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Tending the Wounded


Rhys quickly moved through the wounded, prioritzed their injuries, and started treating. He continued on, ignoring food and rest, until all injured were attended to.

Work was a panacea for thinking too much about Syndra and Corryn, and the way Syndra looked at him, and the way he looked at her when he kissed her cheek, and they way they looked at each other. Yes, work was a panacea and Rhys threw himself into it wholeheartedly.

Syndra lost herself in her work as well, not speaking of anything except wounds and procedures. After the initial tears were dried, she locked her feelings up tight. She gave orders to the potboys and the others who came to help. She boiled kettles and kettles of water. She helped stitch wounds and set bones and grind comfrey. Working kept her from thinking. About Father. About Corryn. About... Rhys.

It was nearing evening by the time all the injuries were tended. As Rhys surveyed the infirmary, from behind him Syndra softly spoke his name. When he turned, she handed him one of the two mugs of steaming liquid she held. "Lemon balm," she said unnecessarily. She was certain he could tell from the smell.

Rhys smiled and accepted the mug from her. "Thank you."

He trailed off, wanting to talk about the events of the morning before the tourney but not knowing how to bring it up, or even if he should. This was hardly the place for such a discussion anyway, what with all the wounded about and Ser Godfrey just on the other side of the room.

He looked down into his steaming mug for inspiration and back up again. "Your father is holding his own. That's very good news. When he wakes again we can try to get some broth down him."

Syndra nodded. "Mmm. That is good news," she agreed, though she seemed distracted, gazing into her mug as she sat wearily down on the bench near the fire.

"You've been quiet today," she noted softly after a moment, not looking up.

Rhys rubbed his neck. Was this her way of bringing it up herself? What if he was misreading things? He could make the situation worse--at least she was talking to him now.

"Been busy," he replied--it was a safe answer. "I get like that when there's a lot of work to be done. People needed me, and I wanted to help."

There was a pause while Rhys figured out what to say next. "You helped me a lot today. In a very helpful way. I needed...I needed the help. Thank you."

That was a really lame thing to say, Rhys observed as he passed a hand over his face. He felt so very tired.

The lameness was not lost on Syndra. She glanced up at him with a tired, knowing smile and patted the bench next to her. "You're spent. Sit," she urged him.

He hesitated, a bit self-conscious, but eventually sat and exhaled loudly.

She gazed back down into her mug as if words were written somewhere within it. "This morning, I had... so many things I was going to say to you after... after the tournament." She chuckled ruefully. "I was so angry. And hurt. I was really going to let you have it." She looked out over the injured people now resting in the infirmary. "None of that is important anymore. Not now."

Rhys was quiet for a moment, looking anywhere in the room but at her. "I admit I was surprised by what you did," he said when he finally decided to speak, his tone soft and low and meant only for her ears. "It didn't seem like something you'd do, but then I realized this was your father in jeopardy, and I know how much he means to you after...well, after that one summer."

Syndra nodded thoughtfully as he continued.

"And the more I thought about it, the more I was impressed with your courage and cleverness. Not that I'm condoning intentionally hurting another person--that's not what I'm about--but I was impressed nonetheless. Heh...Little Bear. And it made me want to somehow make sure that you never lost another person you loved again, that you never had to hurt like that again."

"Thank you," she said gratefully. Her fingers reached out reflexively to touch his hand, but bashfully stopped midway and dropped to fidget with her skirt. "But you shouldn't be impressed. It was stupid. All it probably did was anger the gods and make Evan madder than a swarm of bothered bees. Some Little Bear I am... Oh!" She gasped, remembering. "The ravens! Did you send Corryn's ravens?"

Rhys startled, spilling his tea. "Gods, no, I forgot! Do you still have the messages?"

"Yes. Um..." Syndra jumped up and glanced around the infirmary, trying to remember where she had set down Corryn's messages when the wounded started arriving. After a moment, she spotted them on the mantle. "Oh! Here. Here they are."

She handed the papers to Rhys. "Do you want me to stay and watch things here? Or... I could come wi... No. I should stay," she babbled, blushing slightly at her indecisiveness. She was starting to sound like Gavrin, she thought to herself.

"Stay, please!" Rhys exclaimed as he took the notes from her hand and ran out the door.

As he mounted the stairs to the ravenloft, he received the first intimation that something was wrong. Usually, unless the birds were roosting, the ravenloft was a noisy place, with the birds - particularly the imprisoned, stranger birds, cawing loudly.

Now there were only a few, subdued caws as he climbed higher.

Not concerned yet, though curious, Rhys finished climbing the ladder into the rookery and held up his lantern to look around.

It was a scene of devastation. The cages had been smashed in - one or more people working swiftly and methodically. The roosts for the Holdfast birds had been ignored, but the wide cages where the banded birds for other destinations were kept - those had been smahed open so that the ravens would fly to their homes. Certainly, Maesters would wonder when the birds came back to their home Ravenlofts, message-less. But that circumstance would lack the urgency of the messages that Corryn had wanted to send.

