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The Calm Before The Storm -- Rhys

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After his interesting talk with Sewell, Rhys checked on Ser Godfrey and the others still in the Tower, then took his leave for a while and went to go look for Daft Ed, the gardener's half-witted son.

He found him digging a long deep row for the planting out of root vegetables in the kitchen garden. He seemed so intent on the task as to be unaware of Rhys's approach.

"Ed!" Rhys called out.

When Ed turned, he saw the maester smiling and holding up food and a skin of something to drink.

"Come sit with me and talk. I have sweet rolls from the kitchen and some sweet wine to go along with them."

Ed came shambling over eagerly, once he had set down the spade with oddly careful precision.

Rhys noted this.

Such treats, it was clear, did not come his way very often. His face was guileless; if Rhys had an ulterior motive for this, Ed did not suspect it.

He gave Ed a roll and a cup of wine and sat down with him under a tree. "How are you, Ed? Are you doing well?" Rhys asked around a mouthful of sweet roll.

Ed nodded eagerly but made no audible reply until after he had swallowed, lacking Rhys's dexterity with food and conversation combined.

Then he said, "The Old Ones are watching after me, I reckon."

"Oh? Why do you say that?" Rhys asked.

"Cos I protected 'em when 'e wanted to hurt 'em," said Ed simply.

"Who wanted to hurt them?" Rhys asked.

"The old Maester," said Ed. "Maester Sewell. Or a demon what looked like him." He nodded sagely.

"I see," Rhys said, nodding sagely back. "Are you the one that struck Maester Sewell in the head with your shovel t'other night?"

Ed nodded cheerfully. "I had to stop 'un hurting the wood," he said. "Only I missed, like."

"You missed? Look like you hit him pretty squarely to me. What were you aiming for?"

"I was aiming for him," explained Ed, "only I caught the tree a blow too."

"I see," Rhys replied thoughtfully. "Did the Gods tell you to hurt Maester Sewell, or did you decide to do that yourself?"

"The gods directed my arm!" said Ed proudly. "I was the Tool to stop him."

Rhys nodded. "I understand. Ed, answer me though, did the Old Gods tell you to hurt Maester Sewell? Or did you decide to do that yourself?"

"It was like a red mist coming down on me," said Ed. "It must have been the gods, mustn't it?"

"Perhaps," Rhys conceded. He refilled Ed's cup and gave him another sweet roll. "Some men talk about seeing a red mist when they're very angry. Were you angry and then you saw the red mist?"

"Very angry," agreed Ed cheerfully, setting about the sweet roll with gusto.

"Did you hear the Gods then? Did they talk to you somehow?" Rhys asked, pressing the point.

Ed shook his head.

"It were the mist, the red mist," he explained to Rhys, patiently. "That were the gods."

"Thank you, Ed."

Rhys spent a few more minutes making small talk with Ed, discussing gardening, and the weather, and things important to the simple man. He left the sweet rolls with Ed but took the wine back with him.

After leaving Ed, Rhys went in search of Kenrith.

He didn't have to go far to find him. Kenrith had returned not long ago, and given care of two horses to the grooms with instructions on where to return one wagon and horse the next day. He was at the water pump, washing the dust of the road from his arm and face... which required deft movement to pump the handle, get his arm under the stream, then resume pumping before the flow stopped.

"May I help?" Rhys asked, indicating the pump.

Kenrith looked up from what he was doing suddenly, and the look he gave Rhys was not a friendly one. The anger faded quickly, though, perhaps indicating he knew to to be in some sense misdirected.

Rhys pretended not to notice.

"Yes, please," he said another moment later as he looked around to see who was nearby. None were presently in earshot, so he added "Edlyn tried to take herself and the children to the Eirie," in a quiet matter-of-fact flat tone which belied the meaning of his words.

"Because she feared for their position, with Lord Hardy seriously ill and now their mother injured?" Rhys asked as he worked the pump.

"More immediately, because she thinks me a heartless monster capable of anything to preserve my 'twisted' code of honor," he said in a voice which failed to remain as even as he would have liked.

"And did you convince her of the truth of the matter, that you're not and intend to care for her and her siblings as you would full-blooded relatives?" Rhys continued, watching Kenrith closely.

