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They left the Tower and stepped out into full night. Gone was the wagon, the bodies no doubt lying in the Grove while their fellow guards stood vigil.

After a few inquiries, Anders and Rhys were told by servants that Ser Godfrey was in the armory. Stars twinkled overhead and the grass crunched under their feet as they walked across the courtyard in silence.

The armory morbidly fascinated Rhys--so many ways present to harm or kill a man, and an immense amount of thought having gone into the development of them. He wondered idly where progress would be if men could be persuaded to devote the same amount of energy to, say, better ways to keep warm.

He opened the door and motioned for Anders to precede him.

Anders walked in, then stepped aside so Rhys could join him.

Ser Godfrey was engaged in testing the fit and flexibility of a gauntlet. He looked at the two newcomers, frowning a little.

"Well?" he said.

Nothing like coming to the point, Rhys thought. "By this time you've no doubt heard Ser Kenrith's report on the day."

Godfrey nodded abruptly.

"Ser Anders was planning to leave Holdfast with men tomorrow with the intention of continuing the hunt for Merivel and also looking for Wildings in the area," Rhys continued. "Upon discussion of the events of the day, Ser Anders is concerned about leaving Holdfast with so few men to defend it--he's concerned that there may be a Bolton plot in progress--and wishes to postpone the search tomorrow to stay here and defend Holdfast."

Ser Godfrey looked around at the armourer and his apprentice, working in a corner.

"Leave us," he said abruptly. The men bowed and departed, leaving the three of them alone in the room.

"Now," said Ser Godfrey, "what leads you to believe this to be the case?"

Rhys glanced at Anders to see if he was going to answer the question. Anders stayed silent, apparently declining, so Rhys continued. "A number of coincidences. First of all, some doubt as to whether all the violence encountered in the forest today is of Wilding origin. We saw evidence of bow and arrow used--certainly weapons Wildings use--but the guards and the old couple were killed by sword. I suggested to Ser Anders that the swordwork may be the work of men wanting their killings to appear as if they were done by Wildings--Cleeve especially was killed very violently. This unexpected 'Wilding' attack happens at just a time to draw Holdfast men away when Holdfast is vulnerable herself from both the Bolton and Manderly soldiers staying here. Although the death that sent Merivel home and started all this appears perhaps too unlikely to have been planned, Ser Anders reminded me that Lord Draupaud was once fostered to the Dreadfort."

"Corryn is my oldest friend," said Ser Godfrey. "He is here in support of me, of that I am certain."

"Forgive me," said Ser Anders, "but since he was last here, he has become a vassal of the Boltons. When a man's friendship is balanced against his allegiance .. which way should a man of honour go?"

Ser Godfrey was still for a moment, and then forced a smile. "I suspect that my sense of honour and the River Wolf's are somewhat different. Whatever has made him Bolton's vassal, I cannot believe that he would betray our friendship, or his memory of Morna and my sons, which I know he holds dear."

He looked at Rhys. "I know Ser Anders has his own reasons for mistrust. But do you agree with him?"

"I...have my reasons for mistrusting the Boltons, of which you're aware," Rhys replied. "They have behaved dishonorably."

Ser Godfrey nodded. "And Ser Corryn? Do you believe his mercenaries too should be regarded as a threat?"

Rhys gazed back at Ser Godfrey levelly. "Taking your and Syndra's relationship with Ser Corryn into consideration, I certainly deem him less of a threat than the Bolton men. However, he is here with a retinue, and one ignores that fact to one's possible peril."

Ser Godfrey was silent for a few moments. Then he sighed. "Yes," he said. "Yes, you have a point, both of you. And tomorrow morning will be our time of greatest vulnerability, when I fight Evan Tamm."

"Perhaps it would be prudent to postpone the continuing hunt for Wildings tomorrow and instead keep the men here at Holdfast," Rhys ventured. "Or, if you agree and suspect a plot, send the men to hide in the forest on the pretense of continuing the hunt for Wildings."

"If there is a plot," said Ser Anders, "It might be best to follow Maester Rhys's suggestion. If they've gone to great lengths to draw us off in numbers, showing that we're suspicious could make them regroup in ways we wouldn't like."

Ser Godfrey nodded slowly. "But can it be done without exciting suspicion?"

Rhys looked expectantly at Ser Anders.

"I think it could," said Ser Anders slowly. "But ... I think I'd need a distraction of some kind - to pretty our being followed. Or watched."

Rhys pursed his lips. "Perhaps a set-up argument in the field or in the courtyard? Would that be distraction enough? It would also imply fractures of leadership within Holdfast, which would encourage the Boltons to attack, should that be their intention."

