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Speculation Before Dinner

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Syndra made her way slowly up to her room, taking her time and hoping no one stopped her on the way. Wolf was off to pay his respects to her mother, and as much as she would've liked to visit longer with him, she understood his need to do that alone. Frankly, she was a bit relieved. When he spoke of Morna Hardy, Wolf's sadness sometimes became overwhelming. Much like her father's. Syndra had had enough sadness, enough looking backward, for one day. She wanted to look ahead.

She turned her thoughts instead to Rhys. Despite her worry over his participation in the search for Merivel, Syndra smiled. She had to admit that her few moments of conversation with him had been the best moments of her day, even if the topic had been Celia. Touching his shoulders and kissing his cheek... She sighed wistfully. That had brought feelings that were new to her, but that she longed to feel again.

And Wolf had noticed. Not just her glances, but Rhys's as well, there in the hall. That made her chuckle, though somewhat uneasily. If Wolf had seen it, had her father, or anyone else, seen it too? Or did Wolf just know her so well that he could read her thoughts from across the room? She should be more careful, her wiser self told the capricious maiden inside of her. The giddy maid, however, simply stuck her tongue out.

She meandered up the spiral stair, lost in her thoughts, one hand lightly trailing on the center post. 'If it is truly love, let nothing stand between you and him', Wolf had said. 'Regrets will never warm your heart.' Syndra sighed again. But was it truly love? She had never been in love. How would she know? If it was just some fleeting feeling, acting on it would ruin both their lives.

What WAS love, anyway? Syndra knew she liked Rhys. He had always been kind to her, and he had never treated her like a dumb little girl as others had. Whenever she had questions, about his plants or the stars or the Citadel or what would happen if the sun started rising in the west, he had always answered, clear and true. He had always made her feel smart and worthy. She liked that feeling. And lately, every glance from his brilliant blue eyes made her stomach flutter. But where was the line? When did friendship become love? And how would she know?

At the top of the stairs, she turned toward her room and smirked at her folly. Now was not the time for all this. Not with everything that was happening - the upcoming trial, the missing maester, the houseful of Boltons. There would be time to consider this later, when things settled down. Once the Boltons were gone, perhaps Father would be more lenient with Rhys, and Rhys could speak with her again, like he used to. It was a pleasant thought. If only, if only...

At her room, she opened the door and entered, wondering if Edlyn was here or elsewhere.

Edlyn was there, propped up by almost all the pillows she could find, with her bandaged leg resting on the final pillow.

"There you are!" she said. "Come and tell me what has been happening - you can't believe how dull it is to be trapped here in bed. I have a good mind to demand a guard of my own to carry me down to dinner. What about asking Heskin? He's strong enough, and handsome!"

"I think you should. If you have to have someone carry you, he should at least be pleasant to look at," Syndra agreed, a hint of mischief in her eyes as she remembered a certain maester who had carried Edlyn in the hall.

"I'm sorry to leave you so abruptly earlier," Syndra apologized. She topped off Edlyn's water goblet from a pitcher on the table next to her friend, then sat down at the foot of her bed, kicking off her shoes and pulling her legs up under her gown. "Since Father was free for a moment, I wanted him to discuss with Wo... Ser Corryn the arrangements he and I had talked about earlier."

She lowered her voice and leaned forward; a habit that she had developed over the last few years whenever talking about anything she didn't want Celia to hear. "I am no longer Uncle Oswain's ward, Edlyn. If anything happens to Father, Ser Corryn will take over as my guardian. And if nothing happens, I'm to accompany Father back to Winterfell the next time he goes." Despite the grim subject, Edlyn could see the relief in Syndra's eyes.

"Winterfell!" Edlyn gave an excited bounce on the bed. "Oh Syndra - how wonderful! Just think of all the people you'll meet there - the bannerlords and their sons ... " She grinned at Syndra. "We'll have to start on clothes for you to wear at once ... do you think Ser Corryn has brought any material with him? I'm sure we could wheedle him into giving us some ... at least you could!"