"I convinced her it would be safer to return without resorting to threats, and told her more of the truth of Syndra's letter than I would have liked... but that is more than enough of this, at least for now. How are your patients?"

"I'm glad she returned, " Rhys replied, then nodded, following the change in topic. "Ser Godfrey is doing well. Due to his age and the nature of the injury, the road to full recovery will be long and perhaps never fully completed--it's likely he will walk with a limp, and I'm afraid that his riding days are over.

"Maester Sewell's fever has broken, but he is not recovering as well as I would like. He is still very weak.

"The majority of my other patients are recovered well enough that I have sent them back to their homes to be taken care of by their families. A handful still remain, along with the Bolton boy that Syndra rescued, but the situation is manageable."

"Could the Bolton boy be released, if there was a need?" he asked as he finished his preliminary ablutions.

Rhys thought back to his memory of barging in on the boy as the boy considered holding a pillow over the old maester's face to smother him. He'd set someone to watch the boy afterwards, but he'd still feel better if the boy was gone from the Tower. "Yes."

"And Sewell... is he well enough for you to speak with him about the event?"

Rhys let go of the pump and stood up straight. "Yes. And I have done so. I suggest we talk about it elsewhere."

Kenrith nodded and led the way. Before not-too-long, they had reached his room and the door was closed. He moved to his preferred seat by the window and motioned for Rhys to continue.

Rhys, since he was not offered a chair, continued to stand. He clasped his hands in front of him and looked at Kenrith gravely. "What you suspected is true. Sewell did bore the little holes in the tree and the godsap is keeping him alive well beyond his normal span of years. He told me he was one-hundred-and-thirty."

Kenrith frowned, then motioned for him to have a seat. "Go on..."

Rhys pulled up a stool and sat as bid.

"I would like to make a plea for his life," he continued earnestly. "Maester Sewell is an invaluable resource to Winterfell. By lengthening his own life, he has been able to not only serve longer, but better. Winterfell has certainly benefited from my great-uncle's vast knowledge and experience.

"It can be inferred that he meant no harm to the heart tree, but only to share in its bounty, as it's apparent this has been going on for some time and yet the tree is still healthy and full of life."

"Has he communicated his results to maesters in southern holdings, or northern ones for that matter?" Kenrith asked, now speaking fully through his lordface.

"I do not know."

"Imagine what would happen if, tomorrow, he did," Kenrith said slowly.

"You would undoubtedly have a lot of unwanted attention. Ultimately Winterfell would be overrun by stronger holding lords with delusions of immortality. Civil war could possibly ensue," Rhys replied. "That these or similar things have not happened imply that my great-uncle has not communicated his findings."

"And suppose Edlyn knew... she'd slash the trunk and feed the sap to her mother the moment our backs were turned. Speaking of which, has he been using this on his patients? Is this how he proposed to treat my arm? Is this how he's been tending my father?"

Rhys exhaled and looked down at his lap briefly, collecting his thoughts. He looked back up at Kenrith. "Ed the gardener's son is the one responsible for injuring my great-uncle, and he admitted to accidentally marring the heart tree in the process.

"I do not know to what extent Sewell has been using the godsap, but I think it unwise to assume that it is a panacea that will cure every ill and condition under the sun, or even work the same way in every man."

"Nevertheless, should anyone learn of this, men and women across the world will be cutting into heartwood trees to stave off illness, cure a runny nose that might turn sour, or live just a bit longer. One maester drilling may not have done harm, as you suggest, to not begin to speak of the blasphemy..." Kenrith said before stopping and shaking his head slowly.

Rhys looked at Kenrith silently, his face grave.

Both men were silent for some time, as Kenrith thought, or perhaps brooded. "Tell me more about what you learned from Ed."

"He saw Sewell drilling into the tree and became very angry. He struck at him with his shovel and slashed the face of the tree in the process. He believes the Old Gods directed his hand, which he describes as a red mist coming down on him after he saw Sewell and felt the great anger. I believe he's misinterpreting the cause of the red mist, and that there was no supernatural element involved."

Kenrith again remained silent to contemplate, but not for nearly as long as their previous mutual silence.

"What natural red mist are you talking about?"

"Have you heard the phrase 'seeing red' in reference to someone who is very angry?" Rhys asked.

