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Subtle Diplomacy

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Godfrey led Corryn into a small private office on the ground floor of the Castle where, in days gone by, Lord Hardy had conducted busuiness with his Steward. A moment after they entered, so did a servant, carrying a platter on which stood a flagon of rich red wine and two goblets.

"The road will have given you a thirst, I'll wager!" Godfrey said, pouring for them both. "A daughter ... you must tell me the tale of that later. But you're here because I sent for you, I know - and matters are worse than I suspected. But not in a way, I suspect, that can be righted by the Laughing Knives. This is a time for subtle diplomacy, old friend, if we are to steer to calmer waters." He smiled a little at his use of a maritime metaphor.

"Limosa and the dark events around her and her brother are the reason I was delayed, my friend," Corryn said, finding a place to sit. "Forgive my tardiness."

"Her brother?" said Ser Godfrey, one eyebrow quirking in a characteristic gesture. "Your tardiness is forgiven ... if you tell me this story. How old is the lad? Is he at White Harbour? Your daughter ... " He was silent for a moment, absently tracing a finger around the rim of his glass. "She's lovely, Corryn. Beauty, and spirit both. I've not seen a woman like her since ...

He broke off and handed one of the goblets to Corryn.

Corryn took the proffered goblet and held it rather than drank from it. This, for Corryn, was definitely odd behavior. But how could his friend know he'd almost completely given up the grape in order to help his uncle overcome his drinking. Two years had been an eternity for him, changing him in ways he didn't even realize.

Corryn sighed lightly at his friend's obvious attraction to Limosa. It only made matters worse that he was comparing her to Morna. He'd seen the similarities himself, but those were probably ghosts playing with his mind. But where Morna had been water, Limosa was fire; where Morna was regal splendor, Limosa was feral majesty. Like a flower without the sun, she would wilt and die under Godfrey. No, she was nothing like Morna. The woman they'd shared had longed for another life, but accepted the one given to her by fate. Limosa deserved more than that, and he would see her have that blessing if it was the last thing he did in this world.

"She's suffered much, I fear," he said with a deep sadness. "She was tortured by her true father and lived like an animal for much of her life. I don't know what would have happened to her if I had not stumbled across Leaning Stone. Or her mother, the Stranger protect her soul. She was half-dead when I found her, starved by her husband. He'd had an…accident. And no man better deserving.

"Lilith was dying from the rigors of childbirth. Rather than let her children be tossed to the four winds, I hastily married her and claimed them as my own before…"

He glanced away at the window, trying not to come undone with the memories of that frightful wedding. Instead, he focused on the boy. "The boy is only a few days old, in the care of my new staff at Leaning Stone. I brought Limosa with me because she had bonded with me and she could use some human contact that does not involve the back of a hand."

Corryn wiped a tear from his cheek, "Perhaps we should talk about your problems, first?

[He steered the conversation back to the original subject. "You said matters are worse than expected.] Well, diplomacy, it would appear, wears well upon my skin these days. That Kenrith was here certainly didn't escape me. I thought he was still in Riverrun. That will make things more… uncomfortable, but he seems to have grown into a solid fellow. But tell me, what more is there to be known? I can see your frantic nature, old salt. Not very becoming on you. How may I relieve your burdens?"

"Kenrith is still an unknown quantity," said Godfrey. "Had all things been equal, I'd have supported him to follow in his father's footsteps, and taken Godwyn with me to serve the Starks - unless he still held to his plan to take the black. But now - Kenrith's a stranger, and a crippled stranger. Whether the men would follow him ... what with the Tollets spreading poison. Ser Anders does his job well enough - but he and his precious sister know that if Kenrith becomes Lord, their days of living fat at Holdfast are at an end. My Lady would be out, and her brats along with her, unless Kenrith takes in his half-siblings. It's in their interests to delay things until my Lady's brat is of an age to take command. By which time they'd have Godwyn at the Wall."

He sighed. "And I thought that would be the coil I'd have to untangle here. But it gets worse."

