you rewarded."

Merivel bobbed his head to Aerin and Niko.

A frown settled over the hunter's face then. "A dead man hangs from a tree not too far from here, a symbol of a dragon carved into his chest. Whoever did it headed into the fens. Do you know anything of this, Derron, or should I scout for more information while Niko and your men bear Clearwater's news to Marshend?"

"The symbol of a dragon, you say?" Merivel said. He furrowed his eyebrows, trying to recall what that might portend but finally shook his head, even if Aerin hadn't asked him directly.

Derron thought a moment then said, "This is news to us. As to what you should do, I must leave that up to you. You have done us great services, and it is we who are in your debt. If you still wish to stay with us, your presence, and that of the direwolf, will be most welcome. If you have other fish to fry, I will wish you well, and promise to get you all rewards once back at Clearwater. Now, if you want my opinion on this hanged body, I would leave it for now. I fear it would be someone trying to lure more of us into the swamps, either to attack there, or draw down our forces to attack here." He paused, then said, "Let me hear what His Lordship wishes first, though. It might be there would be time for you to do some scouting into the marsh...Niko, do you bring instructions from Lord Draupaud?"

"Only a missive for Lord Stark, whom he was coming to meet," Niko said. "Lord Draupaud was on his way here to meet with Lord Stark, but there was apparently more to our minstrel than met the eye. Lord Draupaud left with him to return to Clearwater."

Derron frowned then said, "Well, then we definitely have a reason to go into town. Grab some food, and once your horse is ready, we'll take the wagon." He turned to Catriona and said, "If you wanted to scout the marsh, we won't leave for another hour or so."

"Aye, knowing what's out there would set my mind at ease," Catriona replied. "I'll leave the horse that Lord Draupaud loaned me here, since tracking in the marsh is simpler...and quieter...afoot."

Merivel cocked his head in Catriona's direction. "I don't think you need me to tell you to be careful in the marsh." the Maester said mildly.

"A reminder never hurts," Catriona answered seriously. "Those who underestimate the Fens do so at their peril."

She motioned for Keir to follow her, and headed for the door. When she was on the threshold, she paused, turning back to share one more thought. "If I don't return within the hour, I will meet you in Marshend. Depending on where my tracking takes me it might be easier to circle through the marsh than return here."

A look of amusement creased her face then. "And you'll know I've arrived when you hear the locals screaming and running away from a lone dusty tracker and her wolf. Most of Marshend thinks I burned to a crisp in the fire at Gabriel's inn, after all."

Derron broke a small grin at that. "Take care. We'll keep ours eyes open for you, and tell Binnder your basic plan so the guards expect you back."

Merivel gave a nod of agreement. "Indeed, we'll do that."

"Aye, I'll speak to Binnder," Catriona agreed.

After closing the door behind her, she stopped to speak with the Steward's man. She scammed a piece of bread from Binnder as she told him of her plans to go scouting, with a possible return to the cottage if time allowed before the party left for Marshend.

She and Keir then set off back down the road, heading towards the hanged man's tree, from which she hoped to pick up the trail of the ones implicated.

"Shall we go, then?" asked Mariam.

Merivel nodded to Mariam, and then ooked at Derron. "Since we have decided to go together, it would be best to start immediately. We don't want Catriona to get there *ahead* of us. And we need to deal with this fulminating trouble as soon as possible."

Derron sighed. "Very well. Niko, you might as well grab a different horse, but if you prefer the one you have, we'll tie him to the back of the wagon and he can walk for now. By now he'll have been washed and watered. He can walk with a feed bag if you like. In the meantime, everyone gather what you intend to take. I'll ready the wagon." With that he stood and stretched, then went out the door. The others inside could hear him calling out commands.

Accustomed to the horse, Niko went to make arrangements for the feed bag and the tethering, making sure to be ready to go by the time the others are.

"The road to Marshend." Merivel observed to Mariam. "is going to become more than passingly familiar now. I don't think we'll have time to stop to gather any herbs on the way this time, alas." he said.

"Come." he said amicably to Mariam.