Rhys kicked at a broken cage on the ground and let loose a stream of colorful Dornish invective. Then he ran a hand over his face and sighed. Gods, he was so...very...tired.

There was a fluttering in one of the cages. On closer invesigation, it proved to be a Holdfast bird with a broken wing. Perhaps it had been too close to the fretwork of the cage when it had been smashed in ...

Rhys recognized the bird--it was Thyme. He grimaced and waded through the mess to the fluttering raven, calling out to Thyme in her own language to try to calm her down. When he reached the cage he opened it and gently pulled out the hurt raven to examine it.

She seemed to have a badly sprained wing, but it did not seem to be broken. He recognised the bird was the one that Syndra had used many times to send messages to her father when he was at Winterfell. With careful nursing she should fly again - but not soon.

Rhys took another quick look around the rookery to make sure no other ravens were injured. Satisfied, he quieted Thyme by holding her against his body and carefully descended the ladder and then the stairs to the infirmary below. He could tend to the wing there.

Syndra sighed and wandered around the floor, lighting lamps and checking on patients. The ward was suddenly quiet as most of the injured had either been given milk of poppy to help them sleep or had been released to their own rooms. Ser Godfrey had been moved to a bed at the end of the ward where he might receive some privacy. Syndra ended her rounds there, checking her father's pulse and touching his face to check for fever.

"Lady Syndra?" she heard a young voice call from the doorway.

"Yes?" she answered, peering toward the door in the dim light.

"I have the food Ser Kenrith sent?" The lad stood in the doorway with a tray heaping with food, waiting for leave to enter.

"Thank you, Brant. Just set it there on the ta... uh, no." Though the operating table had been washed, she was a little squeamish about setting food on it. She stood and strode briskly toward him, smiling wearily. "I'll take it, Brant. Thank you."

Brant handed her the tray, then hovered, reluctant to leave. Syndra quirked an eyebrow at him. "Is something wrong?"

"Uh... you and Maester Rhys will eat, won't you, M'lady?" he asked nervously, blushing beet red.

"Of... course," Syndra answered hesitantly, perhaps remembering a recent serving of stew that she would not have eaten. "Is there some reason we shouldn't?"

"Oh no!" the boy exclaimed. "It's just that... if you didn't... Ser Kenrith said I'd have to... um..." The poor lad shuffled his feet and grimaced with embarrassment. "...feed it to you."

Syndra giggled, then bit her lip quickly to stop herself. She didn't want the poor boy, who had already almost sunk through the floorboards, to feel any worse than he did. "No, Brant. That won't be necessary," Syndra assured him. "I swear by the Old Gods that I will eat, and I'll see that the Maester does, too."

Brant grinned with relief. "Thank you, Lady Syndra. By your leave?"

Syndra smiled back at him and nodded, and the lad virtually bolted for the door. Syndra chuckled behind him, set the tray on the bench by the fire, and sat down next to it. She broke off a piece of bread and bit into it, making certain she kept her promise to the gods.

It did seem that Rhys had been rather a long time in the ravenloft.

About the time she finished her food, Rhys appeared in the doorway with a raven held carefully in his arms. He looked angry.

"Someone smashed all the cages in the rookery," he growled. "Which means all the ravens from other places--like Winterfell or Clearwater--have flown away home. Which means I can't send the messages you wrote. Which also means we're effectively cut off and alone."

Syndra looked up at him apprehensively, then turned away to gaze across the infirmary. "Just as they wanted it," she murmurred. She sighed heavily. Syndra had not thought it possible to be more frightened than she was on the field this morning, but she had been mistaken. She was terrified as she analyzed the situation.

"They wanted Father dead," she mused, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees, her hands clasped as if in prayer. "That's why Herys grabbed me when they arrived. He knew it would prompt a fight for honor, and he never intended to be honorable. But I didn't accuse. Evan must've been their alternate plan. Have him kill an expendable guard, then demand a trial by combat. Have Eryk grab Limosa to ensure Wolf's cooperation, or at least lure him and his forces away from Holdfast."

Rhys said nothing, watching her sorrowfully.

She looked up at Rhys, her blue eyes as stony as her father's when he was forging battle strategy. "The Bolton forces are probably on the march as we speak. All we have is Herys, but what sort of hostage is he? Roose Bolton would probably consider him an acceptable loss as long as he can wrest Holdfast away from us. Winterfell would support us, but we have no way now to notify Lord Stark. If the Boltons march to the north, they can skirt Winterfell without the Starks ever being the wiser."

She looked away and sighed again. "We need to tell Kenrith."

"Agreed," Rhys replied gravely. "Sim!" he called to one of the boys resting by the door. "Go find Ser Kenrith and ask him to come here, that we have news. And be careful!" he added as the boy scampered out the door.

