Questioning The Prisoners
Eryk had chance to enjoy a flagon of ale - and a second, but refused a third - before they rose to go down to the dungeons, leaving Jayne snoring with his head on the table. Mal has been abstemious; he was in the rear but on the alert as they made their way down the stone spiral stairs that led to the centre of the dungeons.
Oland was still on guard there, and he greeted Godwyn quietly and a little warily.
"Prisoners all quiet, Sir."
"Good." Godwyn thought for a minute, glancing at Eryk. "Let's see their captain first," he finally said. "Eryk, wait out here, I want to talk to him first, see if I can get him to say something about why he did it without a Bolton being present. Then we'll bring you in."
Eryk nodded. "Very well. I shall wait here."
He retired to the central wall - out of sight for the occupant of the cell, unless he were to step right outside it.
Oland was fummbling with the keys and inserting the relevant one.
"He was rather rude to the young ladies when they visited him," he confided to Godwyn. "Not like Ser Corryn's squire."
Godwyn nodded absently, watching the door as Oland opened it.
Once the door was opened ...
Evan had not moved from the corner, or so it seemed - he remained seated in the corner and watching the door with dark, expressionless eyes, like some beggar king on a throne of mouldy straw. As the door opened, he made no move, except to watch the visitor with a thoughtful expression.
"Lovely dungeon you have here," he remarked, conversationally.
Godwyn opened his mouth, and then stopped, looking stunned. He turned to Oland. "What do you mean?" he demanded. "What young ladies? They didn't! Tell me they didn't!"
"Erm," said Oland, abashed.
Godwyn glared at him, then transferred the glare to Evan Tamm. He seemed to be groping for words, but for the moment they escaped him.
Another man might have been openly amused, but if he was, Evan showed nothing, not even a smirk. Instead, he simply kept his eyes on Godwyn's and his expression carefully blank. "If you prefer, I can wait till you're ready," he supplied helpfully.
"What?" Godwyn's glare changed to a confused expression for a moment, then he shook his head, as though to clear it. "No, that's all right. Let's get on with this. I'll talk to them about it later." He stopped, as though trying to get his thoughts back on track.
"Right," he said. "So why did you kill him?"
Evan smiled thinly. "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about," he sighed, and put a hand on the wall as if to get up. "If that's all, then, I really should be getting back to the inn."
Godwyn chuckled. "You've got a good sense of humor," he said approvingly. "I hope it carries you through the execution." He glanced behind him at Mal for a second, then looked back at the prisoner. "You're called Evan Tamm, right?" he asked. "I'm Godwyn Hardy, Kenrith's younger brother. I'm here because I hope you'll tell me what's going on before you're brought before my uncle tomorrow for judgement."
With a shrug, Evan slumped back against the wall, the straw crinkling beneath him. "What's going on is that you've tossed me and my man in a dungeon to fit us up for a crime despite a lack of evidence," he said without rancour. "Assuming you still feel like pretending to justice, and assuming that I survive the night, I suppose I don't have much choice except to defend myself at a trial."
Idly, he picked at some of the straw, as if distracted. "Of course, I presume you actually wanted to hear something like a confession, as if I might be foolish enough to admit to some crime so that you get to feel justified in executing me." Evan looked up again and met Godwyn's eyes with another apologetic shrug of the shoulders. "Sorry I can't be of assistance."
"You're a clever man," Godwyn said placidly. "I noticed that when you were talking in the inn. You're the kind of man who can talk his way out of most situations, and can confuse people like me. But I've known a man like that since I was a child, and I learned that I can't outthink them. I just have to hold to what I know and not let you get me muddled. And what I know is that Bolton's man Grunther was knifed. The trail led from the place he was buried to the inn. You and the weasely man were there in the inn. He was wearing a bloody shirt with a hole in it. Someone had tried to make sure our hounds weren't able to track the missing man, but they didn't know that all the hounds at Holdfast aren't kept in the kennels, which means they weren't locals. Grunther hadn't travelled out of the north, so if it was a personal matter it was most like to be another northerner who did it." Godwyn smiled again. "There's more, but it all points the same way. You're the most likely person to have done it, with the help of your men. I don't know why, and I don't really care. You could kill all Bolton's men for all I care, and if they weren't under guestright I'd hold your cloak for you while you did it. But, little though I like it, they are guests here, and that means we have to see justice done for the death."
