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Rhys Hunting in Holdfast

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The party led by Ser Anders and accompanied by Rhys rode slowly down the road to the town that Rhys had first seen all those years before when he was a boy, planning to be a merchant and visiting his great uncle for the first time.

The way was quiet, lonely, and so too was the town. The good folk of Holdfast retired early, it seemed - or perhaps they all retired to the Goose and Gander, for the lights seemed to be blazing there now as they approached.

"Wait there," said Ser Anders softly. "Maester Rhys, Crastow, come with me. We'll check the stables and see what manner of visitors the inn is entertaining this evening."

Rhys urged his mount to follow Ser Anders.

But Ser Anders signalled him to dismount, dismounting himself.

"On foot," he said quietly.

The three of them moved softly into the innyard and over to the stables. No-one was there - but there were a number of stalled beasts.

"Crastow, watch the door," said Ser Anders. "Maester Rhys, you start from that end, and I'll work from this. Look for any tack that might show livery, and anything else that might be of interest."

The first and second horses were the property of the Goose and Gander, or so their brands seemed to state. The next one bore a mark on the saddle that suggested it had come from Riverrun. The third bore the livery of Manderly, and the strange sign of a dagger curved into a smile. There were saddle bags hanging over the railing of the stall here.

The mount from Riverrun probably belonged to someone from Kenrith's escort. The Manderly crest however... he wasn't aware of anyone from there here at Holdfast. And he didn't recognize the sign of the curved dagger.

He paused briefly, then stepped up to glance through the saddle bags.

There seemed to be clothing there, a razor and a tinderbox. There was also a long knife, wrapped in a shirt. When Rhys pulled at the bundle, the material of the shoirt seemed to adhere a little to the knife, stuck fast to it with some dark substance that had dried.

Blood. This didn't bode well. Rhys took the knife wrapped in the shirt out of the saddlebag and continued on his search toward the middle of the stable.

Ser Anders was already checking this, which bore the Riverrun mark. He looked at Rhys and said, in a low voice, "Did you find anything?"

He held out his bundle to Anders. "A knife inside the shirt. The knife has blood on it, I believe. It's from the saddlebag there by the mount with the Manderly livery. Do you recognize that curved dagger sigil?"

"The Laughing Knives," said Ser Anders grimly. "A band of merry cutthroats who answer to Ser Corryn Manderly - did you encounter him on your last visit to Holdfast? An arrogant bastard, a minor scion of Manderly. The professed great friend of Ser Godfrey - but I'd never have allowed a weasel like that to get so close to my wife.

"So ... I wonder how he comes to be involved."

Rhys considered the problem briefly, then shook his head. "I don't think there's enough information yet. What's next?"

"Let' poke a stick into the hive and see what flies out." He smiled. "I think you'd best stay by my side - the Boltons might complain if I sent you round the other side to wait there. We'll make the frontal assault."

Not a problem with Rhys, if his expression was any indication. Combat of any sort was not his forte.

Anders continued, "And if we find our man asleep under the table and some reasonable explanation for this knife, all well and good. Can you get the men outside organised while I arrange the cats to watch the mousehole at the back of this inn? We'll need watchers either side as well - I want the place surrounded."

Rhys nodded, retaining a handful of men for the front and sending the rest to the sides of the inn, an equal number on each side.

By the time he had done that, Ser Anders had given his instructions to Crastow and five men with him (two Boltons). He nodded approval of Rhys's arrangements.

Then Ser Anders, with a nod to Rhys, threw open the door and strode into the Goose and Gander through the main door, which put them just outside the main taproom. Arney, the half-witted potboy was there, carrying a tray of alepots. He stared vacantly at the sight of Ser Anders, Maester Rhys beside him, and two Hardy guards and a Bolton with them.

"Fetch your mistress, boy," said Ser Anders, in a loud, genial voice. "We're here to apprehend a dangerous felon."

[continued in In the Goose and Gander ]

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