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Summoned for Judgement: Syndra & Evan

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There was a room at the back of the Great Hall, clearly an office of some kind. There were a few seats - but Lord Stark did not invite anyone to take one.

Instead he drew out the document that Syndra had given him at breakfast.

Lord Stark held out the letter to her.

"Are you able to read?" he asked.

"Yes, my Lord," she replied politely.

"Please - read it aloud."

With a single nod, Syndra took the letter from him. She clasped the strap of her own pouch in one hand as she tentatively opened the page.

"This was written by my cousin, Ser Kenrith Hardy, on the night before my departure from Holdfast," Syndra introduced for the benefit of Eryk and Evan, with quick glances at both of them.

She began to read, her voice soft but clear and easily heard by all in the small room:

"Lord Stark,

As you are aware, sending Syndra out with this message is most unusual. It is a decision I have taken after much consideration. During events which I'll detail presently, someone sabotaged our rookery and allowed the ravens to escape. Presumably, you have several Holdfast birds which bore no messages. As a consequence, a message had to be sent by other means. There is so much information to relate, however, that sending Syndra to provide whatever answers she can seemed the most prudent course. I returned to Holdfast to find my father gravely ill and unable to communicate more than a few words at a time, a condition in which he remains. With those few words, he placed Celia and Godfrey in joint control of the Keep. Herys Bolton, someone he represented as his trueborn son Eryk, and men at arms had arrived, were offered guestright, and had accepted before I arrived. Syndra was... attacked...," Syndra hesitated slightly but continued to read, "by Herys shortly after my arrival, but as she escaped with his intensions unrequited, it was covered up to protect her honor." She paused again, as if preparing to disagree with this point, then reconsidered and gave a slight nod. She continued to read.

"Also of note, the young maester, Merivel, was visiting from Clearwater.

"Shortly after I arrived, Ser Corryn arrived with his Laughing Knives. He had spoken with Lady Stark as he passed through Winterfell, and she asked him to oversee the situation. Concern as to my character is, perhaps, justifiable in that I have been sight unseen for many years. While Corryn and I have not had time to speak at length, he has provided loyal support during all of the difficulties which I'll relate below. Ser Corryn has recently become Lord of Leaning Stone, and has adopted the abandoned children of the previous lord. His mute adoptive daughter, Limosa, gave every indication of a kind soul upon whom horrors had been visited for many years. It is my opinion that Corryn is the first man to treat her with paternal kindness, and that he will doubtless die to protect her should that be required." Syndra nodded almost unconsciously at that, but did not raise her eyes from the paper.

"Evan Tamm, the leader of the mercenaries in my company when I passed through Winterfell, refused guestright for himself and his men multiple times after he saw the Bolton banners. Later, he was arrested for the murder of a Bolton retainer and tried. During the trial, it soon became clear that Herys had an especial interest in Evan's death. Based on the trial, investigation, conversations, and evidence, I believe the most likely explanation is the following:"

Syndra read ahead quickly and glanced up at the two Boltons warily before continuing, as if expecting a dispute from one or both of them.

"Evan Tamm is Eryk Bolton, and the man put forward as Eryk was Herys' bastard son. I know not the circumstances whereby Herys and Evan ne Eryk (Evan hereafter) became estranged. Evan provided little defense of himself apart from slurs on the Hardy name." Syndra forced her jaw not to set at this and kept her voice level, though it was an effort. "He seemed to be of the opinion that he would not receive a fair trial, as we were in league with Bolton. In the end, he requested trial by combat, a right he was granted on the basis of his presumed Bolton blood. Evan was given the opportunity to postpone his trial by combat (a joust) after someone poisoned him with tainted meat, but refused, again presumably because he mistrusted we Hardys. He was certified fit to fight by the Maester, and given suitable care. I believe Godfrey knew who was responsible for the attempt, but he is not able to implicate them at this point. He was clear it was no Bolton." Here, Syndra gave another small nod, though it was not clear what she was agreeing with.

"In examining the horse which had been prepared for Evan, Godwyn discovered someone had sawed through the tack of the mount. This was rapidly exchanged. Unlike the tainted meat, Boltons were observed in tampering. (A change was made before the tourney began.) I assume Eryk was responsible, as Herys isn't that clever-- if he has used such tricks in tourneys in the past, I may be mistaken.