"So much hate for the Boltons, yet I'm the one sitting here accused of a murder," Evan mused, shaking his head a little. "Not to try and muddle you, of course, but the Manderly fellow was also at the inn. He had a bloody knife in his saddlebag, and is also a Northerner and not a local. Yet you don't seem to think he did it." He shrugged again, leaning back against the wall. "Nonetheless, it sounds to me like you don't think you need a confession at all - you think you've got it all sorted out. So I can't imagine why you're even here, talking to me."
"I know him," Godwyn said simply. "I'll be talking to him later, but I don't think he did it." He sighed. "I suppose I was hoping you'd have some good reason for doing it, something that I would be able to go to my uncle with. Grunther raped your sister, for instance, and when you saw him you were overcome with rage, and killed him for your family's honour. It wouldn't matter to Hairy Bolton, of course, but it would give us something to work with." He shrugged. "From what I've heard about you, it doesn't seem likely I can beat anything out of you. I might be able to get something out of the other fellow though. Even when they know it will mean their death, it's surprising how much some men will talk when they're being beaten."
Evan looked at Godwyn with something approaching disbelief, and shook his head again. "Give you something to work with? Oh please. You almost sound as if you're saying that I might be able to tell you something that would change your mind as to the outcome of this. As if it wasn't already set in stone in your head that the Manderly man must be innocent, even though you have absolutely no reason to think that, and that I must be guilty. It's a good thing I'm so stupid, because I nearly believed you for a second." He made no effort to keep the sarcasm out of his tone. "I suppose I'll just have to pray that a reasonable Hardy, if there is such a thing, is actually doing the judging tomorrow."
Evan lifted his head and continued, the frustration bubbling out of him as he got on a roll. "So just out of interest, and I do apologise, because I'd hate to muddle you any more, but from the sounds of it, you conclude that I must have done it because it has to be a stranger, and someone who must have had a personal grudge against the man, hence a Northerner. Did you think for even an instant that it might be, perhaps, someone within the Bolton retinue, who most probably has known the man a lot longer than some strangers who just walked into town? That two of the Boltons got into a disagreement, one got knifed, and then they decided to blame it on you Hardys to make you look bad? No, of course not, that'd never happen - nobody ever fights among themselves at the Dreadfort. Or did you think that perhaps Ser Herys himself killed the man in a fit of rage over something, and then decided to blame it on you to turn the situation to his advantage? No, of course not - Ser Herys would never be the type to strike one of his retainers. And the Boltons are so scrupulously honest, if they say a man was randomly murdered for no reason by someone in Holdfast, then, by the gods, it absolutely must be true."
Evan's fist clenched now, and the straw he had been playing with puffed out from between his knuckles, pulverised. "Fortunately, you Hardys know the Boltons so well that you immediately dismissed these ridiculous ideas, and decided it had to be strangers at the only inn in town. A lesser man might have been fooled by finding a bloody knife belonging to one of these strangers, but luckily you realised that the knife was obviously covered with blood for a perfectly good reason, and the reason the fellow fled was because he was ashamed of taking such poor care of his weapons. And so I find myself here." Evan looked as if he'd eaten a whole bagful of lemons, so sour was his expression. "And now you mean to tell me that you don't even have the courage to beat a confession out of the man you're convinced is guilty, yet you'll happily go and beat on a lesser man you plan on executing anyway. You Hardys are pathetic." He waved his hand dismissively and turned back to the wall, as if it might give him a satisfactory answer. "I'm done with you. I'll take my chances at whatever sham of a trial you care to put on tomorrow."
Godwyn heard him out calmly. "May not even be a trial," he admitted. "Trials are to determine guilt. If we already know you're guilty, there's no reason for a trial." He shrugged once more. "It's a good tale you spin, and I wish it was true. But the dogs led us to the inn, and the dogs found the shirt your man was wearing, and while people confuse me, I trust dogs. So there it is."
He turned and called, "Eryk! Come on in."
He heard the quick steps of the young Bolton, and a moment later, Eryk stepped inside the cell, and glanced at Godwyn, and then at Evan Tamm, who was standing facing the wall.
