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Syndra- Straight on to Winterfell

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As the dawn birds rose to begin their songs, Syndra rose as well. The rest of the camp was also stirring, albeit slowly. Two long days of hard riding were taking their toll.

Last night, she had come back down to the camp after briefing the second watch on the evening's events. The briefings had not taken long, as there had not been much to report. She had hoped to catch a couple hours of sleep before dawn. She might have done so, but she could not be certain and she definitely did not feel rested. Thoughts and dreams had interwoven themselves around in her brain until she found it difficult to tell them apart.

She decided to forgo the full bath today in favor of simply washing up and changing clothes. She anticipated stopping again before arriving at Winterfell to rest the horses and change into her "girl clothes." She would bathe then.

After a hasty breakfast prepared by Gerant, the group was on its way southward once more.

A couple of hours into the journey, Mal, who was riding at the rear, came forward.

"Riders behind us on the road," he said briefly. "One wears Bolton livery."

And, indeed, Sydra could see the dust of two riders approaching at some speed ...

"To the side, everyone," Syndra ordered. "Stand ready to defend, but let them pass if they will." Hugging the horse with her knees, Syndra touched her right hand to her left wrist, prepared to draw her knife.

The two riders stopped at a distance, the one on the warhorse having some difficulty reining the charging beast in. Syndra's heart began to pound as she thought she recognized the man. His shout confirmed it. "Little Bear!"

Syndra's face sparkled with a mix of joy and relief. "It's all right, men. It's Ser Corryn." She smiled over at Volf. "Volf, go bring him in," she said, nodding in the direction of the new arrivals.

Volf needed no second bidding, but set off at a canter down the Kingsroad towards Ser Corryn.

Corryn gave Valarr a touch of spur and rode to meet Volf halfway. The moment the boy came up beside him, he snagged the boy with his good arm and brought his head forward to kiss his brow as a father might his long lost child. "Bollocks and damnation, son, it is a relief to see you," he said, choking the emotion in his voice. "I thought you'd died, you stupid sod."

He thumped Volf's shoulder and leaned back in his saddle. "Though I should have known you'd find your way through. Damn, boy, you have more lives than a cat. Now. You want to tell me what you and Lady Syndra are doing in the Kingsroad with an armed escort?"

Volf looked grave. "I think Mistress Syndra should tell you that herself, Ser," he said as he wheeled his horse to lead it back to the others.

Corryn gave Volf a questioning look, but nodded in acceptance of his answer. He and Barton followed him back to the remainder of the group.

And so they came to Syndra ...

Syndra grinned widely at the two men as they rode up together, her happiness at their reunion tempered only by her wary glance at the man in Bolton livery trailing behind them. Still riding double with Gerant, but on her own horse this time, she called out as they approached. "Ser Corryn! I had hoped to run across you out here. No luck with Limosa?" Her question held a hint of gentleness despite her position as leader of the party.

Corryn bowed his head reverently, "Fairly meet, Lady Syndra. You are indeed a welcome sight after the last few days."

He gestured to the Bolton beside him, "This is Ser Barton. Formerly of Eryk's employ and now a man of Manderly." Barton bowed politely as Corryn continued. "He was so kind as to direct me to Winterfell, for that is where my dear Limosa has been taken. There was some skullduggery that led myself and Godwyn astray, but now I have the truth of it."

Syndra acknowledged Barton with a cool nod. Her eyes widened with surprise at the news of Limosa. "Winterfell?!" she exclaimed.

"Aye," Corryn said. "I can see his flawed logic now that I know more. But it won't save him, either way."

He took her hand and lightly kissed it, as polite as any knight might be in the presence of a True Lady. "May I enquire as to the good fortune of finding you on the Kingsroad?"

She smiled at his gesture, though her eyes held a weariness that Corryn had not seen in his Little Bear in many a year. "It's bad fortune that brings me here. Someone destroyed the rookery at Holdfast. The ravens are gone," she explained. "Ser Kenrith charged me to carry word of the recent events at Holdfast to Lord Stark.

"Aye, I know," Corryn said, glancing over at Barton for a moment. "Eryk set them free so he could reach Winterfell first and weave whatever tale he wished. I should have suspected he'd try something of the sort. But I haven't had enough sleep to be my usual devious self of late."

Syndra's expression hardened at the confirmation of her suspicions about the person responsible for the devastation in the rookery. She worried about what Eryk might be saying to Lord Stark even now.

