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The Trial Resumes

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Now that everyone had resumed their places, Ser Godfrey rose to his feet.

"We have heard this morning of the events of last night, told by the men of Holdfast and their friends. Now we shall hear what those accused of this crime wish to say. Depending on what we learn here, we shall return to hear what has been discovered since."

He looked around the Hall, and then at the prisoners.

"Will any of you speak now?" he asked.

Evan raised his head. He wore a mild look of surprise, the sort of look one has when one already knows the answer to the question. "But milord, the case against us is not complete," he ventured. "We have not heard an accusation as yet, nor have we heard any actual theory as to what happened. Nor even a motive. Who among us is charged with this crime? Why are they supposed to have done it?"

Godwyn rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath as Evan spoke. Then he remembered his brother's instructions, and glanced guiltily at Kenrith.

"There is still the witness at the postern gate," said Ser Godfrey. "Who is now ... "

Before he could finish speaking, Ser Herys had raised himself to his feet.

"So," he said. "So you want an accusation, do you? Then you shall have it!" He was glaring at Evan Tamm. "I make the accusation! I accuse you of the murder of my man Grunther - assisted by these other two and maybe more of the fools who follow you besides. And your reason? Aye, your reason. So that he should not identify you as my son!"

Rhys raised his eyebrows at Ser Herys's outburst and glanced surreptitiously at Syndra.

Godwyn blinked in surprise when Ser Herys rose, then grinned openly as the man let his anger run away with him.

Syndra seemed unfazed by Herys's outburst. She regarded him, and then Evan, studiously, like a warrior gathering information before a battle. In this moment, there was no doubt she was Ser Godfrey's daughter.

Kenrith turned from Evan, who he had been listening to as he spoke, to Ser Godfrey, where he had expected the reply to come from. When Ser Herys spoke, and loudly, Kenrith's head snapped around to look at him. As the words sunk in, his eyes snapped to Eryk, and then back to Evan. A look of understanding broke across his face, then it was all his lordly mask once more.

"And why would he wish to do that, Ser?" Kenrith asked cooly as he once again faced Herys from his seat.

Evan received the accusation without even a twitch, and when he replied, his demeanour was oddly calm, though his voice was firm. "Absolute hogwash," he said mildly, though his eyes roved over the assembly as he spoke, and it was not immediately obvious who he was addressing. Finally, they settled on Rhys. "Maester Rhys, I have another question before I speak in my own defence. What did you see when you compared the other shirt to the body? The shirt that was found in this man's saddlebag?"

Volf's eyes widened fearfully as Evan brought his saddlebag back into question. He glanced over at Ser Corryn with a slight shake of his head, denying any knowledge of the items within.

Ser Herys wheeled and glared at Rhys, as though he found him as much to blame for all this as he did Evan - as though he expected him to be part of the conspiracy, and not the resolution.

Corryn had been patient and silent until this point. At first, he'd intended to let this cruel jest continue for awhile longer. But as they turned once again to Volf, he decided the farcical no longer suited his purposes.

Discovering the truth, or the appearance thereof, in many ways resembled fishing. Having fished for most of his years, he knew it required patience, a keen eye, a steady hand, and the knowledge of what rocks the prey might be lurking under. But most of all it required bait and it was time to see which of these fish would strike.

"You asked for a theory. So, shall I give you one?," he interrupted, regarding Evan. "I believe the murder was to cover an even more insidious crime. I believe you slipped from your room after you went upstairs on the first occasion. While prowling near the walls of Holdfast, you encountered Lady Edlyn Hardy. Her beauty is undeniable, as the court would agree. With the same contemptuous spirit you've shown us, you assaulted her, threatening to take her maidenhead at knife point. Fortunately for her, Lord Bolton's man came across you. To fend you off Lady Edlyn, he struck you in the head with a branch or something similar."

He tapped his head in the same spot as the aforementioned injury before continuing.

"And when you turned, Grunther recognized you. In that moment of hesitation and recognition, you stabbed the man through the heart. Edlyn took this opportunity to escape; much to your displeasure I'm certain. However, you still had a body to contend with. So you returned to the Goose and Gander to acquire the assistance of your compatriots. After disposing of the body, dosing the dogs, and all the other steps you took to cover your crime, you planted the murder weapon in the saddlebag of my squire. You had the motive, opportunity, skill, and wherewithal to carry out this killing."

He cocked his head lightly, "Is that theory enough for you?"

Evan shrugged, as unperturbed by this accusation as he had been by the last. "I have no doubt, Ser Corryn," he replied blandly, "that it is theory enough for you and those trying to pin this crime on me. Nonetheless, that doesn't make it true. And since you have absolutely no evidence to back up your theory, I will treat it like the flight of fancy it is and repeat my last question." He turned his gaze back on Rhys. "To whit, Maester Rhys - what did you see when you compared the other shirt to the body?"

Rhys stood. "The shirt found in Volf's saddlebag was blood-smeared as well. There was a tear in the shirt a little to the right of Grunther's wound. Could this have been the shirt the murdered man wore instead? Possible. I will concede that. In my best opinion, however, the shirt found on Donnell was a better match."

Evan smiled thinly. "I have no doubt that is your opinion. How convenient for your good friend that, in your opinion, the evidence that incriminates him for murder is nothing more than meaningless trivia." He sighed then, and took a deep breath, before turning to face the assembled crowd and his accusers.

"My lord and lady," he began, slowly, but his voice was full and deep, and his gaze steady as he inclined his head towards the high table where Ser Godfrey and Lady Celia sat. "We have heard here today a long tale of the events of yesterday, and all of it filled with damning claims about myself. And I must say, if I were in your place, and all I knew was the tale that has been spun, I too would have me swinging by my neck and be done with it."

Donnell groaned, and looked as if he might knife himself and Evan and save everyone the job, but Evan continued. "But their tale does not tell the whole story, and I hope you will permit me to explain."

"What has been left out, of course, is the lengths to which these witnesses have gone to to construct such a story. And, more importantly, why they might have done it." He lifted his head and continued speaking carefully and precisely, casting his gaze out across the assembly, confident he had full attention now. "Because, truth be told, it is a very good story. One so perfect that a man might almost think it contrived." He inclined his head meaningfully. "My lords, ladies and goodfolk, the story you have heard thus far is nothing more than a sham of investigation and justice, constructed for the sole purpose of shifting the blame onto total strangers. Why? Because it is the most efficient solution for my accusers, naturally." Evan's lip curled a little - it might have been a smile, but it was gone very quickly. "Blame a total stranger, hang him, and the whole matter can be washed away without offending either honoured guests - " he looked directly at the Boltons for the first time, and his voice fairly dripped with sarcasm - "or beloved friends." Now he turned his eye onto Volf, next to him, and Corryn over by the high table. "It is a shameful way of dealing with the situation. It is not only a travesty of justice, but quite frankly, it is disgusting. And in the hope that I might receive a fair hearing, I will show you of what I speak."