"Well," Corryn said with a soft smile, "I wouldn't fear too much about the Tollets. I come under the direction of Lady Stark. She would have you as steward for the next two years if and when your brother… passes. I'm sorry about your loss. But, you are to train Kenrith as your replacement and judge his character during that time. The Starks want someone they trust implicitly to guide Holdfast into the future. You have served them dutifully and without question, sacrificing much. That has not gone unnoticed. I am to help you make sure the transfer of power goes smoothly. And have permission to do whatever it takes, if it comes to it."

He paused to let that sink in for a moment, before he leaned back. "Now. How does it get worse?"

Godfrey nodded. "Lady Stark was privy to my discussions with her Lord. It's good to have the Stark blessing on your forces - hopefully I can do this without resource to them. Tollet's a good commander, but the men are Holdfast born and bred. They'll look to me first. It's a more subtle struggle than that which will challenge us. And I don't know what the outcome should be. If I had a definite aim in view, it would be easier. Kenrith is untried. Godwyn ... I would support him, but he has been trained to follow, not to lead. I need to be sure that I am doing the right thing before I take so grave a step."

He smiled ruefully. "It would be easier if I were less honorable. I am sure I would have Stark support if I found it best to take Holdfast for my own - aya, and the support of the smallfolk who would welcome a tried and tested warrior that they know well."

"Well, the Laughing Knives are trained and capable of hostile 'negotiations' if it comes to that, but I'd obviously prefer not to," Corryn said, finally taking a sip of his wine. He nodded in approval before continuing. "I suspect that we can negotiate something appealing to all parties involved. Either way, we are at your disposal."

He swirled the wine in his goblet idly, "I've not been allowed to come here solely for altruistic reasons, I should add. White Harbor needs a steady supply of timber. Wyman would far prefer to deal with a true Hardy than a Tollet whelp. You can count on my family's support for that reason."

Corryn raised his head and smiled ruefully, "Now, before we go further, there is the matter of the Flayed Men in your courtyard. I didn't realize they were still welcome here. Not after…"

The pain on his face was genuine and obvious. One did not lose a son and a heart-wife and easily forget those responsible.

"You have not heard the worst," said Ser Godfrey grimly. "My brother, in his wisdom, decided that any breach between our families should be healed by an alliance - the marriage of two bereaved children - Ser Herys Bolton's son, Eryk ... and my Syndra."

A baleful pause hovered in the air as the words began to register within Corryn's mind. His knuckles turned white as his fingers tightened on the goblet; its contents rippling with the trembling fury building in his hands. He set it down lightly, the soft clink of metal on wood as pronounced as if he'd slammed it with all his might.

His words were cold and severe, a venomous hiss through white teeth. "Not while I live."

Corryn stood up with his fists tight, his manner menacing. Godfrey had seen the look in his friend's face only once before. Although over a decade had passed, he would not have forgotten it easily. Storm's End. They had been ambushed during the night; little more than a Targaryen foray to test their resolve. He'd seen Corryn tear a man's throat out with his bare hands in a blistering rage. And for a split second, it seemed Godfrey would suffer that rage first hand.

But Corryn turned away from him and began to pace like a feral creature, a low growl in his chest. It took him a moment to form coherent words. "Never. She will never suffer that fate, Godfrey. Not Syndra. She'll die inside. That precious light will go out forever. And I will not allow it."

He turned on his heel, cat's claw quick. "And how, in the Stranger's name, could you?! That filth killed our family!"

"My family," said Godfrey, with a wealth a pain in his voice. "We held you as a brother, Corryn - Morna and I both. But they were our boys. Our precious boys ... "

He set down the wine goblet. "I have always prayed that Morna did not know before she ... "

Suddenly the wine goblet went crashing aginst the wall.

"Stranger's curse, Corryn! Do you think this means nothing to me? Do you think I have no feelings? Syndra is all I have left of Morna ... all I have left of Gavrin, and Trey ... " His voice broke on the last word and he bent over, his back to Corryn, his shoulders shaking with suppressed sobs.

"But I've never let her see that ... For she is precious to me for herself. And I am not Oswain, to hold his children as pawns because he could not have ... " He broke off, breathing deeply, his knuckles white where he clutched the edge of the table, his breathing raw.