If Edlyn felt any envy that Syndra was to have a treat that she never expected to aspire to, there was no hint in her face or her tone as she spoke.

"Whoa!" Syndra giggled. "Don't worry. We still have lots of time. Father won't leave Holdfast until everything is stabilized here, one way or the other. That could take months. And there's still the trial to go through," she reminded Edlyn, her face clouding. "And even if Father comes through that safely, I'm still betrothed to Eryk Bolton. The bastardy issue clouds his claim, but doesn't break it for certain. Not unless Evan's claims can be proven.

"But I have it on good authority that other arrangements might have been made to prevent the wedding. I just don't know what they are yet." She looked worried at that last thought.

"What?" gasped Edlyn. "Who told you that? Can we do anything to help? I mean ... you don't want to marry him, do you?"

"No, of course not," Syndra said dismissively, keeping her voice low. Her worried look persisted, however. "Wolf told my father while I was there. He asked forgiveness for meddling in our affairs, but said he'd found a way to prevent the wedding. My worry is that Wolf's done something, or is going to do something, that puts him at risk to save me.

"Naturally, he won't tell me his plan," she continued with an anxious frown. "I'd do anything to keep him from being hurt, Edlyn. I promised him that, years ago. But he won't let me. All I know is that part of the plan is speaking to Eryk Bolton. Alone."

Edlyn's eyes widened. "And you think ... that might be dangerous?" she asked anxiously. "I don't know, Syndra - Eryk Bolton seems harmless enough to me."

"No. Not that part," Syndra clarified. "The part he's not telling me."

Edlyn frowned. "Perhaps ... we could do something ourselves. Do you know where he's meeting him?"

"In the Godswood in half an hour." It wasn't that Syndra hadn't considered spying on the meeting. She had, several times. But the thought made her uneasy. She trusted Wolf and respected his privacy, but still she had made a pledge to let no harm come to him if she could prevent it. Could she make the case that she was spying on him for his own good? She wasn't certain she could, even to herself. Her doubts showed clearly on her face.

"Well," said Edlyn, ever practical, "I can't go - it would be hard to be all quiet and hidden if I have to rely on a guard to carry me everywhere. But you could go." She shot a look at Syndra. "Perhaps you could ask Rhys to go with you."

"No, he's not here," she answered, then smiled apologetically. "I guess I do need to catch you up, don't I?"

Syndra adjusted her position on the bed, getting comfortable for a long story. "All right. I'm going to back up. Back to last night. I think I told you about the lady in the courtyard. After I got back, I spoke with Evan Tamm and he told me he was Eryk Bolton and Eryk was the bastard." She narrowed her eyes quizzically. "I think I told you about that, too.

"Anyway, Rhys saw me in the courtyard and asked what I was doing there. Remember, this was the middle of the night. I told him what Evan told me, because there was a way he could help me find out if Evan was telling the truth. See, Evan talked about his brother - the one that died here during the summer fever. But he called him by a different name than Eryk had used earlier at dinner. I thought that Rhys could help me check Maester Sewell's journals to find out which name was the right one."

Syndra appeared proud of her cleverness, but then her face fell. "He did try to help me, but it turns out Sewell uses some kind of code in his journals. We couldn't read them. After that, I came back here."

"Then this morning, my father talked to me before the trial. That's when he told me he wanted Wolf to be my guardian." She paused, thinking. "I think that covers everything up to the trial, which you saw. Shall I tell you what happened afterward?"

"Well, yes," said Edlyn. "As though you need to ask me! Only," she added virtuously, "if you need to go and find Ser Corryn first, I suppose I can wait."

But she was looking at Syndra hopefully.