There was an angry ripple through the crowd at his harsh words, but Evan was just beginning, and his eyes glittered as he faced his accusers. "Firstly, Master Godwyn. And you, Maester Rhys. And you, Ser Anders. When you were first told of a missing man in the Bolton retinue, what did you do? Did you question the people who might know him best - the other men among the Boltons? No, you did not. Did you search through their belongings? No, you did not." He shrugged. "It would, of course, be strange and rude to search through their belongings when you did not even know if anything ill had befallen the man. Yet you were more than happy to do exactly that the instant you reached the inn."

Evan was looking directly at Rhys now. "Your story begins with you going directly to the Goose and Gander, because that was the only place in town where those not native to Holdfast could be. Never mind that there were, in fact, a score or more of people in the Castle itself who were not native to Holdfast, and who knew the man well. I speak, of course, of the rest of those who came with the Boltons. No, you presumed that you were looking for someone who was a total stranger to both Holdfast and the man in question, which is, if I might be so bold, a very strange leap of logic for someone who is supposedly classically trained in Oldtown. But questioning the Boltons would have been rude to guests and create all manner of difficulties, would it not? Particularly since you didn't know if anything untoward had happened to the man at all yet. Of course. Viewed in that light, I can see how it would make much more 'sense' to go and question complete strangers as opposed to the people who knew the man best." He nodded in apparent agreement. "So, upon reaching the inn, what did you do there? Did you go in and look? You said you wanted to see if the missing man was drunk or passed out in the Goose and Gander. So I would presume that you went straight in and looked to see if he was there, correct?"

Evan smiled thinly. "No. That isn't what you did at all. For some reason, even though you said yourself you thought the man might just be overdue in the inn, you crept directly into the stables and searched through people's belongings like a sneak thief. Did you think he was sleeping off his ale in a saddlebag? Do you normally rifle through everyone's possessions when looking for a missing person? Tell me, is that standard training in Oldtown? Or did you just pick that up here?" Evan made no attempt to hide theirritation in his voice.

He raised a hand to forestall further interruption and continued. "Nonetheless, perhaps you thought the man was in there for some reason. Instead, you found a bloody knife and shirt, and in the saddlebag belonging to the Manderly man here. How very incriminating. A missing man, and a bloody knife and shirt. Perhaps you were right to come directly to the Goose and Gander after all." Evan's eyes narrowed. "And so, of course, having found this terrible evidence, you went directly inside, arrested the man, and threw him in the dungeons to await trial."

Evan feigned surprise again, and shook his head before continuing. "But wait, that isn't what you did at all. You went in and confronted the man in whose belongings you found the bloody knife and shirt. He fled, clearly terrified, and was caught. But then, what happened? You went through the rest of the taproom, looking for someone else to accuse. Now why would you do that?" He cocked his head in mock curiosity. "You said it was to see if there were any accomplices. How interesting. Was there anything to suggest he might have had accomplices? Was he seated with other people and talking to them? Were his belongings grouped with others? Did the landlady tell you he arrived with others?" Evan held up a hand to forestall an answer. "No. None of these things are true. You had no reason at all to believe he had accomplices, particularly not since you actually knew him. Yet you continued to search, even after you accused someone of a crime and caught him. Why? I'll tell you why. Because you knew that you would be accusing, and trying, a beloved friend of the Hardys, and perhaps of yourself. And because he was such a good friend, you knew you had to find someone else to take the blame for the crime. So you found someone else to blame in the taproom. You found total strangers to Holdfast, because accusing a local would also have created difficulties with the goodfolk here, and because nobody would miss strangers or be in the least bit upset if they were hanged for some murder."

He was looking directly at Godwyn now. "You said it yourself. You were so sure he hadn't done it you didn't even consider the evidence. You instead made sure you weren't leaving the inn without someone else to take the blame in place of your friend, so you made some nonsense noises about 'looking for accomplices' and 'following a scent'. If I may say so, sir, as an attempt at justice, that is shameful. Not quite as shameful as your releasing an accused murderer from the dungeons without a trial or even any examination of the evidence, granted, but still shameful." He turned his attention back to Rhys. "I will get back to that particular act of monumental hypocrisy shortly, but first let me continue with Maester Rhys."

Evan started to take a step forward, to pace the room as Corryn had done during his speech, but the guard beside him put out a restraining hand with a frown. Evan stopped, balked for a second - he was clearly caught up in the flow of his own words, and the interruption made him think for a second to catch up with his train of thought. "So then," he continued, easing back into the flow of his speech, "you took the shirt my companion was wearing and compared it to the body. You say it matched. A splash of blood is a large and unruly thing, and all our shirts have many tears, but you say it matched perfectly, without any doubt. It must be nice not to have any doubts about the guilt of a man you have already decided is guilty." Again, Evan held a hand up to forestall interruption. "But fair enough, you say it matched. And what of the other bloody shirt? Did it, too, have a splash of blood and tears? Why, yes it did. And you even say it might be the murdered man's shirt. But no need, of course, to bring it up when you first described the facts. No need to mention incriminating evidence that belonged to your friend, when you can mention incriminating evidence that might help him go free. You say the shirt he had was not as good a match, in your opinion. In your opinion. I wonder what your opinion would be if it were not a good friend you might be incriminating." Evan drummed his fingers lightly against the manacles on his wrist. "I wonder."

Evan turned and looked Godwyn straight in the eyes now, much as he had in the dungeon last night. "And you, Master Godwyn. You say that the facts are that the dogs took no interest in your friend here, yet were very interested in us. How convenient that your witnesses are dogs. As we've already seen, this Manderly man who stands accused is a great friend of yours. It must have been terrible to have him accused of a heinous crime, particularly with such damning evidence. Clearly this is why you insisted on searching for some phantom accomplices, to make sure there would be someone else to take the blame. And again, as we have seen, Maester Rhys was quite prepared to rifle through the stables without making an accusation, or indeed without even knowing what had happened to the man. How do we know that the evidence of your dogs is sound, then? You could very easily have given them something of ours to sniff. Our horses and gear are quite obvious - there was no other group of armed men in the Goose and Gander that night. A simple matter to show the dogs something to support the baseless accusation of your friend, Maester Rhys, here. And a simple solution to the problem of your other good friend being accused of a crime, with evidence to back that up. A friend so good, I might add, that even though he sat in the dungeons last night, accused of a heinous crime, you released him without a trial, to spend the night in comfort rather than chains. Frankly, the only reason he stands here today is as a spectacle, so that the goodfolk of Holdfast can see how just and fair their lords are." His words were venomous, dripping with sarcasm. So they can see that the Hardys were willing to put their friend on trial, in the name of justice. How very fortunate that it wasn't him at all, and that that wicked sellsword they hung did it."

