It was the sound of steps that roused [Rhys], perhaps - or perhaps the creak of leather. But when he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw before him was leather boots ... good leather, but travel stained - not new, perhaps worn overlong. And then he realised from the angle of the boots that their wearer was crouching down, to bring his head down onto a level with Rhys's.
"Hello," said the owner of the boots. "I think I saw you before - when I carried the Bolton boy inside."
It was Ser Deryll Ryswell.
Rhys blinked blearily, then stretched and nodded. "My name is Rhys."
"And when did you last eat, Rhys?" asked Ser Deryll, extending a hand to help him to his feet.
Having glanced first at the Ser's face to make sure this wasn't a trick of some sort, Rhys took the offered hand and stood up. "Don't remember. Sometime yesterday, I think," he replied, rubbing his neck.
"Then you should eat now," said Ser Deryll. "Let's see what the kitchens can supply."
He started to move in the direction of the dining hall.
Rhys yawned and followed him, more because it was expected and less because he was interested in food right now.
"They are saying that you saved the heir when the Maester thought him lost."
He looked up guardedly at Ser Deryll. "It was Kenrith that saved himself. I only showed him what to do."
"But then you =knew= what to do," said Ser Deryll as they moved from the outer courtyard and up the stairs to the hall. "That in itself is powrful, you know."
Rhys said nothing.
Together they went into the hall itself. The long tables were set out - a few people were still breaking their dast with bread, meat and ale. Without hesitation, Ser Deryll beckoned a slightly startled maid across and gave orders for food for them both, before heading to seat themselves at the high table.
Rhys could hardly help notice that the maid looked at him with an almost fearful awe - word of Kenrith's miraculous recovery must have spread.
Feeling decidedly uncomfortable at the maid's reaction, Rhys asked Deryll, "Should I be sitting here? At the High Table? Why not over...there?" Rhys quickly scanned the room and pointed to an empty spot at the table near the window. No one was nearby it.
"Would you ask a Knight to sit below the salt, then?" asked Ser Deryll with mock horror. "When the room's well night bare?"
The boy blinked. He didn't expect the Ser to deign to sit with him.
In a more serious tone he continued, "We're less likely to have someone come to join us here - on the lower tables we're more open to any fool thrusting in beside us. And as much as you need to eat, I imagine you don't want to answer a lot of foolish questions at the moment. If you want, and can spare the time from eating, feel free to talk. If you want, ask questions. Or if you prefer, simply eat - and I'll keep leisurely guard to make sure you're not disturbed."
Rhys blinked again, a bit bemused by Deryll's offer. In his experience and estimation, knights didn't lower themselves to serve those beneath them in rank--normally, it was the other way around.
At this juncture the maid returned and set food before them, before, at a look from Ser Deryll, hastening away again.
Stew and bread and fresh vegetables and even pudding. Any other day, Rhys would be inhaling this meal. Today, he looked at it dubiously.
"And yes," he said. "It will taste like ashes in your mouth and lie like stones in your belly at first. But you need sustenance for the body as well as for the spirit. I'll do what I can to supply the former - and the latter if I can."
Resigned to his fate, Rhys sat down at the High Table with the knight. "You're very kind," he noted as he picked up a hunk of bread. "Thank you. Were you here the whole time? Since bringing the boy to the Maester?"
"No," said Deryll. "I was committed to a tournament down at Barrowton, and I rode to keep my engagement. But I couldn't shake what had happened out of my head and so once the melee was concluded, I turned my horse north again to see if - in my small way - I could be of help. And I found Ser Godfrey on the road - a message had found him as he headed north from King's Landing. Lord Hardy was awaiting us at Winterfell, where he'd placed his Lady for safe keeping."
Deryll's tone was carefully neutral.
"So, he went on," we rode here together, the three of us. And I was standing close enough to hear your bad news. A grievious blow to Ser Godfrey. Two sons, and the baby - as well as his Lady. The gods can be harsh. And summer fever cruel. You did well to save one, I would think, once the fever had a firm grip. I've only heard of one other brouight back from death like that, and that was by a Maester who had rare healing skills.
"It was my sister," he added, soaking some bread in meat juices. "She walks with a halt in her step, but it does not trouble her three healthy children - nor her too, overmuch, I think. My younger brother he could not save, and Dervyn died. But the Maester was a man grown and with a silver link in his chain. For you to have accomplished so much argues a rare skill. Although, if you prefer, we shall not speak of that."
