Rhys in the Tower
Rhys walked across the courtyard to his uncle's Tower in a daze. He was being accused of...attempted fornication? Did Herys have any idea how ludicrous that suggestion was? No one would believe him. Would they?
A darker part of Rhys's mind countered him to remember that he was a commoner, a nobody, and Herys of noble birth. And unfortunately, that made all the difference. It may not matter that everyone knew he was innocent. Politically, it would be easier and more prudent for them to sacrifice him to save starting a war with the Boltons.
He reached the door, slipped inside, and started up the stairs.
And Syndra? What would happen to her married off into the Bolton House? Images of Herys grabbing her hair and pulling her to him and the terrified expression on Syndra's face played back in his head.
"No." He paused on the stairs to forcefully quell that image from his mind. He glanced briefly at the doorway to the living quarters he shared with his uncle. There was Lentrian Fire still there, left from his cousin's last visit, and the temptation to finish off the bottle and numb himself was strong.
"No," he said again, and continued climbing. It would do no one any good for him to get soused right now.
Rhys reached the top of the stairs and lifted the trapdoor. He stepped into his uncle's workroom, leaving the trapdoor open, and looked around with great fondness at the bookshelves, glass projects, drying herbs, ledgers... Ordinary things he took for granted acquired a new edge to them when he thought he might lose them.
Not in the mood at all to work, he pulled up a chair and set it in front of the window that looked out over the courtyard. He sat down, gazed out, and brooded.
From behind him, Rhys heard footsteps charging up the stairs. "Maester Sewell?" Syndra called before she even broke the level of the trap door. "Is anyone here?" She sounded on the edge of frantic.
As Syndra's head came into view Rhys lept up from the chair, inadvertently knocking it off-balance. He moved to grab it, but missed, and it fell over onto the floor.
"You shouldn't..." he started worriedly, holding his hands out between him and her, then exhaled and relaxed some when he saw Godwyn following her.
Then he took in her expression and tone of voice and concern took over. "What's wrong?"
Syndra's eyes widened when she saw Rhys. His presence seemed to fluster her. "We need to send a raven. The Boltons... they're causing trouble." She lowered her voice. "And I know certain people here are in on it. We need help. Can you send ravens?" she asked hopefully, thrusting the note toward him.
"You're in danger," Godwyn added. He closed the trap door and moved to a window, staring out into the courtyard to see who was moving about. "Hairy Bolton is going to try to use you against Syndra."
Rhys took the note from Syndra. One corner of his mouth twitched up in a half-smile at Bolton's new nickname. "I know," he answered Godwyn. "Ser Anders put me under house arrest. The charge was attempted fornication against a noblewoman. He didn't tell me who made the charges but he didn't have to."
"Bollocks and damnation," Syndra muttered under her breath, her face turning red with frustration.
He waved the note. "Who is this going to?" he asked Syndra, having problems looking at her directly. The floor, Godwyn, the overturned chair... Gods, anyplace but at her face.
"White Harbor. Ser Corryn Manderly," Syndra answered as she handed over the note. Then she turned away and stared out a different window. In profile, the men could see the despair on her face. "I'm so sorry, Rhys," she said as her voice began to break. "All you tried to do was help. They can't get away with this. They just can't."
"I'm sorry too," Rhys said quietly, finally looking at her. "Regardless of what happens, I don't regret being there to stop him. I wanted you to know that."
She smiled wanly at him, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "Thank you," she said weakly. She turned back to gaze out the window.
"It was nobly done," Godwyn said. "Syndra and I stand with you. We won't allow this."
Syndra's eyes narrowed as she stared into the distance. "Gods be good," she breathed anxiously. "They're setting up for a tourney."
Rhys gazed in the same direction. He said something Dornish, an expletive if the expression on his face was any indication.
"I'll send off the note," he continued as he pulled down the trapdoor in the ceiling that led to the Holdfast rookery.
The ravenloft was cool and dark. It smelled a little of raven droppings but not much, because Rhys kept the place swept clean, and the ravens were - for birds - fastidious about their quarters.
All around the walls were small shelves, each subdivided to create pigeonholes (or, in this case, raven-holes), with a raven nesting in each one. Many of the ravens bore the insignia of Hardy, in the form of small medallions ringing their legs, but others bore the emblems of the Houses and major holdfasts of the North - including Manderly. It was one of these ravens that Rhys needed to deliver Syndra's message.
