Reunion With Limosa
Lady Stark had risen and was waiting as the hall cleared, people seeing this as a chance to move around, to get some fresh air and to discuss what had been heard. Limosa stood at her side, pale and tense, her fingers twisting nervously. She glanced up at Corryn as he approached, and then at Lady Stark, who spoke to her quietly. Limosa nodded, and remained where she was, until Corryn came closer. Then she dipped into a curtsey - not as elegant as the ones Lady Stark's own daughters might produce, but creditable.
"Ser Corryn," said Lady Stark, and she extended her hand.
This was still the Great Hall at Winterfell, and formality was the order of the day, it seemed.
Corryn politely took her hand and favored her family ring with a kiss. "Lady Stark," he said, raising his head. "I must thank you once more for your hospitality. You have been most gracious of late and I am in your debt."
His eyes went to Limosa for a moment; deep pride flashing across his tired features. Once again, the overwhelming desire to hold her came over him, but he dismissed it as best he could. They had all the time in the world now, thanks to Ned.
"I only wish our visits would involve less dramatics," he added, returning his gaze to his Lady. A sigh escaped him, his head falling forward shamefully. "I beg your forgiveness, Lady Stark. I tried to do as you asked, but matters at Holdfast turned grim. It was far worse than Godfrey's letter had suggested. I failed you and your husband. And my friend. For that, I am sorry."
"Lady Syndra has spoken of his injuries," said Lady Stark. "Was it as you feared, at Holdfast?"
Corryn sighed and gave a prompt nod. "Worse, in many ways, I fear," he said. "There are many clouds over the Hardys. Some of their own creation. They have good hearts, but lack a center. Godfrey's injury could not have come at a worse time, I fear."
His eyes scanned their surroundings for a moment to check for eavesdroppers. He lowered his voice slightly, "May I ask how much Lord Stark and you have learned of the situation to the north? There is a matter regarding a maester that should be known to your House. But I gave my word that I would only speak of it to my liege. However, you two are as one. So, I see no reason not to speak of it now, with your permission."
"Lord Stark has not spoken to me of what he learned this morning," said Lady Stark. "Young Eryk Bolton, however, has said that Holdfast has fallen into disarray without strong leadership at the helm." She looked at Corryn searchingly. "Is he right, Ser?"
Corryn shifted uncomfortably and sighed. "The young Bolton exaggerates to support his own precarious position in the world," he said. "However, the concerns you and I discussed during our previous meeting have some merit to them. The eldest boy, Kenrith, although obviously in possession of an acute mind, is reckless and very much his father's son. Godwyn, a courageous and helpful lad, is better suited on the battlefield than in the Great Hall. And then there are the Tollets…"
He shrugged his shoulders, "I cannot speak with the fullest of knowledge, milady, but I do believe that they are the rot weakening the Hardy roots, so to speak. There has been some wrongdoing with the estate. And I suspect that is why Maester Merivel was attacked not long after leaving Holdfast. I wish I could speak further on the matter, but there's been much confusion of late.
"And I rode from Holdfast the moment my daughter was abducted. So, I have been out of touch for a few days. I do not even know if my dearest friend still lives."
His voice caught at this, but the gentle smile he provided Limosa spoke volumes.
"We have sent ravens," said Lady Stark. "And we have asked Deepwood Motte to send some of their Winterfell ravens to Holdfast, for they are closer. Within another day ... we could have news. And ... "
She was silent then, casting a glance at him, suggesting there was something more she had been desired not to speak of. Instead she added, speaking more lightly, "At least you find Limosa safe and well. And is she not more the young lady now than when she arrived?"
Limosa stiffened slightly and then gave a smile, sweeping a little curtsey of acknowledgement. The look she gave Corryn, though, was filled with the message that she would, on the whole, prefer not to be a young lady at all.
Corryn thought better of pressing Lady Stark on the issue. He would speak with Ned later, he surmised, and learn more then. Instead, he focused entirely upon the young girl he'd come so far to find. He hardly recognized her, dressed as she was. But those lovely eyes, so filled with silent emotion, were unmistakable. His eyes met hers, feeling a rush of fatherly pride.
He suppressed a laugh at the look she gave him in return. "You've lifted a thousand tons of worry from my shoulders. And she is truly a vision," he admitted freely, smiling at Lady Stark.
"But you must give me your secret on how to keep my darling daughter in shoes for any length of time. Indeed, I would be most grateful if you could share with me at least some of your secrets at parenting. I wish to be the best father I can, but I fear I am a bit lost on the whole subject."
Corryn sighed and mouthed, "I'm sorry," to Limosa. Again, he fought the urge to hug her, not caring that the women could see his inner struggle written upon his tired face.