Rhys turned back to Syndra as the raven in his arms started to caw. "Can you help me with Thyme? She sprained her wing."

"Of course," Syndra said, rising from the bench with some effort to overcome the bone-numbing fatigue. She helped settle the bird on the operating table. "Oh, you poor thing. None of us escaped this day, did we, sweetling?" she cooed to Thyme as she held her so Rhys could do his examination.

Now that he had someone to hold the bird still, Rhys confirmed that the wing was not broken, then took a soft cloth strip and bound the hurt wing to the raven's body. He made a warm nest with another cloth in a shallow bowl and told Thyme to stay. It remained to be seen if the raven would obey--though intelligent and with long memories, they were also somewhat willful.

Syndra gave the bird more incentive to follow instructions. She picked up a chunk of bread and began to break off small pieces, feeding them one by one to the injured raven. With any luck, a full belly and a warm nest might make the bird sleepy. At least that was Syndra's hope.

Thyme thought this was a great plan. She didn't like having her wing bound, but having bread fed to her was distracting enough that she forgot about it. She cawed impatiently if Syndra was too slow to produce another bit of bread--the sound amusing loud and disproportionate to Thyme's small size--but by the time the chunk was almost gone Thyme getting full and slowing down.

As she fed the greedy bird, Syndra said to Rhys, "You'd better eat too, or I'm in big trouble with the gods. And you'll be in trouble with Kenrith."

Rhys looked at the food with little enthusiasm. He picked up a hunk of bread, then put it back down. "In a bit," he replied, checking instead on Ser Godfrey, then moving on to the other wounded in the room.

As he passed the hearth he paused at his mug of lemon balm tea, now cold. "My thanks again for the tea," he said to Syndra over his shoulder, "but I'm afraid if I drink it now I will fall asleep. And I can't fall asleep yet, not until we've talked to Kenrith. And I've checked on my uncle and Lady Celia. And Edlyn. By the Seven, this has been a day I don't want to repeat."

"Mmm-hmm," Syndra agreed. She was still sitting on the floor near the hearth where she had been feeding Thyme. The food and the tea, the warmth of the fire and the simple, amusing task of feeding the bird had relaxed Syndra to the point where she could barely keep her eyes open. She looked ready to sprawl out on the floor right where she sat.

Rhys continued on around the room, taking pulses and feeling foreheads for fevers and adjusting bandages and administering milk of poppy where needed. Despite his own fatigue, he made a point to comfort those wounded who weren't already asleep.

Syndra watched him as she fought to stay awake. "Well, when you need to go see... um... your uncle and... Edlyn... I'll stay here and keep watch on things," she offered groggily.

Rhys draped a blanket over her. "Go to sleep. Things are quiet here and I'll be back in a few minutes." He brushed the hair out of her eyes--a bold gesture--smiled, and turned to leave.

Syndra smiled at his touch, but her eyes were already closed. "Wake me when Kenrith comes," she yawned at his back as he quietly opened the door. Without waiting for an answer, she curled into a kitten-like ball under the blanket near the hearth, and was sleeping before Rhys reached the bottom of the stairs.

Rhys continues in Broken Bones Shattered Hearts

She seemed to have only been asleep for a few minutes when she felt someone tugging at her sleeve.

"I'm coming, Rhys," Syndra mumbled, stirring weakly in her blanket and trying to open her tired eyes. "Is Kenrith - Oh!"

It wasn't Rhys.

It was a maid from the kitchens.

"Please," she said, "Mistress Syndra - I don't know what I should do ... "

She was looking deeply troubled. "There's someone ... he's so bad, Mistress. Will you see him?"

Syndra sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "Someone? Who? Do you recognize him?" she asked, even as she was rising to assist the girl.

The girl sank down beside her.

"Yes, Mistress. It's Hanley ... and he came with the Boltons but ... "

He eyes were red with weeping.

"Mistress - he didn't mean no harm! He don't know why they tried to kill him! He lost his own sister to the summer fever at the Dreadfort ... and now he fears they'll kill him too!"

Syndra knelt beside the girl and laid a hand on her shoulder. Lora, her name was. Syndra remembered suddenly why this girl would be so upset. Lora's sister was the young kitchen maid who had been the first to die of the summer fever at Holdfast. She had probably compared stories with Hanley and grown attached to the young man.

"It was madness, Lora. There is no explanation," Syndra sighed. She worried at her lip, considering. "Where is he? Is he alone?"

"I've hidden him, Mistress, down under the kitchen stairs, where they go down to the root cellar." Her hand shot out to clutch Syndra's arm. "Please don't tell no-one, Mistress! Lessen they kill him too!"

"I have to tell someone, Lora. If he's hurt badly, he'll need a maester. I can't cure him myself," Syndra explained calmly.

