Spiced Wine and Memories
After leaving Edlyn, Syndra crept down to the kitchen to gather the ingredients for spiced wine. Honey, cinnamon sticks, cardamom, peppercorns. She hoped there were still oranges and lemons, but she needn't have worried. It appeared Lady Celia had stocked up on everything, as if she had known there would soon be a need for an extravagant feast. Syndra shuddered, silently cursing her aunt once again. She had been doing that a lot lately.
She took everything to her father's solar and began brewing the beverage in a small kettle over the fire. Father had not yet arrived from dinner, but by the time he did, the room smelled deliciously of red wine, cinnamon and citrus.
Ser Godfrey's tired face lit with a smile as he came in.
"Ah ... this smells good. Familiar too, I think. Shall I help you, or just take my seat by the fire?"
"Sit, Papa," Syndra smiled as she knelt by the hearth, stirring the wine with a wooden ladle. "You look tired. You should turn in early tonight. Frankly, I don't know how you're still standing after being up all last night."
Rising in one fluid motion, she reached for a pair of tankards on the mantle, then filled both with the spicy, steaming brew. She handed him one, then curled up luxuriously in another chair on the opposite side of the fire, tucking her bare feet up under her. She looked over her mug at him, unable to stop smiling. "You don't know how happy I am to have you home," she said warmly.
"And I am happy to be with you," he responded, stretching out his long legs. "Although the Manor is home to me ... this is Oswain's place. But it's provided you with a home when I could not, all these years."
He drank from the tankard. "Ah yes - your mother's touch, sweeting."
She smiled because he would expect her to, and she would not disappoint him. In truth, his compliment was another reminder of a ghost who would never return.
He looked at her thoughtfully. "And have they, on the whole, been happy years? Was it best for you to be here in the place you knew, with your Septa and your cousin? Or should I have taken you to Winterfell?"
Syndra sipped at her tankard, gazing into the fire pensively as she considered whether to answer honestly or to spare his feelings. "The Manor WAS home, Papa," she said finally, still staring into the flames. "But afterward, it was so hard for me to be there. It was too quiet. Here there were things to do. Rhys taught me things and let me help him in the gardens or in the tower, until he left for the Citadel. Wolf came to visit and helped me with my swords or played games with me. But mostly, we just talked."
She chewed her lip. "It was hard to be with Godwyn at first. There was this big hole that was just always there. But eventually, we were drawn together. Lady Celia was being Celia - you know how she gets - and after Kenrith left, Godwyn had no one. He needed me, and though I didn't realize it at first, I needed him." She looked up and smiled. "And you were there, at least for a while. That was the best part."
She sighed. "When you left, it was like someone had died all over again. I longed to be with you at Winterfell, but I remembered what Mama had always said. You had your duty and we would be a distraction there. She had always hoped that eventually, when you had risen in Lord Stark's ranks sufficiently, that we could all go to Winterfell, well, except Gavrin. On Wolf's last trip here, she had talked about letting Gavrin foster with him at White Harbor. Wolf was going to propose the idea to you, but I don't know if he ever did before everything happened."
Ser Godfrey looked a little startled at this - then frowned before nodding for her to go on.
She chuckled as she realized she was rambling. "Anyway, I guess I always held onto that hope - that someday you would be able to take me back with you." She shook her head reassuringly. "It wasn't bad here, Papa. Uncle Oswain and Maester Sewell treated me well. Septa Annice was wonderful, as always. And Godwyn - gods, he's more like a brother than a cousin now. And Edlyn is like the sister I never had. Holdfast became home. But I still missed you."
She cocked her head, considering him over her tankard. "But about home. The Manor. I know it's to be mine but..." she hesitated before bringing up a delicate subject. "Have you ever considered... I mean, I wouldn't mind if..." She huffed in exasperation at her faltering words. Finally, she pushed through it. "Have you ever thought about remarrying? Perhaps trying to... sire another heir?" She wanted to look away in embarrassment, but forced herself not to. This was too important.