"I was not present during the trial by combat for reasons I'll detail in a moment, and my account of the events which took place is second hand. Syndra was present, however, and may provide a more detailed story. Godfrey's horse was struck, and he was subsequently run down, but he did give Evan a good hit. Evan was named the victor, at which point Herys struck Celia in the head and ordered his men to take the field and kill Evan. Hardy guards, Ser Anders, and Godwyn responded appropriately to this breach of guestright, though it was a bloody scene with many injured civilians (Bolton soldiers attempted to take hostages). As of this writing, Celia, Godfrey, and Oswain are all medically indisposed. (Sewell is as well, for reasons to be detailed later.) If Herys survives the injury of his defeat at Godywn's hand, he'll be held accountable for his potentially fatal blow dealt to my stepmother. Should milord Stark find Hardy to have overstepped our authority in--" Syndra blinked, unable to believe what she was reading, "executing a knight under these circumstances, I wish it to be known that I accept full responsibility." She tried to keep her voice level while reading this passage, but was only partially successful. She continued.

"We believe that it was during this trial by combat that someone smashed the rookery cages, though it could also have occured in the immediate aftermath or during the preparations for the trial.

"Evan Tamm was allowed to leave, where he has probably met up with much of the rest of his travelling companions. One was arrested with him, and pled guilty. It is our intention to send him to the Wall, when next the crows call. While the trial by combat has found him not guilty, he should not attempt to return to Hardy lands.

"Immediately after the tourney, someone (we believe Eryk, who was not present during the tourney) kidnapped Limosa. Ser Corryn has informed me that he has married the girl's mother and adopted both children as his own. As she was taken against her will from under our roof, I have sent Godwyn to assist him in the rescue. Even if her bridal contract to Herys is still valid, which I don't presume to know, I don't believe it would fall to Eryk. I'm sure Corryn's raven message will have more on this- we learned of the damage to the rookeries before his message was sent to you, but after he had left. I return now to maester Merivel. Merivel provided assistance with my father's condition, but received an urgent message to return to Clearwater. I trust you are aware of what happened in Clearwater, I am not." Syndra shook her head with a slight shrug. Obviously, she didn't know either.

"Merivel left in the company of four Hardy guards... [The letter goes on to say what Kenrith knows to have happened, including the descriptions of the men who supposedly attacked Merivel, the death in the town and Kenrith's theory that the Hardy turncoat may have been suborned by debt. For more detail, consult the relevant logs.]

"During our search for Merivel, my party (comprised of the two Riverrun men who came with me north, who now accompany Syndra to Winterfell, as well as our master of hounds and ten crossbowmen of the Laughing Knives) was ambushed from a prepared position in the trees. One Knife was killed, and Jayne was injured. We returned to Anders, and resolved to seek out the wildings the next day.

"The next morning, as I was preparing to head out, I was informed of the sabotage to Evan's reins. Anders, Godfrey, and I all agreed that it was likely the Boltons would try something during the trial. I requested ten of the Laughing Knives and ten Boltons to accompany me into the forest to, ostensibly, seek out the wildings we had met the previous day. We neared a spring, and those scouting ahead reported there were three individuals there. One Bolton proposed rape, and was killed on the spot."

Syndra began to read slower here, digesting the events as she read. It was clear to those listening that this part was all news to her.

"They were brought forth from the spring and interrogated, whereupon I learned they had helped the Maester escape the previous day and provided some of the intelligence I used to piece together what happened to Merivel. They thought we were of a piece with those who'd attacked Merivel, a conclusion I don't fault them for, and it was on this account that they had attacked us the previous day. The trio was comprised of two young children and a grandmother. I spoke with her privately after recognizing a..." Syndra's eyes widened incredulously, "...distinct familial resemblance. She proved to be a kidnapped Hardy, perhaps my father's sister or first cousin. It was on account of kinship, and the service they had done in protecting Merivel, and the neccessity to secure the Bolton soldiers and return to answer a blown horn from Holdfast, that I allowed them to leave alive."