Kenrith snorted. "By that logic, your uncle is lying and 65," Kenrith said.

"Not at all," Rhys replied blandly. "We learned of this at the Citadel in my medical studies. There are documented cases of men who became so angry that a sort of red mist descended over their normal vision and they ceased to see reason--perhaps it arose from an increased blood flow to the area around the eyes. The mechanism in the body that produced the red mist is not known, only that it appeared in men who were greatly angry, as Ed indicated he was when he saw my uncle taking sap from the tree."

"You mistake my point, though... Your uncle claims to be 130 years of age. What does the Citadel say of such claims?" Kenrith replied, just a hair testy.

Rhys shifted his position on the stool and looked at Kenrith curiously. "Your point being that if there is no supernatural explanation behind Ed's red mist, then my uncle's claim couldn't possibly be true, either?"

"My point being, that if you've accepted one seemingly-impossible thing today, one closely associated with both incidents, that you should not discount the possibility that something beyond our usual understanding was involved in the second incident... and to persuade you of this before I offer more information," Kenrith said.

"When you spoke to Ed today, and when you've spoken with him before... how would you describe him, his mind and character?" Kenrith asked.

Rhys spread his hands. "Ed is slow and simple, and he has shown to have a good heart. I have to admit I was surprised at his violent act, though sometimes very simple minds don't have as strong a sense of right and wrong."

"Well then... on my way to the grove, where he, by chance and at the worst possible time, happened to encounter your uncle, he spoke to me. Very articulately, and with a peculiar attitude. I would not say that it was the Old Gods speaking through him... but that all at work was natural, I wouldn't say that either," Kenrith explained quietly.

"What did he say? And can you describe 'peculiar'?" Rhys asked, his tone curious again.

Kenrith rubbed his temples with thumb and middle finger as he tried to remember.

"I think I called him the wrong name at first, then recalled he was Ed. I asked if he'd seen where you went. He answered that you'd gone to the godswood, and further that you had another with you. I guess all of that was his usual self, but he did say something about "The Old Ones" not taking something easy, that there'd be trouble... I tried to draw him out, and he answered in a deep voice-- one very different from his own. 'Sacrilege.'" Kenrith said before pausing.

"I've seen men in a red rage, and after... this was more than that," Kenrith said.

Rhys gazed back sadly, though it seemed to Kenrith as if he was looking at him but not really seeing him, the gaze also vacant. His shoulders slumped. "Is there a way he can make atonement?" he asked quietly.

"First, have you told me all that you can of what he told you? For instance, did he drink the sap because his head happened to fall such that it fell in?" Kenrith asked.

Rhys sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I forgot to ask him if he knew what exactly was in his mouth, why, and who put it there. I guess I was so overwhelmed with the 'I'm one-hundred-and-thirty years old' confession that it pushed other things from my mind. I'm sorry. A lot has happened and I've not exactly been myself lately."

"I'm right that he won't live long without more sap though, right?" Kenrith asked, fatigue evident in his voice.

"That's correct."

"There are occasions when the kindest thing to do, as when a horse breaks its leg or a man's bowels are pricked on the field of battle, when a swift and painless death is the kindest option. It is said that maesters are knights of the mind..." Kenrith said, seriously.

"If I am forced to judge your uncle, the -kindest- option open to me is a swift, and ignominious, death. Though, in theory, he could take the Black... living with what he has done, travelling to the Wall... it would not be a kindness," Kenrith said.

"I asked a question earlier concerning atonement," Rhys said. "I do not know the tenets of your religion. Is there no recourse?"

"How can a man give back a stolen lifetime? For that matter, I've observed your uncle... something more like grand-uncle I assume?.. to alternate between the vibrant energy of a man less than his -apparent- age, and also have seen him so very tired. You must have seen the same... and in treating a patient under stressful conditions, don't you think this has had an impact? Might this be the reason a skilled healer let Syndra's mother die at his hands? We both know that it was the reason he left my father and step-mother's sides... And a man does not simply decide one day to abandon the convention, the hospitality, of his hosts and walk into their most sacred grove and drill a few holes in the tree which is faced when worship is undertaken..." Kenrith spoke softly, and rather than through a mask, his voice was empathetic rather than berating.