"No, I'll tell you," Syndra said, thankful for the conscience-easing delay. "During the recess, I talked to Ser Corryn a bit. Turns out Limosa is indeed his daughter - or rather, step-daughter. She was originally a Cerwyn. Corryn married her mother on her deathbed to protect Limosa and her brother, and he is now the lord of Leaning Stone. Also, apparently Limosa was somehow betrothed to Ser Herys some years ago." Syndra couldn't keep the sour look from her face. "One more complication," she muttered, then continued.

"Your mother interrupted us then, and said my father wanted to see me, so I went to look for him. He was with Herys in his solar. Herys was trying to stop the trial. Probably because he was afraid of what Evan would say. Father refused, so Herys left. On our way back here, we stopped off in Uncle Oswain's room and spoke with Maester Sewell. As part of the conversation, I asked about the Bolton boy who died. He said the boy went by two different names, so there went my chance to trap Herys in the bastard lie. Then we came back." Syndra carefully avoided saying anything about the discussion of Lord Hardy's Snow, reckoning that Edlyn shouldn't hear about it before Kenrith.

At the end of her tale, Syndra's brow furrowed, remembering. "And that's when I met back up with you. You were upset, but you couldn't tell me why then. What happened?" From her friend's intense gaze, Edlyn could tell Syndra's tale was at a standstill until she spilled her own.

"Mother," said Edlyn with a sigh. "For the first time since I came here, the Castle has eligible men, and she can't marry me off to any of them. So she contents herself with scolding me for bruising my ankle. But you still haven't told me what's happened to Rhys!"

Syndra looked confused. "Why would that bother you? You never cared what your mother thought before," she asked, staying on track.

"I don't care what she thinks," said Edlyn. "I just hate being shouted at, that's all. It makes me go cold and sick inside, and I can feel myself closing up and ... and ... wilting inside. And I know I'm a coward - but really, Syndra, I'm not like you and Godwyn. I prefer things to be ... calm.

"But I'm used to you and Godwyn," she went on. "It's Kenrith - he looked at me like I was a worm. And now he's trying to be nice to me ... but I don't know if I can trust him. And that girl who knocked me over - Ser Corryn's daughter - oh, Syndra, she's just wild!"

"Be patient with her, Edlyn. She has her reasons for acting the way she does," Syndra explained sympathetically. "As for Kenrith, it's really just what I told you before. He's prickly at first, but once he gets to know you, he'll be more receptive. I understand if you don't want to trust him right away, but please give him a chance. Godwyn and I trust him, and you trust us, don't you?"

Edlyn lay back on her pillows with a sigh. "Very well," she said. "I shall trust him, for your sake. And Godwyn's. And I shall be as nice as possible to Limosa."

Syndra chuckled. "That's all I ask," she said.

"And now will you tell me what's happened to Rhys?"

She shifted again and let out a large breath to launch into the next part of her tale. "Rhys. Yes. Apparently something's happened to Maester Merivel. Rhys sent him on his journey with a raven to be set loose if he ran into trouble." She paused, her face somber. "That raven has already returned. Rhys has gone with the search party, along with Ser Anders and Kenrith and some others.

"It's hard to say how long he'll be gone," Syndra finished, chewing her lip anxiously.

"Well, there's someone coming back now," said Edlyn, pulling herself up in bed once more. "But it sounds like a cart - Syndra ... can you see?"

Syndra went to the window and her eyes grew wide. "Oh my..." she breathed gravely, gazing down on the commotion in the courtyard. "It's the escort. Merivel's escort. They're... oh my." Edlyn could hear the new round of anxiety in her voice as she stared out the window.

Suddenly, she charged back to the bed. "C'mon, you have to see." Ignoring Edlyn's protests of pain and discomfort, she practically carried her friend to the window seat. There was no way she would've been able to explain everything that was happening and she wasn't about to try. She plopped Edlyn down unceremoniously, glanced out the window once, then went back for the pillows.

In that one glance, she saw Godwyn talking to a distraught Dobbin, Limosa holding the big man's hand. Several guards were carefully examining two bodies in the back of the wagon. Both of the dead men wore Holdfast livery.