Rhys's face flushed under the older man's gaze and he looked back down at his meal. "I have a question, if I may ask," he said, giving Deryll his answer as to whether or not Rhys wanted to talk about what happened in the weirwood. "You said you went to Barrowtown. Did anyone get sick there with the summer fever?"
Ser Deryll shook his head. "Not there. It didn't travel so far. There's a couple of villages near the Kingsroad that have been affected - and they say it's been very bad in Deepwood Motte. Ser Herys Bolton was there before he travelled here, I believe - one of the other knights told me. And the boy was subdued, but showed no sign of illness. It sometimes happens that way, of course."
Rhys thought of Gavrin, remembering how suddenly it came upon him. "Yes...sometimes." He thought a moment more as he picked at his meal, then continued, "You had the summer fever as a child, when your sister and brother did. That's why you didn't get sick when you carried the boy back, unlike the rest of us."
"I don't know," said Ser Deryll, I've never thopught of that. I just thought ... I was too old. It's choildren it mostly takes, you see."
"The Maester told me that once someone has had the summer fever, they're protected against getting sick from it again. I did wonder if--even though they're protected--if they could carry the sickness to others. That Barrowtown didn't get sick implies you can't, but--as my great-uncle says--just because it happens once, doesn't mean it's a rule." Rhys smiles at Deryll weakly. "I wondered because I've been around the summer fever for several days now and even though I'm not sick I was afraid I could still give it to others somehow. Perhaps I should go back to the tower."
Ser Deryll shook his head. "I think ... if you were going to get ill, it would have manifested by now. Which tower? Your Uncle's? Would you mind if I cam along with you?"
Rhys shook his head. "I don't mind." He pushed the food away, mostly uneaten, and stood. "The Maester's Tower is this way..."
He started off, turned to make sure the knight was following, then led the way to his uncle's rooms.
At the moment they were deserted, but the bed that Rhys had shared with his uncle was neatly made up and looked as though it had not been slept in for many a long day.
"You should get some sleep now," said Deryll. "Go to bed - I'll find your uncle and tell him where you are."
Rhys turned from the bed to the Ser and back to the bed again. He felt an obligation to help Deryll find his uncle, but then again the bed never looked so good. The bed won.
"Thanks," he told the knight. "He might be in his workroom, at the top of the stairs."
Rhys waited for Ser Deryll to actually leave the room before he sighed and slipped off his boots. Too tired to undress further, Rhys crawled into bed in his clothes and sank into sweet oblivion.
When he awoke it was still daylight - or perhaps daylight again. He was no longer alone - his great-uncle was sitting in the chair across from the bed reading a small book bound with green leather, the spectacles he had shown Rhys carefully balanced half-way down his nose.
Rhys stirred and sat up on one elbow, blinking blearily. "What time is it?"
"Nearly supper time," said Sewell, "You've slept the day away - but I daresay you needed it. I've arranged for someone to bring some food from the kitchens so you will not have to face a great deal of staring and talk."
"I'd forgotten about that." Rhys frowned and dropped back onto the bed with a sigh. He stared up at the ceiling. "I don't understand. Why are they acting like that?"
"Several reasons," said Sewell, setting the book down on a table next to him. He look tired, but not exhausted, suggesting that he too had slept. "Firstly, at a time like this, when all looks bleak, people will grasp for any good news and exagerrate it. A rose that blooms on a dungheap strikes people as a more beautiful rose than one that blooms in a rose garden - whatever they may say in Highgarden. And the smallfolk here believed you supplied the rose - your treatment saved the Heir. They don't forget their sorrows - Ser Godfrey and his wife and children are much loved here, and they will be sadly missed. But you, they believe, saved the Heir they so nearly lost, when even the Maester had despaired."
He slipped his glasses off and cleaned them. "And I had despaired, Rhys. Have no doubt of that. I believed Trey was lost, and Kenrith too. I fought to save Lady Morna ... but she slipped away. Kenrith's recovery is the only bright spot in a very dark time. And, while I don't think you accomplished the miracle of saving his life, I do believe that your prompt action in the grove of making him walk and move will be instrumental in seeing him restored to near perfect health where otherwise he might have survived as a helpless cripple, without the abuility to move even one of his limbs. It could be a radical treatment, Rhys - which could improve the lives of many, many children."
"I'm glad I could help," Rhys replied, heartfelt but unsmiling. "I had no idea. I didn't realize it would be such a big deal to people, getting Kenrith to walk and move. I didn't know people hadn't thought to do that before. I didn't know anything. I just...knew...that's what he was suppose to do."