However, his eye took in the fact that new birds had arrived, birds with the Hardy insignia and also bearing messages.
One was from Clearwater, and bore the red banding that suggested it was urgent. It was addressed to Maester Merivel.
Having noted the new birds, Rhys set about the business of inserting the message to Ser Corryn into the small tube affixed to the Manderly bird's leg. He cawed soothingly (as best he could) at the raven as he attended to it, automatically examining the bird to ensure it was ready to undertake a long flight.
Satisfied, Rhys intoned a short blessing and set the bird to flight out the window.
As he did so, he was aware of a flash of light below, as though the later afternoon sun had shone, reflected, from some bright and shiny thing.
He looked down in that direction automatically.
It seemed to come from the main part of the castle - perhaps one of the windows looking out of the Great Hall. But he could not see who - if anyone - it belonged to.
He turned to the new birds and, after greeting them one by one, relieved them of their messages and settled them into raven holes.
Nothing was urgent apart from the sealed message from Clearwater for Maester Merivel.
Rhys pocketed the message from Clearwater and went back down into the workroom.
From where they were in the Tower, Syndra and Godwyn were in a position to see a small but familiar figure in a dark green cloak, who seemed to have come out of the forest. The figure stopped to watch at the tourney being set up, and pushed back the hood to reveal a head of golden curls. Edlyn. She stood still watching for a moment. Then someone in Bolton livery lounged across and spoke to her.
It was hard to know what was said. Edlyn said something that made the Boltons' man bow, and then Edlyn was hurrying into the castle courtyard and stood, for a moment, looking around. From her face she seemed rather upset.
The caw of ravens filled Sewell's workroom below as Rhys climbed the ladder leading upward. He disappeared into the rookery once he reached the top and left the door open behind him.
"I wonder what she's doing," Godwyn said, watching Edlyn approach. "I wonder if we can trust her?" He turned to Syndra, "And what about this Merivel fellow from Clearwater. He serves Draupaud, who was fostered at the Dreadfort. Is it coincidence that he is here just now?"
"Spy, you think?" Syndra glanced back at him with a raised eyebrow. "I hadn't thought of that. Personally, I was more worried about this tournament. Between attacking my honor and throwing a tourney, the Boltons seem to be going out of their way to get my father to fight them. If he could be disposed of, that would be awfully convenient for Celia, don't you think?"
Godwyn frowned. "And I hadn't thought of that. Offering insult to you, then throwing enough confusion on the situation so that hanging him out of hand isn't a possibility, might be a good way to ensure that your father fights him in the tourney. And then... well, accidents happen. I like this situation less and less, Syndra."
Syndra worried at her lip. "Me too. I need to speak with him when we're finished here," she said anxiously. "I'm sure he's already considered this. He's not stupid. But he IS honorable, and Celia knows it. That could make him do something that plays right into their hands."
Godwyn noded and said, "We need to talk to Kenrith, too. I fear this is all tied together, a ploy of That Woman's to get rid of you, your father, and me just as my father is dying. The next step is to obtain the Boltons' aid in taking over Holdfast, under the pretense that Kenrith isn't capable of managing it."
Syndra nodded in agreement. "No true Hardy is safe, I fear. We'll need to all watch out for each other, and each keep the others from rising to their provocations. We'll need to gather around us all we can trust - Rhys, Sewell, perhaps Edlyn, but we should be careful there. Wolf, if he comes. Any others?"
"That we can trust without reservation? I don't think so. There are a few of the lads in town, and one or two of the guards who were here before the Tollets came, that are likely to side with us. But I wouldn't swear to it. I don't like Anders, but that's just because he's always been pushing to increase his authority here. I have to admit that he's a good captain, and the men like him. And if it looks like we're losing - well, men will do what they need to protect themselves and their families."
At this point, Rhys climbed down the ladder from the ravenloft and rejoined them.
"The message has been sent," he announced. "There was a raven there from Clearwater with a message for Maester Merivel. When you leave, would you ask Merivel to come see me?"
Syndra glanced at Godwyn uneasily.