By the time she got Edlyn settled and as comfortable as she could be on the narrow seat (pulling up another chair so she could prop her foot up), a second set of riders was coming through the gate. Syndra leapt to the window, propping herself against the window frame so as not to fall onto Edlyn.

From this position she could see Kenrith and his party riding back in, grim-faced - Keneith speaking to one of the Riverrun men (the other appeared to be wounded). There was another body strapped to the back of a horse ...

Syndra let out a gasp when she saw yet another body, this time wearing the colors of Manderly. "By the gods, what happened..." she murmurred almost to herself. Unconsciously, she found herself searching for men in maesters' robes. Then she saw him. Her burst of relief turned quickly to concern when she saw there was only one. Merivel had not been found.

Rhys dismounted and moved towards his tower - then he hesitated and instead approached the girls' own staircase instead.

He glanced up at the window, waved, and continued on up the staircase.

Syndra craned her neck to see below as Rhys approached the tower. She glanced at Edlyn and started to move away, then back, torn between running for the door to greet Rhys and watching the action in the courtyard. His wave sealed her decision. She bolted for the door.

A moment later he stood in their doorway and knocked on the wall. "Good evening, ladies. I just wanted to stop by and check on Edlyn's leg. May I come in?"

Syndra was standing just inside the doorway, much closer than Rhys had expected. "Of course," she answered breathlessly. Her relief at seeing him return safe was clear in her eyes, not to mention her posture. It seems to be all she could do to hold herself back from leaping into his arms.

Rather than step back--as decorum would perhaps suggest--Rhys stayed where he was, enjoying both the look on her face and her proximity. He smiled at her. "Thank you."

She demurely led him to where Edlyn was propped on the window seat, allowing herself just a gentle touch on his back to steer him. There was nothing she could do to hide her excited blush, though.

"Edlyn," Rhys said, "glad to see that you're taking my advice and keeping the leg propped." He encircled it with the fingers of one hand, measuring and confirming that--although still swollen--it was not getting bigger.

Edlyn was watching him and Syndra from beneath demurely lowered lashes, but as he continued to examine her she asked, with real concern, "Maester Rhys - what happened in the Forest? We've seen bodies being brought back ... Is Maester Merivel ... dead?"

"Not that we know--we didn't find him," Rhys answered. He looked back up and his expression had gone distant. "Three of the guards sent to accompany him are dead, though. And an elderly couple that lived on their way. That's five." Rhys didn't go into any more detail concerning the murders--especially where Cleeve was concerned. "We split up at a point and Ser Kenrith's party was attacked. One of Ser Kenrith's men was injured and one of Ser Corryn's men died." He paused. "That's six."

Syndra paled as she listened to the description and body count. She gazed outside somberly, watching the excitement of the incoming parties evolve into the grim business of reports and vigils. She'd grown up around warriors, so she had some insight into what this meant. "This is more than some internal conflict," she mused to no one in particular. "This is something bigger. What was out there, Rhys?"

"I'm not sure," he answered truthfully, thinking with some dread of a certain conversation he promised to have with Anders concering this very topic. "There's thought that it's Wildings, but no direct proof one way or another. Ser Kenrith's party was attacked from the trees with bow and arrow so they didn't actually see any of their attackers. The guards and the elderly couple were killed by sword--a different mode of attack--so maybe not even the same people."

Rhys's distant look turned pained. "I fear for Merivel's life. We didn't find his body, though, so there's still hope that he's alive."

Syndra touched his shoulder sympathetically, sharing his concern.

He looked out the window, searching for Anders, and saw him talking to Godwyn. A thought occurred to him. "Do either of you know where the Lady Celia is right now?"

"When I saw her earlier, she said she was going to sit with Lord Hardy," volunteered Edlyn. "But one of the pages came and told her that Ser Herys wanted to speak to her."

"That bodes ill," Syndra commented, then to Rhys she said, "Oh, I should probably tell you - it turns out I'm not the only one betrothed to a Bolton. I found out while you were gone that Ser Corryn's new step-daughter was betrothed to Ser Herys by her real father. I thought you should know in case the subject comes up."