Evan turned, now, at the last, and inclined his head respectfully towards the high table again. "My lord, my lady, this, then, is the full story. A man went missing, possibly murdered. This man was one of the honoured guests here at Holdfast, and your honoured guests, the Boltons, put the blame squarely on you, and demanded your assistance to solve this crime. Did theydo this because the blame was truly your affair? Or did they do it because one of their own, perhaps nursing some local grudge, had done it, and shifting the blame onto the Hardys was an expedient way of dealing with the problem and causing trouble for you at the same time?" Evan shook his head. "I cannot say. I don't know, and none of us do either, because nobody asked. Nobody looked into those people that knew the missing man best, even if that made the most sense. Why? Because they were guests, and it would not be politically expedient to question guests. Or search their belongings."

"So the search for the culprit went to the Goose and Gander, where your guards had no problem searching through the stables before even looking to see if the man was inside, or asking his whereabouts. While there, they found a bloody knife and a shirt. A simple solution. But wait, now there was another problem. The bag they found this evidence in belonged to a valued friend of Holdfast, and a close personal friend of those investigating the crime. And it wouldn't do to have him accused of this. So why not just hide the evidence elsewhere?" Evan smiled. "Because Ser Anders there is clearly not a friend of the accused man, and apparently an honest man to boot. And he saw the evidence discovered, so pretending it had not been was not an option. So Volf here had to be accused. But they couldn't accuse a friend of a heinous crime without making sure he would be found innocent, so on the flimsiest of excuses, they searched the rest of the inn to find some total strangers to blame." He spread his hands. "And they found them."

Evan lifted his head again, and his voice rang out clear as a bell in the Great Hall. "The mockery of justice in this investigation is quite breathtaking, once it is laid out carefully. The landlady, Mistress Odette, said that Volf here arrived earlier in the day and had been at the inn all day, when the truth is that he arrived late in the evening, only a very short time before you arrested him. Did she misremember when a good friend of hers arrived? If so, how is it that she failed to remember that, yet remembers the exact comings and goings, and conversations, of total strangers, enough to incriminate them in place of her friend? Does that not seem odd? Or did she bend the truth a little to cast a better light on her friend?" He shrugged. "Not for me to say. Still, I imagine she, like everyone else here, would much prefer total strangers were hung for a crime, rather than a good friend of hers."

"And not just a good friend of hers," Evan was saying, "but it would seem that Volf here, and his master, are good friends of everyone investigating him for murder. How lucky for him. That would explain, then, why even though he had not been tried, Master Godwyn came and released him from the dungeons without explanation. Is that normal here? Do all accused murderers get to enjoy the hospitality of the hosts? If so, I have something else to complain about, I see." Donnell stifled a chuckle - he was evidently quite caught up in Evan's speech. "That would also explain why Maester Rhys feels with such certainty that the bloody shirt that happens to not incriminate his friend is so much better a match than another torn, bloody shirt, which was also found with a bloody knife."

Now, for the first time, Evan turned and looked the Boltons full in the eyes, and his gaze was unflinching. "And to cap it all off, Master Godwyn here brought Master Eryk down to the dungeons, where he sang some cock-and-bull story about me being his bastard half-brother. And apparently, somehow, that proves that I am guilty of this crime. Certainly Master Godwyn was so ready to believe such a wild claim that without even checking that it was true, he couldn't wait to release his friend from custody. He was so eager to believe any lie, as long as it would help his friend, who, let us not forget, had a bloody knife and shirt in his saddlebag, be found innocent."

Once more, Evan nodded towards Ser Godfrey and Lady Celia, and his tone was more quiet now. "My lord, my lady, I cannot say who is to blame in this crime. I cannot say whether those investigating it are maliciously attempting to pervert the course of justice, or just trying to make sure their friend goes free. I cannot say these things because I am a total stranger to Holdfast, one who was just passing through on my way to the Wall, and one who hopes to be back on his way peaceably tonight, never to return. And unfortunately, that makes me a perfect candidate for someone to blame for a crime that, if properly investigated, might embarrass people here who matter." He clasped his hands together below his waist, not as a penitent might - simply a gesture of stoicism. "I can say, however, that those who bear witness against me have a particular vested interest in seeing me judged guilty, because that will mean that their good friend is found innocent. And so strong is this vested interest that they were willing to misremember facts, such as where their friend was and what time he arrived. They were willing to look for other people to arrest along with him, searching for them on the flimsiest of pretexts. And they were willing to release him from prison without a trial, and probably only brought him here on your insistence. I am, as I said, a stranger here. And once I am gone, nobody will miss a stranger, while investigating honoured guests or good friends might cause all kinds of problems. So I know, in my head, that I have little chance of a fair trial here at Holdfast. However, I hope, in my heart, that I am wrong."

Syndra's expression went from disbelief to astonishment to rage as she listened to Evan inflict dishonor upon her house and family. In the stunned silence that followed his speech, she rose to her feet, her eyes trained like loaded crossbows on Evan Tamm and Evan Tamm alone.

"Cock-and-bull story indeed," Syndra seethed icily. "The only cock-and-bull story I hear is yours, Evan Tamm, or whatever the hell your name is." She pointed to Eryk. "What would this man have to gain by naming scum like you as his brother? Why would Ser Herys, unprovoked, claim you were his son?" Her eyes narrowed in fury and her last words were low and cold. "And if THEY are lying, why would you YOURSELF make the very same claim when you spoke to me last night? Who's the liar now, Evan Tamm?" She spat the last two words like poison.

When Evan began speaking Godwyn straightened up and listened with interest, his expression rapidly beginning to darken. But by the first time Evan had looked directly at him Godwyn's expression had cleared. He nodded to himself, and then leaned back casually, listening to the words but without a great deal of interest. More as though he were listening to music than words.

When Syndra rose and began her spirited rebuttal Godwyn smiled indulgently and watched her with a fond expression.

As Evan talked, Rhys watched him with growing pity as the sellsword essentially hung himself with his accusations against and condemnations of the Hardy family. It was the Hardy family that would decide his fate, so why antagonize them? The man appeared intelligent, and yet... Rhys sighed. It was almost like he wanted to be found guilty.

As for Rhys's own conscience, it was clean despite the sellsword's words. Life was too precious to trifle with--an attitude he was aware was not shared by everyone--and he had made his best judgments with the evidence available. He sat back and didn't deign to answer the specific accusations against himself.