"Syndra," he said speaking deliberately, "will never set foot in the Dreadfort while I have breath in my body."

Perhaps it was seeing Godfrey lose his temper that surprised Corryn the most. In all these years, he couldn't recall a single time his friend had done so. Not even when he lost Morna and the children had he let his emotions to rule him, to drive him. Always honor, always propriety. Godfrey Hardy; the living personification of those infamous words, "We Hold Fast." Godfrey Hardy; always the dutiful servant, never asking for himself or complaining about his lot.

For the first time, Corryn truly saw the man he'd loved and betrayed. The man he'd tried so desperately to hate to cleanse away his own guilt. He saw the man beneath the mask of correctness, the shroud of principle. He saw a man not unlike him, flawed and full of longing. He saw a man trying to do the best he could in a world that didn't always smile upon the decent or reward the virtuous.

But mostly he saw a man in pain. A man that was, above all else, his friend.

He crossed the room and placed his hand upon Godfrey's shoulder. "Forgive my words, Godfrey. They were spoken without thought. Although not my blood, they were my family too. I helped raise them, watched over them, I wiped away their tears, and taught them some of the world. I have no better memories than when I was here. They were all as precious to me as my own. I would have died willing for any of them. And for all these years, I have lived knowing I failed them. And all these years, I've lived with the knowledge of how I failed them. How I failed you.

"But that will not happen again."

He turned the man around and clasped his forearm and elbow. He held up their arms between them in the oath of brotherhood. "Whatever comes, whatever we must do, we shall face it together, my brother. For your Syndra. For my Little Bear. And for those that they stole from you both. I swear this by my blood. Simply tell me what must be done, and I will do it."

Corryn pulled the man into a brotherly embrace and held him tight. He would help this man, his friend, his brother. For even a betrayer could right his wrongs, even if they were known only to him and the dead.

Godfrey was stiff and unyielding in his arms for a moment - the strong man who never let down his guard ...

And then suddenly he returned the embrace with a strength that Corryn - had he not seen Godfrey joust - would not have believed possible in his wiry form.

"Thank you," he said huskily. "My brother ... yes. And a truer brother to me than Oswain, it seems to me now. For he has betrayed my trust in him, Old Wolf, in making this match."

Corryn sighed empathically, squeezing Godfrey's shoulder once more before releasing him. The word 'brother' echoed in his ears; both a blessing and a curse. Brothers, it appeared, were masters of betrayal. But this one was far more pressing. Best leave the other one where it lay.

"Perhaps he had a harpy whispering in his ear," Corryn said frankly. "But I suppose he is too far gone to know the truth?"

"He knows," said Godfrey bitterly. "And he believes it a great match between our families."

Corryn frowned notably. As much as he respected Godfrey, he'd never warmed to Oswain. How could you warm to a man of ice? He'd certainly married the right woman though. Together they could turn a room glacial with their 'cheeriness.' Worse yet, the man turned stubbornness into a form of art.

No wonder the Stranger hadn't taken the old fart yet. The god was likely afraid that Oswain would try to run the matters once he crossed the Veil.

This would take finesse and cunning; perhaps a little underhandedness. Luckily, Corryn had all those characteristics in abundance.

He took his goblet and set it before his friend. "You need this more than I," he said, filling the cup to the brim. He motioned for Godfrey to drink and sat down again.

"Tell me the arrangements of this contract," he said, touching his chin. "After all, not even the High Septon can force a marriage through. If we can find someway to break it, there is little that anyone can do to stop us."

"As yet," said Godfrey, "we've not discussed it in any detail. Although something Ser Herys said last night as we stood vigil together suggests that he might be willing to see the boy settled here rather than at the Dreadfort.

"Ah yes," he went on. "The vigil. We stood vigil together for a Bolton man who was murdered - in contravention of guest-right. And your young squire is tangled up in it."

"Bollocks and damnation!" Corryn hissed. "I send the boy to be Syndra's watcher and he gets wrangled in a murder?! I swear, the boy brings folly into the world at every turn." He rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Anders has treated him well, I hope. Even if not, the boy could use a good, long night in the dungeon. Wise him up a little."