Ser Godfrey shook his head. "Your mother was the only woman I ever wanted," he said simply. "After she died, no other woman could ever compare. And ... you were all I had left. To leave you well provided for - that was my ambition. The manor ... I intended it to be yours - and so it shall. I could do no less for your mother."
She smiled and nodded. "I appreciate that, Papa. I do. But what about you? I worry about you. I suppose at Winterfell it's easy enough to throw yourself into your work and forget. But here..." She sighed. "I fear you are chasing ghosts, Papa. Putting all else aside to save yourself for something that will never return."
Her smile grew a little playful. "I saw the way you looked at Limosa when she arrived. You might have locked up those feelings for seven years, Papa, but they're still there. And it's all right to feel them. You could love again. I know you could. If you'd allow it." Despite the prodding, her voice was ever gentle, letting him know that whatever he chose, she would be on his side.
Godfrey smiled, faintly. "I won't deny that I admired the young lady's youth and beauty. And if I were a younger man - like Kenrith or Godwyn - doubtless I should do more than look and admire. But I am too old for so bright and fair a thing, Syndra. It would not be fair to tie her to my age."
"Oh, yes, Father. You're *so* frail," Syndra teased with an affectionate little wrinkle of her nose. She leaned forward in her chair. "All right. Not Limosa then. But there must be others you've met at Winterfell. All I ask is that you think about it. Age or not, you're still a handsome man. Another woman won't be Mama, no. No one could ever replace her. But a different kind of happiness is still happiness. And I want to see you happy again."
She leaned back in her chair again, figuring she'd pushed him as much as he would allow for one night. Her eyes glimmered with a new kind of excitement. "Now, about Winterfell. Were you really thinking of taking me with you this time? For true?" she asked hopefully.
He gave a little laugh. "Yes, Syndra, for true." Then he grew grave again. "But not for a little while yet, I fear. I cannot leave Holdfast until matters are settled here ... Oswain is clearly in no state to govern - Celia ... well. And Kenrith is ... untested. Although the way things are shaping here may prove a test for more than he."
Syndra's expressions followed his words - an understanding nod about why he could not leave Holdfast, a glower at Celia's name and a pensive cock of the head at her father's hesitation regarding Kenrith. Finally, she gave a little sigh at his conclusion. "Yes, it will be a test for us all, I fear," she nodded sadly. "We discussed that this afternoon though, and I will not try to sway you. I want to enjoy my time with you without argument."
She pushed past the discomfort of that subject and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees, her feet still tucked cross-legged beneath her skirt. "Looking to the future, even after the trial is concluded, we still must deal with the issue of the Bolton marriage. Overlooking the Bolton contract for the moment, did you make any other arrangements for my hand while you were at Winterfell? Are there any claims that might conflict with Ser Herys's?" There was something completely wrong about hearing a fourteen-year-old maiden speaking of marriage contracts as if they were part of a battlefield strategy, but this was Ser Godfrey Hardy's daughter, after all. She had been born and raised to it.
Ser Godfrey sighed. "No," he said. "I thought you too young. A match was proposed ... but it was postponed until you were of an age to travel with me to Winterfell."
Syndra regarded her father thoughtfully. "I wonder if it could still hold up, though," she ventured. "The Bolton contract was postponed for a time as well. What would take precedence? A contract made by the bride's father or one made by the head of a house? Would Uncle Oswain's binding of me hold more weight, even though he's not my father?"
"Out of curiosity, who was it?" she added as an afterthought.
"Have you heard of Ser Deryll Ryswell? You may not remember, but he was there at the Summer Fair where ... " He broke off, and for a moment his eyes were dark with memory. "Afterwards, he came to me, and told me how brave the boys had been ... trying to protect the boy from Ser Herys ..."
Syndra nodded. She remembered that part.
"He serves as a bannerknight now - he's a younger son, but has money of his own. No land - which would mean he would not be so ready to carry you away. I wanted ... I wanted for you to meet and see if you liked him before you started to consider him as a possible husband. But perhaps I should have made more definite plans."