Corryn returned to his studious silence as Evan began his ramblings and vilification of the Hardy family. He could not help but smile as the sellsword regaled the crowd with his stories of injustice and hidden plots. Perhaps such banter would work in the south. Indeed, such claims could actually hold validity in those more corruptible courts. But this was the North, and in particular, Holdfast. Ser Anders and Lady Celia aside, the Hardys were honest to a fault and the good people recognized and loved them for it. If anything, such slanderous talk would cost Evan ground rather than gain it. So, he leaned back and listened and waited. He allowed the storm this would cause to brew and build.

However, when the storm finally broke, the source of its fury took Corryn completely by surprise. He should have expected Syndra to react thusly. Few questioned the Hardys' honor without her comment. But to see his Little Bear with her hackles up was both shocking and remarkable to watch. He smiled proudly at her, even though her attention was focused elsewhere.

In response [to Syndra's question], Evan sighed again, and passed a hand over his brow. "Lady Syndra, I'm sure I don't know what you mean. Who exactly am I supposed to be?"

Rhys turned his head to look at Syndra, concern in his eyes.

Syndra smirked at Evan. "Ah, yes. I see. Today you are Evan Tamm, the very picture of innocence, the poor, persecuted sellsword," she smiled coldly, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Last night with Godwyn, you were Staven Snow, the unloved Bolton bastard. Even later, you told me you were in fact the long-lost Eryk Bolton, honorably trying to save me from a false marriage." She snorted derisively. "If you don't know your own identity from one moment to the next, how are the rest of us supposed to believe ANY portion your sorry tale?"

Eryk started and half rose to his feet; Ser Godfrey leaned forward a little, watching his daughter intently.

"Did you know of this?" Ser Anders asked Rhys in an undertone.

Rhys took his time replying, long enough that Kenrith had already started to talk. He turned his full attention on Kenrith, hoping that Ser Anders would be similarly occupied.

Kenrith's expression had grown dark as soon as Evan had repeatedly slurred his family name and mentioned that the Bolton's were honored guests, but the full extent of his anger was hidden by his lordface. Although he could not know it, he quite agreed with Rhys' assessment of the wisdom of insulting his hosts. Those sitting near him could hear the right arm of his chair creak as he squeezed it before he forced himself to relax.

Kenrith stood to speak, and spoke with a clear voice which sounded through the room.

"Firstly, I would like to point out the striking resemblence between Evan Tamm and Eryk Bolton. Secondly, I will point out that a stranger is in no position to judge the worthiness of my family, and Evan is arguing for his life, there is no need to sumarily hang him as a slanderous commoner stranger... though he should remember who his judges are. Finally, I would ask again... Ser Herys, why do you say this man would fear identification as your son strongly enough to murder your man?" Kenrith asked as he indicated the particulars with the tips of his fingers.

"Because," said Ser Herys, "he knew that if I saw him again, his life would not be long." His lips curled back from his teeth. "I had not realised he would make the task so simple for me."

Eryk Bolton was on his feet, looking from his father to his half-brother. As Ser Herys finished Eryk gave a strange little shrug and sat back down, folding his arms before him.

Corryn sat silently, letting Syndra and Kenrith have their say, and building up to his own.

Finally, Corryn stood and resumed his leisurely pace before the assembly. He nodded to each and then turned his eyes on Evan.

"You accuse the Hardys of altering the evidence to incriminate you and your companion. A bold statement to make against people renowned for their honesty. But let us, for a moment, pretend that this piece of theater you have provided us today holds some merit. That, indeed, they are covering for my squire's supposed crime. This accusation, this condemnation placed upon his head would necessitate a rather fanciful story in of itself to hold water. Shall I relay it for the court's pleasure?"

He didn't wait for a response, but stood and began to tell the story, weaving and moving his hands as if painting the very words upon the air in front of him. "Squire Volf left Winterfell upon my orders four days ago [ED: at least it should be] to attend to Lady Syndra and Lord Godfrey. Yet, somehow, he rode to Holdfast like a raven taking wing and cut his time in half. Once there, without being seen by anyone despite his obvious livery and known face, he encountered a lone Bolton man in the woods. Said Bolton man was chasing a thief at the time, yet somehow warmed to Volf so quickly and so thoroughly, that he allowed this complete stranger to stab and kill him without so much as a protest. Was there a motive, a reason for this crime? No. The young squire you see before you simply butchers the man, this soldier, larger than himself with nary a thought. And with a knife no less, even though he is trained with the axe, which he carries with him continuously.

"And then, with unnatural puissance, Volf manages to drag this dead man through the thick woods where he buries him as quick as you please. And then, donning the disguise of a night soil man, he rushes to the castle, where he doses several dogs with a sleep draught, even though he is abundantly aware that Godwyn's hunting hounds are undoubtedly at their master's side. After all, what has this villain to fear from these hounds, which are renowned for their tracking skills?"

Corryn moved behind Volf, placing his hands on the boy's shoulders. It was easy now to see the size difference between the two, making Volf appear even younger and smaller than he truly was. "But the story does not stop there. Oh no. Then like a raven once more, Volf flies back to the Goose and Gander, where he immediately cleans himself off with nary a trace of his crime or the attempts to obfuscate it, once again without anyone seeing him do so. His clothing dries so rapidly that he is able to walk into the tavern as fresh as a daisy. So much so, in fact, that when Ser Godwyn's hounds finally do catch up with him, they completely ignore him!"

At this point Corryn shrugs, as if baffled. The crowd, having now grown more relaxed, began to snicker here and there. He patted Volf's lean shoulders, "Suddenly, he is confronted, trapped. So what does he do next, you ask? This cold, collected creature that could murder a man with hardly a blink of the eye. Does he stand his ground and lie through his teeth as a true assassin would? No. This tower of icy malevolence suddenly bolts for the door when the knight that he /knows/ hates him and his liege lord without question comes looking for shoulders to place this crime upon."

Corryn began to chuckle softly, shaking his head incredulously as he finished his narrative. "And yet, the best past of this tale is the only evidence against him. Because this young boy… capable of flying as fast as a raven, able to kill a stranger with one blow, strong enough to drag a dead man through heavy terrain, cunning enough to poison dogs into slumber and outwit their sense of smell… this Sorrowful Man, this Other, this Incarnation of the Stranger himself… leaves the murder weapon where any fool with the simplest hint of wherewithal can find it." This brought out a few covered laughs and nods from the small folk.