Rhys stood up abruptly, knocking the stool over. "I do not know where you got the idea that he intentionally let Syndra's mother die," he said, fighting to keep his voice under control. "He is a good man, worthy in experience and intellect to be an archmaester. He brought me out of the desert, led me to realize that my ability to hear the gods when they tell me what is wrong with a person is a gift, not a curse. He sent me to the Citadel to learn to be a healer. Because of him, you and Godwyn and Syndra still live instead of having perished from the summer fever..."

His voice cracked at the end and Rhys trailed off, his fists clenching and unclenching at his sides. He furiously cast about in his mind for a way out of the quandary his great-uncle was in but instead found himself floundering in the deep waters of admitted sacrilege.

"I do not know his motivations for why he did what he did," Rhys continued after a moment, his voice husky with emotion. "He should be allowed to defend himself before judgment is passed."

Kenrith waited for him to finish, and just stared at him.

"Why does no one listen to what I say?" Kenrith asked, rhetorically, before growing grim. "Sit down."

Rhys mechanically righted the stool and sat back down.

"I suggested his advanced age and dependency left him unfit to save Syndra's mother, not that he did it on purpose. My -point-, however, was that even if he was contrite for the -act- of repeated sacrelige, there would still be the question of breach of hospitality, possibly manslaughter. We have not even begun to the part of the conversation where we discuss what -I- will do, we are instead discussing -your- options and trying to understand the full weight of the matter," Kenrith said while staring into Rhys's eyes and looking for any sign of defiance.

Rhys was not looking at him, but instead looking at his hands in his lap. "Please forgive me for my outburst. I am listening, milord, as you tell me what my options are," he said flatly.

Obviously not pleased by what he took for feigned obedience, he replied, "And do I need to remind you of your obligations as well? Scrape the wax out of your ears, go back to Sewell, and speak with him again. Ask -him- whether he wishes a trial. Offer him his choices-- a quiet, shameless, painless death owing to his injuries, a trial and the scandal that comes with it on his name and your own followed by his beheading if the townsfolk's urgings don't require him to die broken on a rack, or you murdering me in my sleep. Frankly, we would all be better off if you murdered me than if there was a trial."

Rhys rose. When he looked up, Kenrith didn't see the expected defiance in his eyes, only numb detachment. "Anything else, milord, or may I leave now?"

"Should I take it from your not even trying to respond that you have no response?"

"What response do you desire from me, Kenrith?" Rhys asked, daring to talk to him familiarly. "I found out today that my uncle, who I love like a father and have the deepest respect for, has committed sacrilege and breach of hospitality against the holding he took an oath to serve--not just once, but repeatedly. And now in the wake of that storm, you order me to go find out from him just how he prefers to die--for there is no recourse, no atonement, no mercy, and all paths lead to the same final end, one of the brightest candles in all of Westeros snuffed out.

"I am near the edge of losing control of my own emotions regarding this matter and I sought to leave your presence before I did, for I have no response left except great anger at my uncle for betraying my trust and overwhelming grief over your decision to execute him, and neither is appropriate for a servant to display in front of his lord.

"May. I. Leave?"

"I have decided nothing, nor given you any orders other than to sit... I was attempting to advise you. This has nothing to do with -desire-," he all but hissed. As he continued, he didn't raise his voice, but he was far from dispationate "I do not wish to see harm come to your uncle, or sorrow to you. I do not -desire- what we've learned to be true. I do not wish Stark to part my head from my shoulders. I did not want to kill Herys, or the rapatious Bolton man, or to leave off sending Herys' bones home. You want Sewell to live, despite the law. You want Syndra for your wife. Tough. You are the acting maester of this keep, and I the lord. What we wish is _dust_ before the crushing weight our -duty-."

Rhys flushed and lowered his chin. "I do not understand you. You offer me limited choices for Sewell's fate, yet say you have decided nothing. You tell me to go ask him how he prefers to die, yet say you have ordered me to do nothing but sit. When I ask to leave that I might attend to what you have bid me to do, you lecture me of desire and duty, as if I have put desire in front of duty, or as if I have neglected my duty.