Syndra began to pause in places as her cousin's words became more and more disturbing. "I understand this violates your... law in this regard, and should you rule me guilty... I will present myself to the... block."

Her voice and eyes rose in a question, unable to believe what she was reading. She forced herself to go on. "I hope that, on account of the disfavor the old gods show to kinslayers, lack of apparent poaching or trespassing or other wilding activity, and pressing need to see to the security of my Holdfast and family, that you will forgive this offense or see fit... to let me take the Wall after the immediate danger to my house has passed. Syndra can provide little information on this matter, as I have not told her of it. I hope the depth of the offense... to which I have confessed will mitigate any concern you may have as to the trustworthiness of my word on account of having... violated the law in this regard. Those nine Boltons are presently imprisoned in Holdfast, and we also have a wounded Bolton soldier who did not follow Herys' order to attack Evan. They will remain here for at least one week, in case you wish to question them. Only the injured fellow was present at the Trial, but they witnessed the other matter as well. If I haven't heard from you, I will most likely release them to Lord Bolton. Should he come marching over the next hill in the next week, I would not wish to release men with internal intelligence on the castle. There is an as-yet unresolved matter with the Steward. Someone bid him keep silent to me about a matter, the details of which I am not privy to. Taxes were collected, but the guards haven't been paid. Hopefully, now that everyone who might have bid him keep silent is unconscious, dying, or fled, he will have a clearer story for me." Her voice trailed off as she considered the enormity of everything she had just read. She forced herself back on track and continued.

"The Maester Sewell was found, struck on the side of the head in unusual circumstances in the Godswood. The heart tree was damaged, and I am ashamed to say the face will bear a scar, but we (one skilled in treecraft and I) believe there is no danger to the tree itself. I will get to the bottom of this sacrilege.

"Milord, I remain your faithful servant, though I have an obligation to my family as well. Whatever befalls Holdfast, you have my solemn word I shall Hold Fast," Syndra read, finding herself feeling more stoic simply by imagining Kenrith saying these words. "There are not one, but two, points on which you may be obligated to have my head. Ask, and it is yours, or the Wall's. Please, though... if I may ask this of you, allow me time at Holdfast to make what amends I can before you require it. My deepest concerns are not for my own life, but for my family. Many things have gone wrong, suddenly, and all of my father's children and Syndra may well suffer on account of it. If you should require my life promptly, please consider what kindness you might afford to the rest of my family."

Syndra had managed to read most of the last paragraph with Kenrith's detached lordliness, but her eyes had begun to water nonetheless. Her voice, however, began to break on the last few lines:

"Taking on my youngest brother as a fosterling would help him grow into a proper Lord Hardy, and please think of who may make a kind husband for Edlyn, who my father has adopted. (I would ask the same of Syndra, but I know not if her father has made arrangements for her engagement already.)"

She took a deep breath and bit her lip before reading the simple signature,

"Ser Kenrith Hardy"

"My Lady Syndra," said Lord Stark, "how much of this did you know?"

"I was aware of most of what happened within Holdfast, my lord," Syndra replied frankly. "Though on some matters, I might have slightly more or less information than my cousin does. Some of which I discussed with you this morning. Overall though, his account of the events is fairly accurate.

"It would probably be more expedient to tell you the things I didn't know." She glanced down at the letter to review. "I did not know about the tack damage to Evan's mount... nor about anything to befall Ser Herys after he tangled with Godwyn on the stands." She read some more. "I was not aware of all the details of the search for Maester Merivel. Only that there had been an incident in which some guards had been killed and Merivel was not found."

She shook her head as she read on. "And the part about the wildlings was a complete surprise. I didn't even know... my father had a sister or a cousin." The break in her voice emphasised her astonishment.

She silently finished reading the letter and handed it back to Lord Stark. "The rest - other than Maester Sewell's injury - I was not aware of either. It comes as something of a shock, to be quite frank." Indeed, she had paled somewhat as the contents of the letter sunk in.

Then Lord Stark looked at Evan Tamm. "And how much of this could you confirm?"

