The Great Hall at Winterfell
The great hall at Winterfell could have been austere - but it was summer and the great hangings were not needed for warmth and served more to display the triumphs of the House instead.
Already many of the bannerkights and followers of Lord Stark had gathered. One was standing a little apart from the rest - a man in his mid-twenties, lean and wiry, slightly above medium height, with a narrow face that had no particular beauty, save for his large, dark, liquid eyes. He was standing near the great fireplace, gazing pensively down at the smouldering logs. There seemed to be a tension about him, which several of his fellows seemed to remark on, without making any attempt to interrupt his reverie. At every new entrance to the Hall he looked up, his face intent.
But then three parties entered almost simultaneously.
From the barracks, Corryn entered, with Volf at his heels.
From the courtyard, Benjen entered, the men of the Nightwatch attending him. At his side was someone well-known to Corryn and Volf - the man known as Evan Tamm.
At almost the same moment, a third group came down the stairs from the solar. First came the Lady Catelyn, elegant in a gown of blue velvet trimmed with gold. Behind her, under the escort of the Septa, first came the Ladies, Sansa and Arya - the latter displaying an unusual wariness that indicated how late her elevantion to the dining hall was. Behind them came Syndra and Limosa, Limosa dressed in a gown of blue wool, with shoes firmly upon her feet. Her wild hair was braided neatly and she seemed subdued. But as soon as she was within the room, she was looking around. Her eye fell on Corryn; she gave a small smile and a nod.
Syndra Hardy entered the Hall carrying herself like the noble she was. She wore a simple gown of emerald green, adorned only with tastefully stitched oak leaves and acorns in golds and browns at sleeve and hem. Her soft honey-colored curls were shorter than most who had been at Holdfast remembered them, and she had pulled her hair up on the right side with a small silver comb.
The man near the fire straightened at the sight of these newcomers. He was watching Syndra, and his eyes widened a little. Slowly, he began to smile, a warm smile with strong powers of attraction that he might not have realised he possessed.
Meanwhile the other bannerknights parted a little, revealing two who had been in conversation. One, a slight, dark youth, was Lord Stark's ward, Theon Greyjoy.
The other was the man who had been known as Eryk Bolton.
Syndra's bright blue eyes passed over Eryk Bolton as if he were not even there. She had been warned he was here and had expected him to be at table. It was the sight of the other that caused her breath to catch in her throat. Evan Tamm. Her jaw set as she stared at him stonily. Finally, she turned away, determined to ignore the man responsible for her father's injuries. She could almost hear Papa, holding a defensive line. Do not engage. Hold fast.
Fortunately for Corryn, Limosa remained the only face he saw; otherwise, he'd have been hard pressed to remain cordial. When she smiled at him, a burst of relief and love filled his heart. He smiled back, his hazel eyes watering with joy. Ignoring the others for the time being, he made his way toward the ladies, hoping to be allowed the chance to speak with his adoptive child.
"Come, Volf," he said, straightening his jacket and shirt as he walked.
Syndra smiled knowingly at Corryn as her friend approached, but she stepped aside, knowing he would want to speak with his daughter first. She started to step toward Volf. "You look dash..."
But before she could move more than three paces, there was a cough, and the Septa was shaking her head at Syndra warningly. This was not Holdfast, where she was a daughter of the house. She was expected, as a young lady, to remain on her place behind Lady Stark (and certainly not to address young men). Sansa was giggling - but Arya shot her a sympathetic look.
Syndra bit her lip and quickly stepped back in line, color rising in her cheeks.
Limosa, unexpectedly, reached for her hand and gave it a hard squeeze.
Syndra smiled wanly at her gesture, then faced forward once more. Limosa could tell she was mentally beating herself up over her gaffe in etiquette.
Corryn caught the exchange between the girls and raised an eyebrow at Limosa's suddenly-developed sense of etiquette. A curious smile crept to his lips. She never ceased to amaze him.
Evan Tamm raised one eyebrow archly, and leant in towards Benjen. "Sir," he said calmly, "there is a lot of animosity in this room, including two people who claim to be the same person. Under any circumstances that would be awkward. Given that many people here were doing their best to kill each other not two days ago, the situation becomes even more difficult. Is a polite dinner really advisable?"
Benjen shrugged. "I hardly think a brawl would improve your case. Those that comport themselves with dignity will earn themselves a hearing, I suspect. My brother misses little."
Limosa had not moved; she smiled at Corryn, but then looked towards Lady Stark, who had already moved forward to intercept Corryn.
"Ser Corryn," she said, with a dip of her head. "You bring news from Holdfast, I believe. My husband is anxious to speak with you."
There was always steel within Catelyn's beauty; now was one of the times when it was most apparent.
Steel sharp enough to cut, Corryn thought upon meeting Lady Stark's eyes. He bowed politely, "Of course, Lady Stark," he said. "There is a great deal to discuss with him. And not all of it meant for pleasant company, I fear." He smiled softly to the children and then turned his gaze toward several of the other faces gathered. Not that we have much fear of that sort of company showing up any time soon, he mused.
Lady Catelyn bowed her head in acknowledgement. "We have heard disturbbing stories from the North. But that will be spoken of tomorrow. Tonight we will dine together."
And the fact that all had been invited to dine suggested that Lord Stark as yet held no-one at fault without hearing what they had to say.