He cast the thought aside, "I'll worry about that next. Syndra comes first. What we need to do is find something both your brother and Herys will find more appealing. I mean no disrespect, Godfrey, but haven't you been too busy to amass a sizable dowry? I know it would help your family, but what good would it do the Boltons?"

"I have the manor my Father left me," said Godfrey. "But if I were to marry again and bear an heir ... "

He broke off, as though mere rote words had suddenly acquired a new meaning. But then he shook his head and continued.

Not with Limosa, old friend. So best let that thought slip the bonds of dream and wishful thinking. But the mention of the manor got Corryn's mind playing. It was definitely not something he would have preferred, but it might become their only choice. Ser Herys Bolton was, above all else, a sibling, like Godfrey. Not a man truly in the control of his own destiny. And with Roose as a brother, it was likely Herys would be more pliable to a 'friendly' offer outside the family.

He smiled faintly to himself, tapping his chin with his fingertips. Godfrey knew this gesture well. It was the pensive state of thought Corryn entered just before battle, picturing it in his head. And this was a battle he intended to win.

"There's Morna's dowry too - I always intended that should pass to Syndra .... It was handsome enough to lead my father to choose her for me, and he was a close man. Of course, as it turned out, I would have taken Morna in her bare feet with a single shift to her name, and blessed the Old Gods for their bounty ... but ... "

He broke off at a knock on the door.

"Come in!" he called.

Kenrith opened the door and moved inside, revealing Godwyn and Volf behind him.

Corryn stood immediately, smiling in welcome as best he could. Under the circumstances though, he appeared distracted and suddenly tired. But then he noticed Godwyn and the grin bloomed a little wider. He'd missed the boy considerably and considering their last, odd encounter it was good to see him once more.

"Gentlemen, please join us," he said, pushing the fallen goblet aside with his foot. "Watch your step. I regretfully spilled some wine."

"And here's your man," said Godfrey to Corryn.

And then he noticed Volf and his hazel eyes flashed like summer lightning. The faint frown corrupted his smile as the young squire walked in behind Godwyn. "Four days, Volf," he said. "I let you out of my sight for four days."

Volf looked as though he was contemplating bolting for it.

Godwyn gave Volf a not too gentle push in the middle of the back, propelling him into the room. Then Godwyn walked in as well, closing the door behind him.

Volf shuffled, slowly turning bright scarlet.

"I ... didn't do anything wrong, Ser Corryn!" he said. "Well ... when Ser Anders said he was looking for a wrongdoer, I ... I thought it was a trap!" He was sweating. "And then they found the bloody knife and the shirt in my pack ... "

Corryn ran his hands over his thin stubble of hair, arching his head back in frustration. "And let me guess the next part," he said in a growl. "You ran from him, yes? Bolted like a rabbit the moment after he looked your way. Oh bollocks and damnation, boy! Of course he'd suspect you were up to some villainy. I'd suspect you. What did I teach you about such matters, eh?"

As quick as a raptor snatching a rabbit, Corryn grabbed the boy by the ear and dragged him across the room. Not forcefully, but enough to give him a good idea of how bloody angry he was. He plunked the boy down in a chair and gave him a light cuff to the back of the head. "Don't even think of making a sound until I say so," he snapped. "And let us pray that the next sound you do make won't be that jerky, little gasp most men let out as they're twitching at the end of a rope."

He turned and straightened his tunic, "Gentlemen, forgive this display. And thank you for your patience in this grim matter. I assume his presence at your side rather than in chains somewhere is a positive sign?"

Volf couldn't see his face, but the others could. The entire rage had been an act to cow the boy and scare some sense into him. But there was real fear and concern in Corryn's eyes. He kneaded his hands nervously, an obvious sign of how much he worried over those in his service.

"I believe Godwyn and Godfrey can tell the tale better than I... Have you been told about who was slain, and my relation to the man who stands on trial?" Kenrith asked frankly as he studied Corryn's face with his steel gray eyes.