"But I believe I can speak for my father on this," she continued, looking into Lora's panicked eyes gravely. "If Hanley has indeed done us no harm, he should come to no harm. As long as that fact is true, and he continues to behave, I will take him under my protection." She gulped involuntarily as the ramifications of this action settled upon her shoulders.

Syndra nodded toward the door and rose. "Let's go," she said, grabbing the bottle of milk of poppy and some clean towels on her way.

Lora led the way quickly and cautiously to the root cellar. There were people hurrying around - they all seemed too intent on their own tasks to spare more than a glance for Syndra and Lora.

They came at last to the root cellar which was shut and bolted. Lora pulled the bolt aside and pushed open the door.

In there, half-lying between two sacks of potatoes was a boy with a shock of blonde hair. He was battered and bloody, with a crude sacking bandage twisted around his middle. He was holding a short dagger in his right hand, and was trying to point it at the door, but the terror showed in his eyes and his shaking hand.

"Hanley!" cried Lora. "It's me - and Mistress Syndra!"

The dagger wavered and then steadied - but the boy was gazing at her with an expression of mute terror.

The girl accompanying Lora did not look like the young daughter of Ser Godfrey Hardy that Hanley saw at the head table on the night of the Boltons' arrival. Though of the same build, this girl had short hair, tired eyes and dirt under her fingernails. But her voice was calm as she spoke to him.

"Hanley?" Syndra called out to him softly, making no sudden movements and holding her supplies away from her body so he could see her hands. "If you don't harm me, I won't harm you. Lora says you did not draw on Hardy; that you merely got caught in the fray. If that's the case, I have no argument with you. I want to help." She had been walking slowly forward the whole time she spoke and now stood before the young man, just out of reach. "Will you let me?" she asked before approaching further.

The boy slowly lowered his dagger.

"You won't let 'em kill me, Mistress?" he asked.

"They'll have to kill me first!" said Lora - and then shot an abashed look at Syndra.

Syndra glanced at her sharply, then turned her attention back to Hanley. "I think there's been enough killing today, don't you?" she answered him wearily. "Give the knife to Lora and let me take a look at you. Where are you hurt?" She approached closer and, if he allowed it, started to examine his wounds gingerly.

He had been stabbed in the side, and had various other lacerations and bruises as well. He bore her examination patiently, but with little whimpers of pain throughout. It was clear that he really needed more than her skill.

"Well, it doesn't appear anything is broken, but those cuts will turn if we don't get them cleaned and sewn," Syndra pronounced as she knelt back on her ankles, hands resting on her thighs. "We can't do anything here. There's not enough light. I need to get you upstairs."

At his sudden panicked expression, Syndra held out her hands to calm him and pressed on. "It's got to be done, Hanley. You'll be safe with me. Lora and I can support you. First, I need to patch that to hold it together until we get there. Lora, help me with his tunic," Without waiting for an objection, she started gently removing the boy's shirt.

He allowed her to remove it, but his fear was evident.

"If you take me upstairs, Mistress, they'll kill me," he said. "They're killing all Boltons - and we had done nothing but follow our Lord's orders! We wanted no trouble ... and then Ser Herys ordered us to kill the [email protected] for his cheating - for harming your gracious father - and the Hardys started to attack us ... Why, Mistress? Why did they kill us all?"

Syndra paused in her ministrations. A knot had formed in her stomach at his plaintive question. She searched his words for some sign of irony or malice, but found nothing but sorrow and fear. Syndra opened her mouth to speak and found that she could not. Finally, she simply shook her head. "I don't know, Hanley," she said softly as she secured a folded towel in place over his wound. "It's complicated. It..." She sighed. There was no explanation.

She leaned back on her heels once again, looking him directly in the eye. "But it stops here. I will take you upstairs and you will be cared for. Any man that harms you will be for the Wall, or worse. I swear it by the old gods and with the blood of the First Men. So long as you harm no one at Holdfast, you are under my protection."

He looked at her fear warring with hope. "Very well, Mistress," he said. "If you say so."

Lora hurried to help him stand but even as he did so, the red showed through the folded towel Syndra had used for a bandage.

"Careful, Lora. Not so fast," Syndra warned her. Syndra took Hanley's arm across her shoulders on his wounded side and instructed Lora to do the same on the other. "All right, Lora, we're going to bear his weight. Hold his arm tight so he doesn't slip. Hanley, if you can get your feet under you, do it, but if not, we'll carry you," she explained gently. She wished she could call a guard to help carry the boy, but she dared not. As pumped up on battle as they had been earlier, they would surely have skewered the lad. Carrying him this way would be hard on Hanley, but neither she nor Lora were strong enough to do it otherwise.

"Now Lora, we need to do this gently, but as quickly as we can," Syndra instructed, guiding them up the stairs and out into the hallway.