He jumped back from Volf and covered his features as if in terror. "Warrior protect us! It must obviously be he. And he has shown no fear of this accusation, of course. After all, every Hardy and the good folk of this land have lied and twisted the truth to prove his innocence. How could we not have seen this conspiracy playing out before our very eyes? And who shall awaken us from our fugue, our bafflement? A sellsword and a outsider, an acknowledged liar and a bastard. A man accused of the very crime he is trying to place on anyone but himself and slandering every good soul in order to do so. How incredibly convenient for you that Volf… our Aegon the Conqueror reborn… is here to accept the blame for this murder, eh?"

Corryn snorted contemptuously and some of the audience shared his darkening mood, while others laughed more freely. "Let us for a moment forget that witnesses saw Grunther chasing a man matching Donnell's description. Let us forget that not only have Ser Eryk but also his father claimed Evan as a bastard. We'll even disregard the fact you told Lady Syndra the same thing and now claimed it isn't true. After all, she's a liar and in on this grand conspiracy you've reveled for us. We should also ignore all the evidence provided by Maester Rhys; once again, he's in on this charade. He's only a Maester after all, and we know how readily they will throw away the honor of their office. The fact your friend was wearing the victim's shirt, bloodstains and all, has little to do with anything. Oh, and, of course, Godwyn's dogs must also have been in on the plot when they smelled you out, so there goes that evidence too. But mostly, let us forget that you and your companion had the motive, opportunity, and wherewithal to commit this crime, whereas Squire Volf had none in any regard. After all, the knife was found in his saddlebag… in the stables, where anyone could have gotten to it. Where anyone could have placed whatever they pleased in it. With such circumstantial evidence, everyone must see that he is the killer!"

He stalked over to Evan's table. "Or is it more likely, that with all the evidence pointing toward you and Donnell, that it is so much easier for you to slander the Hardys in an attempt to confuse and twist the truth around and to sully the damning proof against you? That behind all this bluster and bravado, all this vilification and deceit, the truth is simply that you, the strangers to this place, with the means, the method, and the motive are the true guilty party?"

Corryn slammed the table with impulsive fury, "Do you take these people for fools? Perhaps your mummer's farce would sway the wine addled minds of the south. But these are Northerns, sir. They believe in things like honor and justice. They seek truth even when it is to their detriment. They will not be confused by your silken words and pleas of persecution.

"I will grant you your skills of oration. They are truly exemplary. But in the end, your so-called defense is nothing more than malicious pontification. And I for one am tired of your slander against these good people."

Volf remained silent throughout his master's speech, but winced slightly when Corryn slammed the table.

Evan shrugged, meeting Corryn's gaze unflinchingly. "Another flight of fancy, Ser Corryn," he said lightly. "I have no idea if your squire is guilty or not. I have no idea why he might want to murder someone. Maybe he didn't. Maybe your tale is as much a creative mummery as the one you told about me. But I do know that those who should know, who should have investigated it, did nothing of the sort. Nor did they investigate any of the people who knew the murdered man best. These just and honourable folk, who seek truth even to their own detriment, refused to seek any truth if it might have led to their friend being found guilty, and were willing to believe any lie as long as they could release him from the dungeon immediately."

He leant forward till his face was very close to Corryn's, and enunciated his words crisply, in a voice rich enough for everyone to hear. "Your facts and witnesses are nothing more than artifacts of convenience. You say Donnell was seen attacking Grunther. What was seen was a man of average height and average build, from across a field. But it's very easy to point to someone when they're presented in the dock. You say he was wearing the murdered man's shirt. That is nothing more than the opinion of someone who is a good friend of the other prisoner, who had another murdered man's shirt. You say he shows no fear of this accusation. Neither would I, if I knew that everyone accusing me, and those who would judge me, were my good friends. And if I were you, and my squire was being judged by my good friend, I too would be comfortable smirking and winking as I made up flights of fancy. Unfortunately," and he spread his hands, "I have no such guarantees."

Evan stood straighter now, and continued. "You say I had a motive, to avoid being recognised. What rot. Why not just leave Holdfast? Nothing was keeping me here. And you say that I must have planted the knife and shirt in his saddlebag. Amazing. Somehow I was prepared to foul a good shirt, and throw away a good knife, while wearing a bloody murdered man's shirt. Why not ask Madame Odette if any of us left the inn soon after Volf arrived?" He tapped his lips. "Oh, wait. We've already seen that Madame Odette - misremembered when Volf arrived. Assuming she remembers now, I suppose it would surprise no one if she happened to suddenly - remember that one of us stepped out straight after Volf arrived to incriminate him."

"And I am a Northerner, Ser Corryn," Evan concluded, his brow dark and his lips twisted in a dry smile. "Not some lamprey-eating merchant from White Harbour. Do not lecture me on honour and justice. I do not take the Hardys for fools. I do not know them at all. I only know what they have shown me. You say the Hardys are renowned for their honesty and honour? Lord Tywin Lannister is renowned for passing gold on the privy. That doesn't make it true."

Corryn smiled in return, as if duly impressed by Evan's words, despite their condescending tone. At no point did he balk, but took it all with collected grace. At the end, he let out of soft chuckle. In a quiet voice that only Evan could hear, he said, "I think I'm beginning to like you."

He stepped away from the table, laughing; his voice grew loud enough for others to hear once more. "Well, yes, I do eat lamprey. Marinated in wine, a little bay leaf, carrots, onion, served on rice. Very tasty. And I fought with the Lion once. His supply of gold did appear to grow after a hardy meal, I must admit. And despite your rough treatment, the Hardys have been good to you. I doubt we'd even be discussing this so formally if Ser Herys here had his way."

He cast his hand dismissively, "But as you say, the truth can be difficult to ascertain. But one thing that is obvious for all to see is that my squire is guilty of nothing more than poor judgment and the malicious intent of the true culprit. Even you, a fellow accused, cannot say that he is responsible. That sir is a truth. As to your involvement… maybe the truth lies somewhere in between. But it is not the Hardys who are lying."

Corryn appeared ready to say something more, but he suddenly stopped and regarded the crowd. Evan's words had stirred something in him and yet not in relation to the trial. Tywin Lannister. Father to Jamie Lannister. The Kingslayer. Why did that name make him suddenly uneasy? He gazed out at the assembly. Everyone was here. Everyone. He glanced over at Celia. He remembered that smile she'd had during the discussion of sellswords. The argument she'd just had with Anders. And what was taking that blasted gate guard so long? Then the pieces began to connect.

A flash of concern passed over Corryn's face and he muttered, "Please let me be wrong." With that, he hurried toward Syndra's chair.

During Evan's rebuttal, Syndra had quietly taken her seat. She looked down at her hands in her lap, avoiding Godfrey's gaze in particular. Evan's jibe at the Manderlys brought a brief glance first at Evan, then at Corryn, but she refrained from further comment. If anything, she seemed lost in her own thoughts.

