Salting a Wound
Corryn followed his Second through the Holdfast main gate and toward their camp. The Laughing Knives had settled down in a small field near the wall. They'd erected their tents and penned their horses up in a festive fashion. The rumors of a tournament had already drifted through their ranks. They'd erected Manderly flags for all to see, striking their colors wherever they could. Although, the Knives were not a band that catered to such events regularly, they were not about to give up the chance to trounce a few Boltons into the ground. The coin to be won certainly wouldn't dissuade their festive spirits either.
He quickly noted a gathering of men near the camp's heart. They appeared distraught and frustrated. He headed toward them, suspecting he'd find his daughter amongst them.
Having been stoic until now, his voice starled Phalan slightly. "Tell me why she's like this. Do you have any idea?"
Phalan shook his head. "She came running out here, all wide-eyed and wild and shoeless. I'd say she was more upset than anything ... she was crying a little, although there seemed no mark upon her. It was only when we wouldn't let her mount up and gallop away that she got angry. Mistress Syndra followed her - and our little Lady became more upset than before. Mistress Syndra said something about the Maester asking about her mother - and that she had done something too ... " He shook his grizzled head, baffled.
As Corryn got closer he realised his men were in loose semi-circle around his daughter. Kolin was sitting to one side dabbing a cloth to a wound on his arm. He looked at Corryn ruefully.
"I pulled her from the saddle, Ser. She wasn't best pleased."
"Bollocks and damnation, I'd say not," Corryn hissed through his teeth, looking at the wound. He knelt down, concerned for his friend. "You'd best seek the maester about that Kolin. No sense in you losing feeling in your arm or getting a fever." He shook his head. "You're a brave lad. My apologies."
And now Corryn could see his daughter, in the centre of the semi-circle, her back to the wagon. From someone she had found a long dagger and was using it to keep the men at bay. Either their affection for the girl or their respect for Corryn was making them somewhat tentative in their approach to her.
But looking at Limosa's face, Corryn realised she had moved beyond upset, beyond anger. She was like a wild animal at bay - she had retreated into some hellish place from her old life where she must have fought and struggled to survive, the only female amongst whatever appalling, drunken brutes had populated her father's castle.
Corryn was up and on his feet immediately, walking towards the girl. He nodded to the others, "Give her space. We'll be fine." It was a lie, naturally, but one he had to tell himself. He should never have brought her here. But if he'd left her alone, Limosa may have slipped back into a feral state anyhow. She'd bonded to him for whatever reason. Leaving her behind would have severed that bond.
He simply hoped that connection would help him now. A dagger in the chest was all he needed today. Tomorrow would have been better. He didn't want to die with a headache.
The Knives were hesitant, but knew better than to disobey. Slowly they backed away, widening the semi-circle around Limosa. She remained in a half-crouch, looking around, her breathing harsh and rapid, not relaxing at all.
Corryn slipped off his cloak and hung it over his arm, ready if he needed it. Steeling himself, he stepped into the area just at the edge of her reach. His eyes stayed on hers, allowing him to catch any movement of that vicious blade. "Limosa," he said firmly to catch her attention. Then he lowered his voice to a more pleasant tone. "Water Sprite. It's me. You're safe."
For a second it was as though she didn't hear him; she made a couple of defensive passes with the knife - almost as though she was demonstrating her willingness to attack. Then her head tilted slightly, as though she was listening. Another pass with the knife - but her hand shook a little.
He took one step closer, smiling tenderly to her; eyes still on hers. He held up his one hand pleadingly, while steadying his cloak with the other. "Limosa, you're with friends, remember? It's all going to be okay now. I'm here. But you need to put down the knife before you hurt yourself."
Now she turned. She was gazing full at him, and he saw her in those dark eyes, the vital young woman who had ridden with him to Holdfast, with all her spirit and wit. But he also saw the lonely girl she had been, and the hell that had been her life, that had well-nigh broken her proud spirit. For a second she stared at him, and all that vulnerability was there, no longer masked by anger or fear. For a second she gazed at him ...
And then she dropped the knife and fled across the grass to him, and into his arms.
