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No Rest for the Weary


Spattered with both Lady Celia's and the Steward's blood, Rhys decided it would be prudent to change his robes first.

He left Pennyways as comfortable as possible, dosed on poppy and insisting to the guard he be covered with warmed blankets while he was down in the damp and chill dungeon, and returned to the Tower to clean up.

Rhys decided to give himself a treat and used hot water from the kettle over the fire to wash his hands and arms rather than the ice cold water in the basin beside his bed. He hurriedly donned relatively cleaner robes--at least they were cleaner than the ones he took off--paused in the makeshift infirmary to check on Godfrey and Sewell, and then left to present himself to Anders.

Anders was in his sister's room, talking quietly with Celia, but when he saw Rhys, he rose immediately.

"One of my men," he said. "An infection - I'm worried about him."

Once they left the room and had walked down the corridor, however, he stayed Rhys with a broad hand. "I said that as an excuse to get you out of the room. I want to talk to you about my sister's recovery - where we will not be overheard."

"The Tower is at your disposal," Rhys suggested.

Anders nodded in agreement. He seemed uneasy, troubled - more so than Rhys might have expected, especially in the light of his sister's recovery.

Rhys led Anders back to the Maester's Tower. The day was coming to a close, twilight softening the harsh edges of the stone buildings and walls as the shadows escaped from the roots of the trees to stretch across the fields.

Once in the Tower, Rhys passed the bedroom where he'd had his last talk with Anders and went all the way to the top to his uncle's workshop. He lit lanterns as Anders made himself comfortable on a bench, then returned to Anders with a bottle of Dornish wine and a couple of mugs.

Rhys poured half a mug full for Anders--less than half for himself, for he knew how strong the stuff was--and set it down beside Anders before pulling up a stool nearby and sitting down himself.

He waited for Anders to speak.

"Word is that Kenrith has caught up with Pennyways," he said without preamble. "What chance of recovering any of the funds, do you think? There's a limit to how long we can pay the men on promises and barter."

"Kenrith interrogated Pennyways but I don't know what he discovered. Pennyways suffered serious wounds in the scuffle before the interrogation--you knew that I came in on Pennyways striking Lady Celia?--and to be quite honest, he may die from complications. He wasn't doing too well by the time I finished removing his eye and sewing shut the eyelid."

Anders winced.

Rhys took a drink from his mug, paused as the strong wine burned its way down his throat, and sighed.

"He left me a letter after interrogating Pennyways," he continued to Anders. "Kenrith left me a letter, told me to open and read it if he didn't return to Holdfast by morning, then left in a hurry. I don't know where he went."

"Perhaps Pennyways told him something," suggested Anders, "or he thought he found out something about the money. Perhaps we should question the man too - before it's too late."

Rhys studied Anders for a moment.

"For several reasons, my guess is that Kenrith included whatever important information he got from Pennyways in the letter he gave me," the young maester finally said. "Ser Anders, what did your sister have to say about all this? I note that it was Pennyways that finally brought her back from her past, so there is something to this situation that's of significance to her."

Anders hesitated.

"I think Celia began to realise that all the money Oswain spent had to come from somewhere. And he's been spending more in recent years. She started trying to find out - without alerting anyone. She was worried ... that he was losing his grip on things. She was beginning to suspect that Pennyways was duping him. Raising money somehow and paying Oswain over what should be suspected, to encourage him to think he was prosperous ... and disguise his own thefts. Do you see?"

"Why do you think Pennyways was hitting her?" Rhys asked, not answering Ander's question. "Easier for him to run, if he was concerned that she would expose him. And she wasn't working to expose him, but instead lost in her past, which I believe was common knowledge around Holdfast. Perhaps his initial presence triggered her memories, or perhaps him striking her did, but regardless, he made an interesting decision to enter her rooms and confront her."

"She must have found his true accounts," said Anders slowly, "or some evidence of his false dealings, before she was hurt. He must have believed he could obtain them by bullying her ... how is she now? I mean, do you expect her to recover fully?"

Rhys took a drink of his wine and sat back. He felt that Anders was not telling him everything, but pushing him on it would accomplish little at this point except to put Anders and himself at odds. He took the proffered cue and let the subject change. "There will still be a scar, but it could've been a lot worse. As for her memory, only time will tell, but there's every good chance she'll be herself again--though there will probably be time around the injury that she will never remember.

"Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?" Rhys finished, watching the older man intently.

"Yes," said Anders. "I'm planning a trip to the woods - to see if I can find any traces of Wildings. Do you want to come?"

Rhys looked tempted. "I have Ser Godfrey and Maester Sewell to attend to, though."

"It should take half a day," said Ser Anders. "I can't be spared longer either. What say you?"

"Very well. I'll accompany you." Rhys looked at Anders closely again, watching for any signs of dissembling. An accident in the woods away from Holdfast would be a convenient way to get rid of a troublesome maester, and, despite Ander's overtures of friendship, Rhys didn't completely trust the man.

Ser Anders nodded, but before he could speak again, one of the guards came racing into the room.

"Ser! Maester! There's ravens! We've seen ravens landing in the loft!"

Rhys nodded calmly to the guard. "I will see to them. Ser Anders, if you will excuse me?"

Ser Anders nodded. "If the ravens are returning, you'll want to tend them at once. It wuill be good to have word from the world beyond our boundaries."

"There will be questions why the ravens arrived without messages. We need to discuss what our reply answers will be..."

"Is there any reason for not telling them that a traitor within our walls smashed open the cages and then fled?" he asked, surprised.

"None," Rhys replied as he spread his hands. "Simple and true."

Rhys pulled down the door in the ceiling that led up to the ravenloft and climbed up the ladder.

There were half a doozen birds, from the more outlying lords, expressing concern that all their birds from Holdfast had returned at once, messageless. More birds, they assured Rhys, were on the road.