"Really?" said Edlyn. "Ser Corryn won't like that." She considered this thoughtfully. "In fact, I wouldn't care for it either, if it was me. You might not like Eryk Bolton muych, Syndra, but I think he'd be better than his father."

"Oh, without a doubt," Syndra agreed heartily. "But Ser Corryn says his plan might prevent both marriages. I just wish I knew what it was. His plans tend to be rather risky and truth be told, I am loath to having both of my fathers at risk at the same time," she said with a frown.

Rhys's eyebrows shot up at the mention of Corryn as her father--he assumed she'd be a ward of Oswain should something happen to Godfrey--but he didn't comment on it further. "Interesting, the long-range plans of the Bolton's. I can see the appeal for them of a marriage to Holdfast--it would expand their influence in the short run, and if something happened down the road to Kenrith, and Godwyn was at the Wall, would effectively put Syndra's Bolton husband in control."

"Sort of," Syndra clarified. "Celia's son would be next after Godwyn, but he's so young that he'd need a regent of some sort. If they could get rid of my father, it would be easy enough to slip my lord husband into that position, especially if Lady Celia is cozying up with Herys Bolton."

Rhys nodded and glanced at Edlyn to gauge her reaction to Syndra talking about her mother in such a way.

Edlyn seemed as serene as ever, but at the last, she wrinkled her nose. "I would hope Mother would have better taste," she said.

Syndra grinned at Rhys then. "And no, Ser Corryn is not truly my father," she explained with a chuckle, acknowledging his surprised look. "It's just that he's always seemed so." She lowered her voice. "And Father did decide to make him my guardian just this morning. Given that, Limosa could be my sister if things go badly tomorrow."

That Godfrey would do that spoke as to how much he trusted Oswain--and especially Celia--with Syndra's future, Rhys thought. It also suggested that Godfrey himself wasn't sure how he would fare tomorrow against Tamm. He was doing what he told Rhys he'd do: take care of his daughter. It wouldn't do Syndra any good to dwell on certain possible outcomes, however.

"That's not going to happen," Rhys replied to Syndra sternly, making sure he caught her eye to enforce what he said. And besides--hers were pretty eyes to behold. The blue in them was the color of the little four-petalled flowers found in the woods...

Syndra smiled slightly and nodded, though unconvincingly.

"But Leaning Stone?" Rhys continued, tearing himself from Syndra's eyes and returning to his previous line of thought. "It's a poor holding and already vassaled to the Dreadfort. What do they really gain by arranging a marriage to Limosa? There must be something I'm missing..."

"That I don't know," Syndra said, her eyes narrowed in thought. "Corryn did imply that Cerwyn was in a bad way before his death. Perhaps she was being... sold... to satisfy some sort of debt." Those words came hard to Syndra, for she knew how that felt.

Rhys picked up the change in her tone of voice and glanced back at Syndra. "It's not fair, what happened to you. I'm sorry. As for Limosa, she has the mark of also being caught and blown about by powers stronger than she. I hope things fare well for her."

"Well, she has a lot of people looking out for her now," Syndra said, smiling mysteriously. "That apparently wasn't the case when the deal was struck. And I know I have a lot of people looking out for me." Her smile widened, included Rhys this time. "We'll figure something out.

"But first things first," she continued. "We need to get through the trial tomorrow. I have faith that Father will do well, but faith doesn't heal wounds if they should occur. You will be here for that tomorrow, won't you?" It was not merely a question. It was a request.

"Of course. I will be there," Rhys replied as he stood up. "Edlyn, keep off your leg tonight and tomorrow I'll bring you a crutch. Syndra, sleep well. I'm off to go find my great-uncle."

"I'll try. It has been a long day," she said, walking him to the door. "And I'll make sure Edlyn takes care of her ankle. I'll have Cook send up some ice to help the swelling."