"So, that's your man is it?" he drawled. "Turn him - and I'll tell you if I know him."
"Turn around, Evan Tamm," Godwyn said. "Let Ser Herys' son get a look at you."
Evan lifted his head with a little half-smile on his lips, staring his accusers full in the face. "Well, well," he said calmly. "Eryk Bolton, I presume."
Eryk took a step back - and then another. His face was suddenly pale.
"I should have guessed," he said bitterly. "I thought you were dead."
He turned now to Godwyn.
"I know him. He's my half-brother." The words were coming out clipped and short, as though Eryk was struggling not to throw up. "His name is Staven Snow."
Evan - or whatever his name was - started to laugh, an unpleasant, bitter series of hacking chuckles. "Is that so? You miserable little weasel." His eyes narrowed to hard little coals, and he never took them from Eryk's face as he addressed Godwyn and Oland. "Would you be so good as to leave us alone for a moment to enjoy this little family reunion?"
"No," said Eryk hurriedly. "Don't do that. You've no idea of how vicious he is. Grunther ... that was the least of it!"
There was a definite note of panic in his voice.
Evan shrugged. "Actually, I think it's you that has no idea, but I can see why you'd be scared," he conceded, and held out his hands. "Chain me if you like - I just want to talk to my - half brother here. Alone."
Godwyn's eyes widened, and he glanced from one to the other. "Well," he said, "That certainly puts a different light on things." He bit his lower lip. "I shouldn't let you alone with him," he said. "Even if he wanted. And he doesn't." He looked back at Eryk to verify that.
"Ah, of course," Evan sighed, leaning back against the wall. "I forgot how well liked you Boltons are here. Of course, I don't actually have any great desire to hurt you - if I did, I'd wring your neck now, even if this pasty boy of a guard wanted to try to stop me." Oland flinched - he had the expression of someone who desperately didn't want to be brought into the conversation. There was no real venom in Evan's words, though - just a frustrated resignation. He waved his hand dismissively again. "Go on then - I'm sure this fellow has a few more lies to tell you. Have a good night - hopefully I'll still be here in the morning."
Eryk hesitated. "Bind him," he said thickly. "Search him again and bind him. In fact ... chain him. Then I'll speak to him. Alone."
And then he turned, and walked out into the main open area of the dungeons - where they could hear him being sick.
Mal looked at Godwyn and made a little jerk of his head. "We could see to that, Sir, if you want to see if he's all right out there."
"Do it," Godwyn said. He looked at Evan. "A Bolton, huh?" He shook his head. "I suppose that explains your bad manners." He laughed, and walked out to where Evan was kneeling. "You know," he said conversationally as he watched the younger man throwing up. "I could kill you easily, even chained. Just something to think about."
"If he's chained to the wall, and I stay out of range, what's he going to do?" said Eryk, wiping his mouth with a kerchief he had pulled from his jacket. "Spit venom - like one of the snakes from the Summer Isles? Not that I'd put it past him."
He rose to his feet, a little awkwardly, clearly still shaken - either from the shock of the meeting, or from the after-effects of throwing up.
Godwyn started to answer, then apparently thought better of it. He clapped Eryk on the back. "Brave fellow," he said.
Eryk shot him a look that strongly suggested he would prefer bravery to have nothing to do with it.
Inside the cell, Evan stood, brushing the straw from his pants and stretching his neck, almost in a catlike manner. The joints cracked as he did so, and he stretched out his hands good-naturedly as Oland and Mal slapped the chains on. "No offence about the pasty boy thing," he murmured conversationally to Oland as the bracelets closed around his wrists. "I was - a little frustrated. And really, I hope you're on your toes tonight, since I expect I'm going to have some armed visitors once everyone's gone." Oland studiously ignored him, pursing his lips and finishing his job grimly. Once he was done, Evan flexed his arms experimentally, and the chains rattled tinnily in the tight confines of the cell. "It seems I'm ready to receive visitors," he called.
Eryk drew a breath, nodded to Godwyn, and walked into the open cell. Then he stood still in the doorway, staring at Evan.
"You've left him free," he said flatly. "I want him chained to the wall."
Mal shot a slightly startled look at Godwyn.
