Merivel's mouth opened and remained open for a moment, in complete shock.
"It could be the dungeons, lad. But ... respect for your uncle. For the moment, it's your Tower."
"I...uh...appreciate that." And he did. Rhys knew what the dungeons of Holdfast looked like. "I'll go at once."
He bowed to Ser Anders and Merivel and left to walk across the courtyard to the Maester's Tower, his shoulders slumped.
"That was...unexpected." Merivel began uncertainly.
"Indeed," agreed Ser Anders, his eyes hard as he watched Rhys walk away. "And it puts Holdfast in a difficult situation. Will you take word to Maester Sewell, Maester? Or should I send a messenger? I believe, however, it would be best coming from one of your Order."
"The Maester is currently watching over the stricken Lord." Merivel replied. "And I do think that you are right, it would be best if I, rather than a messenger, conveyed the news of the shocking accusation against his nephew."
Merivel paused and then continued. "Is there aught else you can tell me, that I might better explain matters to Maester Sewell?" he asked Anders.
Ser Anders shook his head. "Unless you care to tell Maester Sewell that it was respect for him that has kept his nephew from the dungeons. I could go no further."
"If that is all you can say." Merivel agreed, with a somber tone to his voice. "I will convey the news to Maester Sewell now."
Ser Anders bowed his head in acknowledgement.
Merivel bowed his head, more formally. "Ser" he said politely, and then proceeded to retrace his steps to the room where Sewell still held vigil over the stricken lord. He knocked politely at the door but did not immediately proceed inside, waiting for it to be opened first.
Maester Sewell opened the door almost immediately - a narrow crack at first, and then wider to admit Merivel.
"There's no change in Lord Hardy," he said quietly. "Rhys is not with you?"
Merivel's face was as grave as his tone of voice. "You may wish to sit down, elder Maester." Merivel began, waiting to see if Sewell would sit, or not, before continuing.
"Ser Anders has confined your nephew to his tower." Merivel began. "There is an accusation against him." Merivel paused a moment, and gave a heavy sigh.
"An accusation of fornication, sir."
Sewell swayed slightly on his feet, his hand clutching clawlike at the door frame.
"What? Who makes this claim? And who is he meant to have ... have fornicated with?"
"Ser Anders would not say more, when I pressed him for such." Merivel said. "I tried to ask him on your behalf, knowing you would want to know more, but he refused to divulge any more details, on the accuser or the person with whom he committed the act."
"Will you stay here with his Lordship?" asked Sewell abruptly. "I need to find out more ... "
Merivel's eyes widened slightly in surprise, but he nodded without hesitation. "Yes, I will." he agreed, as he moved toward the Lord's bedside.
Lord Hardy still seemed in much the same dazed state that he had been when Merivel had left the room. There was a Septa in the room, Septa Annice, and she was engaged in washing him in this relatively quiet time when the rest of the family were preparing for dinner. An older woman, and one he had seen about the castle tending on the needs of Syndra and Edlyn, she smiled reassuringly at Merivel.
"Why don't you rest by the fire while I do this, Maester?"
Merivel gave a small nod. "I will give you some room, if that is what you need to perform your duty. He got up and walked to one of the chairs by the fire, but grunted as he moved the chair so that it did not face the fire fully, and allowed him to keep vigil, at a distance, of the stricken Lord of Holdfast. Merivel did not stare at Annice's ministrations, but he kept a regular watch on the proceedings.
It was peaceful sitting there, while the Septa worked steadily and patiently on the Lord's helpless body. It was warm too ... and yet Merivel was sure he was not asleep. He was not ...
Snow. Snow drifting gently down, the flakes brushing against his face. Yet he was warm, wrapped in his cloak, although the ground underfoot squelched as he took a step forward.
Reeds - a reed bed.
And snow, gently falling, snow on reeds.
Merivel blinked in surprise and stopped his forward momentum. Upright, walking, outside. How? He looked up, first, and blinked as one of the snowflakes struck him squarely in the left eye. And then he looked down at the ground.
"I'm dreaming again." he said softly, a whisper upon the air. He then craned his neck around, to find what else he could see.
Snow ... falling on the reeds.
In the distance there was a peaceful little town, away across the reeds and some open water.
Snow falling on the reeds.
There was an indistinct moaning, and suddenly Merivel was wide awake, and Lord Hardy was thrashing and moaning in his bed.
"Maester!" cried the Septa, her voice sharp with alarm. "Something ... is wrong!"
Merivel shook his head briefly, to clear the rapidly disappearing cobwebs. He muttered something depreciating to himself under his breath, and launched himself from the chair, as if trying to leap to Hardy's bedside.