"Have I neglected my patients? Have I not forgone food and sleep to attend to my responsibilities? Did I not risk my life to prevent Syndra from being raped? Did I not run to attend Ser Godfrey in the middle of the tourney field while men fought around me? I have even stood up to Ser Anders and risked his very great displeasure on your behalf for the sake of Winterfell.

"Have I not accepted your claims of sacrilege on the part of my uncle? I may _desire_ a different outcome, but _have I not accepted them_?

"With due respect to your rank, milord, I understand what duty is. I live it every day, to the best of my ability, _even though_ I have not yet officially taken all my binding oaths as a maester. If this is not a sufficient display of duty to milord, I suggest you send me back to the Citadel from whence my uncle called me forth prematurely for the sake of your father.

"If it is, then I respectfully request for your leave to go attend to my duty and INQUIRE HOW MY UNCLE WISHES TO DIE."

"Please, keep your voice down, for all of our sakes... I'll try to explain, but give me a moment to think..." Kenrith said urgently as he quietly crossed the room to the door, openned it to see who might be listening behind it, (and assuming he doesn't find Edlyn or anyone else listening) closed it once again and crossed to the wash basin and pitcher full of well water beside it. The water had gone tepid since morning, but it was fine for his purposes. He poured some into the wooden cups which sat beside the basin and handed one to Rhys.

Rhys took the cup numbly.

He then proceeded to wash his face once again. When he turned around to face Rhys, his lordface was gone.

Kenrith's face was a war between determination and dispair, sadness and anger, frustration and fatigue. Now that he had wholy abandoned his lordface, his voice carried these competing notes as well. Indeed, he had to move a bit closer so his soft, husky voice could be heard over his own choking which he tried to drown with periodic sips from his cup.

"I'm sorry, Rhys... I know I'm not being very clear. Half of what I'm saying hasn't made its way to my lips," he said as he sighed and tapped his temple to indicate where the other half still resided. "I'll try to explain," he said slowly.

"First off, how should you be taking all of this... I understand that you aren't a full maester, but unless you wish to insist otherwise, I consider you the -acting- maester of this Holdfast. As such, you can get away with saying just about anything to me -in private-, though there is plenty of bad news which I'll need to be told only in private to avoid spooking the guards... who are already on the verge of mutiny. I need your heartfelt council... which is why I was angered when you backed off on me earlier," Kenrith said, growing somewhat calmer as he spoke about his anger.

Rhys sighed and passed a shaking hand over his face. "I wasn't sure where my place was with you. We were friends and familiar with each other as boys, but now I'm acting maester--as you said--and you're a knight and acting lord, and I didn't know if we were supposed to go back to that familiarity or if you expected something more...formal. I chose wrongly. I'm sorry."

"The reason I haven't passed judgement on your uncle is twofold... maybe more-fold than that," he said as he started to tick off on his fingers with his thumb. "If I pass judgement now, I imagine I might find him guilty... but by not considering that point formally, I have more lattitude. I also need to hear his side of things, as you pointed out, and while I do trust you've told me everything truthfully I still haven't heard it from Sewell... which is another reason to at least delay judgement. If I judge him, then I need to do something about my judgement, and after the Steward ran off and with everyone injured... well, that would look very bad. I was hoping you would think of some alternative, some viable alternative, to those I suggested," Kenrith explained.

Surprise passed over Rhys's face. "I came in here assuming you'd already found him guilty and wanted to pass judgment and execute my uncle for his sacrilege to your Gods. Apparently I was wrong again." He seemed calmer as he came to the realization that he'd probably misread a lot of the situation.

Kenrith paused for a moment, and nodded. He wanted to collect his thoughts, and knew Rhys needed to do the same. Before too long though, he resumed his explanations.

"Atonement... I'm not sure if that is possible, and if it is, it is up to the Old Gods. I avoided it as much for my own fears as my uncertainty, though... you see, I think he may have sent you sap in that last dose of medicine. I went to the grove, and was healed by it. My cousin was younger, his dose was proportionately larger, and he did not go to the grove... and was poisoned by it. He couldn't very well tell you to only give it to me alone, and may well have hoped it would help all of us... or maybe that part doesn't make sense, and I'm mistaken, but I still fear I may have been led to do something worse than simply dying. Like canibalism, kinslaying, or incest. Anyway, the question of atonement is entirely separate from that of judgement. Atonement is between him and the Gods... were I to find that he is guilty of what we're discussing, I'd have little choice," Kenrith said before taking a deep breath.