Corryn's hazel eyes sought hers for a moment. As exhausted as he might be, simply seeing her revitalized him as surely as a clear spring. In his quiet smile, Syndra could see that she could share in that renewed strength if she so required; freely and most honestly given. In him, she would always possess a soft place to land.

"I would welcome your company if you wish to join us, but I suspect the two of you would make better time without us. We're riding hard, but two alone could ride harder," she said almost apologetically.

"We'll ride with you, Lady Syndra," Corryn said, gracing her with a definitive nod. "Our horses are worn from the ride through the Wolfswood and need the slower pace. And the Starks will be more impressed if we are together as one when we arrive. A unified front, as it were. We will do Limosa and Holdfast far better arriving at the same time."

She could tell he wanted to say something else, to tell her the true reason for riding with them, but he wisely held his tongue.

And also wisely, Syndra did not question his stated reasons.

Volf was silent, watching them both with some intensity.

Syndra nodded sagely. "That makes sense. And I'll admit I'd appreciate your support," she said, trying to remain mature and in control, but feeling the relief of a lost child rescued by a trusted uncle.

"As I shall appreciate yours, Lady Syndra," Corryn smiled. "Combined, ours voices will unravel whatever woes he has entangled the Starks with. I'm not entirely worried. Lady Stark is a cunning one and not easily fooled. Even by a serpent such as Eryk."

Syndra turned to the rest of her party to make proper introductions. "Ser Corryn, you know my Holdfast men, I'm certain. Becken, Nik and Gerant. You might not have met Mal and Jayne while you were at Holdfast. They accompanied my cousin on his trip north from Riverrun and agreed to return with me as far as Winterfell. They will continue south from there," she explained, indicating the two men. "Men, for those who don't know him, this is Ser Corryn Manderly, a trusted friend of my father's. And his... associate. Ser Barton."

The Holdfast men and Mal nodded politely. Jayne, as usual, simply scowled, saying to Mal in not quite an undertone, "You'd better make gorram sure this doesn't change our pay." He looked at Mal. "But then again... Let me see... I get ten percent, but we've made nuthin'. Ten percent of nuthin' is...let me do the math here...nuthin' into nuthin'...carry the nuthin'..."

Syndra completely ignored her henchman's griping. Mal muttered some unheard admonishment at him, with a look that was even more deadly.

Corryn smirked at Jayne, "Don't forget to add interest, sir. Very important."

He nodded to the others before readdressing Syndra. "Thank you for allowing us to join your party. And for returning my squire to me. We were much worried when we discovered Tam. I left Phalan and Varick with him, but we never could find Volf."

"We'd best be on our way then," he said, noticing the angle of the sun. "With your permission, Lady Syndra."

"Yes. Barton, Jayne, Nik, to the front. Becken and Mal, rear guard." Her positioning of the men left Volf in his former position on the right and allowed Corryn to slip in beside her to the left.

Corryn waited until she'd drawn up beside him before prompting Valarr forward at an easier pace. "How fares your father? I wanted to say goodbye to him..." His voice drifted off and worry entered his eyes. For all he knew, he'd lost the opportunity to speak to Godfrey again.

Syndra was still riding double with Gerant, the smallest man in her party, so private conversation was precluded. Syndra, surprisingly, found herself a bit relieved by that. She had no desire to repeat the awkwardness of the previous evening.

"He was resting well when I left," Syndra answered. "I told him last night I was going, but I couldn't say goodbye this morning without waking him, so I didn't. He's in a good deal of pain, but Rhys seemed to think he'd recover. He asked after you yesterday, but he seemed to understand when I told him you had gone after Limosa."

She sighed worriedly. "Lady Celia's in a bad way, though, and so is Maester Sewell. I fear for Edlyn and the children."

"She still lives?" Corryn said, the relief ringing in his voice. "Well, that's a blessing, at least. Praise the Mother. When I carried her to her bed, I thought she wouldn't last the night. For all her villa... her faults... life would be less interesting without her in it."

He raised a curious brow. "And Sewell? What happened to him?"

Volf rode silently beside them, listening to the conversation but saying nothing.

"I don't know exactly," Syndra said with a grimace. "He was discovered in the Godswood. It almost appeared that he'd been attacked and forced to drink some kind of poison. At least that was what it looked like to Rhys." She lowered her voice and added, "And the heart tree was damaged. Slashed, I think." He could see the distress in her wide blue eyes. Though he was a follower of the Seven himself, Corryn knew the Hardys well enough to know that for Syndra, slashing the heart tree was akin to torching a Sept.