Derron had the draft horses hitched to the wagon in short order, and loaded his sword and shield in the back, along with some food and water for them all. He hoped they could find the same in town, but in case the influx of soldiers had snapped up all the supplies, they would not go hungry today. His own horse was tied to the back of the wagon. As Mariam approached he offered her his hand to help her onto the bench, and indicated Merivel could ride on the other side. He was about to climb aboard himself when he felt a familiar nudge at his knee. He looked down to see Lancer gazing back up at him plaintively.

"You really want to come?" The dog's tail wagged a bit. "If you insist." He bent down and scooped the old hound into his arms and set him into the back of the wagon, where he immediately setted himself among the bags of food, though he showed no signs of eating any of it at this time. Derron then climbed in and grabbed the reins. "Everyone ready? Niko, if you prefer to ride, ride mine for now, and bring yours along as well."

"The road to Marshend." Merivel observed to Mariam. "is going to become more than passingly familiar now. I don't think we'll have time to stop to gather any herbs on the way this time, alas." he said.

"Come." he said amicably to Mariam.

They made good time on the road. Soon they saw a clod of dust about two leagues ahead of them - it seemed they were catching up with Lord Bolton's rearguard.

Niko, on Derron's horse, looked towards the Steward deferentially to see what he would wish to do.

Derron did not slow down, nor did he speed up. If they actually caught up to the rear guard before reaching town, then he would slow it down and maintain a respectable distance, neither hiding from nor crowding the Bolton men. If any of the guards approached to question them, he would stop and speak with them. Otherwise, there was no reason to alter their course of action.

Merivel folded his hands together and gave a reassuring glance to Mariam. He mouthed the words "It will be all right", and then resolutely looked forward, back toward the rearguard that Derron's handling of the horse was bringing them closer toward.

"We're going to shadow them?" Merivel asked Derron quietly.

Derron shrugged. "We're going the same way. If we run into them, so be it." A few of the rearguard waited, until they saw clearly who was riding in the wagon. Then they nodded curtly to Derron and cantered off. Clearly the steward of an ally was deemed trustworthy.

Mariam huddled further under her cloak.

Merivel did not hide or huddle. He kept a slightly detached and distracted air, as if an enormous thought or set of thoughts occupied the Maester's mind.

Derron nodded with a small grin on his face. "There we go. I think we'll be fine all the way to town, now." He kept the cart at its sedate pace. There was no reason to hurry, especially since it would simply draw attention. They would be in town soon enough. Merivel shook away his mien once they were safely past the rearguard.

"Indeed. Your reputation and bearing do you credit and do us well, Derron." Merivel said.

Derron slowly exhaled. "Thank you. I have to admit I was a tiny bit worried..." He grinned and winked at the pair of them.

Merivel returned the grin and then turned his attention forward toward what awaited them.

As they came down the hill towards the small town, they could see the banners of Stark flying; Lord Stark had arrived in the town, it appeared, and was busy setting up camp. There was also the banner of Manderly, and the emblem of the Laughing Knives was present on the hill and flying in the town itself. There was also a small Hardy banner on the hill, close to Lord Stark's main standard.

There was also a contingent of men in black, engaged in setting up a camp within the main camp.

Niko slowed again, looking toward the Steward to see where he would have them go.

Derron stopped the wagon only long enogh to survey the scene. He then blinked. "Why are there Manderly men here?" He sighed then answered himself. "I suppose we'll find out soon enough. Might as well announce our presence properly. We'll go right down to town and look for Lord Stark. As Steward, I must make sure he knows Clearwater has some representation here, and why. He may ask for our version of some events, as well." He turned to Merivel adding, "Especially your treatment by House Hardy. And don't worry. They won't dare try anything so close to Lord Stark himself."

"One hopes that you are right, Derron." Merivel said, an uncharacteristic tone of fear and dread creeping into those few syllables. He stared hard at the series of banners set up. "It's almost like a fair, given the congregation of powers and Houses represented in those banners." Merivel said, recovering his more dulcet tones.

With that the wagon once more began rolling, towards the Stark banner.

As they drew closer, they began to see not only banners but individuals too - all of whom seemed intent in the own conversations. Derron had seen Lord Stark before, in the war, when he had been a young man, and also later, graver with years, on two visits to Clearwater. To Niko, most of those present were, of course, strangers. Merivel on the other hand knew a number of the individuals. Mariam kept her face hidden within her cloak, lest any Bolton should identify her.