"Of course," Corryn said. "All things take their own time, particularly the truth." He stepped back into a more relaxed posture. Before they could comment further, he heard someone approaching.
"And here he is, with the boys," she added at Lord Stark himself appeared at the head of the short flight of steps that led to the stairway to the offices. He was wearing a tunic of deep blue; Robb Stark was at one shoulder and Jon Snow at his other.
Syndra stood straight, still and silent, barely breathing as she strove for a better-than-perfect performance from here forward. Her eyes never left the proceedings as she took in everything and everyone around her.
Corryn grinned brightly as his old friend entered the room. As their eyes met, all the years between them fell away, as did all the worries of the day. Well, not all, perhaps. He suddenly found himself wishing Godfrey were here; the trio reunited one last time. It didn't seem right that the Wolves shouldn't have the Old Oak about to keep them honest.
Next time, he thought. Next time.
He strode over to meet them, bowing his head as he got close. "Well met, Lord Stark," he said formally. And then the sly grin returned. "Getting a little grey I see, Ned. And here I thought the cold would have frozen you in time, eh? Not all of us can age well, I suppose."
Lord Stark gave a nod of greeting, the formality of his expression not relaxing at Corryn's jest.
Corryn glanced over the boys' faces, smiling, before settling on Robb. "Warrior protect us, Robb, you've grown like a reed. You'll be taller than you pa in a few years. I suggest you keep reminding him of that daily."
He greeted the other boys in kind, with the exception of Jon Snow. Although he'd gotten along with the bastard in private, he knew better than to be too familiar while under Catelyn's watchful eyes. He needed her as an ally and warming to Jon would only cool her heart to him. Instead, he gave a knowing wink and a smile to the young man; hoping he'd understand.
The boys stood stiff and still behind their father, returning the Riverwolf's greetings with a nod.
"Rob, Theon," said Lord Stark quietly, "see to our lady guests."
Rob shot off, as though relieved of an awkward situation, and bounded over to Syndra. He gave her a grin before bowing low.
"May I escort you in to dinner, Lady Syndra?"
Syndra curtsied, her formality tempered slightly by the delicate smile she gave him in return. "I would be most honored, Lord Robb," she replied, taking the arm he offered her.
"How is your father?" he asked, as they went in together. "You know, hjust the other week he taught me and Jon the neatest trick for turning your horse at the end of the lists!"
Syndra closed her eyes for the briefest of moments as the lance went through her heart and out the other side. "He was injured in combat recently. That's why he's not here himself. Our maester expected him to recover, though."
She forced a pleasant smile. "I know the manuever you mean. The one where the mount's forelegs come around while off the ground?" She sketched the move in midair with her free hand.
Theon followed, leaving Eryk Bolton at the fireplace to come and make his bow to Limosa. He smiled at her, easy and charming, with a gleam of appreciation in his eye.
"And might I have the pleasure of escorting you, Lady?"
Limosa gave him her hand, but without any recognition of his easy compliments.
"This is a bad business, Ser," said Eddard to Corryn, "and not to be taken lightly, nor turned aside with a jest. I believe I have not yet come to the truth of it. I trust we shall learn more in the morning when your tale may be told with the rest. But for now, my Lady awaits me," and then he moved across to take Catelyn's hand.
Corryn nodded, "Oh, I am certain the truth shall unfold tomorrow. Until then, Lord Stark, do enjoy your evening. And thank you for your hospitality." He bowed his head, the smile having faded into pleasant formality.
Across the room, Eryk Bolton, who had been watching closely, gave the very faintest of smiles, and then moved to enter with the banner knights.
As Eddard moved off, Corryn and Eryk's eyes met. For a hint of a moment, the Riverwolf appeared shaken by his cool reception. He let Eryk see this discomfort just long enough to enjoy it. And then, that crafty smile returned in full bloom, as if he'd just been victorious in some indiscernible fashion. He gave the boy a sly wink and then slipped his 'mask' back on, appearing most humbled.
He turned on his heel and headed toward the ladies, moving to stand before Sansa. He bowed with a comfortable ease, "Milady Sansa, it would give me great pleasure if you might be so kind as to allow an old man escort you to your seat."
Sansa looked up at him limpidly. "It will be my pleasure, Sir," she said, extending her hand - or rather, stretching it up towards him.
Corryn gently took her hand, bowing his head once more. "I'm sorry I didn't bring you any fabrics this year, milady," he said as they walked toward the table. "But if matters are resolved equitably on the morn, I will endeavor to rectify that oversight. I recently received a shipment of silks that match your hair. I'm sure your Septa could craft them into a fine gown for the next harvest festival."
Behind him, Jon Snow had claimed Arya's company. It seemed that Eryk Bolton was to follow with the banner knights; Benjen Stark was keeping Evan Tamm at his side.
Corryn continued to dote on the young girl, answering her many questions about foreign courts and delighting her with the numerous stories he'd collected during his travels. Charming to the last and highly (perhaps surprisingly) skilled at the matters of court, he appeared - at least to Syndra - as comfortable as she remembered him back in the days of her mother. Occasionally, he would glance up and smile at her from across the table; her Old Wolf having returned to his eyes once again.
He tried to steal a moment or two with Limosa, but respected the Starks's desire to keep them apart for the time being.