Evan stretched his neck a moment, as if uncomfortable to have the room's attention all of a sudden, but when he spoke, his voice was clear. "Much of the letter is obviously Ser Kenrith's opinion and speculation from the facts at hand, my lord, but I will not presume to gainsay his opinion without concrete evidence to the contrary. Nor will I presume to comment on matters internal to the Hardy family. Suffice to say that the salient points are self-evident; my father lies dead at Holdfast, nine Bolton men sit imprisoned by the Hardys despite having committed no crime at all, and this one here - " he inclined his head in the direction of his brother - "has fled to your roof, leaving behind a debacle at Holdfast. A debacle, I might add, that he has had no small part in creating."

"I went for a wedding," said Eryk quietly. "While I was there, I obeyed my father's orders - except in one thing. I did not follow his orders to make sure you lost the tournament. I have enough family feeling to wish you alive - although you repay me with these baseless accusations against my honour that the Hardys are only too glad to seize on.

"And when I saw a wrong, the seizure of an innocent young girl, and the way she had been stripped of her lands and rights, I took steps to rescue her, again on my father's orders. Even if ... " His lips twisted suddenly in a surprising wry smile, "even if she was less than grateful for my bumbling attempts at chivalry."

He turned to Lord Stark. "But you can bear witness, my Lord, that I delivered the girl safely and unharmed."

"Ser Corryn would never harm her," Syndra said softly, without realizing she had spoken. But once she had, she was obligated to continue. "He meant to hold her lands for her against those who would take them. He was not aware of the prior arrangements when he did this. Corryn is not a thief," she stated firmly. Though she remained pale and had never raised her voice, her jaw had set as solid as granite.

"That is not the Riverwolf's reputation," said Eryk flatly. "'Tis said that no woman is safe in his company, be she peasant or highborn. My father knows this ... knew this." Suddenly his colour was heightened and he cried out, "What justice was it to kill him out of hand, when they allowed my [email protected] brother full trial and challenge? Why didn't they let him defend his honour on the field?"

"Against whom? He did enough damage," Syndra shot back icily, then reined herself as Evan spoke.

"You have been repeating the lie of your parentage so long you cannot help but mention it even with regards to unrelated matters," Evan said quietly, folding his arms, and not looking directly at his kin. "Repeating something does not make it true."

Syndra regarded Evan as he spoke, but remained silent. This issue was not her fight.

"And there is more to being a trueborn son of my father than claiming the name," said Eryk. "I have demonstrated it by my actions over and again, dutiful to him, loyal to my head of house and to my banner lord. What loyalty have you shown? Beyond bleating that you are the true born and I the false, have you proved yourself Bolton?"

Evan, however, said nothing, folding his arms and returning his attention to the Lord of Winterfell.

Eddard was watching them closely, but he also turned his head to address Syndra.

"You speak of the lands Ser Corryn now holds as being for Limosa. Then what does he mean for her brother?"

"I am sorry, my lord. I misspoke," Syndra apologized. "To be honest, I keep forgetting Limosa even has a brother. Of course the boy is the true heir to Leaning Stone. Ser Corryn is holding the estate for him as well, not merely Limosa. In truth, he needs even more protection than she does."

"Even if Ser Corryn was tricked, and there is no estate in question at all?" asked Lord Stark. "And that the children are paupers?"

"Those children will never be paupers, Lord Stark," Syndra said with a knowing smile. "Whether they have lands or not, Ser Corryn will see them cared for. He'd take them to White Harbour and make them part of his own family if it came to that. I know this as sure as I breathe."

Lord Stark nodded, as if satisfied.

Then he looked at Evan and Eryk.

"The question of your parentage will be settled ... soon. For the moment - what have you to say at your treatment by the Hardys?"

Eryk glanced at Evan, almost startled.

"Nothing," he said calmly, his face a carefully composed mask. "Whatever transpired between the Hardys and I back at Holdfast is not why I am here, my Lord." Studiously, he avoided looking at Syndra.

Syndra, however, stared at him as she listened, her face bearing the same seriously attentive expression her father had worn while hearing evidence at the trial.

"Rather, my concern is to set to rights the affairs between the Hardys and my House in regard of this wedding and the farce it has become. There is no question that the Hardys have been the victims of the despicable falsehood my father and this man attempted to perpetrate. For that I unreservedly apologise, and I have no doubt my uncle will do exactly the same once he learns of this. "

Syndra gave a slight nod of acceptance.