There were Marshenders, with two mercenaries in the livery of the Laughing Knives on the gate; the Bolton contingent largely drew to one side, leaving Lord Bolton and three of his banner knights to ride towards where Lord Stark was gathered on the opposite hill.

The Marshenders clearly recognised Mariam and the cart, but looked to see what this party wished to do before opening the gate.

Derron steered the cart towards the hill upon which Lords Stark and Bolton were. He would stop the cart at a respectful distance. He had no doubt some sergeant or steward of Lord Stark would ask his business. Until then they would wait.

As the cart rolled along, Merivel began subtle gestures of his hand toward the individuals he could identify. He spoke their names in a low tone of voice, solely for the benefit of Derron, Niko and Mariam.

"I am only as much accustomed to weapons as a third son of a noble should be." Merivel said at one point. "However, my eyes tell me that if things come to blows, we are best off getting out of the way first. We have a lot of professional warriors all around here, all on different sides."

"It's like kindling waiting for a spark."

Mariam glanced at him. "Think you that Lord Stark cannot hold this in check?" she asked.

Derron shrugged as he brought the cart to a halt, waiting for some Stark man-at-arms or minor knight approached. "He can not prevent trouble from erupting, but I suspect if such trouble does arise, his men will manage to stop it relatively quickly. The question is would it be quick enough to prevent further trouble. If some Hardys and some Boltons got into it, what if someone important was killed? That would just create more bad blood all around." He paused before adding, "But since any Bolton man would have to be punished by Bolton himself, in front of Lord Stark, bound to be harsh. Hopefully that will keep the lid on the pot for now."

"Derron has the right of it. Oftentimes, Mariam, it is a matter of putting out the fire, rather than preventing it in the first place. And as the Steward says, hopefully Stark will put it out fast enough to avoid further ramifications."

"I daresay this assemblage of nobles and lords will be tense enough as it is even if steel is never drawn." Merivel finished.

Someone else was suddenly tense. Merivel was aware of it as she sat beside him, but Derron too could not help noticing that she was leaning forward a little in the cart, the hood sliding back from her face as she stared at a group of men riding towards what was clearly an encampment on the far side of town. Several worn the sombre black of the Nightwatch; others appeared to be sellswords, not all in the livery of the Laughing Knives.

Mariam was staring at one in particular, a young man in the company of a lumbering brute of a man and a smaller man, his head shaven and the look of a hard-bitten fighter, one used to living off his wits.

Derron noticed her attention, and recalled her fears about someone. He asked very quietly, to avoid any eavesdroppers, "Is that the boy you seek?"

Merivel looked at the young man a moment after Derron noticed Mariam's interest. He stared at him, appraising his abilities even as he had one ear turned toward the answer to Derron's question.

"I think so," said Mariam. "He has changed ,,, but it has been some time. Could ... could one of you approach him?"

Derron felt his teeth grinding. He was getting frustrated at the pace of things. He hated being exposed, relatively alone, even within sight of Lord Stark. He had made a bargain with Mariam. But he did have a higher responsibility.

"Not now. Until we make ourselves known to Lord Stark, I'd rather not leave this spot." He looked around for someone wearing Stark livery that he could speak to about meeting with His Lordship.

"Once we have made ourselves known." Merivel said to Mariam. "I can go and approach him." Merivel offered. "Carefully" he added as an afterthought with a nod toward Derron.

Mariam nodded. "Very well," she agreed. "As long as the Boltons do not get wind of his presence first - or mine."

The banners and the positioning of the people around made the presence of Lord Stark apparent - even to those who did not know him.

Derron finally became fed up with waiting for one of Stark's retainers to approach him. He once more set the wagon moving towards Lord Stark. No doubt that would get someone to acknowledge their presence.

"The direct approach, good Derron?" Merivel murmured as the wheels of the wagon were set in motion once more. The tone of his voice was neither teasing nor rebuking, rather the tone of respect for a decision made well in character and mind of the person he was addressing.

"There is nobility and then there is Nobility." Merivel said, mostly to himself, but for the benefit of Derron and Mariam as well. Lord Stark, I think, fits and embodies the latter."

Page last modified on October 20, 2008, at 02:21 PM