They passed a few people in the hall, who stared in surprise ... but no-one attempted to gainstay them or hold them back until they reached the tower room - intimidated, perhaps, by Syndra's station or Lora's scowl.

On the other hand, no-one offered to help with the Bolton either.

Once in the infirmary, Syndra led them to a bed at a distance from any of the Holdfast wounded. Hanley was starting to slump by this time and she wasn't certain she and Lora could get him up onto the operating table. It was then that she realized she had left the bottle of milk of poppy in the root cellar. She sent Lora to fetch it and settled Hanley on the bed. She cleaned the wound, then pressed another thick towel against it, applying pressure as Rhys had showed her to do.

Rhys. She hoped he would return soon. Hanley's wound was beyond her ability and she'd had enough death for one day.

As she was working, she heard footsteps on the stairs, the heavy steps of someone who was burdened.

Rhys appeared in the doorway, carrying Sewell in his arms. He scanned the room and looked for a place to lay him. Ser Godfrey had been moved from the worktable, so he decided there.

His eyes met Syndra's--he expected her to be asleep by the hearth where he'd left her, but somehow she'd found herself another wounded, and he could see that it was bad from all the blood on the boy. "Can you lay a blanket over over the worktable?" he asked her.

Syndra gasped when she saw who he was carrying. "By the gods, what happened?" she asked as she wiped her bloody hands on her dress and hurried to prepare the table.

"I don't know," Rhys replied, trying to keep his voice calm. It didn't work and his voice shook anyway. "I found him in the godswood. He's been struck on the side of the head."

He laid Sewell on the worktable and examined him more thoroughly than he did in the field, opening himself up to anything the gods had to tell him about his condition.

Syndra rounded the table to stand by his side and placed a comforting hand on his back, remaining silent so Rhys could think.

The sticky substance on Sewell's lips, he saw, was a golden green in this light, and it was now mingling with a kind of foam that seemed to be bubbling up from inside his mouth ...

Poison ... but something more. Something that affected his uncle profoundly - and not for the first time ....

Rhys had a strange sense that he was on the verge of something ... something that filled him with dread ...

"What is that?" Syndra whispered, staring at the older maester in horror.

"Poison," Rhys answered. "See how he's foaming at the mouth?" He pulled out a square of felted wool somewhere from his robes, quickly wiped the substance away from his uncle's mouth while being careful not to touch it himself, folded the cloth in on itself, and replaced the square back into his robes. He'd look at that later.

"I need to get him awake so he can vomit--if I can't get him awake, my options are much more limited. Syndra, go fetch that bucket in the corner there."

Rhys turned back to his uncle and slapped at his cheeks. "Sewell! Wake up!"

Syndra emptied the supplies out of the bucket and brought it over. She then ran to fill another bucket with water and held it at the ready, as if preparing to douse the maester if he didn't wake by other means.

Sewll was still, mumbling incoherently , but then suddenly his eyes opened, stretching wide - painfully, agonisingly wide, as though his eyes would burst from his head.

"A Dance of Dragons!" he gasped. "A Storm of Crows ... "

His eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped down, more foam spilling from his lips.

It was at this point that they became aware of Kenrith entering the room.

Rhys glanced up, noted it was Kenrith and not a Bolton nor a Faceless Man nor an Old God--his paranoia was currently running high--and returned his attention to the old maester. "Sewell!" he yelled, slapping at his great-uncle's cheeks again.

When he didn't get a response, Rhys took the bucket from Syndra and splashed cold water on Sewell's face, taking care not to get it up his nose.

The old man moaned and mumbled, but he didn't seem at all aware of where he was - or even who he was.

Kenrith strode across the room, his face as wooden as any weirwood. "What has happened-- what has he done?" Kenrith asked, his hand moving to the hilt of the sword at his hip. He sniffed at the air and awaited a reply.

"I don't know. Rhys just brought him in this way. He thinks it's poison," Syndra answered, only sparing a moment to glance up at her cousin before turning back to help again.

"He was hit on the side of the head and poisoned! He didn't do anything!" Rhys replied vehemently. He turned his attention back to Sewell.

Rhys pulled his uncle onto his side and forced his fingers into Sewell's mouth, trying to get him to gag and bring up the poison from his stomach. "Syndra, get that empty bucket under him..."

Kenrith moved so he could see the side of the man's head. He wondered if such a wound could have been inflicted by a shovel.

"And what was he doing in the grove, Maester? I thought your uncle followed the Faith," Kenrith asked.

Syndra moved the bucket where Rhys indicated. Her face was a study in neutrality, but she stared at Kenrith intently, wondering where he was going with this.

"I don't know," Rhys replied, clearly puzzled. "It's strange. I don't know."

"Did you see anthing else there, anyone else... anything that could have been taken for-- anything strange?" Kenrith asked.

"The face in the tree had been slashed," Rhys answered distractedly, most of his attention on his uncle.