Lady Stark smiled. "It's not a method I would have need to use with my own, but your Limosa was a falcon who needed over-watching. It helped that she was tired and hungry from her long ride when they arrived - and that Holdfast had instilled in her the notions of how things should be, even if she conformed with reluctance. We bargained, she and I, each thing beyond the bare necessities being gained with concessions from her. And no weakening, as I suspect you might have done when she cast her sad eyes your way. The love that yields to blandishments may deal worse with us that outright enmity, Ser Corryn."
Corryn chuckled, providing Lady Stark with an agreeing nod. "I will not shirk from my fatherly duties, nor yield to the emotional siege tactics my dearest daughter is sure to utilize," he said, smiling brightly. "I suspect my mother is chuckling with delight as we speak; pleased that I shall now experience all the joys and frustrations that I inflicted upon her."
His hazel eyes shone. "Please. Tell your husband that I am eternally in your debt. I hope that once Leaning Stone becomes a home again, you and your family will visit us."
Lady Stark looked startled. "Ser Corryn - my husband did not say that. That issue has not been decided. Nor has the question of Limosa's betrothal - although Ser Herys' death does remove one obstacle, if one might term it so."
Corryn nodded and gave her a wan smile. "Forgive me," he said. "I must have misinterpreted his words. I am very tired from the last few days. So, that is not a difficult thing, right now. But Limosa is safe. And for that I am thankful to you and Lord Stark."
He bowed his head, "I shall heed to his judgment, of course. However, before he does, may I speak on the behalf of Limosa and her brother?"
"I thought," said Lady Stark, "that you had already done so." She reached forward and laid a hand on his arm. "It is not Lord Bolton's fault if the Lord of Leaning Stone cheated you. Remember that, Ser Corryn - and remember that Lord Bolton is a loyal supporter of my Lord. But he is your friend too. You may lose Leaning Stone, but the children will not suffer for their father's villainy under your protection, of that I am sure."
Corryn nodded lightly, before glancing down at Lady Stark's hand. The show of kindness nearly undid him, although he could not explain why. His eyes met her gaze with deep warmth and friendship. Recalling their private conversation some days ago, he whispered, "Thank you, Catelyn."
His voice rose slightly, regaining its formalness. "I could lose a hundred Leaning Stone, as long as my children are with me, Lady Stark. And it is for that reason I hope to speak in Limosa's defense, should the question of marriage be pressed further. She is, as you say, like a beautiful falcon. Wild and noble. She deserves to fly. But the Dreadfort will surely clip her wings and crush that spirit I love so much."
Corryn blushed, "I must sound the fool to you, Lady Stark. But I am a man changed. Of that I can assure you."
Lady Stark glanced from Limosa to Corryn and smiled a little ruefully. "To me, Ser Corryn, you seem much the same. The ladies have ever been your weakness...
"As for Limosa's marriage - her bridegroom is apparently dead. I'm not sure Lord Bolton would want a penniless girl for one of his kin - so I'd not boast too loudly about how handsomely you mean to dower her until he has renounced all claim. Better she appear a friendless orphan to him than a Manderly heiress."
Corryn had begun to chuckle at Lady Stark's initial comment. He simply nodded in agreement and fought the urge to laugh aloud. She certainly knew him better than he'd thought.
He grew more somber, however, as she went on. "I think you have the right of it, Lady Stark," he said. "And perhaps this is where my roguish persona will be to our benefit. There are far richer knights he can deal with, other than the black sheep of White Harbour."
A dark thought struck him. "And what of Lady Syndra? Surely other arrangements will be made in light of this recent deception?"
Lady Stark gave a little laugh. "I think you'll find that Lord Stark and Ser Godfrey have already made plans." Her face grew grave again. "In the light of what he found at Holdfast, perhaps Ser Godfrey preferred not to speak of it. But he knows he has my Lord's full support, and that will outweigh other considerations."
Corryn could not help but smile at this. "I had suspected Godfrey would have had someone in mind," he said. "He is after all predictably organized, amongst other things. I'm certain she shall be relieved to hear of it. I know I am. And Ser Ryswell, if I'm guessing right, will make a suitable husband."
He turned his eyes toward Volf, standing off with the others. He managed a sad smile before returning his attention to Lady Stark. "My young squire will be most upset, I fear. I'd hoped to form a union with the Hardys, but alas…"
"That might still be possible," said Lady Stark. "You have children of your own now, do you not?"
Limosa gave a little start, and looked earnestly at Corryn.
Corryn chuckled and covered his mouth, "Yes. I suppose I do. Although I think I will enjoy my new family for a time, before expanding it further." His eyes met Limosa's and held them for a moment. Emotion passed over his face, but whether it was pride or regret, not even he could tell.