At the door, Syndra smiled at him warmly and squeezed his arm. "I'm so glad you're home safe."

He looked in her eyes and smiled back at her. "Syndra," he said in a low voice not meant to carry, "we need to talk. Soon."

Syndra looked startled, but nodded. "All right," she whispered back.

And then he was gone, striding down the hallway, his maester's robes swirling at his feet.

Syndra stood in the doorway and watched him depart, then turned on her heel and strode back to Edlyn, businesslike. "So. How's it feel?" she said as she fussed unnecessarily with the pillows under Edlyn's ankle. "Do you need anything?" She looked up, her brow furrowed, thinking. "Are we finished with the tale? I don't remember where I left off."

"Oh," said Edlyn airily, "I think I can fill in for myself the parts you missed out."

And she shot a wicked look up at Syndra.

Syndra tried to look innocent. Honestly. But her rising blush was giving her away. "What?" she finally asked in response to Edlyn's mischievous stare.

"Well," said Edlyn, "I promise not to say anything if you want to tell me anything. And you know I'm as true as a Hardy when I say that."

And, over the years, Syndra had indeed had proof that once Edlyn had given her word to either Syndra or Godwyn, nothing would make her reveal things - although Syndra had also seen Edlyn lie cheerfully and fluently to get any of them out of trouble.

"But," Edlyn added, "if you don't want to say anything, then I won't ask any questions. But Syndra, I am your friend, and you can always rely on me to help you."

She gave a little nod of confirmation.

"I'm not sure what there is to tell," Syndra said tentatively. She sat down on the edge of the bed facing Edlyn and looking thoughtful. "But let me ask you something." She hesitated bashfully, then blurted, "Have you ever been in love?"

"No," said Edlyn positively. Then she hesitated. "Well, I don't think so. There was a Knight back in the Vale ... but I was young and silly then. I think it was his armour and the way he smiled ... So no, not properly in love at all."

"Oh." Syndra's shoulders sagged in disappointment. "Neither have I. At least I don't think so, but..." She sighed, reluctant to express such forbidden thoughts out loud. Her cheeks and chin twisted this way and that as she considered how much to say.

Finally, she continued softly, "But whenever I'm around... Rhys..." she whispered his name, "I get all... fluttery." She looked up at Edlyn with a little wince. "I know it's wrong. I mean, he's a maester. And with everything going on, I have no business even thinking such thoughts. But... I can't seem to stop them."

Edlyn looked at her friend in concern. "So the other day ... what Ser Herys said ... oh Syndra, that wasn't true, was it?"

"No! No," Syndra gasped, "Ser Herys lied. Rhys helped me. That was all."

Edlyn hesitated, not looking at Syndra and then asked, with a rush, "And ... and Rhys ... has he given you any reason to think ... he might ... he could ... " Her voice trailed away.

"No," Syndra said firmly, then looked thoughtful. "Well, maybe but... No. He wouldn't have. I must have misread. No." She appeared to be trying to convince herself as much as Edlyn.

"Hmmm," said Edlyn non-commitally. "Do you think you should find out how he feels?" She seemed to become absorbed in checking the bandage on her ankle. "Do you want me to find out how he feels?"

The thought that it might be improper for a Maester to hold such feelings for a young woman (let alone confess to them) seemed not to weigh with Edlyn at all.

Syndra shook her head vehemently. "No, Edlyn. It's best we leave it alone. Even if there's something there, it can't happen. He's a maester. And besides, he made my father some promise about not talking to me." Syndra's expression clouded and Edlyn knew that that was something her friend would be looking into as soon as she was able.

Syndra shook her head again, this time denying her own curiosity. "No. It's best I don't know how he feels."

"Very well," said Edlyn, sounding doubtful. "I suppose, with so much happening, it is best not to think of things like that." She looked at Syndra worriedly. "Syndra - do you think you could see Lord Hardy and persuade him to forbid the duel or something?"

