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After Rhys left the room, Syndra settled in, making herself comfortable on her stool in the dim light of the candle in the wall sconce. She took one of her father's hands in both of her own. For all that had happened today, Papa's hand felt as strong as it ever had. But it was still. Too still. Syndra traced his fingers with her own, his craggy knuckles and calloused palm, and smiled sadly. These hands had taught her to skip rocks and shoot arrows, to hold a sword and ride a horse. They had held her close when she was frightened. They had kept her safe.

She wrapped his hand in her own once more. Now it was her turn to be the strong one. And she would be.

Ser Godfrey seemed to be sleeping but - after a while - he opened his eyes. For a moment he frowned at Syndra, as though trying to determine who she was. Then slowly, he smiled.

She smiled down at him. "Can I get you anything, Papa?"

He nodded - with extreme care. "Corryn," he whispered.

"He was in earlier, Papa, but he had to leave," Syndra explained quietly, leaning forward to maintain the intimacy of their conversation, her hands still clasped protectively around her father's. "Eryk Bolton has made off with Limosa. Wolf promised to return as soon as he finds her. Is there something I can tell him if I see him first?"

"Tell him ... my Lord. Must tell Stark."

His hand clutched at hers.

"Before Boltons."

Even so few words seemed to exhaust him - but the intensity of his plea was all in his eyes.

Syndra squeezed his hand firmly as she met his gaze, taking strength in this bond and allowing it to fuel her determination. "I will tell Lord Stark, Father. I ride for Winterfell at first light. I will tell him everything. Everything that's happened here." Part of her wanted to say more; to assure him everything would be all right, to tell him she was scared but not craven, to promise to get his message through no matter what, to tell him she loved him. But he was weak and tired. And given the determination that shone in her eyes and shored up her voice, she reckoned he already knew.

She saw his anxious stare, and felt his hand clutch hers more tightly.

"I'll be guarded, Papa. It'll be all right," she smiled confidently.

Then he gave a slow, painful nod. His reluctant blessing, perhaps.

And then he was asleep once more.

When he drifted off again, Syndra dropped her strong facade with a weary sigh. She rose from her stool and kissed his forehead tenderly. "Sleep tight and hold fast, Papa," she whispered, then turned away without a look back. She didn't dare for fear of her resolve crumbling.

Rhys had not yet returned, so Syndra checked on Sewell briefly, then called up the tower stairs, "Rhys? I'm leaving. Are you up there?"

There was no answer, but Sewell appeared to be sleeping peacefully now, so Syndra went on her way. After a quick trip to the kitchens to be certain provisions would be prepared for the next day's journey, she went back to her room.

On the way, Syndra stopped in at her father's rooms for a moment. It had occurred to her that perhaps her newly-shortened hair could be of some use. If she dressed as a young man for the duration of the journey, perhaps she would draw less attention to herself. At the very least, she would not make such a tempting target for hostage-taking. She could change into more feminine clothing as they neared Winterfell.

From her father's wardrobe, she selected two pairs of old trousers, a couple of shirts and a leather jerkin. She would have to belt the trousers, but otherwise, she thought they would fit nicely, if perhaps a little long in the leg. She also took her father's traveling pack. He would not be needing it anytime soon.

She went back to her rooms to pack, placing her own clothes carefully folded on the bottom of the pack and filling the rest with the things she took from her father. On a whim, she also packed the bloody apron from her encounter with Corryn the night before. Perhaps it could be used to throw off a scent or left somewhere as a decoy if they ran into trouble. She didn't know, but the fighting men in her life - Godfrey, Corryn, Godwyn - had always taught her to think of every angle.

When she was finally ready to crawl into bed, she instead sat one last time at her window. She could see the weirwood in the distance, standing tall despite its wounds. Just like Holdfast. The heart tree gave her focus, but it was not the tree to whom she spoke aloud.

"Mama?" Syndra said softly in the darkness. "I need you to look out for Papa while I'm gone. He misses you so much and he'll need you to give him strength. I tried to take care of him, Mama, like you wanted. But he... I don't think he wanted care. He wanted you." She sighed. "I'm afraid that I'll never see him again, Mama. But if that's the case... then... at least if you're with him, I'll know that he wasn't alone. And that he's where he wants to be."

She shifted in her seat and a small smile twitched on her lips despite the tears that had begun to form in her eyes. "And... Gavrin? Will you stay with me? Please? I'm scared. Not craven, just... scared. Like Papa was at Storm's End. I'll do my duty and hold fast but... I'm still afraid. And you're brave. More brave than most people ever knew. But I did. You were just quietly brave. Like Papa. So if you ride with me, I think I can be brave too."

She sniffled and wiped her tears on her nightgown sleeve as she climbed under her quilts. From her bed, she offered up a quick, awkward prayer to the Mother for Lady Celia and Edlyn. It was heartfelt, but she was uncomfortable with those gods. Those were the ones Celia believed in, though, so she felt it best to send her prayers in that direction.

It took a while, but Syndra finally drifted off into a fitful sleep, from which she woke before the dawn.

Page last modified on March 02, 2007, at 05:56 PM