Merivel's eyes and hands moved like swift snakes in the grass, trying to soothe Lord Hardy while trying to find the cause of the sudden fit.
t the single word, Lord Hardy stopped his struggling and stared up at Merivel, unblinking.
His hands tried to coax Lord Hardy back to a reclining position.
But Lord Hardy resisted, still staring at Merivel.
"Snow," he said. "My son ... Snow."
Merivel blinked, and bit back the obvious word that came to mind. He gave a nod of the head. "Snow. Do you know where he is?" Merivel asked softly. "Help me to know, so that he might be found." Merivel turned to give an inquisitive look to the Septa.
The Septa was looking worried, but at Merivel's glance, she shook her head, as though to dignify she knew nothing of this.
"Rushes," said Lord Hardy. "Rushes! Tell ... Kenrith ... "
His eyes were unfocusing; the effort of conveying so much seemed to have exhausted him.
There was a gentle rap on on the door.
Merivel shook his head, in bewilderment. "Rushes and Snow." he murmured, and then looked to the Septa. "The Door, please. I will watch over the Lord." he said, turning back to regard Hardy almost before she finished her response.
"Easy, Lord Hardy." Merivel said. "Please, you must not exert yourself unduly."
He was aware of one of the Hardy servants shuffling awkwardly into his peripheral vision.
"If you please, Maester," he said, clearly alarmed to be interrupting, "there's a message for you. I didn't know whether to come in, being as you're attending on the Lord and all ... "
"Come in and quickly." Merivel responded as he turned to face the servant, irritation in his voice. He then took a long breath. "All right. The message?" he asked the man.
"It was from Master Godwyn," the man said. "I'm to tell you that you're wanted in the Maester's Tower. That was all he said."
"If you would, could you return to Master Godwyn." Merivel replied to the servant. "Tell him that I have a patient, with none to look after him but me at the moment, and the needs of that patient come before any other. By the chain whose links I forge, I cannot and will not abandon Lord Hardy's bedside save in extremis. The message can be brought to me here, or it can wait until I can leave the Lord's bedside."
"Yes, Sir, I shall tell him," said the man, much abashed. He hesitated. "Sound I also tell the Maesters too? They are in the Tower."
"Are they?" Merivel asked rhetorically. He nodded. "Tell Maester Sewell that the Lord still calls out for Snow. Tell him that I think there is something to it."
"Yes, Maester," agreed the man, looking slightly perplexed at the message he had to bear. He bowed and left the room.
Lord Hardy seemed to have fallen once more into a dazed sleep ... and remained so until, some time later, Sewell entered the room, his face grave.
"Maester Merivel," he said. "I have a message for you from Clearwater."
Alarm spread across his face like ink poured upon a pool of still water as Sewell said the word Clearwater.
"What is the message, Maester?" Merivel asked, with a slightly quaking tone in his voice.
"It came by raven," responded Sewell, taking the message from his sleeve and handing it to Merivel.
Merivel was used to messages by raven being brief, almost to the point of obscurity. This one however, was in Steward Derron Thorne's own hand. It read, "A lady has died. Return as soon as you can."
"How does Lord Hardy?"
A grave look came upon Merivel's face as he read the raven-borne message. He stared at it for an additional few seconds before finally looking up and at Maester Sewell.
"I must return to Clearwater, immediately. There has been a death." Merivel said. He paused and then gestured toward Lord Hardy. "He is still in a delirium, although I think there is something behind what he speaks."
Merivel lowered his voice. "He's spoken of a Snow. And something to do with reeds, rushes."
"A Snow?" There was a subtle change in Sewell's voice. "That old story ... how strange, when he comes to this, that he should remember ... "
He shook his head. "No matter. You must return, you say. It is night now, and the woods will not be safe. Besides, suitable preparations will take some time, and an escort found. Perhaps, unless you have preparations of your own to make, you should join the family at dinner, to say your farewells. The Steward will be there, and he can arrange for your departure early tomorrow."
"I want to send a response by Raven back to Clearwater of course." Merivel said after a moment. "I will stay the night for dinner and rest, and hopefully the Steward will be able to arrange prompt arrangements for my travel back. Otherwise, I have no other arrangements to make."
Sewell nodded. "Write your message as you will, Maester Merivel, and give it to me. The ravens won't fly by night, but it shall leave before you in the morning."
Merivel nodded. "Of course. I will write the message immediately before dinner and give it to you there."
He bowed to Sewell, gave one last glance at Hardy, and left the room for the quarters he had been given.