Syndra gasped. "The heart tree?" She looked back and forth between Rhys and Kenrith, her eyes wide with shock. "But why?! Why would anyone do such a thing?"

Kenrith lifted and inspected Sewell's right hand, and then his left.

There were no marks there, although there was a long scrape on the base of the palm of his left hand.

"I don't know, Syndra," Rhys admitted. "Hopefully we'll get some answers from my uncle when he wakes." Sewell had not vomited yet, but he had stopped foaming at the mouth.

Rhys took a moment to further inspect his uncle after Kenrith found the scrape on his palm. "It looks like he was hit with something flat and heavy," he said of the contusion on the side of Sewell's head. "Like the flat of a sword, maybe. Skull's not fractured..."

He quickly ran his hands over his uncle's body, looking for broken bones or other wounds, but didn't find anything else. "There's just the scrape on his palm. Look, it's green, like the tree... And his knife is missing--the little one he used for herbs."

"And he mentioned he was going out for herbs. Rhys... do you suppose it is possible your Uncle cut the heart tree, then drank the sap of his own volition? I have heard it said of poisons and drugs... that it is a matter of degree. If you needed to know if he took it deliberately... how would you check? Can you tell whether he has been force-fed, or not?" Kenrith asked softly, his eyes never leaving Rhys.

Rhys ran a hand over his face, considering.

Confusion gradually gave way to horror and Syndra paled as Kenrith spoke. "He knew something," Syndra said softly, staring at Kenrith. She had had suspicions, but had never voiced them for Rhys's sake. Now the stakes were too important.

"He knew the Boltons were coming. A raven came three weeks before they arrived, but Maester Sewell said it was nothing to worry about. Kenrith, you know the Boltons are *always* something to worry about. And now the ravens are gone and... and the heart tree." She stared at Kenrith to avoid looking at Rhys as she continued. "If... if he didn't... do this, what did he know that scared someone else so much? And if he did... what was he afraid of?" Syndra asked anxiously.

"I don't know what message that raven had--it could just as easily have been something else," Rhys replied to Syndra, defending his great-uncle. "And Sewell wouldn't have smashed up the rookery. He cares too much about the ravens to harm them. If I had to guess I'd point my finger at Eryk Bolton as the one guilty for that crime--he had motive and opportunity.

"As for the heart tree... " Rhys shook his head and threw up a hand. "Unless there are signs of a struggle, there's no way I know of to determine if my uncle took the poison deliberately or by force. Except that I know of no reason why he'd want to poison himself. And there is the blow to the head. Someone could've knocked him out and then put the poison in his mouth. But why? That doesn't make sense either. If the goal was to kill him, then why not finish him off with whatever hit him over the head?"

Still without looking away from Rhys, Kenrith said "Syndra, I may well need to send you to Winterfell with important news. Please return to your room, and rest as best as you're able. Don't speak of this to anyone unless you speak with me first," he said.

"Winterfell? Me?!" Syndra gasped, unsure that she'd heard him correctly. But Kenrith had never been one to joke, particularly about such a serious matter. She closed her mouth and gulped, stiffening her jaw to hold back her trepidation. The Hardys were not craven, and if she was needed, she would go.

"Not alone," he assured her as he glanced up and placed his hand on her shoulder for a minute.

Rhys startled at Kenrith's intent to send Syndra away and shot a glance in her direction. He wanted to protest--it wasn't safe!--but he swallowed hard instead.

"Rhys... you of all people should know what an old man might seek in that grove, what he might hypothesize based on what you've told him. You know your uncle... would he allow the sanctity of "northern superstition" stay his hand?" Kenrith asked carefully.

"I'm not sure I'm following you," Rhys said cautiously, looking back at Kenrith rather askance. One hand dropped to lay on his uncle's shoulder.

As Rhys and her cousin spoke, Syndra moved away from the table to make preparations for her departure, first stopping to check on her patient, who was currently being tended by Lora.

"I think you are," he replied to Rhys. "You told him about my being healed in the Weirwood. He has no love of superstition, and assumed there was, perhaps an herbal explanation for it-- some property of the heart tree. He cut the tree and dosed himself with the sap, took too much, and was subsequently struck. What is inconsistent with that account, Maester?"

Rhys blinked at Kenrith. "That time in the godswood? It wasn't the only time, Kenrith. I'd had...episodes before that night, when I was a boy in Dorne. And I've had many after, both here and at the Citadel. Sewell knew about them. And he knew that it was something inside me, some connection I have to the Seven, not some herb found in the godswood that was putting me into an altered state."

"Are you speaking of inspiration, or curing the summer fever with a touch?" Kenrith asked, then gave Rhys time to answer.

"I did not cure you of the summer fever, Kenrith--you cured yourself," Rhys replied, distressed at the misunderstanding. "I received insight that told me what needed to be done. You were the one that moved your limbs despite the pain. You see the difference? I am...I cannot...lay on hands and heal."