Corryn shrugged, changing the subject. "Was there anything else you might need of me, Lady Stark? Or might I have a private moment with Limosa?"
"A few moments," said Lady Stark. "But remember my Lord has only broadly hinted at his decision on her parentage ... "
She smiled at him, and then turned away, calling her daughters to come with her.
Limosa half-turned - for a moment she seemed shy, a little fey ... and then he saw she was pointing to the dogs who slept by the fire. Then she turned back and looked at Corryn questioningly.
Corryn nodded lightly and took her hand, holding it gently as they walked toward the dogs. Once they were out of earshot, he managed to speak; emotion closing his throat. "I'm sorry, Limosa," he said. "I should never have left you alone. You are the greatest blessing I have ever been provided and I nearly lost you. It shall not happen again."
Before they reached the dogs, he stopped her. His hand touched her cheek as soft as a breath, while tears blurred his hazel eyes. "Can you forgive me?"
Limosa looked at him, clearly bewildered. People being so concerned for her well-being was clearly new to her. Then she gave her most radiant smile and, nodding, opened her arms to him.
Corryn melted on the spot, swallowing her up in his thick arms and hugging her fiercely. His kissed the top of her head and chuckled through his joyful tears. "Thank you," he said softly. "From now on, I will do all in my power to keep you safe, Limosa."
He leaned back, his hands resting on her shoulders. "You make me very proud, my daughter. All that I have is yours. All that I am is yours."
A happy burbled up from his chest. "Well, then. Shall we play with the dogs before Lady Stark scolds us for doing so?"
But Limosa had turned aside from the dogs, with a little shake of her head. She smiled up at him, but there was something tremulous there, as though, for once, he had mistaken her meaning. She tried to smile again, more reassuringly.
Corryn blinked at her, confused for a moment. He reached up to idly scratch the stubble on the back of his head. He realized he should know what the girl was on about, but despite years of dealing with the fairer sex, he still remained wholly overwhelmed by masculine befuddlement. Her smile, however, encouraged him to consider this behavior from numerous angles.
He screwed up his brow and then blinked again. "This is about marriage, isn't it?"
She looked at him, and her shock was evident. Vehemently she shook her head, and even cast a worried look around the Hall. After all, the last person to have claimed her as his bride had been Ser Herys.
"Godwyn. The Hardys. The dogs?" Corryn stuttered, gesturing towards the animals. "You got this strange look when the Hardys and a matching were mentioned. And you and Godwyn got along pretty well. Thanks to your love of dogs."
He smiled weakly, "You'll have to be patient with me. I have a touch of the oblivious today."
His hand reached for hers, "Let's try that again, shall we? You were saying?"
She was smiling now - and her face brightened more at the mnetion of Godwyn. When Corryn had finished, she swept her arm around in a wide, graceful gesture, finsihing with an interrogative look.
Where is he?
"AH-ha!" Corryn exclaimed. "Got it. Yes, yes. Your idiot father is slow on the uptake, but with perseverance we do eventually arrive."
The smile faltered slightly, "He is in Marshend, my love. Defending it from raiders. He rode out with me to find you. But we were misled and went the wrong direction. We discovered Marshend had been attacked, so he chose to stay along with several of the Knives. I continued on alone."
He squeezed her hand, "He'll be fine, my dear. He's a capable fellow."
Limosa looked at him, almost surprised, and then gave a firm nod of agreement. Clearly her faith in Godwyn and his abilities was as steady as a rock.
Then she grasped his hand, pulling him towards the window that overlooked the stables. Once there, she pointed downward and then back to herself, and looked at Corryn hopefully.
Clearly she wanted her mare.
Corryn's gaze followed her pointing and he provided her with an agreeable nod. "She's quite safe back at Holdfast," he said. "We'll fetch her as soon as we're done here. I suspect we'll have to escort Lady Syndra home. At least, I pray that we will. As much as I wish to help in Marshend, you and your brother are my first concerns."
He touched her hair and smiled, wistful. "I hope you'll like the ocean."
She turned and smiled at him, but there was a slightly puzzled look - clearly no-one had ever even attempted to explain the ocean to her before.
A rush of elation swelled in Corryn's heart and he smiled with the exuberance of a boy. "Oh Limosa, you will be so happy there. Do you recall the stream in which we swam?" He gestured toward the window and the world beyond.
"Imagine if that stream stretched onto the horizon. A vastness of green and blue waters, speckled with the white of cresting waves. Waters so wide that you require ships hundreds of hands long to cross it. And you can taste it on the air. Salt and hidden wonders. It gets in your blood, forever calling to you. As you will see."
His hand slipped around hers, entwining their fingers. "I cannot wait to show it to you. There are so many things you have been denied that I want to give you."