Godwyn grinned, clearly enjoying himself. "I can see his point," he said judiciously. "Right now his brother could lure him within range, loop the chains around his neck, and have him dead before we could do anything about it. Of course, if we chain our prisoner up to the wall then he's helpless should his brother decide to put an end to his father's shame by slitting his throat." He shook his head. "It's a sad thing when brothers do not love one another," he observed.
"You can take my dagger," said Eryk shortly. "I won't kill him, though the gods know I have reason enough. Just make sure he can't get at me!"
Godwyn looked at Evan. "What do you think, Master Snow?" he asked. "We don't want to mistreat a prisoner, you know. Do you want to talk to your brother badly enough to agree to being chained to the wall?"
Evan's head jerked a little, and he met Godwyn's eyes evenly. "Don't call me that again," he said in a measured tone. "Either of you. But if it makes you happy, go ahead and chain me to the wall. This one doesn't have the courage to murder even a bound man. He'll have his father send someone later to do that."
Godwyn returned Evan's gaze for a moment, then he nodded. "Fair enough, Evan Tamm," he said. "It isn't as funny after the first couple of times, anyway. Chain him to the wall," he said to Mal and Oland. "We'll let you have your private talk. If either of you regrets it, just yell, and we'll come running."
Mal moved forward as Oland hesitated and, with an apologetic shrug, fastened a manacle around Evan's ankle, holding him to the wall on a short chain - perhaps no more than three feet, alloing him to sit, lie and stand, but not to pace the entire length of his cell - his range was now, perhaps, a third of it. Nevertheless, Eryk Bolton made no attempt to move from his position near the door.
"Leave us alone," he said. "Swear as a Hardy that you won't listen to this conversation, Godwyn."
Godwyn nodded. "All right, Eryk," he said. "You're right, this is personal business. You have my word I won't listen." He turned and walked out of the cell, motioning Mal and Oland to follow him.
Once out of the cell he said quietly to Oland, "Let me in Volf's cell now, I'll talk to him while Eryk is busy with his brother."
Oland nodded, closed the door to the dungeon that now held Evan Tamm and Eryk Bolton, and led Godwyn across the dungeon floor to where Volf was held.
As soon as the door was unlocked, Volf rose to his feet and stood blinking at the silhouette of Godwyn. "Sir ... " he said, a little apprehensively. "Sir ... I swear to you, in the name of the Father, I had nothing to do with this murder."
"I have two questions, Volf," Godwyn said. "What are you doing here, and why were you stupid enough to try running from Anders?"
Wolf looked at him in rueful dismay.
"Ser Corryn sent me here, Sir. He's riding here himself ... he stopped off with Killian Snow to visit some kin of Killian's. The Laughing Knives ... he has forty with him - they should be here soon. Me he sent ahead, to look out for Mistress Syndra and see that all was well with her. I stopped off at the inn - I thought I'd see Odette, and perhaps spend a night with Lilly ... and then when I saw Ser Anders, and he spoke of a dangerous felon ... you know how he hates my Master and the Laughing Knives. I just panicked ... and ran."
"The worst thing you could have done," Godwyn said. Then honesty made him pause and add, "No, I suppose the worst thing would have been to draw your blade and attack Anders. Yes, that would have been worse. But this was the second worst thing. Unless Ser Corryn wanted you to make a spectacle of yourself and attract Anders' attention?"
Volf shook his head miserably. "No. I'm thinking that if Ser Anders doesn't kill me, Ser Corryn will. Or the Laughing Knives will. I'm doomed, Sir, whichever way you look at it. Death by the headsman's sword, or death by shame."
"Never give up, Volf. The gods hate despair. We just have to figure this out. Did you have anything to do with the sellswords at all? Talk to them, drink with them, gamble, argue, or fight with them? Anything?"
Volf shook his head.
"They kept to themselves - except the youngest one. He came in later - he'd been at the castle. He wanted to be friendly - the others wouldn't let him. Their leader - he kept apart from the others. Didn't eat supper with the rest - he went to his room, I think. Lilly ... Lilly said they'd been there most of the day - although ... " He frowned, trying to remember. "They'd all gone for a walk earlier on."
"Had they, then?" Godwyn smiled. "Good news for you, that. It's more evidence that they were the killers." He leaned back against the door and thought. "Do you have any idea how long it will be until Corryn is here? And did you tell anyone else that he is on his way?"