Godwyn leaned against the door and listened, content to wait until he was called upon to speak.

"No, I've just heard the bare minimum," Corryn said. He sat back down besides Godfrey, allowing the other men to grab a chair as well. "I take it from your expression that the accused man's association with you is a strong one, thus putting your motives into question."

Kenrith nodded with a grim expression on his face.

He smiled faintly, keen wolf eyes studying Kenrith in return. "Then it appears, Ser Kenrith, that we both have a reputation to uphold. My disdain for the Boltons is well-recognized in certain circles. And I've hung a few of their bastards from a crow cage once or twice. Volf's unwise escape attempt certainly doesn't help matters."

"You are a wiser merchant than to have made this trade... Volf for one of Herys' men," Kenrith said with a shrug. He didn't so much as bat an eyelash when Corryn said 'their bastards,' which either made him an excellent actor, or ignorant of Evan's true blood.

"I believe Godwyn knows more about the crime and capture than I," said Godfrey.

Corryn nodded and turned to Godwyn, "The more we know, the easier it shall be to keep our heads out of a noose."

"Aye," Godwyn said. He looked at his brother. "Kenrith, do you want to hear this, or do you still think you should go into the trial ignorant of the details?"

"Rhys has said that he thinks it much more likely that Evan Tamm's band, men who accompanied me north from Riverrun to insure my safety... sellswords, not Tully men... are likely responsible. Apart from vouching for Garyn during the likely time of the crime, I cannot disagree with the maester. He thought it wise, however, to tell me little... as I am likely to be accused of ordering the murder in contravention of the laws of hospitality," Kenrith said. Although it didn't show in his even tone, Corryn could see first the frustration, and then later the anger burning in his eyes.

Corryn remembered the young Kenrith and had always liked him, even though much of his time had been spent with Godfrey's children. To see him thusly trapped by circumstance wounded him to the heart. He'd been in this situation once before not long ago. So, although he didn't speak, when he nodded to the young man, Kenrith could see the unmistakable empathy in his eyes.

Turning, finally, from Corryn, he asked Godfrey "Should I step outside with Volf while Godwyn explains the matter to our banner-lord's representative, or would you like me present for the tale?" he said with the practiced even tone of one accustomed to unpleasant instructions. Ser Grell had taught Kenrith how to follow, and to respect those above him, regardless of the sometimes unpleasant nature of such tasks.

"I would say the choice is yours," said Godfrey. "If you've deliberately absented yourself from discussions so far, then it might be as well to continue to do so now. And someone should be seeing that the Great Hall is prepared for the trial."

"As much as it pains me, I would concur with your assessments. It would be best if Kenrith remain ignorant as to the details," Corryn said, scratching his chin. "The last thing we need right now is any sense of impropriety on the Hardy's part."

He stood up and crossed over to Kenrith, placing his hand on the man's good shoulder. "Not exactly the welcome you were expecting, I suspect. Well, we'll sort it out in due order. After this unpleasantness though, you and I should speak if you have time. My apology for all that has happened here."

Kenrith nodded and patted Corryn's shoulder and ribs. With only one arm, and Corryn's own upon his shoulder, it was the best he could do to return the gesture. "We will speak later."

Corryn's voice dropped low, perhaps too low for Godfrey to hear, but Godwyn might catch a word or two. "No matter what happens, you have my support. I'd rather see a Bolton dead than a Hardy shamed."

Kenrith looked as if he were about to reply, but then thought better of it.

"I will see to the hall, then. Should I have two more men assigned to guard Maester Merrivel, to bring his compliment up to four?" Kenrith asked Godfrey as he was leaving.

Godfrey nodded. "But see Ser Anders," he said. "I imagine the escort was kept small when we had the Boltons to balance against our men. But now we have the Laughing Knives as well, it should be less of a problem." He gave a sudden smile. "Although whether Ser Anders will see the Knives as a blessing like that is another matter!"

Once Kenrith had left the room, Godrfrey nodded to Godwyn, inviting him to tell his tale.