Corryn took her up in his arms protectively, holding on to her as she held on to him. All was forgotten around them at that moment, the pair focusing upon their own world. A world where Limosa could know love and safety, a world where the past ceased to be. He embraced her as she should have been throughout her life. And all the while, he hushed the tears beginning to stain his tunic.
"You're safe, my dear," he whispered into her dark hair. "I'm sorry I left you alone. I should have been watching over you. But I'm here now."
She sobbed into his shoulder, almost as though she were luxuriating in her grief. Perhaps she was. Perhaps this was the first opportunity she had had of grieving fully for the only human being who had ever loved her, her lost mother.
He closed his arms around Limosa more tightly, letting her release all the anguish eating away at her beautiful heart. He knew that sorrow all too well, but he'd overcome it; in a manner of speaking, anyhow. One could never heal those wounds. They could learn to live with the scars and smile again, however. And he intended to demonstrate that to this tender soul as best he could. She needed hope and a safe place to land. Those things he could give her.
Corryn gave a small nod to those gathered, asking silently for a moment with Limosa now that the crisis had passed. He knew he could never heal the holes in her heart, but maybe for a time he could soothe the pain. He guided her over to her wagon's rear step and sat down, pulling her into his lap and arms. As she leaned against him, he ran his long, gentle fingers through the elegant darkness of her hair.
"I am here now," he repeated. "And we'll be together for now on, yes? You will be at my side, so whenever you need me, I shall be there, Water Sprite. Hush now."
She nodded - he felt the movement against his neck and shoulder. Her breathing was calmer; she gave only the occasional hiccupping sob. But it was clear that she was drawing comfort from his physical presence.
Corryn continued to brush her hair back and console her with a soft voice. "Good," he said. "Just hold onto me. I won't let go. But can you be brave for me? For her? I know you miss her. But she's here, Limosa." He touched her heart and smiled. "She'll never leave you as long as you hold on to her."
Another nod. She was growing tranquil now, so tranquil that he realised she was almost falling into an exhausted sleep in his arms, worn out by the passion that had seized her.
Perhaps he could settle her in the wagon and leave. On the other hand, if she woke up and found him gone ...
Corryn sighed weakly as he realized he was losing her to exhaustion. He needed her at his side for what was to come. And he could not leave her here. The chance of another attack was too great to risk. Duty in this case outweighed their personal needs. That was their lot in life, he thought.
He lightly touched her chin, lifting her head up. "Limosa," he said with a hint of firmness to cut through her daze. "I know it is much to ask, but I have need of you. There is a trial about to take place. One that involves a very dear friend of mine. He may be hung for a crime he did not commit. If you know me, you realize I cannot sit back idly as that happens. I must attend the trial."
His hazel eyes brimmed for a moment, the strain of asking this of her hurting him deeply. "I need you to come with me. It will be difficult for you, I realize, but that is the life of a noble. And you are a noble woman, no matter how that…man… told you otherwise." The word 'man' came out like a hiss; his teeth pulling back into a feral snarl.
"Will you do this for me? I would not be upset if you wished to remain in your wagon. I realize you're very tired. I can have Phalan stand guard so you are not disturbed until I return in a few hours."
Limosa bit her lip, undecided. Then she stretched out her hand to Corryn with an imperious little gesture. She was coming too.
Corryn smiled lightly, pleadingly. "The decision is yours, Water Spirte. But either way, you must make amends to Kolin first. He is very protective of you. But you hurt him when he tried to help." He gestured toward where Kolin was getting his arm dressed.
Limosa looked at Corryn, startled. Then she looked over to Kolin, and her eyes widened. She looked back at Corryn and made a gesture that spoke as plainly as words:
"I did that?"
Then she was scrambling up and racing over to Kolin. She tumbled to her knees in front of him, looking up at him imploringly. Kolin flinched slightly, and then turned bright red (and winced a little) as Limosa seized his wounded arm and covered his hand with apologetic kisses. Kolin looked across helplessly at Corryn.
