The Approaching Storm
The Laughing Knives had found the hospitality of House Stark to be a welcome relief from the harsh road they'd traveled. Within but a few days, they had regained their strength and morale. They were now drunk with excitement and vitality, ready to march into a host of Others if need be. Ser Rodrik Cassel had graciously allowed Corryn's men to train with the Stark guardsmen, as well as provided them with adequate supplies to maintain their operations in the field. It felt good to be running drills again. Having fought on both land and sea, the Knives were an unorthodox lot, but brutally effective with their use of crossbows, spears, and short swords. They gave the Starks a good testing, and the Starks in turn reminded the Knives that they would be fighting trained men-at-arms, not simple pirates.
The food and entertainments had been equally welcome. The Knives had enjoyed the many comforts of Winterfell heartily and, fortunately, without incident. Even so, Corryn secretly prayed not too many snows would be born by year's end. Phalan and the other landed knights could be very charming when they wished it.
But, as they were preparing to ride from Winterfell, Corryn saw that Killian was looking unusually grim - and unusually sober.
Killian was renowned for his nocturnal activities, so it surprised Corryn to see a dour expression on the man's face.
After saddling Valarr, his latest mount, the Riverwolf approached his nuncle and patted him on the shoulder. "We'll soon be back, if that's what you're worrying about," he said warmly. "I'm certain the maid will remember you."
Killian snorted as he mounted. "'Tis not that. She'll remember me right enough."
He swung into the saddle and then stared north with an intensity that was a little unsettling. Finally he turned slightly in his saddle and spoke to Corryn.
"How much of a hurry are we in? Could we swing aside from the King's Road for a night, or maybe two?" Killian's eyes were his finest feature, large and dark like Ciara's ... and they were now fixed firmly on Corryn's face. "A family matter."
Family matters were never something taken lightly by the Dornish. Corryn understood this all too well. He had sand in his veins and had been raised almost solely by a Snake. He was truly more Dorne than Northman. So, it wasn't long before he met the man's gaze evenly and nodded.
"Of course," he said, lightly guiding his horse into motion. "But you realize that I am on a family matter, as well, nuncle. If I am to tarry in helping my Little Bear, I need to know the cause I am undertaking."
The importance of this statement would not be lost on Killian. Like Phalan, his nuncle was one of the few men aware of Corryn's relationship with Morna Hardy and his love for the woman's daughter. He didn't need to look inside his heart to know that Corryn's overprotectiveness for Syndra stemmed from his sense of failing his true love. Nor would he question it. To the man, the Laughing Knives held many secrets, many sorrows. They knew each other as they knew themselves. It was why they would die for one another and risk all at the asking.
"It's my sister. Half-sister - as Ciara was from my father's side, so Lilith is from my mother's. But trueborn - after my father pensioned my mother off and made a good marriage for her. They were always rather ashamed of me - proof of how my mother had acquired her dowry. And I was brought up as the Lord's son in the castle, after a fashion, while they lived on the fringes. So I've not kept in touch - but I knew Lilth had married a man from the North and always meant to look her up one day. They have a holdfast towards the Long Lake. Last night - I heard the name mentioned. They said the man had been near ruined ... drinking ... gambling. There's talk the holdfast must be sold to pay debts. It came to me to look in on Lilith and see if I could help - before we go striding into the hornets' nest you have planned for us."
Lilith? He had heard mention of her in passing from Ciara and Killian before. Although he had never met the woman, she was still family. Killian could not have thrown a more effective obstacle in his path. A lady's honor is everything. He remembered that from a simpler time, and had lived by it since. If they rode hard enough, they could deal with this issue and still circle around to ride on Holdfast from the north.
In addition, a holdfast this close to the Hardys and Starks might be of great benefit to him, as well. He had garnered more than enough coin in the last two years to offer a reasonable payment. Yes, perhaps this was worth their time after all.
"Then we ride for our sister, nuncle," he said. "But we will not leave Godfrey completely without comfort. Get the men moving and I will catch up with you in a moment."
Corryn fell back from the lance's formation and rode up beside the squires following close behind. Like the rest of the Laughing Knives, they had been hand-chosen for their role and had each served under Corryn at some time. They called in welcome and after exchanging morning greetings, he pulled along side Volf. The boy he had fostered so many years had recently turned seven and ten. Gone were the youthful features had harden over the last nine years into aquiline regality. So too had the boy's heart, transforming the timid child into a cunning predator. His brutal talent with an axe won him praise from all his peers.
Volf smiled lightly, "Ser."
"Volf," Corryn said. "You have always watched over me, yes?"
"Aye, sir. You are my captain and always shall be."
"Then I can trust you to watch over something precious to me?"
Volf sniffed, as if the very question was an insult. "You don't need to ask, ser. Whatever you command shall be done."
Corryn reached over and squeezed the man's leathered shoulder. "I meant no offense, my friend."
This appeared to appease Volf somewhat, but he continued to stare back with ice-blue eyes. Corryn patted his shoulder again and looked away as he talked.
"I need you to ride to Holdfast as quickly and quietly as you can. You are to attend to Ser Godfrey the moment you arrive. You have the blessings of White Harbor and Winterfell, so let none stand in your way. Tell him that I am riding on Holdfast as he has requested, as well as the behest of House Stark. Lady Stark has asked me to oversee the transfer of power should Lord Oswain die. We will arrive in five days time, seven at most."
Volf nodded to this request, but could sense there was more. Corryn did not disappoint. "Once that is done, you are to serve as the personal guard for Godfrey and his daughter. Of the Knives, you and Phalan are the only faces Lady Syndra might recognize. You recall her. You fetched her sweet rolls…"
"Oh, I remember, ser," For the first time in a year, Volf truly smiled. The wistful expression seemed out of place on his hard face. "I pined for her for weeks, ser."
Corryn smirked, "Yes, I recall you using up all my ink to write rather terrible sonnets."
"Yes ser," Volf admitted stonily.
"Then it should not be too much effort to make sure she is safe until I arrive."
"No ser," Volf said, nodding his head resolute.
"Then be off with you and watch your back. These Tollets may wish to stick a knife in it. And I have plans for you yet, my friend."
After a brief parting, Volf rode off on his charger, leaving the Laughing Knives to make their way north.
Corryn fell in along side his fellow knights, and then called for a quick march. The Laughing Knives let out a cheer and picked up the pace. As the small band marched out of Winterfell and onto the King's Road and began singing. Their delightful call echoed over the trees and stones for all to hear.
"Slicey-dicey, oncey-twicey, Take a knife, And cut them nicely! Will they stand, Not a chance, They see our flag, And s&$% their pants… Here we come, Our banners high, Stand before us, And ye shall die!"