"Right, then," Godwyn said. "So here's what happened. Bolton's man Grunther went missing, someone said he'd last been seen chasing a pickpocket. Anders and Rhys went into the village to see if he was just drunk at the tavern, I took some dogs to track him down. Oh, and it turned out someone had dosed the dogs, to keep them from being able to track, which is when I started taking this all serious. But whoever did it didn't know about my dogs, so I figured they clearly weren't locals, or anyone who knew too much about us. So, then, we found where he had been killed, and the dogs led us to his grave. Someone put a knife in him, well done, a single blow to the heart. There was a strong scent of dung around the grave. Oh, right, that goes back to the guards reporting seeing someone pretending to be the nightsoil man, probably the fellow who dosed the dogs." Godwyn frowned. "Rhys saw the fellow, too," he said. "From the tower while he was under arrest."

He paused in recounting his story, distracted by a thought. He looked at Corryn. "Anyone told you about the whole thing with Hairy Bolton claiming to see Rhys and Syndra together yet?" he asked. "He did that 'cause Rhys came on him while he was bothering Syndra." Godwyn's fists clenched, he clearly wasn't ready to let go of his rage against Ser Herys on this point.

Godfrey shot out a hand to hold Corryn back.

"Your tale first of the murderer, Godwyn. I'll tell you the rest, Old Wolf, later. Syndra is safe - and so is the young Maester."

And a good thing as well Godfrey did do. Without so much as a blink of his eye, Corryn had stepped forward toward the door; cold and purposeful. Somehow, in that brief instant, a thin blade had appeared in his fingers as if by instinct. It was a wicked thing undoubtedly from the Free Cities, barely noticeable the way he held it. He regarded Godfrey's hand with feral eyes, as if he didn't recognize the man. Fortunately, Godfrey's expression and calming words cooled the seething fire within the Riverwolf. The blade disappeared once more and Corryn gave a simple nod that he would focus on the task at hand.

But no one in the room could doubt that this was the end of the matter.

Godwyn nodded. "Anyway," he continued, "We tracked the scent from the grave back to the Goose and Gander. Now, meanwhile Anders and Rhys had discovered a bloody knife in Volf's saddle bag, and when they went into the tavern and started talking murder Volf panicked and ran. He figured Anders was trying to frame him for a killing, just as he'd tried doing to you a couple of years ago." He nodded at Corryn. "Of course, Anders had his and Bolton's men outside, waiting in case anyone ran, so Volf didn't get far. Right, then. I'd arrived at the inn by then, and told Anders about the smell of the dung. I walked around and found it was strongest near the sellswords, particularly one who looks a bit like a weasel. That's when Evan Tamm came down the stairs. He's a fast talker, Ser Corryn, reminded me a bit of you, to be honest, except without being friendly. But Anders was having none of it, and we ended up arresting him and weasel face. Took them outside and let the dogs sniff them. They weren't interested in Volf, were a bit interested in Tamm, and went wild about weasel-face. Turns out he's wearing a freshly washed shirt with a hole over the heart and a bloodstain on it." Godwyn shrugged. "I imagine Bolton gives his men fairly good clothes, and decent shirts are hard to come by for a sell-sword."

"So, anyway, we bring them all on back to the castle and throw them in separate cells. I let them stew a bit without food or water, then go down to talk to them. I let Eryk Bolton come along, in case he recognizes someone, and to show that we take finding the killer seriously and aren't trying to hide anything."

Godwyn smiled. "He recognized someone, right enough. Turns out Evan Tamm is really a bastard of Herys Bolton. Now doesn't that put a different look on everything?"

"Indeed," said Godfrey grimly. "If he is a recognised son of Ser Herys, it puts a very different look on everything."

"A bastard?" Corryn said, nodding and tugging his nose. "Yes, that does indeed put a whole new light on this incident. Does Herys know his son is involved yet? Knowing the man's character, a son… and a bastard at that, would undoubtedly wish Herys harm however he could manage it. Unless…"

Corryn began to pace with lupine deliberation, still tugging at the bridge of his nose. "This Evan fellow may have been recognized by the victim. If I were in his precarious situation, I'd kill the man myself to retain my anonymity and try to shift the blame as far from me as possible. The fact he was able to strike a blow against his father would certainly sweeten the issue. And yet…"

He stopped and cocked his head thoughtfully. "The man obviously has talents and the wisdom to use them. You don't simply slide a blade into someone's heart in a single stroke. You need to be up close and personal. Were there any defensive wounds? If not, the victim certainly knew the killer. Unless he was taken from behind.