Kenrith nodded.

"In either event... Are you prepared to be held responsible for your uncle's conduct until he is well enough to stand trial, Rhys? If he flees, I must warn you... I would have to take your head. As it stands now, I have half a mind to take Sewell back to the grove and behead him on the spot..." Kenrith said gravely.

Rhys drew a sharp intake of breath, his expression incredulous as he stared at Kenrith.

This caught Syndra's attention as well. "Kenrith..." she breathed anxiously.

Kenrtith then lowered his voice and continued. "Rhys, if someone... -anyone- of this Holdfast has harmed that tree... do you have any comprehension of the extent to which we are all cursed?"

"No. I...don't understand your gods. But I believe in them. I...I don't think they like me. I feel their malice when I come into their presence. Perhaps it's because I'm marked somehow by the Seven."

"Or because this has been going on for too long," Kenrith said as he glanced down at Sewell.

Rhys straightened. "Ser Kenrith, I don't believe my uncle is guilty of any crime against the House he serves, and I will be responsible for his conduct."

Kenrith nodded sadly, and rubbed the corner of his eye with his thumb.

"I'll need your plaster of paris* and some gauze. I'll do what I can for the heart tree," Kenrith said. "If I'm wrong, it may be that the Old Gods will tell me so," he added.

 * or whatever he calls it.

Rhys nodded. "All right. I'll get that for you now. I've not had the time yet to attend to the things you charged me to do earlier. I'm sorry. It looks like I have one more patient I should attend to and then I can go," he said, glancing in the direction of the Bolton boy. "By your leave, of course."

His tone was inflectionless, not by emotion held in check, but rather by the sudden lack of it.

"I don't recognize that young man..." Kenrith said, half to himself.

Although not precisely clear permission from Kenrith, Rhys knew he should treat the boy soon if the boy was to live, so he decided to act as though it was permission and started moving.

The boy cowered down slightly in the bed, watching nervously.

"Kenrith, you'll see me before I... I have to go, won't you? I'll need to know what message you wish delivered," Syndra asked hesitantly, her face pale with worry.

"Yes, of course. You should take the messages which couldn't be sent by bird as well... so we don't have to send for them later," Kenrith said.

Rhys walked over to a shelf and pulled down a jar of reddish powder, which he handed to Kenrith. "Mix it with water to form a paste. I don't think you'll need the gauze."

He turned away to gather the things he'd need to treat the boy.

The boy was continuing to watch anxiously.

"Don't worry," Syndra assured the boy gently. "This is Maester Rhys. He can help you." Syndra moved aside to make room for Rhys. "Lora, please do whatever the Maester needs of you. I should check on my father before I go."

Kenrith had the plaster from Rhys, and was about to head out when he heard Syndra. He had to be introduced to Rhys?

"Who is this?" Kenrith asked Rhys and Lora.

Syndra looked up quickly. "His name is Hanley. He got caught in the fray. Lora helped him as far as the kitchens, but could not move him any further," she explained, regarding Kenrith levelly.

The boy cowered back on the bed. Lora was watching Kenrith belligerently - but it was clear that the kitchen girl was deathly afraid under her mask.

Kenrith glanced from Syndra, to the scared young man, to the scared maid. "I am not a fool. Someone present me their case honestly, and quit beating about the bush."

Syndra gathered herself to answer the question but...

Rhys came up, his arms full of bandages and pots and other various things.

"With all due respect, might I suggest Syndra explain where she found the boy--" and Rhys looked rather curiously at her, for he'd thought he'd left her sleeping by the hearth, "--to you elsewhere? You can use the anteroom at the bottom of the stairs--there's drink and probably some food there, and table and chairs. You can discuss...other things, too.

"Meanwhile, the boy is too hurt to go anywhere."

At Rhys's suggestion, Syndra moved away from the bed, but stopped before the hearth and turned to face Kenrith. Syndra was a Hardy and could be just as stubborn as her cousin if the situation warranted it. She drew herself up to her full height and never averted her gaze as she explained. "Hanley was with the Bolton retinue. But he did not draw on us. His blade was clean. His orders were to detain Evan Bolton. Nothing more. He was set upon by the Holdfast guards at Godwyn's order to kill all the Boltons. An order that I must say I believe my father would have disagreed with.

"If you wish to discuss this matter further, I suggest we retire to the anteroom as the Maester suggested. If we're going to argue about this, a sickroom is not the place." And she did indeed seem ready to defend her decision vehemently.

[Kenrith and Syndra continue in Arguments in the Anteroom]

Rhys watched them both leave with a certain amount of concern, but there was nothing to be done for it at the present and he had a patient that needed tending to.

He attended to the hurt boy with gentle hands and soft speech, using Lora as an assistant now that Syndra was gone. Keeping Lora around served a dual purpose, for it helped keep the boy quiet and complacent while Rhys worked on him.