There were only two exceptions to this, one by omission, and one ...

There was nothing from Bolton.

Which implied to Rhys that the raven to Bolton had a message with it. Which further implicated his current favorite suspect for the raven mischief: Eryk Bolton.

And there were two ravens from Winterfell. One bore a thick missive marked for Kenrith. The other was addressed to Rhys.

Rhys smiled. The knot of worry in his belly over all the happenings at Holdfast--the Bolton mess, Ser Godfrey's injuries, Sewell's confession, the issues with the accounts--loosened a little at the sight of Syndra's handwriting. She was safe.

Indeed, the news was even better. Scrawled on the outside of the note, obviously after it had been sealed, were the hurried words "I'll be coming home soon!"

He cooed to all the recently arrived ravens, telling them that, yes, he would attend to them momentarily--after he opened Syndra's letter, which he proceeded immediately to do.

The letter read, in Syndra's unmistakable swirly handwriting:

 Maester Rhys,

 I have arrived safely at Winterfell.  Please give the enclosed letter
 to my father.  If he is not able to read it on his own, I beg you
 please read it to him.  I want him to know I am safe.

 Also, in case you were wondering, the comfrey blossom continues to
 serve its purpose. Thank you for your kindness in sending it along
 with me.

 Syndra Hardy

Inside this letter was another, addressed to Ser Godfrey Hardy.

Rhys grinned. He stashed the messages to Kenrith and Godfrey in an outer pocket. Syndra's letter he put in a special inner pocket next to a comfrey blossom he'd picked on that morning they'd talked. She would be home soon, and that was excellent news.

He attended to the ravens in the loft, paying attention to each one individually and seeing to the needs of the new arrivals. It was a good hour or so before he made it back down the stairs to Sewell's workroom.

Anders had gone; his voice could be heard in the courtyard, however, calling orders to the guards.

Then came the sound of shod horses feet on the cobbles. Through the slit of his window, Rhys could see that it was Kenrith, returning to the castle, his errand completed.

Rhys went down the stairs and out into the courtyard to meet him.

Kenrith was pale-faced and tense. He gave a tense nod to Rhys as he dismounted.

"I found the true account books," he said. "Pennyways has been feathering his nest for years."

"Did you find any of the money?" Rhys asked. "And this came in for you from Winterfell." He handed Kenrith the raven's missive.

"No money," said Kenrith, almost absently, as he took the letter into his own hands and turned it slowly over. "But signs that he'd been sending money south against the winter."

Rhys had more thoughts on the subject, but after seeing the thoughtfulness on Kenrith's face at the letter, he decided to save them for later.

Suddenly, as though coming to a decision, Kenrith steadied the letter against his body and broke open the seal.

A long silence as he read, his lips forming the words.

Finally he looked up.

"Lord Stark bids me meet him in Marshend," he said.

"I assume this has to do with the message you sent him t'other day," Rhys replied. "What's the tone of the letter?"

"As you would expect," said Kenrith, whose face was, if anything, paler. "The news I had to share was not ... good." He swallowed - and suddenly he looked younger than his years. A flash only, and then his 'lord face' was back in place. "I shall leave Ser Anders in charge. Are your patients well enough for you to leave, Rhys?"

The young maester blinked. "Well enough, I suppose, though complications do arise unexpectedly." He paused, debating with himself whether or not to bring up the obvious, then decided to proceed in a lower voice. "If Maester Sewell is allowed to continue to partake of the sap of the Heart Tree, then he will recover enough to resume his duties and watch over Ser Godfrey and Lady Celia and the rest of Holdfast."

Kenrith sighed. "Yes," he said at last. "The Gods have spoken on that - though I do not expect Lord Stark would understand. But he will have other matters to deal with and the Heart Tree must be something for the next lord of Holdfast to determine."

Rhys looked at him sharply. "Has Lord Stark pronounced your sentence?" he asked, his tone still low and not meant to carry.

"No," said Kenrith. "A summons to hear his justice." His tone was bleak.

"Get things in train, Rhys. We ride within the hour."

Rhys nodded in acquiescence and retreated to the Maester's Tower to pack and prepare, his thoughts whirling. He first quickly checked on Godfrey and his great-uncle Sewell, taking time with the latter to inform him of the day's events.

Godfrey, although still unable to move beyond his room (and from his bed only with aid) was nevertheless showing a keen interest in the affairs of the castle.

"I saw ravens from the window," he said. "What messages did they bring? Was there news of Syndra? Has she reached Winterfell safely?"

Rhys paused in his hasty examination of the older man and his expression turned sheepish. "Yes, there's a message here from Syndra to you." He fished around in his robe to find it and hand it off. "I forgot about it in all the recent happenings."

He paused, about to tell Godfrey that he'd received a letter from her as well, but decided that was best left unsaid. He smiled instead. "Good news from her, I hope?"

"The best," Godfrey said. "And Ser Deryll is there ... he'll take care of her."

"Ser Deryll Ryswell? I remember him. I saw him after the summer fever when I was feeling so sad. I was just a boy, no one of consequence, and yet he was kind to me." Rhys paused, something Godfrey said suddenly registering. Godfrey wouldn't entrust his daughter's care to another man like that unless they were already very close...or unless...

Rhys had learned the value of an impassive face at the Citadel and it was this face he donned as he gazed back at Godfrey. "Is he to marry Syndra, then?"

He looked shrewdly at Rhys. "What other news from Winterfell?"

Rhys certainly wasn't going to tell Godfrey about Syndra's letter now. "Yes, well, there was also a message to Kenrith. Lord Stark is summoning him to Marshend to hear his justice. He asked me to accompany him and we're leaving tonight."

Page last modified on January 13, 2008, at 11:52 PM