Corryn followed and knelt down behind her. He placed his hands upon Limosa's shoulders sympathetically, looking up at Kolin. He offered the young man a weary smile. "Well, at the very least, you'll have an interesting story about that scar you're going to have, eh? Thank you again for your help, Kolin. It was very brave of you. I will not forget what you did here today."
He nodded with respect to the young man, reminding himself to check into the boy's family background. Although only a squire in service to Phalan, he'd be a knight soon enough. Limosa seemed taken with him. Perhaps there was something that might grow from there. If he took a knife wound today, Kolin would probably do just about anything to protect her later on.
But that was for later.
He squeezed her shoulders and lightly guided Limosa back to her feet. "We should let Kolin go see the maester, Limosa." Corryn nodded to the Youngman one last time. "My apologies again. We must head to the Great Hall and see if we can keep Volf's neck out of a noose."
As he bent to dust the grass off Limosa fine dress, Corryn noticed her bare feet for the first time. "Umm… your slippers, my dear. Where might they be? You'll need them for court. Lady Celia will never let me hear the end of it, otherwise. And if you've heard that harpy once, it is too many."
Limosa looked up at him, and coloured a little. There was something in the set of her lips that suggested that she was not pleased to be reminded of the slippers. Finally she made a vague gesture back at the bulk of the main building of the castle. She had, she implied, left them there. Somewhere.
Corryn sighed with disapproval, but he wasn't about to press the issue when he saw her frown. That battle was avoided for now, so he gave her a temporary reprieve. He shook his head and said, "We'll find them later, I suppose. I'm not happy about it, but you leave me little choice in the matter."
He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Knowing Fortune, she's packed you a second or third pair in my things. We just need to find them." He raised his hand to stop her Silent protest, "No. You're a lady of the court, Limosa, not some low-born wildling running around the forest. How you appear reflects not only on me… but your family." He let that settle in for a moment, knowing if he directly said the word, 'Mother,' it would only infuriate her.
Limosa shot a look at him, and her underlip quivered. She gave a quick nod, staring down at the ground.
He brushed her hair back, smiling at her with deep affection. Further words at that moment were meaningless and hollow. He'd made his point; no sense in pressing it. So, he took her arms in his and let her lean on him as they walked.
Corryn led her back to the wagon. "Once the trial is over and we have dinner, you can come back and run around in your bare feet until Winter comes for all I care. But people are watching us. Watching you. A good impression can speak more loudly than any flowery words. Please... you're my daughter and I love you. I want what's best for you, even if you think me cruel."
A deep sigh, and then another nod. Then she scrambled up into the wagon, and Corryn heard her banging about. A minute and then she was back, springing lithely down from the wagon in a way that would have Lady Celia lifting her eyebrows.
But Limosa was wearing slippers.
Corryn snickered to himself as she vented her frustration inside the wagon. Chances were the place would be a mess when he looked inside. But it was a small price to pay for her relative compliance, he supposed.
Upon her reemergence, he looked her over and then grinned brightly. He extended his hand to her and squeezed her fingers. "You are gorgeous, my dear. Every head will turn upon your arrival, I'm certain."
He patted her hand as they walked back toward the castle. Phalan and two Laughing Knives fell in along side them as guards. Along the way, Corryn briefed Limosa on the matters of etiquette and what was expected of her. He laughed with kind bemusement at several of her perplexed reactions. "I know, I know. I used to despise the court, myself. Unfortunately, I was thrust into the lion's den without much choice. And it has grown comfortable on me. Age and senility, I suppose."
Limosa considered this (and Corryn) with a gravity that was a little unsettling.
Corryn's eyes were warm crescents as they studied her. "Now, you may not be provided with a chair. That does not give you permission to sit on the floor. If Syndra and Edlyn are there, you are to join them. AH-UH… don't start. Yes, that's what you're going to do. Or you can stand behind my chair. Whichever is more comfortable to you."
Limosa frowned at the mention of the other names.
He shook his head sadly, "She didn't mean to upset you, Limosa. I can promise you that. You'd love her as a sister, if you gave her the chance. She is very much like you in many ways."
He smirked playfully, "Less stubborn, perhaps, but very alike."
Limosa's expression said clearly she had yet to be convinced of this.