The boy seemed to relax under Rhys's adminstrations, but he still looked worriedly towards the door.

"Why did they kill us?" he asked at one point. "We came here for a wedding .. "

Lora hushed him gently, but she did not look at Rhys.

"Whose wedding?" Rhys asked conversationally, keeping his tone neutral. "What were you told?"

"Ser Herys's son to Lady Syndra," said the boy at once. "Ser Herys came with his son to the Dreadfort and begged for a suitable retinue to accompany him to Holdfast, for he had but five men-at-arms of his own. So Lord Bolton dispatched twenty more of us from his own bannermen. Well, I'm almost a bannerman. I will be when my training is over."

His face crumpled as if he realized how very unlikely it was that his training would be completed.

"Where had Ser Herys been? I thought he resided at the Dreadfort," Rhys said, curious.

The boy shook his head. "Only on high days and holidays, and not always then, for 'tis said he makes his money by jousting at all the tournaments of the North - aye and some further south too. At the Dreadfort they say he travels more than a hedge knight, but he's grown prodigious wealthy by it, seemly. And he's lands of his own where his boy grew up."

"Oh? And where is that?" Rhys continued his questioning as he started stitching, partly for the information, and partly to keep the lad's mind off what he was doing.

"To the east of the Dreadfort," explained the boy. "It's poor land, though - which was why he looked to improve it by taking a new wife and making a good marriage for his son."

Rhys paused. "Who is his new wife? She didn't accompany him here."

As Syndra neared the door to the infirmary, she heard Rhys talking with the wounded boy. Not wishing to disturb them, she crept in quietly, with the intention of skirting around the room to go see her father. At the mention of someone's 'new wife', however, she bristled, slowing to hear the boy's answer to Rhys's question.

Kenrith was following not far behind, and nearly bumped into Syndra as she stopped-- apparently to evesdrop. Perhaps he should ask her about the missing funds the steward was so reticent to talk about-- she might have been keeping them under her mattress.

Kenrith cleared his throat and knocked on the jam of the door to announce their presence.

Rhys looked over his shoulder at the doorway. His expression was closed but his eyes lingered on their faces, searching... He nodded a greeting and turned back to his work. "New wife?" he prompted the boy.

Syndra frowned over her shoulder at Kenrith, then continued on toward her father's bedside. Her cousin could disapprove all he wanted, but he would not keep her from listening if people were discussing her future. She did have an interest in that subject, after all.

"It was to be a double wedding," said the boy. "First here - for the wedding of his son. Then, on the way back, Ser Herys himself was to be wed to the Lady Limosa of the Leaning Tower. Lord Bolton himself had made up the match. Lord Cerwyn of the Tower owed him a powerful amount of money, so he agreed as how the debt would be forgiven him if the girl brought his brother the lands and the Tower as her dowry. And Ser Herys's manor would then be given to Lord Bolton's [email protected] Ser Herys agreed, for it means he has more land."

"I see. He certainly had it all figured out, didn't he?" Rhys smiled to put the boy at ease and finished with the bandage. "There. You need rest now. Lora can stay here with you, as long as she's not shirking her kitchen duties." He smiled at Lora as well, then stood and turned to wash his hands in a basin of water.

Rhys looked over at Kenrith and Syndra. Surely they heard that last bit.

From across the room near her father's bed, Syndra met Rhys's eyes, but remained silent.

Kenrith nodded to Rhys, then walked over to Lora and the young soldier.

"Young man, I understand that you are one of Bolton's troops, but that you have apparently not violated guest right by obeying Herys' order to attack or committing other acts of sabotage. Is that correct?"

Hanley blinked at him.

"That's right, Ser," said Lora firmly.

"Behave yourself, then. I'll wish to speak with you after you're feeling better... I may need you to carry a message back to the Dreadfort, and I will certainly need some information on other men who came here with you,"

Kenrith picked up his bucket and strode out to the courtyard.

As she pulled up a stool to sit next to her father, Syndra silently watched Kenrith depart. After time enough for him to reach the bottom of the stairs, she looked back at Rhys from the candle-lit dimness. "Thank you, Rhys. For tending him," she said, nodding at the boy. "I promised him he'd come to no harm if he behaved."

"You're welcome," Rhys replied softly, studying her and trying to determine by her demeanor how her conversation with Kenrith went.

"I need to go upstairs and attend to something for Kenrith," he continued. "I'll be in the workroom at the top of the stairs if you need me. I shouldn't be gone too long.

"And looking for more strays tonight, all right?" Though his tone sounded exasperated, the smile on his lips let her know he was teasing. "Please keep a watch on my uncle for me."

Syndra giggled at his jest. "I will," she assured him.

Rhys glanced around the room to make sure everyone was taken care of for the moment and everything more-or-less in order before leaving to go upstairs.

Page last modified on February 19, 2007, at 09:14 PM