A cloud passed over Corryn's brow, darkening it with worry. And something else. The others might not have noticed it, but Syndra knew her wolf's face better than most. It was an old emotion and certainly odd under the circumstances. He appeared almost... disappointed... as if he'd lost an opportunity. It disappeared like morning frost and he reached over to squeeze her hand.

"Fear not, Lady Syndra," he said, resolute. "We'll get through these troubled times. And those responsible will know justice."

She squeezed his hand and nodded dubiously. "I hope so, Wolf." She glanced at the road ahead, as if willing the miles between her party and Winterfell to disappear. "Eryk's so far ahead. The gods only know what lies he's already told Lord Stark," she fretted.

She seemed to catch herself then and smiled, forcing herself back in charge. "But there's naught to be done for that now, is there? Except to keep riding."

Corryn glanced over Volf and smiled warmly. "And how did you discover my wayward pup?" he posed the question to either of them.

Volf bit his lip and looked with a mute appeal at Syndra.

"He discovered us, actually," Syndra explained. "On our first day out, we caught up with him and the dogs. I was glad to add his strength to our party." She glanced over to Volf with an encouraging smile before turning back to Corryn. "You say Tamlin's going to be all right?" she asked hopefully.

Volf looked at him too, anxious for his answer. "I wouldn't have left him, Ser," he explained, "only I thought it our only hope. And so did he."

"Aye, son," Corryn said, meeting Volf's gaze. "You did the right thing. Both of you showed great bravery. And neither of you should be upset at yourselves. I told Tamlin that. I'll tell you that now. I'm forever in both your debts."

His gaze returned to Syndra. "And aye, Tamlin will be right as rain soon enough. Phalan should have carried him home by now. Rhys will patch him up. I mean look how good he's fixed my arm. I can move my fingers and everything." He lifted the wounded limb and wiggled two of his fingers in twitchy manner. She might also notice the devious smile on his lips.

Volf, still in the background, was looking hugely relieved.

Syndra blushed. "Yes... um... about that...," she stammered, wincing. "I'm sorry, Wolf. I never meant... I mean... I would never..." Her shoulders sagged as she gave up trying to explain. "I'm sorry."

Corryn began to snicker and then finally laugh, unable to needle her any further. "Oh please, Syndra," he said warmly. "I forgot it the moment it was done. And the fault was mine. Twice so. Firstly, I got in your way. And secondly, I gave you the dagger you stuck me with. I'm certainly glad I didn't give you a sword for your birthday. I doubt all of Rhys' thread could have put this arm back on."

Syndra chuckled and shook her head, smiling fondly.

He provided her a wolfish grin. "I'm proud of you, Syndra. Your courage that day amazed me. You amaze me every day.

"Lady Syndra. Warrior-daughter of Holdfast. Godfrey must be smiling from ear to ear right now."

Volf watched quietly, perhaps a little troubled.

Syndra grinned happily, quite pleased that Corryn thought her father would be proud, and that he thought so himself. She allowed herself a moment to bask in that warmth before resuming her position of authority.

"So tell me, Wolf," she began in a voice designed not to carry to the head of the party. "How came you to be riding in the company of a Bolton?" A sudden quizzical look crossed her face and she added hastily, "And where's Godwyn?"

Corryn gave her a vulpine grin, all teeth and mischief. He matched the level of her voice, so their conversation remained theirs. "Barton? Well, he's about the only honorable Bolton I've met in the last few days. Or, at the very least, one of the wiser. He used to be Eryk's man. A bunch of them split off from the main group and led Godwyn and I a merry chase. Frankly, I was tired and underestimated Eryk's audacity, so fell for their ruse. I thought they were making a run for Clearwater. So, they led us all the way to Marshend."

Syndra scrunched her nose in sympathy, knowing how much it irked him to make a mistake like that.

He reached down to pat Valarr's neck. "And that's where Godwyn and I parted ways. Marshend had fallen under attack from the Bloody Mummers. And there was a chance they might return. So, Godwyn did his duty as a Hardy and stayed to help them. I left my men under his command and rode on by myself."

Corryn cast a glance at Syndra, fully expecting to be admonished for this.

The expected admonishment did not come. Instead, Syndra's face clouded with worry briefly before she conquered her feelings and listened as Corryn continued.