Rhys's eyes cast about the room as he thought back to those dark days, remembering. It was not a pleasant memory and he shook his head. "You didn't receive any medicine that the others didn't also receive, Syndra and Trey and Godwyn. Sewell gave me a vial later, which he said was milk of poppies, and to give it to you and Trey when the end was inevitable, which I did for Trey. I didn't give you any--we took you to the Grove instead--so you couldn't have gotten the sap from that.

"Kenrith, to the best of my knowledge, Sewell didn't give you any of the sap to drink. He gave me dry herbs to give to you, and powders, but nothing liquid or in a paste that we didn't make ourselves, or Old Sally made..."

Old Sally was a variable he couldn't account for, and Rhys trailed off, thinking about it.

Kenrith gave a lop-sided shrug, and nodded. He seemed to be accepting what Rhys was saying, as he looked reasured and bolstered by his words.

"I spoke hastily when I suggested you go speak to your uncle about my three options... and I did think them options, rather than orders. If I'm forced to judge your uncle, and he is guilty, there are a number of negative consequences beyond his death... for all of us, but you especially. I believed, and perhaps I spoke too soon, that he would agree death after a formal trial would be the last thing he wants. My second option would let him leave in peace, with his reputation intact. He'd perhaps be able to leave you final instructions, and reveal who-knows what secrets. I'm not neccesarily suggesting you murder him... but my third option was meant to indicate the moral complexities of siding with your uncle over the Holdfast. -I- don't think this can end well without him going to meet higher powers... but I'm open to suggestions, even if I can't think of any," Kenrith said with a sigh and a shake of his head. His shoulders had slowly sagged as he spoke.

"You probably should speak with him, but I'm concerned he may take desperate measures to preserve his life. He's already done quite a bit to continue it... and he may be willing to blackmail me with a choice between trying him and having the news come out and allowing him to continue tapping the heart tree. I know you care for him, and never would have believed he was capable of such a thing. I wouldn't have believed it either... but we were wrong, and he did," he continued.

"I should add... while I -do- believe something supernatural happened, I do not believe it was the often-benign old gods. It happened at the worst possible time in recent memory, to someone ill equipped to handle the situation... and he defaced the face in his swing. My own prayers on the matter... I'm not comfortable going into detail, but I believe there may be worse forces at work than man's quest for youth."

Rhys stared at Kenrith silently.

"I ordered you to remain simply because I don't want you to leave angry... and failing that, I don't want you to leave angry for the wrong reasons. I... there may be a grain of truth in Edlyn's concern that I've become some kind of a monster, and if I make the wrong call... I need your help, Rhys. I wear the lordface so I can make the hard decisions, risk my cousin and brother to save my younger siblings and the Holdfast. so that my feelings won't control my actions. But I do feel them."

The young maester nodded, understanding now. "If I can get away with saying just about anything to you--in private--then also--in private--you can drop the lordface and talk to me plainly. I need to know your thoughts if I am to offer cogent advice."

Rhys paused to gauge Kenrith's reaction.

"I'll... try. It will be hard," Kenrith said before taking a deep breath.

[Rhys] continued, "All right, here I am going to take you at your word and be frank with you. Kenrith, if Sewell is found guilty, what paths of action are you willing to consider? Even before your three options of how Sewell could choose death, I think there are two even more basic options that I need your answer to first before going further.

"If he is found guilty there is the obvious punishment/execution option--you've talked about that. But there is also the option to ignore what happened and bury it. And there is also the option to find some way to explain what happened to the commonfolk in such a way that he's not found guilty.

"Which of these three are you willing to consider?" Rhys's expression, as he gazed at Kenrith, was deadly serious. "I can provide suggestions for the the latter two, if wanted. As I said earlier, I firmly believe my uncle is a much better asset to Holdfast alive rather than dead. But if there is indeed a supernatural element to this situation, as you suggested, the consequences of harboring the guilty could be dire.

"Are you convinced there is a supernatural element? And what options are you willing to consider?"