Syndra narrowed her eyes in thought, trying to remember the man. The name was familiar. She thought she remembered being introduced to him in the Great Hall. Yes, it was coming to her.
Dinner had been a somber affair that night, the night of the funeral. Septa Annice had tried to make her eat in her own quarters, but Syndra had fussed so much about being separated from her father that the septa finally brought her downstairs, with apologies to the hosts. Syndra had sat demurely at her father's side, afraid that if she fidgeted even once, she would be sent away again. She met many of her father's comrades that night, though some made more of an impression than others.
Ser Deryll Ryswell had been a man grown, though only just, at that time. That would make him about ten or twelve years older than her now. He had sandy blond hair and an easy smile. She remembered him telling her how brave she was, and how he had a sister that had had the summer fever, and grown to have children of her own. He wouldn't be a bad match, Syndra decided. If they could manage it.
"I think I remember him, Father. He was nice. Rhys mentioned later that Ser Deryll had been kind to him after... after Kenrith came back from the godswood that day," she said, shifting to a happier topic in mid-sentence. "If we can get out of this thing with the Boltons, perhaps on the identity question, I'd be happy with him, I think."
She sipped her wine pensively for a moment, chewing her lip in thought before asking tentatively, "Father, why did Ser Herys allow Rhys to leave the tower? Please tell me honestly. I want to know."
Her father glanced at her. "There's no good answer," he said grimly. "We needed him - and Ser Herys could have dragged out the whole affair interminably. And with no good ending for the Maester either. So Ser Anders and I, between us, we persuaded him to lie - and to allow the whole thing to have been a mistake. Ser Herys ... was forced to accept that.
"Ser Herys doesn't yet realise how high a price he'll pay for that."
He sipped again at his wine, and then said suddenly, "Why do you not give the Maester his title?"
"Oh," she said, startled. Her cheeks reddened a bit in the firelight. "You're right. I'm sorry. It's just that I've known him for so long - since I was little - I keep forgetting that he's now a maester. He's my friend, and that's how I still see him, I guess." She sipped her wine to stop herself from babbling. "In truth, that's why I asked the question. Uh, Maester Rhys said he wasn't supposed to talk to me because of a promise he made to you. I wanted to find out what really happened. I would miss his friendship if that were the case."
Ser Godfrey nodded slowly. "Nevertheless, Syndra, he's now a man grown - and you are becoming a young woman. More - he has chosen the life of a Maester, and it's important that those who hold him in affection in their hearts do nothing that might harm his standing. I know you think too highly of him to do that, of course. But we must stop Ser Herys spreading his poison."
"I understand, Father," Syndra nodded sagely. "If I have to speak with Rhys, uh," she winced, "Maester Rhys, I'll be sure it's only in public. And at a distance," she smiled.
Syndra sipped her wine and gazed into the fire with a sigh. "I wish they'd just go away," she said softly, almost to herself. She looked up at her father. "Ser Herys scares me. It can't be a coincidence that everything is happening all at once. He's here for more than a marriage. I just feel it. Do you?"
"He's here for money and for land," said Ser Godfrey. "And in that he'll have the full support of his brother, Lord Bolton." He sighed and drained his glass. "I'm concerned about the Wolf."
"Why?" she asked, cocking her head curiously.
"Because, disguise it as he will, he seems to have made himself Lord Bolton's liegeman," said Ser Godfrey heavily. "He may have Lord Stark's favour - but if the Starks learn that, they will wonder at his motives."
Syndra had risen to take her father's goblet for a refill, but at that, she turned back from the fire, her eyes flashing. "His motives were to protect Limosa and her brother from their father's cruelty," Syndra snapped defensively, though Godfrey could probably tell that her anger was not directed at the messenger, but at the Boltons themselves. "And as for being a liegeman, Wolf would never serve Lord Bolton willingly. He'd die first."