"I found the Boltons a few miles to the north. The Steward of Clearwater was there. Amongst others. We had a parley and were at an impasse until Barton broke ranks. I paid him well for his help and have taken him on. He won't be exactly welcome back at the Dreadfort now.

"We've been riding south ever since. And had the good fortune of encountering the pretty noblewoman in the North. You pretty much know the rest."

Syndra flashed him a bemused smile, but she would not be appeased. "Wolf, how do you know he wasn't supposed to break ranks? And you rode off with him alone? What if his task was to kill you in your sleep or something?" With everything that had happened in the last several days, Corryn could see Syndra was no longer willing to take the situation, or perhaps any situation, at face value.

Corryn chuckled and provided her a knowing nod. "Aye," he said. "Were it not for the circumstances under which he joined my employ, I would have questioned his words as well. However, he did not offer his help freely. And he finally did so at risk to himself. His lord was certainly caught off guard when Barton offered to confirm what I'd already begun to suspect. We nearly had an incident as a result of it. I think my story won him over.

"You'd have been proud of me. By the end of my speech, I even had a young Blood-rider speaking on my behalf."

Syndra's smirk at that let Corryn know he was off the hook. "Yes, you always were good at persuasion. And reading people. I suppose I should trust that you know what you're doing. You've been doing this much longer than I," she reluctantly conceded.

"Oh, Lady Syndra, do be honest," Corryn laughed. "I rarely, if ever, know what I'm doing. It's what you love about me. You're my voice of reason. Always have been. Always shall be." He nodded at this, recognizing the truth of it.

Syndra chuckled, blushing slightly.

"There wasn't much to report from Holdfast after you left," she said, changing the subject. "You know about the ravens. A wounded Bolton boy turned up in hiding. One of the kitchen girls had taken a shine to him and asked me to help him, so I did. The poor lad was scared to death. Kenrith and I... spoke... about that. And other things." Corryn knew by the cloud that crossed her face that there were volumes there that she did not wish to discuss while sharing a horse with one of Holdfast's underlings.

Corryn did not press her. There would be plenty of time for them to speak more freely later on. He simply listened as she went on.

"He thought me the best person to send to Stark though, based on Father's standing at Winterfell," she continued. "He charged me to tell the whole story and carry his own letter to our Lord." She indicated the pouch at her belt solemnly.

"Aye, he made a good decision there," Corryn said. "You have a lot of your father's spirit in you. That inspires faith and loyalty in those you deal with. The Hardys could have had no better emissary to represent their side of this. Lady Stark's heart is already yours. I am certain Ned will be of like mind once you speak with him. If he's there, that is."

He gave her a wry grin. "You may even help me make amends for insulting his brother. That arrogant tosser."

The uncertainty Syndra felt about her ability, as a novice and a woman, to represent her father and her entire family before Lord Stark gave way to shock at Corryn's last statement. "You what?! How did you insult the Lord's brother?"

"Oh. Well. I effectively called him a childless prig," Corryn said with a meek smile. "Not in such unkind terms, mind you. But the gist was certainly there. You know me. Master of diplomacy and decorum."

Syndra grimaced.

His hazel eyes met hers almost defiantly. "Oh, don't look at me that way. I was tired and he dismissed us, as if we were nothing more than wayward sheep blocking his illustrious path. Bloody Watchmen. I've never seen a bunch of prats more in need of a good rub and a tug.

"And considering what a fine job they're doing keeping the Wildlings out of the Wolfswood, he shouldn't have been so high and mighty."

"But Wolf, he's a Stark," Syndra replied disapprovingly. "I know the Watch is not supposed to take sides, but we'll need all the help we can get to fix this mess. Angering Benjen Stark as he rides to meet his brother won't help our case one whit."

It occurred to her then how much she sounded like her father on the few occasions when she had heard him chide Corryn for some infraction or other. She smiled weakly to soften her words. She did not want to argue with Wolf. Not now.

Corryn nodded. "Yes, Godfrey," he said, as if reading her mind. "I'll be eating some crow, I'm sure. But Ned knows my history with Benjen. He'll understand. Don't you worry. I'll make it right."

She reached out to touch his arm gently. "I'm sorry, Wolf. I'm tired too." And scared, he did not hear her say, but could read in her eyes. "I'm glad you're here."