"I'm not sure he could even if he would. According to Rhys, Lord Hardy can talk, but not very well and when he does, he's hard to understand. Besides, even in better times, he was more pig-headed than my father, and Father is determined to do this," Syndra explained with resignation.

"Wolf and I tried everything we could think of to talk him out of it and his only response was disappointment in our lack of faith in his abilities," she said ruefully. "Unless I can arrange a bad case of food poisoning for Evan Tamm, I think this trial will happen and the Gods will do as they will."

Edlyn looked thoughtful. "That should be easy enough," she said. "You know enough from the Maesters' classes to mix something up, I'm sure - and getting it into his food shouldn't be very difficult. And I would think he must be pretty hungry by now."

Syndra's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. Then she blinked. And blinked again. "Edlyn, I wasn't serious," she gasped. "I... I can't just... poison someone." Something in the hesitation of her denial, however, indicated that the idea was receiving unexpected consideration.

"Well," said Edlyn, "it wouldn't be ... poisoning. Not exactly. It would just be making someone a trifle unwell."

She raised limpid blue eyes to Syndra.

Syndra was torn. The disappointment in her father's voice at the thought that she might doubt his jousting prowess was crushing. She didn't doubt it. Not for a moment, and it would be dishonorable to try to damage his opponent in advance. On the other hand, accidents happen and she couldn't bear the thought of her beloved father dying a bloody death on the tilt. Would it be so bad to tip the scales just a little more in his favor? No matter how hard she thought on this, Syndra couldn't decide.

"But how could we accomplish it, Edlyn?" she said finally. "I can't just go down to Cook and say 'Oh, let me take the food out to the prisoner.' If he then got sick, they'd know I did something. Besides, a maiden meeting a prisoner by herself would appear unseemly. It'll attract attention." She appeared to be trying to talk herself out of it.

"Hmm," said Edlyn. "I know! We could disguise ourrselves - well, one of us could. You, actually, as I can't walk. We could have the stew brought here for me to eat, and then we could doctor it - and you could disguise yourself as a maid, and give it to Evan Tamm's friend - the one who was hanging around at the trial. You could tell him to deliver it - and Evan Tamm would eat it - and no-one would know it was us!"

She looked at Syndra in triumph.

Syndra regarded her friend dubiously, apparently not sharing her sense of accomplishment. She sighed heavily and rose to pace, wringing her fingers into her hair as she did so. "Oh, I don't know, Edlyn," she moaned, her voice tinged with a despair Edlyn had never heard from Syndra before. "I suppose it could work but... you don't understand. You didn't hear my father when he thought I didn't have faith in his ability to win fair and square. He was crushed. If he ever found out I was involved in this..." She looked over at Edlyn, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "I couldn't do that to him."

"Well," said Edlyn at her most practical, "you will have to decide whether having him alive and upset is better or worse than having him dead."

Syndra turned away and paced to the other end of the room. She closed her eyes and tipped her head back, breathing deeply, silently asking the old gods what she should do. When she opened her eyes, she found herself staring at a tapestry on the wall - one of her mother's works. The scene was that of a mother reading to three small children at a hearth, with a father looking on and smiling. The details were striking, as was common in all her mother's pieces. The colors had faded somewhat over time, but Syndra could still see the childrens' rapt expressions, the mother's graceful hands, the father's adoring smile. It had been her family once, long ago.

The tears finally escaped from her eyes. If Father died, all that was left of that family would be gone forever. Syndra didn't want to be dishonorable, but she want to be alone, either. And it would be fitting in a way. A brother for a brother. Herys had lost one son to the summer fever. Godfrey had lost three. Syndra's heart hardened. The Boltons still had a debt to pay. She would help see that they paid it.

She turned on her heel and strode back toward Edlyn, wiping her tears away roughly with the back of her hand. "All right. I'll do it," she said softly.

Edlyn leaned forward on the bed.

"So," she said. "How shall we start?"

Page last modified on September 14, 2006, at 02:49 AM