"A message from Clearwater," Godwyn repeated, with a look at Syndra that he probably assumed was subtle. "Have you any idea what instructions they have sent to him?"
"I've no idea. The message is sealed and marked urgent. The only way to find out is to ask Maester Merivel," replied Rhys, who, despite the dire circumstances, had no intention of opening another maester's messages.
"Rhys, how well do you know Maester Merivel?" Syndra asked, sounding very serious.
Godwyn muttered something under his breath. The only intelligible word was "Bolton."
"I've been exchanging messages by raven with him for some time. He came to visit on my invitation," Rhys replied. "I don't believe he has anything to do with the Bolton mess were in right now."
"You invited him?" Syndra visibly relaxed. "That makes me feel a little better. Godwyn reminded me a moment ago that Lord Draupaud of Clearwater was fostered by the Boltons at the Dreadfort. We thought there might be a connection." She paused a moment to think. "Still, we ought to be careful what we say around him in case that note is calling him back there. We don't want to say anything that will inadvertently get back to the Boltons."
"Nor risk involving him in this conflict," Rhys added. "The less he knows, the safer he is."
Godwyn nodded. "Well, then," he says, "If we have no more business here, I think we should find Edlyn and talk to her. And then Kenrith."
Syndra sighed as she pulled herself from the window. "Yes, we should," she said. Before she left, though, she turned to Rhys. "Y'know, you can see the whole yard and the tournament field from that window. I don't suppose you could keep an eye on things for us, since..." she wrinkled her nose uncomfortably, "um... you're going to be up here anyway. We could post a runner below to fetch us," she suggested.
Rhys passed a hand over his face and looked away. "It's a good suggestion. Certainly, I'll keep watch."
"Have faith," Godwyn said. "I have a fallback plan if nothing else works." He opened the trapdoor and started down, whistling "The Day They Hanged Black Robin."
Syndra paled slightly at the mention of Godwyn's plan, but, with a reassuring smile back at Rhys, she followed him out.
"Don't forget to send Maester Merivel, please," he reminded them as they disappeared down the stairs.
Rhys righted the upturned chair and resumed his brooding as he sat down and stared back out the window.
As Godwyn and Syndra began to descend the steps, a mellow bell began to toll. It was rung, by Lady Celia's decree, a half hour before dinner commenced (for the noble family, at least), and was meant to allow them time to wash and - if necessary change. With guests, no matter how unwelcome, some effort would be expected.
The room turned darker but Rhys didn't light the lamps. He added a scowl to his brooding.
As he sat in the growing darkness, there came a soft tap at the door at the base of the tower.
Rhys exhaled sharply and went to go answer the knock. Why didn't whoever it was just walk in? He thought to himself as he took the stairs down. Everyone else did. He opened the door.
A boy of about nineteen, with a handsome dark gypsish face, stood there - looking around a little nervously.
"Let me in," he said quickly. "I don't want to be seen."
He looked at Rhys and added, "I saw you send the raven. I'm Eryk Bolton."
Rhys frowned but let the boy in. "How may I help you?" he asked, trying to remember his rank and position but having problems keeping the anger out of his voice.
"I know what my father's done," said Eryk, moving so that he could not be seen from the outside, but advancing no further into the tower, "and I want to help you. I warned Syndra and her cousin - Godwyn is it?" He gave a rueful grin. "I thought he was going to kill me, but he changed his mind." His face grew serious again. "I saw you send the raven - no-one else did, as far as I know. But you must be careful. If my father realised ... "
He broke off and shook his head.
"I sent the raven on official Holdfast business," Rhys replied coldly. "If your father has a problem with that, he should take it up with Ser Godfrey or Lady Celia."
"Of course my father will have a problem with that," said Eryk. "If he thinks you're sending out ravens, he'll demand that you're locked up in a dungeon. I want to keep you alove. In fact, I want to keep you in good skin ... and don't put it down to my sweet nature. To be frank - I want to escape the Dreadfort. Marrying Lady Syndra is my way out - and if it's over the mutilated body of someone she likes, it doesn't argue well for my future."
Rhys crossed his arms. "If you married her, why wouldn't she go to live with you at the Dreadfort?"
"Not if her father specified in the contract that we were to live at the manor for a certain part of the year," said Eryk. "Once we were married, I'd find a way of never going back."