Sewell looked at him thoughtfully. "Actually, the treatment has generally been to get people to lie still, lest they exhaust themselves further. And usually ... they have stiffened into permenant immobility. Genarally in their legs - sometimes in their arms as well.
"Rhys, have you ever had this feeling before? Of knowing what someone was meant to do in order to be well?"
"Um....maybe...sometimes..." Rhys trailed off and looked askance his great-uncle, his eyes wide below his tousled hair.
Sewell rose and came to sit on the edge of the bed next to Rhys. "Tell me about these 'sometimes'," he said quietly.
Rhys sat up and continued his askance look at the Maester, a guarded expression Sewell had not seen on him before. "I'm not a demon. And I don't talk to them."
"Of course not," agreed Sewell. "That's a learned course of study - one of the most advanced at the Citadel. And you can always recognise those who have undertaken it - something in their eyes. Your eyes are clear, Rhys. Nothing demon about you. Your ... gift is clearly something else. But until you tell me more, I'm not quite sure what it is."
His great-uncle's words appeared to have somewhat of a pacifying effect. Some tension left Rhys's shoulders and he leaned back against the wall. "I'm not exactly sure how to explain this," he said, looking out across the room. "Sometimes, when I touch people or animals, I know what's wrong with them. Sometimes the place on them that's sick is hot or cold, though not to anyone else. Sometimes I see a color. Sometimes it's just the knowing."
"I thought everyone saw what I saw, knew what I knew. When I found out otherwise..." Rhys paused, lost in a memory, then shook his head. "When I found out otherwise, I tried to ignore them, pretend they didn't exist. I wanted them to go away."
Rhys worried the bedclothes as he talked, twisting and untwisting the blanket.
"I hadn't felt anything in a long time. I thought they were gone for good. Then I touched Kenrith in the weirwood and the knowledge was there, in my head, like a burning flame. I _knew_ he needed to try to move, to try to walk, that this is how he would heal. Then I felt it with him, his effort, his pain. I knew when he was too tired to go any longer and I told him to rest. I _knew_."
Unwilling to meet his uncle's eyes, Rhys's gaze slid down to his hands in his lap. "Is it demons talking to me? Or something worse?"
"Not demons, Rhys," said Sewell. "No, not demons. A talent for healing, though, which could be strengthened and trained ... and made of use to many... if only." He seemed to catch himself up, and gave a shake of his head.
"I'll do all I can to help," he said. "Give you as much training as I can before you head back to Dorne and being a trader."
Rhys looked up. "You think I should be a Maester," he said quietly.
Sewell sighed. "It's not as simple as that," he said. "Undoubtedly you would get the best training possibly if you were to become a novice in the Citadel. But if it is not the life you want, if you do not value learning and knowledge above all things, it would be a life half-lived.
"Only you can decide, Rhys, whether you will be true to yourself, or true to your gift - or if they are one and the same."
"This...gift, as you call it. Do you think the Seven gave it to me?" Rhys asked.
"Yes, Rhys," said Sewell. "Yes, I do."
Rhys passed a hand over his face. "Do you have any idea how I long I've wanted it to go away?" he asked, his voice rising in volume. "Years. I thought...I thought that it was information I was not privileged to know, and that I was sullied in the knowing. I quenched it as best I could, prayed for it to go away. And now you're telling me it's a _gift_?"
His hands clenched into fists, white-knuckled.
"If that's true, I'm doubly cursed! The Seven gave me a gift and I threw it back at them and asked them to take it away. Oh, gods...! I don't know what to think anymore..."
Rhys hid his face in his hands.
"You will be forgiven for that," said Sewell, gently, placing an arm around his nephew's shoulders. "You are young - perhaps the Seven sent you to me that you might learn about your Gift and understand it. There is a reason why we look to the Crone for wisdom rather than the Maiden, you know. The Gods themselves understand that wisdom and understanding come not in the cradle but with maturity. If this Gift is truly yours, it was not given as a toy to play with in childhood, but as something for you to learn and use and strengthen as you become a man."
The boy rubbed at his eyes, sighed, and dropped his hands back into his lap limply. Rhys didn't pull away from from his uncle's arm. He said nothing for a long moment, then, "Uncle Sewell...will you help me become a healer?"
"Yes," said Sewell. "Yes, Rhys, I shall."