"In general, I'm willing to consider all options, but I see difficulties with what you suggest. I included this incident in my letter to Stark, in case I didn't survive to see the resolution of it... but to return to the other half of it, yes I'm convinced there is a supernatural element," Kenrith said as he rubbed the bridge of his nose and took another sip of his water.

"If I break my oathes, then frankly I expect supernatural punishment, but that is a personal matter between me and the gods. This transcends that..." Kenrith said before his voice grew more solemn, and his cadence slowed further.

"There are stories, Rhys... ones I recall only dimly, but you know my family has long been associated with the Wall... perhaps since Brandon the Builder first set out to build it, perhaps longer still. I do not have words to express what I remember of these stories... it is like," he said as his hand reached out and slowly grasped at the air, as if to take hold of something neither one could see.

"There are dark things, Rhys. Things that hate man, hate my Gods, hate everything which is worth defending. They are not named. Perhaps they are nameless... and I fear they may have been involved in what happened to your Uncle. Perhaps what he did, in some cosmic sense... perhaps it permitted them to act, to make an awful situation worse. But I know something isn't right here, Rhys... I know it in my blood and in my bones. I truly pray the -worst- which has happened is past us, that Sewell is a half-mad man of 70 years who has been experimenting with things he should have left alone, and that a fool grew angry and struck him before speaking to me in a funny manner... but no, I don't believe that is the case."

Rhys stared into the middle space between Kenrith and himself, thinking on Kenrith's words. "You think that the Old Gods here stand as protectors of us and this land from those Others, and that my uncle's actions caused a breach in the defenses?"

Kenrith shook his head, shrugged, then nodded.

"That is as close to what I'm trying to say, I think, as we're likely to arrive at," he said a moment later.

"I don't think this is something you should mention immediately to your uncle... but it may be that I can delay in the hopes of returning the decision to Godfrey when he is well. At any rate, it will give us both time to think on the situation," Kenrith said, but it did not sound like a dismissal.

By Rhys's expression it was clear he didn't have high hopes in convincing Godfrey of anything where his uncle was concerned, but he remained silent on that point.

"We cannot tarry too long on this," Rhys said in a soft voice. "Sewell cannot live long without the sap." He didn't actually come out and ask Kenrith for permission to continue to tap the tree, but the request was implicit.

"I understand, but until I've had time to consider this in the grove, he is not to have any. I will go from here to there, unless something else urgent arises," Kenrith said.

Rhys nodded. He didn't expect permission, but he needed to make the request nonetheless for his uncle's sake.

"I can spend some time searching through my uncle's library today," Rhys stated. "Maybe there will be something in there that's relevant to this situation." He flexed his fingers and his eyes took on a faraway look. "Ah, if only I had access to the Citadel's library!"

"Be careful Rhys... as I worried earlier, I don't want to see you sucked into the same dangerous pursuits as your uncle..."

"I am young and idealistic, thirsty for knowledge but not interested in power," Rhys smiled. "I'm the perfect candidate to go researching. I'll be fine."

This seemed to exacerbate, rather than quiet, Kenrith's fears. "I'm not certain of course, but I expect your uncle would have said something very similar... apart from 'young,' of course."

Rhys's attempt at levity failed. He paused, then prudently changed the subject.

"One last thing..." Rhys said, looking up at Kenrith. "What to do about Ed? I think it would be detrimental to let him spread the tale of what happened in the grove--I think one of us should talk to him."

"We're not denying your uncle was found in the grove with a blow to his head... too many know that already. If he chooses to spread that tale, it won't be good for him... but you're free to speak with him if you'd like. Be careful... I can't have you getting bashed on the head too," he said with a weak smile.

Rhys shook his head. "I have a fondness for Ed. He loves working the earth and nurturing his gardens, and those are things we both have in common. I don't wish to have ill befall him, either."

The young maester stood. "This has been an...enlightening conversation on several fronts. Thank you for talking to me when I became irrational. It...helped. I will strive not to require a repeat performance in the future.

"If there's nothing else, I will take my leave?"

Rhys paused at the door and turned back around. "Kenrith...may you also find answers today in the grove. I will pray that your Gods speak to you in a definable way."

And with that, Rhys bowed and left.

Kenrith simply nodded.

Page last modified on July 14, 2007, at 08:35 PM