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Their journey passed uneventfully back down the track until they came towards the cottage where Dobbin and Cleeve had found the two owners dead earlier on. Tamlin raised his hand.

"There are people there," he said, looking down at the dogs. "Friends, they think."

"Perhaps Ser Corryn set out earlier than he had planned, or perhaps their trail ran cold and they doubled back to check this out," Kenrith remarked to Tamlin.

He cupped one hand to the side of his mouth as they trotted closer, and called "Hail. Ser Anders men?"

As he had cupped his mouth with only one hand, and felt his voice was easy enough to identify, he did not formally announce himself.

A signal to his men sent them from the graves they had nearly completed, and taking shelter under the trees. Anders drew Rhys back into the cottage, drawing his sword too.

Rhys followed Anders and crouched inside the cottage, his hand on the knife in his boot.

And then they heard the call.

"Ser Kenrith," said Anders. "Let's see if the gods favoured him more than they did us."

He stepped forward out of the cottage - Tam's dogs followed, eager to rejoin their pack.

Rhys smiled and joined the others, relief evident on his face.

Kenrith dismounted as he neared the cottage, which was not long after Rhys and Ser Anders made their way out. Even in the scant moonlight, it was clear his expression was even more dour than usual.

"Rhys, Jayne needs your help," he said as if the words had been rolling around inside his head for some time.

Rhys looked around for the man, spotted him with Mal, and jogged over.

"Ser Anders... you were right. I apogise. I assumed one sort of savage was like another... but wildings are not crannogmen. I pray that all of my lessons are not to be bought at so high of a price," he said in a voice which didn't carry, but which was thick with anger and frustration.

"Not 200 paces from where they'd let Merivel rest, they fired on us from ambush up in the trees without warning," Kenrith said a few moments later.

"I believe he is still alive, but they have him," he continued with a series of clicks as his jaw clenched and unclenched between phrases.

Ser Anders nodded slowly, his face grim.

"You should take some comfort from the fact that you did not find him, dead," he said. "As we found Cleeve."

Mal helped Rhys lower Jayne from his horse. "I need light," Rhys announced. "You..." He pointed at one of the Holdfast men accompanying them, "go get my satchel off my horse."

The guard ran, and was quickly back with the satchel. "Should we light a fire, Maester?" Mal asked as he helped Jayne to the ground.

Rhys looked over his shoulder at Kenrith and Anders, pretty sure neither one was interested in spending that much time here nor drawing that much attention to themselves. "A lantern will suffice, I think, if you would arrange it..."

Rhys cleared his mind and focused on Jayne's wound. He gently touched it, pausing momentarily in case the gods wished to give him further information.

The gods were not inclined to bother themselves about an injury that was no real test at all of Rhys's skill.

Mal came back with the lantern. Rhys had him hold it while he examined Jayne's leg. "Not too bad," he told Jayne. "You'll live and keep the leg."

Rhys gave Jayne willow bark to chew on while he cleaned the wound. After applying a peppermint salve to help numb the leg, he sewed up the wound--though by Jayne's expression and twitching the salve didn't relieve all sensation. Rhys dressed the leg with comfrey and honey afterwards and wrapped it with clean (a peculiarity his uncle insisted upon that had given good results) strips of cloth. He gave Jayne more willow bark to chew for the trip back to Holdfast. All in all, Jayne was ready to travel again in less than an hour.

Kenrith seemed somewhat less agitated now that Jayne had been tended to.

"Were you planning on resting here for the night, then returning to Holdfast tomorrow morning?" Kenrith asked. He wanted to ask the other man what it was he had found, but there were still some immediate concerns.

"It's for you to decide, Ser," said Ser Anders. "In the one hand, we will not regain the walls of Holdfast before dark. On the other, it may be that those who slew Cleeve were heading back towards Holdfast - for what purpose, we cannot guess."

"I am loathe to allow them to escape. Are your men well enough rested that they could accompany Tam and I in pursuit? I would leave Odor and Malcolm to bury Indigo, see to Jayne, and make sure everyone else can return safely home tomorrow," Kenrith said with the typical Hardy stubornness, but also with an ear to what Anders might have to say about this plan.

Felix had been cleaning and preparing Indigo's body up to this point. Diligent and respectful, he recited an old prayer as he washed the blood from his pale skin. He glanced up at Kenrith's question.

"Ser," he said in a hollow voice. "No one wants these people te come te justice more than I. But we sorely lack the people te hunt these villains. Why risk more lives?"

"We do not need to destroy them today, but I would know the faces and names of my enemies before they strike again," Kenrith replied.

"That would be hard," said Ser Anders, with a glance at Rhys. "There's a trail from her that leads deeper into the forest - but wherther that is fresh or some hours old, I cannot tell. They may have gone into the forest, they may have carried on to Holdfast. My advice would be that we should head back to the Castle as quickly as we can before night falls in good earnest. And Ser Corryn's man should be taken back to the Castle to be buried with what occasion his Lord and his fellows choose. He is not a Hardy man who would be happy for his dust to feed the roots of trees."

Ser Kenrith paused while he thought over Ser Anders' words, and did not answer for a hundred heartbeats.

"I was unaware that the trail led back through the forrest. That is one too many complications... and you are most likely right about Ser Corryn's wishes," Kenrith said with a nod, and then nodded once again to Felix with regards to his earlier remark.

"We should travel with what light we still do have, then, as soon as we are ready" Kenrith concluded.

"Jayne can ride," Rhys supplied.

Jayne looked offended - and Mal chuckled. "Of course he can."

They were mounted in very little time, once the burial of the former cottage owners had been completed. Then they were heading back for Holdfast - a race with the encroaching darkness ...

Page last modified on August 08, 2006, at 06:53 PM