She suddenly felt Corryn's hand on hers, waking her from these thoughts. She could see something in his hazel eyes as he knelt down before her. Something akin to fear. "Little Bear. When I came in, I saw you near Lady Hardy and Ser Anders. You were eavesdropping weren't you?" He smiled, obviously not mad or disappointed. "I've seen you do it before. Your nose crinkles when you concentrate."

"Not on purpose," Syndra answered warily, wondering what was going on.

He squeezed her hand, "Tell me, could you make out what they were saying? And if so, tell me exactly what words they used. It's important, Syndra, very important you remember."

There was a commotion at the back of the hall, and Maester Sewell entered, talking to a guard. "My apologies for the interruption," he said to Ser Godfrey and Lady Celia. "The guard that served at the postern gate is outside now, waiting to testify."

"Bring him in," said Ser Godfrey at once. "Godwyn, if you would ... "

He broke off and glanced at Evan Tamm. Then he smiled slightly and began to scan the crowd. Suddenly he pointed.

"You!"

Garryn pushed forward to the front, bright scarlet at having been singled out.

"You're his man, aren't you?" said Ser Godfrey.

Garryn looked uneasily at Evan.

"Well," he said. "In a manner of ... "

"Good," said Ser Godfrey. "Go with Godwyn to collect this guard, so that you can be witness to the fact that no-one tried to coach this man on his answers."

A murmur of approval went through the crowd at this demonstration of Hardy honour.

Godwyn nodded and answered, "Aye." He walked past Garryn, crooking a finger at him to follow, and left the hall.

Outside he waved the guard forward. "It is time for your testimony," he said, he motioned the guard to proceed him back into the hall, and fell in behind him next to Garryn.

Corryn glanced up at the sound of the commotion. For a moment, a hint of relief filled his features. But the nagging doubt remained. He returned his attention to Syndra, almost desperate for her response.

"She wanted Anders to do something, but he refused. I didn't hear what it was," Syndra whispered to Corryn. "Then she saw me and said something like 'nothing wrong with organizing a hunt,' but I think it was just a cover. Anders seemed confused when she said it."

"Interesting," Corryn said softly. "Perhaps there is some honor in him after all. That relieves my worries somewhat, but not entirely." He allowed her to continue.

"There was something else, though. Last night." She leaned down next to him, cheek to cheek, and her whisper became even softer, if that was possible. "They were speaking in the courtyard. I heard them through the window. She wanted Anders to do something in breach of guest-right. He refused. Firmly. She then asked him how far guest-right extends. He answered 'all the way home.' She seemed annoyed at that and asked about 'the escort.'" Syndra pulled back and shrugged apologetically. "That was all I heard. Whatever it was, Anders wanted no part of it."

In truth, Corryn almost missed the crux of Syndra's whispered words. Her unexpected proximity, the soft brush of her voice, made him lightheaded and reckless. For a frightening moment, he found himself yearning to kiss that cheek, that delicate throat. He dug his nails into his palm and allowed the pain to sharpen his senses. He could not allow foolish dreams to muddle his mind right now. Not ever. Not with his Little Bear!

Hoping against hope that she didn't notice how his cheeks flushed, he gave her another nod. "Well then, that provides me some further relief. But she's up to something. And with her claws in my flesh, I wish to know her true intentions."

Released from his fugue as she leaned back, Corryn began to rise. "Thank you, Syndra. If you hear more, tell me immediately. But for now, let us hear what the gate guard has to say shall we?" He touched her shoulder gently and then returned to his seat to ponder what she'd told him.

The guard walked forward and took his place at the stand, looking with a frown at the men in the dock. His eyes were a pale blue and he screwed them up as he looked across at Evan, Volf and Donnell. Then he stood, relaxed, waiting for questions to be asked.

Sewell returned to his assigned seat and addressed the guard. "What is your name, young man?" he asked.

The guard looked a little startled. Although to Sewell he doubtless appeared young, it was probably a good twenty years since anyone else had given him that title.

After hearing the reply, Sewell nodded and continued, "Please give us a report of your watch last night, in particular the comings and goings of people out the postern gate."

The guard began to list, with tedious detail, all the people who had come in and out of the postern gate - a surprising number, considering that it was less used than the main gate. But some used it for convenience and others used it for privacy - such as the servants girls and young off-duty guards who slipped away together - and looked appalled when their names were listed in court in stentorian tones.

"One odd thing," said the guard at last. "Someone came around pretending to be the nightsoil man."

"Pretending to be?" Sewell asked. "Tell us about him."

"I reckon he came in when I was having my supper," said the guard, "as I didn't see him. It was sausage, like. Don't notice too much when it's sausage. But he came past me on his way out and ... I knew something wasn't right. He stank, right enough, but there was something else in the smell ... like when you put down herbs in the privy to try and cover it up. Strong herbs. And his walk was wrong too. So I challenged him, and he slopped some of his muck on my boots. I let him go ... Then half an hour later, Tommo turned up. Said he knew nothing about this nevvy from Marshend, which was what this man was a-claiming to be."

"Do you see this man in the room here?" Sewell asked. "Can you point to him?"

The guard looked slowly around the room. At last he shook his head.

"No," he said. "He disguised hisself well enough. But he were a Northerner. Aned I'd know his voice again."

"You three," Sewell said, pointing to Donnell, Volf, and Evan, "speak for the guard."

Volf looked at Sewell, anxious to please. "Uh... what do you wish us to say, Maester?"

"That was probably enough, Volf," Sewell replied, looking at the guard for his response.

Donnell looked shiftily from side to side, and opened his mouth a couple of times experimentally, before speaking cautiously. His voice broke a couple of times, like someone unused to making a speech. "Uh, I, uh, don't know what to say either."

Evan rubbed at his eyes a little. "I forget," he drawled tiredly. "Refresh my memory - am I supposed to be sneaking around in the castle, murdering someone, forcing myself on some young woman, or planting false evidence at this point? I seem to have been so busy yesterday, I get the order all mixed up."

The guard frowned. "They all sound different," he said grudgingly. "Get them to say, 'I'm his nephew from Marshend'." He looked across at Ser Godfrey. "That's how I knew he was a Northerner. No Southron would've heard of a little place like Marshend."

Ser Godfrey nodded. "Please say those words," he said to the prisoners.

"And get them to mumble a bit like," said the guard, clearly happy that his words were having an effect on the great and good.

The look Ser Godfrey shot him was slightly pained.

"And mumble," he added.

"Just a little," clarified the guard.

Kenrith had to suppress a small smirk here to preserve his lordface.