"That's a possibility ... " Ser Godfrey began, when there was the sound of someone coming along the corridor.

"Godwyn," said Ser Anders, recognising the tread. "I sent him to the village - the cart that was used belongs to Tovis, the carrier."

The door opened without a knock, and Godwyn stepped in and looked around. "Ah," he said, "Good, you're here." It wasn't exactly clear to whom that was addressed.

"Someone slit Tovis' throat," he announced. "Most like the same someone that took his cart. And then they came back just a little bit ago and smashed his hand open, most like because he had a coin or something that would indicate who it was."

"Rather drastic course of action to steal a cart," Rhys said, bemused that he didn't feel more surprise or outrage. He must be going numb after the events of the day. "Where is the body now?"

Ser Anders was frowning. "And the murderers? Any sign of them?"

"I left the Bear to rouse the village watch," Godwyn answered. "Whoever it was, they came back and cut off Tovis' hand after we discovered the body." He met Anders' eyes. "I didn't even think to break his fingers and find out if he was holding something when we found him," he said.

Ser Anders frowned. "You'll know better next time," he said.

Godwyn nodded. He looked slightly relieved at Anders' statement.

"Where is the body, Godwyn?" Rhys asked again. "I'd like to look at it."

Ser Godfrey and Ser Anders seemed similarly interested.

"Mistress Odette is seeing to the laying out," he answered. "I could escort you back into town to see him, if the Sers approve?"

"Tomorrow, perhaps," said Ser Godfrey. "It's getting late. Or do you need to see him before the Silent Sistsers arrive?"

He looked at Rhys.

"I think it would be better if I saw him now," Rhys replied.

"You've alerted them?" asked Ser Anders of Godwyn. "Although I doubt they'll be with Tovis before tomorrow - they'll still be busy with Jonkers and Trowen."

"I'm afraid they'll be busier still before this is all over," Godwyn said gloomily.

Rhys started for the door. "Where is Mistress Odette laying Tovis out?" he asked Godwyn. "At Tovis' place? Probably not at the Goose..."

"Aye," Godwyn answered, opening the door and holding it for the maester. He looked to Godfrey and Anders to see if they had any other orders for him before he left their presence.

But Ser Godfrey nodded a dismissal and - after a moment - so did Ser Anders.

"Anything interesting happen here while we were gone?" Rhys asked Godwyn once they were on their way.

"Hmmm?" Godwyn answered. He stared at Rhys blankly for a moment. "Ummm. Not that I can think of. I was...." he waved a hand vaguely, "Walking the rounds, checking the guards, keeping an eye on the Boltons. That sort of thing. It was all pretty quiet, though, until Dobbin came back with the cart."

"Indeed." Rhys exhaled loudly and looked forward again. "I take it the cart Dobbin had was Tovis'? Is that what prompted you to look for him?"

Godwyn nodded, leading the way back to the stables. "The horses are going to get awful confused," he said with a quiet laugh. "We keep going back and forth, putting them in their stalls and then taking them out again." He shook his head. "I'll pick up a couple more guards for us, too," he added. "Seems like the woods are full of bad men these days.

Rhys nodded in return.

"Yes," he went on, returning to Rhys' question. "Someone from the village saw the cart leave this morning, but they didn't see who was driving. Just figured it was Tovis, 'cause who else would be driving his cart?"

"Someone interested in using it for a surprise attack, apparently," Rhys replied drolly.

Godwyn smiled. "So it seems. Although there's no way they could have caught up with the maester and his guard driving that cart. Which means they expected them to stop somewhere, or else expected something else to hold them up. Or maybe the cart was to carry away the maester, after someone else had taken care of the guard?"

"Both interesting thoughts, and both implying premeditation," Rhys said, frowning.

Godwyn nodded, and his smile faded into a grim expression.

When they reach the stables Godwyn orders horses made ready for the two of them, and picks out two guards who were dicing with a small knot of others in the back of the stable to accompany them back to town.

Rhys said little on the way there, preoccupied with his own thoughts.

When they arrived back, the cottage was illuminated by the glow of a few fitful candles.

Rhys dismounted, tied his reins loosely around a handy branch, then walked to the door.

Godwyn ordered the two guards to stay with the horses, then strode to the house with Rhys. "It was all closed up when we got here," he explained. "No answer to my knock. I kicked the door in."

He pushed the door open and walked in.

Rhys followed.

Page last modified on August 27, 2006, at 10:33 PM