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"So bitter," she murmured. "So very bitter."
Her eyes began slowly to close as the drug took effect.
"Thank you for your help, Aerin." Merivel said politely. "A woman's touch is what was needed here." He capped the phial and continued to watch over his charge until the litter was constructed and arrived.
Aerin almost scowled at that, pulling the bow off her shoulder and into her hands once more. "She's mad you know," she muttered to Merivel before marching off to where her father was.
When Derron arrived with the construction, Merivel looked it over carefully. before signaling for help to load Lady Drapanaud onto it.
The litter was swifltly made under Derron's instructions, and the Lady lifted into it. Then the solemn procession made their way back, the litter in the lead, with Aerin instructed to walk beside it so that the first thing the Lady might see would be a woman, and Merivel close behind. Septa Aloise met them a little way outside the town, and took charge of the Lady, releasing Aerin, although she begged Merivel to stay with her.
When they reached the Castle, Lord Draupaud was waiting, as grave and austere as he usually was. "Take her to her rooms," he instructed. "Maester Merivel, please go with the Septa. See that all means of harm are removed from her, and keep the door to her room locked. Then join me, please. The rest of you - including you," and he flicked a finger at Nikomedes, "come with me."
He led them into the room where he conducted business. "Now," he said, addressing Derron and Ser Tomas chiefly. "Tell me what happened."
Ser Tomas glanced at Derron, waiting for him to start their story.
Derron stood a little straighter and spoke clearly. "Tracks were found in the dew outside the Welling Gate, and my hound picked up the scent from some slippers found there. The dog led us up to what we here call High Point. There was a horse standing at the edge, looking over the water. Also young Aerin was there. Down in the water was this fellow, holding Her Ladyship and trying not to succumb to the cold. We tossed them a rope and dragged them to shore. As to how she ended in the water, you'll have to ask Aerin and the stranger, Your Lordship."
The Lord nodded his thanks, and then turned to look questioningly at Aerin and the stranger.
During Derron's tale, Niko had been assessing the Lord Draupaud, and his reactions to the older man's story. When attention was focussed on him, Niko unflichingly met the young Lord's gaze, but said nothing, instead waiting to Aerin to first tell her tale.
At this point, Merivel returned from the errand assigned to him by the Lord, and quietly took a place amongst the others, turning to listen to Aerin speak.
Aerin didn't look at Niko, or even Merivel before she spoke. She did however glance at her father telling her version of the tale.
"I heard the lady was missing," she started, looking toward, but not directly at Lord Draupaud.
"I remember seeing the caravan coming into town, and I thought she might have gone to see what the southlands had brought. I went to the Septa first, and she thought it was wise to check."
Aerin took the pose of a soldier giving a report, a strange look for a young girl. Her hands went behind her back as she stood in a relaxed form of attention.
"At the market I found a boy who'd seen the Lady and pointed her path out to me. I followed, out the side gate near the market and found her trail."
Aerin decided to not mention the fact the lady had been dancing in the tall grass. Given the lord never smiled, she didn't think he would appreciate it.
"She had been... walking. And then her tracks joined with a horse. And then I could see she'd started to run, and the horse was following."
The dark haired girl lifted her chin. "I had to guess the lady was in danger so I followed quickly. I came on the lady and the horseman, and I could see he was chasing her. To what purpose, I could not tell. So I grabbed a crude spear and aimed for his horse, dismounting him. He fell, and so did the lady, into the lake. I was at the edge trying to see what had happened to them when my.. when Ser Tomus and the others found us and affected the lady's rescue from the lake."
She looked straight ahead, mouth closed, expression neutral, having given her report to the room.
During Aerin's tale, Niko stood silent, gauging the Lord's reaction to her story. He seemed to be unaffected by the story, but had clenched his hand quite tightly to force himself to stand mute- which was visible if one looked, by the whiteness of his knuckles as the blood left them. After she was done, still he kept his peace, waiting for Lord Draupaud's signal to tell what had really happened.
And it came.
"Tell me," said Lord Draupaud, looking fully at Niko, "why you pursued my Lady - almost to her death ... and then preserved her life."
Niko composed himself, and spoke slowly. "My name," he said, as he had not been introduced, "is Nikomedes Sakellaris, and I hail most recently from across the seas- The Free Cities." His speech while correct, was heavily accented, and it was with obvious trouble that he formed his thoughts.
"From... Even across the seas the War of the Usurper was known, and once I heard of it, was desirous of returning home. But found it changed. I heard of your Lordship, and was informed that you might have need of additional hands, so journeyed from the docks to here, but was lost along the way once the ruins of the old tower... Once I saw the ruins of the old tower."
"I saw the lady in the fields, and was attempting to ask directions, when she answered me with ... Words that made me aware that she was in need of help. So offered I to take her to the village that I passed through. For some reason she thought that I was a ... Jailer of some sort, come to re-bind her?" He struggled with the words, faltering at times as he stumbled through the story. "I felt responsible for her ... Distress. And saw her running towards the cliff... And remembered what she had said about flying, so was attempting to stop her from jumping when the horse bucked, and interefered with my jump so that I was unable to stop us before we fell over the cliff."
"I knew not who she was- just that she appeared in trouble." He shrugged. "I meant only to help- not to harm."
Lord Draupaud nodded. "I see."
He looked at the others.
"And between the child and the sellsword ... what interpretation would you put on the events you saw? Was the girl mistaken, do you think, or were the man's intentions towards my wife malicious?"
Derron said, "Milord, from the moment we arrived on the scene, this man has been nothing but cooperative. At one point he might have tried to ride off, though he was aware he might have been ridden down. Unless he puts a foot wrong, I see no need to assume this man was trouble. After all, you said you were worried about Her Ladyship's intentions."
"I also had him covered with a bow," Aerin added in an angry tone. She was obviously upset at having her credibility questioned. Or perhaps it was being called a child. She stared straight ahead with a glower.
Merivel neither said a word, nor made any sound. His eyes shifted between speakers, as if trying to catch every word said and every nuance of gesture given.
"Very well," said Lord Draupaud. "Thorne, perhaps you would take Nikomedes Sakellaris and see his needs immediately met, and accommodation found for him. Set Tomas, doubtless you will want to talk to your daughter. Maester Merivel, perhaps you and I might have a word about my lady's condition?"