Eryk smiled faintly. He seemed rather relaxed, if anything.

His voice grew deeper and more solemn. "Their summary execution of my father is a matter of concern, particularly since he can no longer be brought to trial to learn more about the details of this matter. True, it is possible that his sentence may well have been just as harsh. But I would have thought that was a decision for your Lordship, not the Hardys." He frowned. "And what I find completely outrageous is the fact that Bolton men have been imprisoned by the Hardys for committing no crime at all. That, my Lord, is the Hardy treatment that concerns me."

"If I might speak for my cousin, my lord," Syndra began, her voice calm and her manner poised. "As he said in his letter, the Bolton men currently at Holdfast are only being held temporarily. They will be released within the next few days assuming there is no attack on Holdfast. Please consider the recent events - the sudden, unannounced arrival of a large Bolton contingent, the 'coincidental' simultaneous arrival of a long-lost Bolton son, the appearance of attempting to do anything possible to urge my father into battle, the instigation of a full-blown melee when the trial should have been over, the destruction of our rookery. All these things, my lord, add up to a situation in which even the most tolerant and experienced of lords might become suspicious of the Boltons' motives.

"Ser Kenrith, for all his strength and honor, is not the most experienced of lords. Yet he had to make decisions for the welfare of our family and our smallfolk. He had to make them quickly and without the guidance of more experienced men like Lord Hardy, Ser Godfrey or even Maester Sewell.

"Perhaps mistakes were made," she allowed, glancing over at Evan. "Perhaps some of his decisions were made with too much haste," and now she glanced at Eryk. "If that is the case, then it is I who should apologize for my cousin's actions.

"Kenrith's decisions were not, however, made with malice, my lord," she said, looking fully now to Lord Stark. "That is not Kenrith's way. He may be stubborn and pig-headed, but he is not impulsive. He is not one to be driven by his emotions. As much as is possible, he is driven by facts and honor and..." Her lips pressed together tightly, as if she were remembering something ironic. "And he made the decisions he believed were right given what he knew at the time."

She bowed her head. "Judgment is yours, my lord. House Hardy will abide by your will."

"Indeed," said Lord Stark. "I would expect no less."

He was silent for a moment, and then he turned slightly.

"Well, Robb? What is your judgement in this matter?"

"I would say you need to enquire further," said Robb without hesitation. "I believe you need to send a reliable man - several men - to Holdfast. To see how things have truly befallen. Or ... "

He fell silent. Lord Stark waited a beat, and then prompted. "Or what, my son?"

"I would go myself, Father," said Robb.

Syndra's surprised gaze turned to Robb, but she remained silent, anticipating Lord Stark's answer.

Lord Stark nodded. "And I shall, Robb. You're right that these things bear further investigation. Jon, Robb, find the Maester. Tell him we need a raven sent to Lord Bolton - to meet us on the road."

"My Lord?" It was Eryk who spoke, his tone deferential. "My Lord, my uncle will already have received the raven I sent from Holdfast - telling him of what had occurred. He will doubtless be approaching Winterfell even now."

"Unless, of course, he chose to head for Holdfast instead," said Theon Greyjoy.

In a span of about three seconds, Syndra's emotions ranged from hope to anger to panic. It was too fast for anything but the last to show up on her face, however. "My lord... do you think he would?" she asked fearfully.

"I told him that I would be here, seeking justice from Lord Stark," said Eryk, with an awkward smile at Syndra.

"And when he arrived, I sent a raven of my own," said Lord Stark. "My judgement is that he will not fail to answer that summons. Most likely we will meet them on the road, heading towards us."

Syndra looked relieved.

He glanced at Evan Tamm, as though wondering whether he might contradict this, or would agree.

"I have no doubt that my uncle will be doing exactly as your Lordship has commanded," Evan said. "It is in his interest as well to see this mess sorted out properly. But if he is on his way here, then, my Lord, it makes no sense to meet him on the way to Holdfast. Indeed, taking he and his retainers to Holdfast would only bring about more animosity and possibly precipitate another disaster. Both parties are on edge and feel wronged - resolve it on neutral ground."