Volf sat up straight and nervously mumbled, "Uh, I'm his nephew from Marshend." He glanced once again at Ser Corryn to bolster his courage.

Donnell did the same, repeating the line in almost exactly the same nervous manner. Evan blinked a couple of times, a faint look of disbelief on his face. "Your witness is trying to identify one of us based on a single, half-mumbled line?" he said wonderingly, and shook his head with a sigh. "I'm his nephew from Marshend."

Kenrith listened as closely as the guard as each man spoke, then turned to watch the witness as he responded.

The guard's face cleared. "I'd say it was him," he said, pointing to Evan. "It's the way he said 'nephew'."

Ser Godfrey steepled his hands. "Another piece of evidence against you. A convincing case is being created - you have the means, the opportunity and the motive. Men have died for less ... "

Eryk Bolton was moving forward.

"There is another way to obtain proof," he said. "When words are not enough."

"No," said Anders to Rhys, a sudden tension in his shoulders. "No ... not that."

Syndra straightened as Eryk moved. She watched him warily, ready for a defensive spring if necessary. Her right thumb stroked her left wrist, seemingly idly.

"What are you suggesting?" Sewell asked the young Bolton, his eyes narrowing slightly.

"That is his option to take, if he wishes it," Kenrith said from his seat. His tone was somewhere between being reproaching, as he emphasized 'his,' and pedantic, as if he felt all in the room knew Evan had that right.

"Means, opportunity and motive?" Evan squinted slightly, as if unable to believe what he was hearing. "Let me see if I understand this correctly. If by means, you mean that I am an experienced warrior who had weapons, then yes, I suppose I had the means. So did any man from the Dreadfort, any of whom might have actually had a compelling motive. But nobody asked them any questions at all."

"If by opportunity," he went on, "you mean that I encountered the murdered man, then even your witnesses haven't said anything of the sort. Why, nobody's even managed to suggest that I was anywhere but the Goose and Gander, save one guard who didn't see me, but thinks I say a single word funny. And motive? You mean that my motive was to avoid being recognised as someone they claim I am? Utter rubbish." He turned and faced the Boltons directly now, just as Eryk Bolton opened his mouth to interrupt. "You shut up," Evan cut him off brusquely, and there was an angry murmur through both the crowd and the Bolton retinue at that. "I've heard enough of your mewling. If I am - who you say I am - Ser Herys, then make your accusation publicly. What's my name?"

Ser Herys turned and looked at him. "You are my misbegotten son," he said. "And you are whatever name you choose to call yourself, for you lost the one you might claim from birth the day you ran away from my house."

Godwyn raised his hand to cover his mouth, as though lost in deep thought. In truth, he just wanted to hide the big grin that he couldn't keep back any longer.

"So who is he?" said Tam Lin, standing next to Godwyn. "Not just a sellsword?"

"Bolton's [email protected]," Godwyn said quietly. "It's all a family quarrel, nothing to do with us at all, really."

Edlyn leaned across to Syndra.

"You knew!" she said in an accusatory undertone. "You knew yesterday and you didn't tell me!"

"Shhh," Syndra hushed her without turning, still concentrating on the scene.

Eryk had taken several steps back, towards Sewell. He shot a nervous glance at the Maester, but said nothing.

Lady Celia's eyes were gazing at Kenrith. There was almost a wistfulness there - as though she wished she could say the same thing to him.

There was a distinctly contemptuous look on Evan's face, in sharp contrast to the mask of calm he had worn for much of the trial. "Is that really the best you can do?" he half-whispered, before turning away with as dismissive a gesture as he could manage in chains. He looked up at the high table, where Ser Godfrey and Lady Celia sat, and when he spoke again, his voice was duller and more muted than it had been. "Fine, have it your way," he sighed. "A cursory investigation and some half-baked facts are obviously good enough for you." He waved at Donnell and Volf beside him. "You're also obviously not interested in these two. Dismiss them and make your judgement."

Syndra glanced anxiously between Ser Herys and Evan, as if she were hoping one party or the other had something more to say. She worried her lip indecisively, casting nervous glances at Godfrey and Rhys as well. But, for the moment, she remained silent. Alert, but silent.

Rhys's attention was on Evan and Ser Herys, his back against the wall and his arms crossed over his chest. He was frowning.

Corryn, silently observing up to this point, straightened up in his chair. He glanced down the table at Sewell and then out at the accused. "Actually, I believe it would be prudent that Donnell remain. Despite the evidence of your involvement in this affair, I believe we may be looking at the tree and missing the forest. Just as Squire Volf could not have perpetrated this crime alone, I do not believe you are the solitary perpetrator. You would have required assistance. And therein lies the one conundrum that has been vexing me."

He nodded to Godfrey, "With your permission, may I speak to the accused briefly before you pass judgment? It will be no more than five minutes. No need for people to leave."

Godfrey nodded. "Speak. And Ser Corryn - judgement will be passed against all three. They will all remain until judgement is given."

"Of course, Ser Hardy. I wouldn't think or request otherwise," Corryn said politely and stood up.

The drama in the Great Hall momentarily diverted, Rhys exhaled and leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. He glanced over at Syndra and Edlyn--Edlyn to make sure she was still elevating her ankle, and Syndra because...well, partly because he was concerned about her after her outburst, and partly because he just enjoyed looking at her. A line of tension and worry creased her brow and Rhys had this unusual desire to take his thumb and gently smooth it away.

Surprised at this unconventional turn of thoughts, Rhys sat up self-consciously, smiled weakly at Ser Anders next to him, and looked down to earnestly study his hands in his lap.

Corryn nodded to the guards in charge of Evan and Donnell, "If you'd please." He led them over the opposite end of the Great Hall and paused once they were sufficiently out of earshot of all but the most accomplished eavesdropper. With one last glance back at the assembly, Corryn turned to the guards. "If we can have some privacy, gentlemen. These two aren't going anywhere." Reluctantly, the Hardy men stepped back, but maintained a constant vigil.

The Riverwolf focused his keen eyes on Evan. "Let us dispense with the bollocks, shall we? I know one of you two murdered that Bolton man. Frankly, I don't care which. In another time, I'd even commend you for it. But in a few moments hence, I suspect you'll both be at the end of a rope or given to the tender mercies of Ser Herys. I'm not sure which would be less pleasant."

He cocked his head, "You know the girl somehow; Edlyn. She most certainly knows you and squirms like a fish every time that cut of yours is mentioned. As contemptuous as you may be, Evan, I do not see you as the type to force yourself upon a woman. With a tongue as skillful as yours, I doubt it'd be necessary. So, before I get the bird to sing, what story might I expect from her?"