There was no mistaking the sincerity in his tone.
Rhys narrowed his eyes. "So. You said you wanted to keep me unmutilated. How do you propose to do exactly that?"
Eryk Bolton smiled. "By marrying Lady Syndra. After all, my father would hardly want the sweet vigin he marries to his son to be accused of being a wh0re who spreads her legs for a Maester. If she marries me, it will stop his mouth - and you will be safe.
"You see? That way we all have what we want."
"And Syndra's accusation? That just gets conveniently forgotten?"
"Well," said Eryk, smiling, "not everyone can having everything they want."
Rhys frowned, arms still crossed tightly. "So why are you telling me this? I have no authority in this matter."
"No authority," echoed Eryk Bolton, looking away from him. "But considerable persuasive powers, I'd imagine."
A swift glance at Rhys seemed to suggest that he was weighing the effects of his words.
Rhys gave him nothing back but a stony glare. He knew he was straddling the line of disrespect, but the Bolton whelp wanted something from him, so Rhys deemed the risk acceptable. And it made him feel good. It gave him a small modicrum of control over something in this horrible mess.
"At all events," said Eryk, "I must leave you. It wouldn't do for me to be late to dinner ..."
Rhys's stomach gurgled audibly.
Eryk dusted off his cuffs.
"If you wouldn't mind looking outside and seeing if the coast is clear ... "
Rolling his eyes, Rhys ducked his head out to scout, then gestured with his thumb for Eryk to leave. "No one is about presently. Good day, young Bolton."
"And you, Maester Rhys," responded Eryk.
Despite Rhys's words, he looked around cautiously before slipping out. But there was no-one, except the guards on the gate and a distant nightsoil collector, trudging towards the outfall from the privies.
Rhys closed the door behind the Bolton boy. He turned and went back up to the workroom, muttering several impossible anatomical references in Dornish as he took the stairs three at a time.
He resumed his post on the chair staring out at the courtyard, ignoring the growing dark and the deepening cold.
The next sound he heard was the door of the tower being thrown open, and his uncle's voice.
"Rhys? Where are you, boy?"
He had not known his uncle could roar like that.
By the Seven, his uncle had heard. And by the Seven, it sounded like he believed the accusation. Rhys sighed.
"I'm up here!" he bellowed back as he stood up. He noticed for the first time how very dark it'd become and he stumbled forward to light the lanterns.
Sewell came up the stairs with an alacrity he rarely displayed. Without hesitation, and ignoring the fact that the room was still half in darkness, he strode across the room and seized Rhys in his arms, enfolding him in a surprisingly strong hug.
"Now," he said. "What nonsense is this? What's this charge? Fornication? Who lays it? And who's the woman?"
Rhys returned the embrace, some of the tension in his shoulders dissipating now that he understood his uncle didn't believe the lie. "Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt," he said wryly as he clapped his uncle on the shoulder. "Here, sit down while I provide some more light. Both literally and figuratively."
He grabbed a chair and set it beside Sewell then went back to lighting the lanterns and candles around the room.
"You remember that I told you part of the reason I was late with Lord Hardy's hot water is that along the way from the kitchens I came across Ser Herys Bolton making advances on Syndra? My unexpected arrival allowed Syndra to escape. I saw her later and she's fine. He didn't...sully her.
"As I hear, however, instead I was locked in an embrace with Syndra and Ser Herys came upon us. I don't think I have to tell you who laid the charge against me."
Rhys paused and ran a hand over his face. "I'm sorry. I don't see how I could've done anything differently and avoided all this, Uncle. I had to interfere, even if he was a Ser and I only a maester-in-training."
"Of course you did," said Sewell. "I'd have expected no less of you. But this could be ... awkward." He was silent for a moment, thinking.
Rhys finished his lighting work and came back to sit by his uncle. The room now glowed a warm yellow.
At last Sewell sighed. "Depending on how things progress here, it might be necessary to appeal to Lord Bolton himself. And to do that ... I think we must forewarn Maester Brent at the Dreadfort of our ... situation. If we need him to act ... it might be to act rapidly."
Rhys gave his uncle an incredulous look. "Appeal to Lord Bolton? You've seen their crest, right? That would buy us time, but I don't see what else..." Then his eyes narrowed. "What are you planning on asking Maester Brent to do?"