"Mistress Syndra came to visit me," said Volf, smiling at the memory. "I told her, Ser - and the little blonde girl who was with her." He looked worried again. "Was I wrong to do that? Mistress Syndra would not betray my Master!"
"On the other hand," Godwyn said dryly, "That 'little blonde girl' is Ser Anders' niece. Maybe that wasn't the wisest thing you've done?"
The change in Volf's expression - from mild worry to absolute horror - was almost comical.
"His ... his niece? Oh sweet Mother of Grace .... what have I done?"
Godwyn took pity on him. "It may not be so bad," he said. "Knowing that Ser Corryn is coming, maybe that will keep Anders from doing anything too extreme. And it may be she won't tell him, anyway, she's a deep one and plays her own game." Godwyn thought about it while he watched Volf. "The next question is, what other fool thing are you going to do before Corryn gets here?"
Volf regarded him warily.
"I'll stay in here and keep my mouth closed?" he suggested.
"Do you think you can? When Anders comes to question you. And takes out all his dislike with Corryn on you?" Godwyn shook his head. "That would be pretty hard on you. Anders doesn't like it when folks don't answer his questions. The alternative is to take you with me. I'd need you to swear that you won't do or say anything, anything at all, without checking with me. You'd be my prisoner, on your parole to me, and I'd be responsible for you. Do you think I can trust you with my honour?"
Volf swallowed, and then nodded. "All right," he said. "I mean ... yes. Yes, Sir. I pledge my word to be your prisoner."
Just then a door slammed from the opposite side of the dungeons. Eryk Bolton had left Evan Tamm's cell, his face pale, and his breathing coming rather fast.
Godwyn nodded. "Stay with me and keep your mouth shut," he told Volf.
He left the cell and told Oland, "I'm taking charge of him."
Oland's mouth opened and closed like a stranded fish, with as little sound coming out of it.
Without giving Oland a chance to answer Godwyn looked at Eryk. "Well?" he asked.
Eryk shook his head. "He hasn't confessed, if that's what you want to know. All I had from him was abuse of Father and me."
Godwyn nodded. "Well, do you think knowing who he really is is enough to convince your father he's the killer, along with everything we already have. He and his men left the inn just about the time the murder happened, the dogs led us to them, one of them was wearing Grunther's shirt. Seems pretty clear."
"I think that as soon as Father knows who Evan Tamm is ... then he'll know he's the killer," said Eryk sombrely.
Godwyn nodded once more. "Then, since your father is holding vigil and I can't ask him, as representative of the Bolton family I ask if you are willing for me to let this man out of his cell." He gestures at Volf. "His only crime is that Ser Anders hates his master. I'll take responsibility for him. It's clear he doesn't have anything to do with the murder."
Eryk swallowed nervously. "Godwyn ... I'm not sure what my father would say ... If he's angered ... " He chewed nervously on his lip.
Godwyn shrugged and grinned. "I'll chance it," he said.
"Very well then," said Eryk, who was looking a little green again. "I ... I think I need some fresh air."
"I just need to look in on ... humm .... Evan again. You didn't kill him, did you?"
"No!" said Eryk - a sudden fierceness in his voice. Then he gave a little laugh. "I mean ... is that really necessary? Oh, I suppose you might need to see for yourself. But I'll warn you, he's in a poisonous mood."
Godwyn grinned wider. "Good thing he's chained, then, isn't it. You can go on back upstairs if you want, it is pretty rank down here. I'll be along soon."
Eryk frowned. "I think I'll stay," he said.
"Open it up," Godwyn said as he approached Evan's door. He hummed a jolly hunting tune as he waited.
Oland hurried forward and pulled it open once again.
Godwyn peered around the door and looked in to see if the prisoner was actually still in one piece or not.
Evan Tamm was seated back against the wall, the chains draped around him like robes of state. "Was there something else?" he enquired mildly.
"Just wondering if you might want to confess now," Godwyn said. "What with the revelation and everything. It would make things easier on me."
Evan did not bother to conceal a smirk. "So because he says I'm a Bolton, that makes me guilty of murdering a Bolton retainer? What curious logic." He shook his head as if puzzled. "You were right - you really should leave the thinking to other people. I presume the Manderly man didn't confess?"