Corryn smiled softly, his hazel eyes meeting hers. His gaze reflected her feelings, a hundred times over. "Aye." Little more could be said in close company. But perhaps it was enough.

They rode on together all that day.

But soon they came upon the signs that suggested a large body of armed men was riding rapidly ahead of them, taking the King's Road south too.

Corryn called a halt to the group and then got down from his horse. He examined the tracks for a moment, "I'm hoping these are from the Night Watch, but why do I think we're not so lucky?" He bent down and regarded the various tracks, counting how many different impressions there might be.

There seemed to be a troop of some fifteen or so, obscuring earlier tracks.

Corryn touched the ground and considered this, "Not Evan's lot then, unless he'd run into friends along the way. But the Bloody Mummers... possible. It's likely these are the Night Watch. At least, I hope it's them."

Syndra hopped down as well and stood next to him, analyzing the tracks. "Were the watchmen travelling that fast? At that speed, I might guess it were Eryk, but he should've been by long before this. These seem fresher."

"They nearly trampled us, but yes... these tracks are too fresh, I think," Corryn said, standing up and dusting off his knees. He gazed down at her, a smile of pride growing on his lips. "You really are enjoying this aren't you, Little Bear? It suits you."

She smiled up at him and he noticed that her smile was no longer that of a little girl. It was the careworn smile of a child grown. "Not so much enjoying as finally realizing how much I am my father's daughter," she chuckled, her words reminding Corryn of where he'd seen that same weary smile before.

"That you are, Lady Syndra," Corryn agreed.

As if to prove it, she turned to the head of the group. "Nik, watch the tracks. So long as they remain ahead of us, we'll travel at pace. Volf, move up with Nik. I'll need you as another set of eyes. If any of the horses start to veer off, we slow and watch for ambush. I'd rather spend another night in the forest than not get there at all."

Standing behind Syndra, so as to not be seen doing so, Corryn nodded to the men to follow her orders. He'd been a knight long enough to suspect that his presence might detract from his ward's command. In the North, men looked to men for leadership; a cold and unfair reality. But they'd followed her thus far. He wouldn't allow that to change, particularly not when she reminded him so much of Godfrey right then. He could not contain the pride burning in his chest; it exuded from every pore.

She turned back to Corryn. "I'd ride with you, Wolf. To give Gerant a break from doubling up. But it's probably not wise. If there's trouble, I'd rather see your sword unhindered," she said almost wistfully.

"Ride with me," Corryn said, perhaps too freely. He blushed faintly when he realized the intensity behind his words. A humbled smile warmed his expression. "Ride with me," he repeated, softly this time. "If we run into trouble, I would feel better having you close. And we could always ride off. So you're safe."

Syndra hesitated and almost glanced over at Volf before catching herself. To the others, it probably seemed more a quick glance at the road ahead.

He added, "I promised your father I would be your guardian. I should act like one."

She turned back and looked at him fully. "Yes. My guardian. That's right," she said definitively, her relief clear in her voice.

"All right, mount up, everyone," Syndra called out. "Gerant, swap spots with Ser Corryn." After a quick check of her weapons, she hoisted herself easily onto Valarr's back and looked down at Corryn expectantly.

About half a mile down the road, they saw ahead of them the dust of the riders whose tracks were very evident in the mud of the road. A slight glimpse of two through the dust suggested that these riders were clad in plain black.

"The Watch," Corryn said, pulling on his rein. "At least, I hope."

He turned to Gerant, "We'd best slow our pace until we can be sure. And we don't want them thinking we're a threat."

He touched Syndra's side, "Is that agreeable, Lady Syndra?""

"It is," she agreed. "But nor do we want them thinking we're creeping up on them. Ride tall, men, but slow the pace. Watchmen don't like surprises."

Nor were they to be surprised now, it seemed. Watchers at the rear alerted the troop - as Syndra and Corryn rode up, the Nightwatch drew to a halt and awaited their approach.

There was no sign of the Chief Ranger within the group, however. In fact, it seemed some men short of the band that Corryn had encountered with Godwyn and his men the day before.

Corryn slowed his approach, gesturing for the others to do the same. "Hail, Watchmen," he called. "We meet again it would seem. Is the Chief Ranger nearby? Or has he ridden on ahead?"

The men of the Watch regarded Corryn with hard-faced suspicion. One, seemingly someone of rank moved slightly forward.

"He has ridden on to Winterfell," he said. "But what is this? You left us, shouting curses. Now you seek us out?"

