He smiled at Syndra. Rhys's face and arms were very tan from long sunny days in the south, contrasting nicely with his light blue eyes. "Well, I should go say hello to the good Maester. I'm sure I'll see you at dinner tonight."
"Yes. Yes, you should. And I hope so. About dinner, I mean," she stifled a wince of embarrassment and turned away quickly. "I'll just, um...go give these to Godwyn," she excused herself and began to trot off. "Thank you," she called back over her shoulder, just before she ducked around the nearest corner.
He waved and disappeared into the Maester's Tower.
Rhys shut the door behind him, then paused to lean his back against it and pass a hand in wonder over his face. He'd left her as a young girl and when he returned she was instead a young woman. He knew logically this would happen, it had been six years after all, but the reality of it caught him by surprise. The eyes and smile were still hers, but that round, little-girl face had been replaced with one that...somehow...Rhys found more interesting to look at.
Bemused, he shuffled his reaction to Syndra away to think about later. Rhys instead started up the stairs to Sewell's workroom, his legs long enough now to take the steps three at a time. When he reached the trapdoor he opened it without knocking and stepped through with a happy grin on his face.
His great uncle was sitting at the table, making careful notations in one of his leather-bound books. As Rhys's head rose aboive the level of the trapdoor, he rose, smiling.
"Rhys!" He was noticably older - his hands more gnarled and his skin having the leathery thinness of old age. But his voice was as strong as ever and his gaze as shrewd. "Come in, come in, my boy. Did you see young Syndra? She has been on the watch for you for two days now."
Rhys laid his palm out at the height Syndra was when he left. "Um, yes, I saw Syndra..." He answered wryly, as he raised his hand to the height she was now. "I imagine I won't recognize Godfrey, either."
"You, however..." he reached out and clasped his uncle's shoulder. "You haven't changed at all." They both knew that was untrue, but Rhys grinned and clapped him on the shoulder before lowering the saddlebags to the floor. He pulled up a chair nearby where Sewell was writing and sat down.
"I'd forgotten how the cold seeps into your very bones up here," Rhys mused. "The journey was uneventful...but I did find a specimen of plant just north of the neck that I found unusual. Looks like milkvetch, but I didn't think milkvetch grew wild this far north, so maybe it's a hardier strain and I thought you'd be interested...anyway, it's packed somewhere. I'll find it for you later."
"I certainly would," said Sewell. "I did some research into properties of milkvetch a few years back - I should be able to find the notes. Did you manage to transport a living specimen? And a sample of its soil so we cann try to give it the same here?"
Rhys stretched and sighed. "I wouldn've been here sooner, but Archmaester Ebrose thought it best that I not seem too eager to come north. He thought it looked suspicious." Rhys looked at Sewell out of the corner of his eye. "I also heard from Ebrose that you're an archmaester yourself. I inquired why an archmaester would be away from the Citadel and name himself at a lower rank and Ebrose suddenly turned very cagey. He suggested I get the story far from Oldtown..."
Sewell looked at him sharply, and then away. "Ahhh," he said. "That old story. I would have thought all that would have been forgotten years ago."
"Heh. Apparently not. Is this a good story? Should I go fetch a couple of drinks?" Rhys smiled.
"Not a good story, Rhys. The strong of a young and intelligent man, promoted too quickly because of his wits rather than his experience. A young man who believed all knowledge could be his for the asking, who believed in his arrogance that knowledge was an absolute, without good, or evil. He looked into the fire ... and was burned."
Rhys listened intently, watching his great-uncle.
He sighed and stood up. "An old story, Rhys, from the days before you were born. Now, let's have that drink, and we'll speak of something more pleasant."
"I'm sorry to press the point," Rhys said quietly, not moving from his seat, "but according to Ebrose there is talk and suspicion that I may be in some dark plot with you. It would be helpful if I knew what I was dealing with."
Sewell sighed and resumed his eat. "I hoped," he said, "that after all these years we might have moved beyond this." His wrinkled hand reached for the collar that girded his throat. "I gained my first link when I was fifteen, Rhys. Accountancy ... I had three more before I was seventeen. An Archmaester before I was thirty ...
"And then I chose to try for the Valeryian steel."
Rhys considered this. "Not what I was expecting you to say...but it makes a certain amount of sense. Archmaester by thirty...by the Seven!...what else was there for you to achieve, aside from Grandmaester? A link that's very hard to obtain but with plenty of prestige associated with it."
He sat back and regarded his great-uncle, trying to imagine what he must have been like at his age. "What happened?" Rhys asked after a moment.
"A post opened at King's Landing," said Sewell. "In the service of Aerion, the son of King Maekar. The one they call Aerion Brightflame, or Aerion the Monstrous. I ... was his Maester."
Rhys whistled lowly. "Aerion thought himself a dragon in human form, if I remember my history correctly. Quite unstable and volatile. Not the easiest of highborn to serve, but on the other hand he was supposed to one day be king, which would make it all worth while for some people." It was clear from Rhys's expression that he would not be numbered in the "some people."
"You mentioned that he was called Aerion the Monstrous. Did you help him become that?"
"The Citadel believed I was not solely responsible," said Sewell slowly. "They said I was too young ... too much in his power. Perhaps I was too in awe of him, they said, to disobey. Or perhaps it was my own pride that would not let me see what I was doing ...
"They held me this far accountable for all that followed - they decreed that I should no longer be an Archmaester - and that I should be exiled to the North. In perpetuity.
"I was lucky it wasn't the Wall."
Rhys's expression softened. He said nothing for a moment, then, "Did you convince him to drink the wildfire?"
Sewell gave a short laugh. "No. Arguably, I convinced him that he had the potential to. But ... no. I would have known it would kill him. The fire he could have faced ... " He shook his head. "No matter. That time, for good and ill, is past now." He smiled, a little ruefully at his great-nephew. "But perhaps you understand now why it is dangerous to speak of it in Oldtown. And why I prefer it not to be spoken of here."
"I will not speak of this," Rhys promised gravely. "If I may ask...what happened with your attempt to gain the Valeryian steel link? You stopped your studies to take the post with Aerin and didn't finish?"
"Rhys," said Sewell softly, "Aerion =was= my study. In studying him, heir to the Dragonthrone and all that meant, I hoped to unlock the secrets of the universe. My arrogance was ... boundless. My fellow men - and women - had become little more than tools for my advancement."
Rhys stared at his great-uncle for a moment. What Sewell was describing was completely unlike the man he knew sitting in front of him and the contrast was startling. "Aerion died and you were chastised, demoted, and exiled to the North. Most men would become bitter at that. You did not."
A simple statement of fact, but within it an unspoken question.
Sewell shook his head. "I saw the effect of what I had done. I saw his lady widowed, his infant son disinherited. I had fed his pride for my own ends, and it became arrogance. When I had caused such pain, how could I be bitter about any punishment I must take? The gods are wise, Rhys. Had I become the Grand Archmaester, as once I dreamed, what follies would I not have carried out? I am a better man for being a mere Maester, serving in this obscure castle."
He gazed thoughtfully at Sewell a moment more, then let his regard slide from his great-uncle's face to his own lap. There was a lot to think about in all the things the maester had said here and he would need some time to work through it. "Thank you for telling me," Rhys spoke, looking back up. "Doubtless that wasn't easy to talk about."
Not knowing what else to say and wanting to end the uncomfortable conversation, Rhys stood and stretched, easing aching muscles sore from days on horseback. He bent to retrieve his saddlebags. "I'll go unpack and then find you again and we can talk about Lord Hardy. Will that suit?"