"No." Godwyn grinned hugely. "In fact, now that I know who you are, I'm setting him free. Just so you know where you stand."
Evan smiled - somehow, he didn't seem upset. "Indeed I do," he agreed. "You have a good night, then. Can't wait till tomorrow's trial."
"Take the chain off him," Godwyn ordered. "No reason for treating the man like that. In fact, bring him and the other fellow some food and drink, too. And blankets."
"The Others take your hospitality, and take your feeble attempt at justice too," Evan said, though the lightness of his tone belied his words. He seemed surprisingly less frustrated than he had before the meeting with Eryk Bolton. "Leave me chained. Throw in food and blankets if it makes you feel better, but as I said, I'm done with you. Get out and leave me be."
Godwyn shrugged. "Eat or not, as you please. Piss on the blanket or use it, I don't care. The only reason I had you thrown in here without was to get you to talk, and I'm happy now that I've got all I'm going to get. So there's no reason to keep you cold and hungry and thirsty." He turned and walked out.
Eryk was at his heels, and Oland followed them, but Mal lingered for a moment.
"There's no sense in sleeping in chains iffen you don't have to," he observed. "They'll just make you stiff for the morning, and happen you''ll need to be supple then."
Once he left Evan's cell Godwyn walked to the one that held Donnel. "Let's see the final one, then," he said.
Donnell was similarly curled up in the corner, but his manner was more composed, more in the vein of Evan Tamm than the panic Volf had shown. He scowled at them as they opened the door, but said nothing.
"Good evening to you," Godwyn said cheerily. "I'm Lord Hardy's second son. Would you care to tell me what happened when Evan Tamm took the lot of you out to kill Bolton's man?"
Donnell raised a patchy eyebrow and shuffled around in the straw a little, scratching himself unconcernedly. "Maybe," he drawled at length, rubbing his chin. "I might even be able to say as to who killed him, and how, and when." He cleared his throat with a phlegmy cough. "But I ain't doing it here. Let me out of here with your word that I go free as a bird, and I'll sing just like that same bird for you."
"You'd trust my word?" Godwyn asked, clearly intrigued.
Donnell shrugged. "Yeah, sure, if you give it once I'm out of this cell and in front of someone who matters. Nobody likes it when you nobles hang someone after promising to set them free."
"Very wise," Godwyn said with a nod. "Not up to me, though. I'm really just supposed to be here trying to get a confession out of you. This has gotten all tangled up in house politics. Pretty unfortunate for you. You'll be going in front of my uncle for judgement tomorrow. He's going to have been keeping vigil all night over the dead man, so he's not going to be in a mood for much in the way of negotiation."
Donnell shrugged again. "You can explain it how you like. I can go before your uncle as a witness as easily as I can be tried for it. I told you my price for a confession - get me out of here and guarantee me my freedom, and you'll have yourself a witness and the real murderer." Again, he hawked noisily.
A sound in the open doorway told them that Mal had locked the door on Evan Tamm and now had joined them.
"I'd be tempted by that offer," Godwyn told him. "If I hadn't already discovered your chief's reason for having the man killed. Now that we know that 'Evan Tamm', as he calls himself now, is well known to the Boltons there's not going to be much debate about what happened." He looked thoughtful. "Now, I can't guarantee it, but my uncle believes strongly in a captain's being responsible for the actions of his people. Whoever actually put the knife in Grunther, if they were acting under orders, he might be willing to let you and the other men off easily. If you testify to what happened."
"So you want me to shop myself and the rest on the off chance that maybe you might hang me last?" Donnell laughed nastily. "If you already know what happened and who did it, why are you here? Are all your prisoners this dumb, or do you like to come down here and waste your time?"
"No, not all our prisoners are this dumb," Godwyn said with a grin. "I came down to get information. I already had all I needed before I got to you, but I thought I should look in on you and give you a chance to talk before tomorrow. For all I knew, you might have been a fellow I could have liked, who got drawn into this without knowing what was happening, and who deserved a chance at getting out of it. After all, for all I knew you were an enemy of the Boltons, and that would have counted for something." He shrugged once more and turned to go. "Have a good night's sleep," he said over his shoulder. "And don't worry too much, we're handy with axes up north, and it will be over pretty quick."