"Your pardons, sir," Syndra cut in with a polite smile and respectful nod for the watchman. "It is not so much that we seek you out but that we happened to find you.

"I am Lady Syndra Hardy, daughter of Ser Godfrey Hardy. I am under orders to bring word of recent events at Holdfast to Lord Stark at Winterfell. My party here has been riding at haste for three days now. Ser Corryn and his companion caught up with us this morning. I know little of the altercation of which you speak, but it is my hope that we will not be delayed in our journey by bad feelings." She smiled again respectfully, though her noble posture, bolstered by Hardy stubborness, gave not an inch.

Corryn's lips screwed up into a smile as Syndra spoke, fighting desperately against the urge to laugh. Never get a Hardy's back up; their spines were made of oak, after all. He barely recognized the woman in front of him, but what he saw filled him with delighted pride. Before the Watchman could exchange words, he decided he'd better intervene.

"I don't know about shouting curses, sir," Corryn said, "But I was pretty haggard at the time. So, if I misspoke, I apologize."

He bowed his head politely, "What the lady said is true. We were on our way to Winterfell. Lady Syndra for her reasons and I for mine. We hailed you because the Bloody Mummers and a band of Wildlings are in the area. We didn't wish to provoke the wrong response by riding up on your party without warning."

Corryn remained pleasant, but cool in his delivery. "The daughter I seek was taken by force to Winterfell. So I need to get there soon. Also, Marshend has come under attack by the Mummers. I left some of my men there, but I doubt they can hold out long should the Mummers return. I know this isn't an affair of the Watch though, so we won't bother you with it further.

"May we pass?"

"You may ride with us," said the Watchman. "I doubt you'll get there much quicker than us now. And the Chief Ranger and his companions ... they should be reaching Winterfell around now."

Corryn nodded his thanks. This was a wise choice at the moment. Not only were they safer in numbers, being in the company of the Nightwatch might work in their favor once they arrived at Winterfell. He particularly needed to mend some fences with Benjen. He just hoped the younger Stark would be his typically impartial self in the meanwhile.

There was another look at the pair of them - measuring, appraising.

"Companions? More of your Brothers? Or... someone else?" Syndra blurted out before considering the fact that whoever Benjen Stark chose to ride with was probably none of her business. When that realization hit, she squirmed a little in the saddle. The watchman's appraising look - from Corryn to herself and back - only fueled her discomfort. She began to blush, but did not retract her question.

Corryn, the master of perfect timing, slid his hand around her waist at that moment. It was an innocent and unconscious act, his protective nature kicking in when Syndra began sliding from her seat. After steadying her, he left the hand there, just in case. He met the man's gaze with a curious raise of the brow; utterly missing the innuendo in the man's eyes.

Syndra clutched the saddle and blushed harder.

The Watchman looked at her a little curiously. "Who might you be expecting us to have met on the road, my Lady?"

Corryn opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. Syndra had asked the question, the answer had been addressed to her. He found this new sense of deference to her rather appealing somehow, like wearing an old cloak on a chilly night at sea.

"So many have left Holdfast recently, sir, and I understand that they might have come this way," Syndra answered courteously, trying to ignore Corryn's arm. "The first is a man claiming to be Eryk Bolton, who was riding with a party of men in Bolton livery and was likely still holding Ser Corryn's daughter.

"The other is a man going by the name of Evan Tamm, who is actually the real Eryk Bolton. Or so he claims. He was last seen in the company of a couple of sellswords, though there were a few more Bolton men missing from Holdfast by the time I left there. I don't know for certain which way he went. He might have made for the Dreadfort, but if he did in fact end up on the Kingsroad in either direction, you might have run into him.

"He's the one who injured my father," she felt compelled to add.

The Watchman nodded. "We take no part in the affairs of the Seven Kingdoms," he said, "but anything that might lessen the strength and safety of the Wall - that concerns us. You are welcome, lady, to ride under our protection to Winterfell, and your company with you."

He was looking at the way the Riverwolf was holding her; he said nothing, but his expression was austere.

Syndra nodded to the watchman respectfully. "Understood, sir, and we will happily accept your protection." As she spoke, she arched her back and slid her elbow downward, trying to unobtrusively dislodge Corryn's arm from around her waist, or at least give him the hint that she thought he ought to move it himself.

The men of the Watch gazed at them impassively.