"And even so, it's risky. With this many Boltons about, it would be brash to kill one, even if you could lure him away, as he obviously did. This Snow does not sound brash. There is more to it, I think."

He smiled faintly, "A villain knows a villain, gentleman. Perhaps I should speak with him. Besides… murderer or not, I think we may have need of him." That dark smile played upon his lips and the twinkle in his hazel eyes spoke of criminal intent.

"I am sure Eryk has told his father by now," Godwyn said. "He wouldn't dare not. He fears his father as much as he fears his half-brother." He shook his head. "He wanted to speak in private with Evan, but wouldn't do so until we had chained him to the wall. I allowed them to speak, it gave me a chance to talk to Volf without Eryk looking over my shoulder." Godwyn glanced at Volf for a minute with a slight smile. "Volf tells me that all the sell-swords, with the exception of the youngest, who came to the castle with Kenrith, went out together. That's most likely when they killed Grunther." He shrugged. "Seems to me this has turned into a family matter of the Boltons, and has nothing to do with Hardy honour any longer."

"We may well be able to use that to our advantage," Corryn said with a nod. He drew a breath, still flustered by the other news about Syndra; compounded by Herys' unseemliness. "Our singular purpose at the moment is to put as much distance between this event and Kenrith. As long as there is even an aura of suspicion, this will continue to involve your House."

"To say nothing of the fact that it happened on Holdfast soil," said Godfrey. "We have a duty to guard our guests - no matter how unwelcome they might be."

Corryn cast a glance at Volf. "And good eyes, boy. That might have saved us some trouble. I knew you were good for something." His smile suggested most, but not all, was forgiven.

Corryn turned by to Godwyn, "When is this trial to take place? Would I have time to speak to Syndra first or should I meet with Evan, if time is short?"

Godfrey answered. "Soon. In the Great Hall. Godwyn - will you be able to assemble all the witnesses?"

"Hmmm?" Godwyn blinked. "Well, there's the accused, of course, Evan and his man. Shall I hand Volf over to you now, or keep him with me? Tam was there with the dogs, he can testify as to what happened with them. Rhys. Anders, of course. I can send for Odette, if you think she has anything to say. Perhaps to agree to what Volf says about the men leaving together."

Corryn shifted at the mention of Odette, appearing slightly flustered about running into her again. But he was also warmed to know she was still around. He missed her chubby face and the way it glowed when she smiled. He ran his hand over his head and sighed inwardly. He had been away far too long.

"And what about the other sell-swords, the ones we didn't arrest last night?" Godwyn continued. "I expect they've fled by now, but if not I could have them brought as witnesses." He frowned. "And we don't want to leave Syndra and Edlyn to wander the halls unguarded while Bolton and his men are still ... guests."

Godfrey frowned. "Where are they now?" he asked.

"Edlyn was on her way to Syndra's room, to aid in playing hostess to ... ummm ..." Godwyn thought for a moment, "Mimosa, is it?"

Corryn smiled lightly and corrected him. "Limosa. She was named after the flowers that grow around the base of Leaning Stone, I'm told. Poor thing is probably out of her mind with worry now."

He then slapped his head, "Bollocks and damnation! I forgot to tell anyone she's a mute. Lords below, they must think the girl mad by now."

As if to underscore his last remark, there came a knock at the door.

"Enter," said Godfrey.

The door was pushed open, and Phalan stood there, looking a little sheepish.

"Beg pardon, Sers ... but Ser Corryn's daughter is wishful to depart. Quite urgent she is about it." He spotted Volf and broke into a grin. "There you are, lad. Hear you've bin a-courtiung riot and rumpus worthy of the Riverwolf hisself."

Volf, who had obviously not taken so cheery a view of his exploits before, perked up.