Before Evan answered, he leaned closer, "And answer truly, if you will. It may not appear so, but this lamprey-eating knight may be the only friend you have in this room today."

"Leave her out of it," Evan said with a shrug. "It has no bearing on the events of yesterday. Ask her about it later, when the sentence is done and carried out. You'll find it's a trivial tale of no import. The girl's honour is intact, her conscience is clear, and she has nothing to hide. Interrogating her in front of everyone will just make her think she does."

Corryn nodded with slight disappointment, but he appeared clearly impressed by Evan's words. "Very well, I shall honor that request, sir. However, that does still bring me back to the reason behind the killing. I had hoped it was some form of self-defense. If it was…"

He paused and glanced back at the assembly to make sure the conversation remained unheard. Satisfied for the moment, he continued. "If it was self-defense, I may be able to assist you. Despite the 'evidence' against you two, I'm certain the court can be swayed. Even after your accusation of persecution."

Donnell leant in, listening intently. "It were all his idea," he whispered urgently, indicating Evan next to him. "I got nothing to do with this. I'll - "

Evan cut him off, though he did not so much as look at Donnell. "I have no doubt, Ser Corryn, that you can sway this court, as you say. But I also know that the verdict was decided before we started. Despite your accusations of fair play, the Hardys know that they must find someone guilty today. Honour demands no less. And we all know that it was never going to be your man." He smiled enigmatically, and indicated the restive courtroom. "Why don't we go back and let them do it?"

"I think your companion would say otherwise," Corryn said, offering Donnell a sympathetic nod. "But, I still disagree with your assessment. If the verdict had been set in stone, as you say, I would not have had to struggle to clear my squire's name. I'm not even certain if I've succeeded."

Evan rolled his eyes at that, but decided against repeating himself.

He folded his arms, leaning closer still. "As anxious as you are to return and face judgment, let me offer this. To either or both of you. I would prefer the latter, of course. Confess to the crime. Chances are you'll be found guilty anyhow, as you've said. However, claim self-defense. You've already shown the court that you did not believe you would receive fair trial. We can use that to your advantage. Considering the fate that awaits you at Herys' hands, people with empathize. You simply covered the crime to avoid detection.

"The fact two of his men reported seeing Donnell lure Grunther away can be turned around. What if they did recognize you and decided to make good with their lord? The head of his son and companions would go well with his ilk, I suspect. The Hardys believed them, being the overly trusting folk they are. And Ser Herys has been forcing this issue throughout. And that fop… well, I think he wants you to engage in a trial by combat. A clever ploy, if misguided."

Corryn's eyes glittered in the torchlight. "If it is proven you acted out of self-preservation, not only do both of you avoid the noose… you will be put under the Hardys' jurisdiction, not the Boltons. They will be far more lenient. With a little coaxing, I am sure I can make things go very smoothly."

He finally leaned back, glancing at both of them. "So, would either of you wish to discuss such a possibility further or shall we return to our seats?"

Donnell glanced repeatedly at the impassive man he'd followed into this mess, but Evan simply folded his arms. "So your plan is to confess to the crime, fabricate a story of self-defence, and throw myself on the mercy of the Hardys?" He shook his head and made a small sound that might have been a chuckle, a snort, or just clearing his throat. "You make friends so easily you think everyone will get along if they just marvel at your charms. Maybe I'm too cynical. But even I can see the Hardys are only good to their friends." He shrugged. "Lucky for you." Without another word, Evan stepped away and went back to his spot in the dock, to a chorus of whispers from the crowd.

Donnell watched him go, and leant in conspiratorially. "Idiot," he breathed, jerking a thumb in Evan's direction. "I can tell you ain't no Hardy, milord," he went on. "At least you're offerin' something. Yeah, I'll talk. I'll tell everything that happened. Reckon you can do something for me if I do that?"

Corryn sighed faintly, but he wasn't entirely surprised. The man's distrust for the nobility ran deep. And who could blame him. But if he'd learned anything in his years, Corryn knew it was dangerous to help a drowning man. He had to let Evan go. Donnell on the other hand appeared slightly more amicable to his offer.

He smiled lightly. "I wouldn't think otherwise, Donnell. You may have to face some consequences for this, but I can make sure you live through it. And you'll be helping a young man I consider my son, so I will owe you a great debt."

The smile faded. "Try to trick me, however, and the Bolton's tender mercies will seem like a year in the Summer Isles compared to what I'll do. You're not the type to deceive the man offering you life, are you? No, I thought not."

He offered Donnell his hand, "We're agreed on this then? If so, tell me everything from start to finish. And I swear I will help you in every fashion I can."

Donnell looked like the kind of man who would spit in his palm before offering it, but thankfully he restrained himself from that particular practice this time. "Tell you? Or - well - tell everyone?" He glanced in the direction of the crowd, which was growing ever more restless.

"Well, if'n you say so," Donnell went on, cautiously. "Not much to tell. He said there was this guy he saw, needed to be taken care of. Made me go and lead him off into the woods. I didn't want to, but you saw him." He jerked his head in the direction of Evan's retreating back. "When he makes a threat, you listen if you know what's good for you. So I did, and when the Bolton guy got to where he was waiting, he knifed him. We buried him in the woods, and that's that."

Corryn listened and nodded at the end of this brief overview. It still left several questions unresolved, but answered enough for his purposes. "Very well," he said, scratching the stubble on his chin. "You'll have to tell that to the court, of course. And it will definitely reflect poorly on your friend. But, yes, I know the court will go easily on you. They'll understand you really had no choice in the matter. Otherwise, you'd probably be smelling up the Tower like Grunther right now."

He indicated Volf, "And the knife in my squire's saddlebag? Was that you or him?"

Again, Donnell shrugged and scratched his head. "Weren't me. If it was him, he didn't say."

"So be it," Corryn said. "Repeat what you've told me to the court. Don't leave out any details. I'll make sure they go easily on you, in return. After all, you had little choice in the matter. And afterwards, I'll help you avoid any lingering animosity from the Boltons. I pay my debts, Donnell. Rest assured of that.

"A pity your friend doesn't believe that. If you have any influence on him whatsoever, now is the time to use it. Despite his rough edges, he seems a decent fellow. Hanging will ill-suit his demeanor."

He nodded to the guards, "You make take the prisoner back to his chair, gentlemen."

Corryn returned to the head table, "My apologies to the court for the delay. However, I believe goodman Donnell may have something to add to these proceedings. It's his right to speak, as he has not done so as of yet."

He sat down and gave Donnell a cool stare. Evan, without question, was not a man to be trifled with. But behind his smiles and jests, the Riverwolf was not a creature to test either.

Page last modified on June 10, 2006, at 02:52 AM