"Nothing," said Sewell. "Nothing as yet. But ... I have done things in the past that have gained me ... respect. That can be used - and I will use it if I must."
His expression was grim. "There was a time when Lord Bolton was anxious for me to serve him as Maester. I suspect that he would still be eager if the opportunity of obtaining my services arose."
"It wouldn't be for any philanthropic service, that's for sure," Rhys stated. "Uncle, I know you've put that past behind you. I don't want you risking your current reputation on my regard. Only evil would come of it."
Rhys passed a hand over his face in agitation. "I can run. I can go back to Dorne, become anonymous. Work with my cousin as a trader. Any number of things. If the situation turns sour I can run."
Sewell winced. "And waste that brian of yours on haggling in the marketplace? No, Rhys. We must ... try our utmost. I am old now, very old, and I have learnt the art of prevarication.
Rhys smiled and shook his head.
"Lord Bolton will gain very little from me. But you ... your skills must not be wasted, Rhys. I am the past, now. But you are the future. Winter is coming, Rhys. And you will be needed to fight against it here, in the North."
Raising his eyes to gaze at Sewell's gnarled hands and lined face, Rhys seemed to notice for the first time his great-uncle's old age. "Your eyes are still very bright," he stated. "You still have some kick left in you."
Looking back at his nephew's face, Sewell saw the words Rhys couldn't speak: I'm not ready. Don't leave me.
Sewell laid his hand upon his shoulder. "Don't worry, my boy. I regard that as a last resort. But we should be prepared to all eventualities. Now ... "
Then he frowned. "What's going on? It sounds like a riot at the gate."
From the tower, they could see the Gatehouse clearly - and Sewell was right. Perhaps twenty angry men, in Bolton and Hardy livery, were arguing noisily. A lone figure was moving towards them; there was no mistaking Ser Kenrith Hardy.
"That doesn't look good," Rhys mumbled. "I wonder what's happening?"
Sewell shook his head. "We can't hear - but we could see. Find two of those far sight lenses we've been working with."
Rhys turned and walked to the worktable used to grind lenses and work with glass. He picked up two cylinders, each with a lens about half a foot across, and brought them back to the window. "Here," he said, setting one up for his uncle before setting up his own.
As he raised his glass to look at the gatehouse, away to one side there was the sounds of a slight disturbance from the kennels - an eager whining and a couple of snuffling barks.
Rhys paused, grinned at Sewell, and quickly set his up in the window looking out over the dogs.
He saw someone leaning over the kennel, throwing food to them. Their whines as they received it suggested a greater than usual pleasure. Then the figure straightened and Rhys saw, by the buckets, that it was a nightsoil man. But not the usual one who Rhys had treated for joint sickness. That man had a stiff walk, and dragged his left leg. This man seemed able-bodied.
He walked towards the gatehouse, hesitated a few moments, and then headed towards the postern gate, nodding to the guard there.
"How are things at the gatehouse?" he asked his uncle as he continued to look through the far-eyes.
"Calming," said Sewell. "Ser Kenrith and Ser Anders have moved among them. There seems to have been some sort of argument .... Ser Kenrith is still there. What caught your attention?"
"Someone doing nightsoil duties who's not Tommo, unless he's suddenly been completely relieved of his joint sickness. Whoever it was fed something to the dogs and continued on toward the gatehouse."
Rhys straightened. "I don't think there's anything else to see on my end. Are you going to go to supper? The bell rang some time ago."
"My thought was to relieve Maester Merivel and send him off to dinner," said Sewell. "But you're right. The bell did ring some time ago and I'll not be obliging your friend if I send him in late among that company ... I'll make sure food is bro ... what's that?"
For someone was shouting.
"Master Godwyn! Master Godwyn! It's the dogs!"
Rhys looked out the window, cocking his head to catch the snatches of conversation.
Rhys found he was in an excellent position to hear the clear young voices of Godwyn and this servant - the walls of the castle had some interesting property that seemed almost to augment sound ... which could form the basis for some fascinating research ...
Huh. Interesting. He made a mental note to look into that sometime in the future. In the meantime, however, Rhys continued to listen from the tower.
Sewell stayed, unashamedly listening as well.