"Course," said Phalan, "the Riverwolf never ran with his tail between his legs, neither."

Volf subsided, crushed.

Corryn raised an eyebrow to the comment about his daughter, wondering how she'd gotten down to Phalan and what had happened in the brief moments he'd been away. He was about to ask when Phalan gave Volf a very much deserved ribbing. He chuckled at the glum face Volf made after his hopes were dashed against the rocks.

But then he returned to the important matter of his daughter. "What happened? And why does she want to leave?" Corryn sighed faintly. "It's not as if I can; not even for her. I'll deal with her."

"I'd be grateful if you would, Ser," said Phalan. "At the moment it's taking three men to hold her from leaping on that horse you gave her and riding off. There's a rare passion in her when it's woke."

Volf was looking puzzled at this talk of a daughter.

"You don't have to tell me, Phalan," Corryn said. "I have seen it first hand. She has Dornish blood in her. And their women are fire and wind. I'll deal with her, not to worry. I dealt with my mother. I can deal with a girl barely flowered."

Godwyn grinned at the byplay, then turned back to his uncle. "So, do I send for the sell-swords and Odette, or not? Oh, yes, and one other thing." He glanced at Corryn. "No more horns, please. In fact, try to keep the noise down." His face grew grave. "Father had another attack," he told Godfrey. "A bad one. When he heard the horns he thought there was battle in the offing, and tried to get out of bed to go to it. Maester Sewell gave him something to make him sleep, but he was in a bad way. He..." Godwyn swallowed. "He called for you, uncle, when he thought it was war. He wanted you by his side."

Corryn's face paled at this revelation, obviously stricken at the thought of doing harm. "Forgive me, Godwyn. That was poor judgment on my part. I'd thought that considering the tensions around Holdfast, it was more prudent to announce our presence before your wall guard noticed us. I had no idea it would tax your father so. Please accept my apologies and forward them to your father as well. I assure you, the Laughing Knives will be quiet as cats from this point forward." He nodded at Phalan to make sure of it.

He shook his head, appearing suddenly tired; more exhausted than either Hardy had ever seen him. "Phalan, Volf, with me if you would."

"Wait," said Godfrey. "Volf is still under suspicion for what has occurred. At the moment he's under parole to Godwyn. It's best we keep to that till the trial is concluded."

Volf looked underwhelmed by the prospect.

"Too true," Corryn said, scratching his chin. He turned to Volf, nodding. "Stay with Godwyn. I don't want any favoritism shown to you and your sudden release into my care would appear as exactly that. We are guests under this roof, nothing more. Besides, you're probably safer with him than I.

"I will attend to my daughter and calm her down. Godfrey, Godwyn, I shall meet you in the Great Hall promptly. If I might speak with you and your daughter privately, Godfrey, I would appreciate it. I think I may have a solution to our Bolton troubles. Otherwise, I will be in the courtyard."

And with a nod, he left them; his cloak dragging behind him very much like a shroud.

Godfrey nodded. "Godwyn, round up the witnesses. The sellswords if you can find them - but certainly Odette and Tamlin. I'll tend to my daughter. Where is she? I must assign her a squire to dog her tracks, who is not hauled off for other matters. Can you suggest a likely youth, Godwyn?"

"In her room, the last I heard. But that was when she was with Ser Corryn's daughter. I hope to the gods she hasn't gone wandering now that the girl's run off." Godwyn thought for a moment, then said, "Oland. He was on guard duty in the dungeon last night, so he's most likely on reduced duty now." Godwyn did not add the thought that occurred to him, that assigning Oland to guard Syndra made it less likely the fellow would mention the girls' visit to the cells.

"Good," said Godfrey. "Send him to my daughter's room. I'll be there with her. And find your witnesses; bring them to the Hall." He gave Godwyn a smile. "You've done well in this, lad. You've showed yourself a true Hardy."

A nod, and he was gone.

Godwyn flushed with pleasure and stood for a moment, luxuriating in the praise. Then he, too, was out of the room.

Page last modified on May 15, 2006, at 09:09 PM