Syndra regarded Evan appraisingly. As much as she hated to admit it, he had the right of this. "He's correct, my lord," Syndra concurred. "More Boltons in Holdfast right now would simply aggravate an already stressful situation."

"Indeed," said Lord Stark. "Although certainly I suspect we will at some point need to visit there. But where would you suggest our meeting should occur? Not Leaning Stone, for that is in dispute too."

"Would it not be best, my lord, to allow him to come to Winterfell?" Syndra suggested politely. "You could sort out the matter of Leaning Stone first, also on neutral ground, then perhaps Lord Bolton and yourself could journey to Holdfast with a smaller group. Father might be better able to receive you with a few more days rest."

"I am concerned that we cannot settle this matter without hearing also from Ser Kenrith," said Lord Stark. "And Lord Bolton might also wish to ascertain for himself the condition of Ser Godfrey, and Lord and Lady Hardy - to say nothing of his own men. Those that survive, that is. Do any of you know how many did survive? And what size was the party initially?"

Syndra nodded as he explained. "Ser Herys arrived with about 25 men, my lord. Kenrith said he brought back nine, and I helped a wounded one, so that's ten. Several rode out with Eryk, and a few more after Evan, but I don't know how many," she said, nodding at each of the Boltons in turn. "I never did get a count of the dead, my lord. I'm sorry," she finished, her head dropping like a new recruit who has failed his mission.

"There were twenty-five," said Eryk, "loaned by my uncle. A further five of my father's own household, one of whom was slain by the man who claims my name. Twenty-nine then. Kenrith claims to have killed one himself. Twenty-eight. Another was killed in the forest, hunting the Wildings who slew the Maester. Twenty-seven. Five rode with me. Twenty-two. I don't know how many my brother had with him. But nine were with Kenrith and survived - thirteen. One survived, Lady Syndra tells us. Twelve. So, less those my brother brought here, twelve were killed by the Hardies. It must have been hard for a whole town and the castle guards to subdue so vast a number. Slaughter must have been their only option." His lip curled with his scorn.

"Twelve less those your brother brought here," Syndra reiterated coldly, her blue eyes like stone.

Eryk bowed, stiffly, glancing at Evan Tamm, as though asking him to confirm numbers.

"We will meet then neither at Leaning Stone nor Holdfast," said Lord Stark. What place lies best between Bolton and Hardy lands for our meeting?"

"Three survivors left with me, my Lord," Evan said, ignoring the exchange between Eryk and Syndra. "I sent them on to Marshend to await me. I think that will do as a place to meet."

Syndra nodded vaguely. In truth, anything beyond the Kings Road was simply a point on a map to her. And while she had studied maps with Maester Sewell and her father, no one had ever had the time nor the inclination to ride that far with her in person.

"My lord, do you wish me to ride with you or remain here?" she asked Lord Stark.

"I would not part you from your father at this time," said Lord Stark. "Not for longer than is necessary. You shall ride with us north and when the ways to Marshend and Holdfast part, if it be your wish, then you shall have an escort to Holdfast." He smiled at her suddenly. "An escort such as your father might choose for you himself. How say you to that, sweeting?"

Syndra smiled brightly, catching his meaning. "Yes, my lord. Thank you," she said with a respectful nod.

He glanced then at Eryk and Evan.

"As for your cause, I shall leave that in abeyance until we have met with Lord Bolton. Until then, both of you will be treated with every respect in my household."

Sensing the meeting was winding down, Syndra began to get antsy and fidgeted with the leather pouch she still clutched in her hands. "My lord, if you have no more need for me, might I ask Maester Luwin to send a raven to Holdfast, if you please? I'd like to tell Father I arrived safely and will be returning soon."

"Of course," said Lord Stark. "And then ... we shall prepare our departure. Tell the Maester to join me. I have a message for his ravens to carry."

"As you wish, my lord," Syndra replied, dropping a polite curtesy and sparing a gracious smile for the Bolton men before departing.

The rest dispersed. Theon Greyjoy left with Eryk; Robb Stark followed his father back to the Great Hall. Only Jon Snow lingered for a moment, looking at Evan Tamm with a strange, troubled expression. Finally, he too turned to go.

Page last modified on December 15, 2007, at 11:44 PM