"It is not so easy to pick and choose who you will serve, Syndra," said Ser Godfrey. "If he wishes to hold Leaning Stone, he will have to do allegiiance for it. To refuse, or to avoid it, would be to ignore his duties and responsibilities - and Lord Stark would never permit that. It is a question of honour - what holds the North together, under Lord Stark's leadership. If all men could choose their liege lords, regardless of the territory they hold, the land would erupt in civil war."
"But what if he didn't keep it? What if he... what if... Ohhh!" Syndra groaned in despair. There were too many "what ifs" in her life lately. She would have to let Wolf handle this worry. She had too many to deal with already.
She turned back to the fire and refilled both goblets. But when she was finished, instead of rising, she crumpled down to sit on the hearth, staring into the fire and setting the goblets down in front of her. "And what of Holdfast?" she finally asked softly. "How do we keep the Boltons from taking that, too." When she looked up at Godfrey, her eyes were those of a frightened child.
"Many of us stand between Holdfast and the Boltons," said Ser Godfrey grimly. "My brother and his three sons - and myself and you, my daughter. Even Oswain's young daughter ... though I'd be afeared if she was all we had. We are loyal to the Starks - Lord Stark would not allow Roose Bolton to seize us if we stood strong against him. Far less would he like to see Holdfast a fiefdom of the Boltons. If that happened ... it could cut the road to the North."
She gazed up at him uncertainly. "But can we stand strong against them? They arrived with a full contingent, or at least it seems so. Will our guards plus the Laughing Knives be enough if they make trouble?"
"I have no fear that we can hold fast," said Godfrey. "For I know Corryn will fight at my side, loyal as ever. Ser Anders ... well, there is an old enmity between him and the Riverwolf. He has less trust in the Laughing Knives on this than I do."
Ever confident in her father's abilities as a strategist, Syndra smiled faintly. "But Ser Anders is loyal to you and the Holdfast guards support him. The guards and the Laughing Knives will likely cooperate against a mutual enemy, despite their commanders' feelings about each other. And Corryn's been somewhat conciliatory toward Ser Anders on this trip. Perhaps that will help."
She rose and brought her father's goblet to him, then moved around to the side of his chair and rubbed his shoulders with her free hand, like a gentle coach before an important match. "I'll hold fast, Papa. You just be careful."
He laughed, a little surprised, but leaned back into the embrace.
"How like your mother that feels," he said presently. "She used to do that ... whenever she was worried."
"I am worried, Papa," she said, her fingers tensing slightly. She hadn't planned to tell him the next, but it just tumbled out. "I know in a fair fight, Evan would be no match for you, but I heard Ser Herys talking earlier... about... giving Evan help somehow. Please... just... watch out for him. Perhaps Godwyn could assist your squire. Or Kenrith. I'd just feel better if I knew someone was watching your back."
"I'll have Godwyn," said Godfrey as he set down the empty goblet. "And some more wine tomorrow evening, eh?" He smiled at her. "As good as your mother's," he said softly.
Syndra smiled with genuine pleasure. "Thank you," she said warmly. "And I'll await tomorrow. You can sip your wine and I'll rub out those tired armor-muscles," she teased, squeezing his shoulder playfully.
She moved away and leaned against the mantle, enjoying the warmth of fire, wine and company. "Papa? I wanted to go to the godswood tonight, but I need an escort." She looked up at him, almost bashfully. "Would you come with me? Please?"
He rose to his feet at once. "Of course. We should ask for the gods' blessing for tomorrow."
He reached out to take her hand.
Syndra took one last sip of warming wine and set her goblet on the mantle. Then she took her father's hand. Looking down at their clasped hands, she smiled wistfully. "I've missed this. Remember when we used to go out to the godswood in the evenings? After you started letting me come with you?"
She squeezed his hand playfully. "I promise I won't make you carry me back this time."
He chuckled. "We'll have to see if we can find someone else to carry you, puss. Carry you away from me. But ... not too soon."
His hand tightened around hers.
"Not too soon."