Corryn finally caught on and flinched at how his protective nature could have appeared to a stranger; in particular, considering his previous encounter with the Watch. He removed his hand from Syndra's waist and slipped it into Valarr's reins. He nodded to the man, "Thank you, sir. We are ready to continue when you are."

Syndra called out to her party. "Men! We ride the rest of the way with the Watch. Form up."

Turning to the watch leader, she nodded politely. "Lead on, sir."

As they prepared to leave, a hollow sigh escaped him. He leaned in, so only Syndra could hear his hushed words. He so, he spoke with caution. "Forgive me, Lady Syndra," he said. "I..." He did not continue and instead leaned back, providing her as much distance as he could considering their current situation.

Syndra glanced back over her shoulder at him. "It's all right, Wolf. I know you were just trying to protect me, but we have to be careful," Syndra said in an equally low voice. "I'm not a little girl anymore. If Volf noticed your affection enough to mention it, I reckon it must look... odd... to someone who doesn't know us."

"That particular morsel of information hadn't escaped my notice, Little Bear," Corryn chuckled, trying not to look at the delicate line of her throat. "But yes. I shall endeavor to be more vigilant next time. Old habits die hard, I suppose."

He cringed at this last bit, rolling his eyes at some thought poking about in his melon-head. A few emotions passed over his face before he settled on feigned ignorance.

Her gaze back at him lasted a moment too long as she considered which old habits he might be referring to. Deciding finally that feigned ignorance was indeed the best policy, Syndra turned about to watch the road ahead.

Volf followed them, miserably.

It was drawing towards evening as they approached the vast walls and the heavy gates, and already braziers were lit. A dark figure seemed to be awaiting their arrival at the gate - or perhaps it was his own men he was waiting for - Benjen Stark, younger brother to Lord Stark and Chief Ranger of the Nightwatch.

Syndra had originally planned to wash and change into more appropriate attire before approaching Winterfell, but she was not about to stop the Night Watch so she could freshen up. As they approached the gates, she had Corryn bring Valarr to the front of her party. Though she had never met Benjen Stark, Syndra guessed the identity of the man in black based on his attire and his resemblance to Lord Stark, whom she had met at a festival many years ago.

Corryn had barely stopped his horse when Syndra slid to the ground as gracefully as she could under the circumstances. She was not about to risk another embarrassing incident. She stood tall and bowed before the head Watchman. "First Ranger Stark, I am Syndra Hardy, daughter of Ser Godfrey Hardy. I bear news for Lord Stark from Holdfast in my father's stead."

Corryn climbed down from his horse and held onto the reins. He fell in behind Syndra, but this time maintaining a respectful distance between them. He nodded politely to Benjen, "Well met again, First Ranger," he said.

"I seek my daughter, who was brought here, as well carry grave news from Marshend. May we see Lady Stark? Or has our Lord returned?"

"Lord Stark is within the keep," said Benjen. His voice was calm, unemotional. "I will send a message that you are here. Perhaps, Lady Syndra, I might escort you to Lady Stark?"

Syndra started to glance down at her dirty riding clothes, but caught herself. Instead, she nodded gratefully to Benjen. "Thank you, First Ranger. I would appreciate that very much."

"Thank you, m'lord," Corryn said.

He touched Syndra's shoulder lightly, "I shall attend to the men and get them settled, milady. I know the keep well enough. Give my regards to Her Ladyship."

"I shall, Ser Corryn," Syndra smiled politely over her shoulder. "And thank you for seeing to my men. They've had a hard ride," she added in a voice addressed as much to the rest of her party as to Corryn alone.

Corryn turned away to direct the others toward the stables. "Come on then. You'll not find warmer beds in Westeros, my lads."

Syndra pulled her pack and belongings off her horse before it was led away with the rest, then turned to First Ranger Stark. "I am ready, sir," she stated, bearing herself as nobly as her father would have.

Corryn called after them, a hint of desperation filling his voice. "And Lady Syndra. I beg that you have someone send word to Limosa that I am here. They may not allow me to see her just yet. But she should know I've come for her. It might calm her some. Tell her. Tell her I love her and things will be right as rain soon enough."

Not wishing to call out, Syndra simply looked back over her shoulder and nodded. But the sympathetic smile that accompanied the nod let Corryn know she understood.

He gave Syndra a sad smile and then turned away, the humor drained from him.

Page last modified on July 15, 2007, at 02:30 PM