The Unblushing Bride
Corryn and Killian went together up the stairs and into the room. The girl had been sitting still with her mother, but she rose at once when they came into the room. Several of the guards were also present - they had brought a bier for transporting her mother to the Sept.
Killian advanced towards the girl, who shrank back a little, towards Ser Corryn.
Corryn placed his hand on her arm protectively, but gave her an open space to get behind him if she felt more comfortable there. "It's okay, my dear," he said softly. "This is your uncle. Ser Killian. He was your mother's half-brother."
"We have to take your mother to the Sept now," he said gently. "Will you come with me while they bear her thither? I wanted you to show me where we can gather wild flowers to lay upon her bier ... and which flowers she liked best."
The girl ran the tip of her tongue over her lips nevously, and looked at Ser Corryn as though for confirmation.
Corryn nodded to her. "He is family. And he will protect you as surely as I would. I will make some arrangements here and then meet you outside. Perhaps you can take your brother as well? I'm sure he would like to feel the sun on his face."
He squeezed her arm reassuringly. It was odd looking into her eyes and being this close to her. A mixture of emotions flooded through his heart. On one hand, he didn't wish to betray her trust. And yet, this act of gross underhandedness would protect her should troubles arise.
"Go now," he said. "I will be there shortly."
She looked at him searchingly and then gave a little nod before walking to the crib and lifting her baby brother in her arms. Then she nodded at Killian and allowed him to escort her from the room.
He turned to the men, "Could you give the septon and I a few moments alone, please? I will call on you when we are ready." Once they were outside, he shut and locked the door so they would not be disturbed. He offered up a prayer of apology in his head as he sat beside the fallen beauty and took her cold hand.
"We're ready, sir," he said to the septon. "Her voice is very weak, so I shall speak for her so you can hear. Is that acceptable?"
"There's nothing wrong with my hearing!" said the Septon sharply. "I shall hear every word!"
He pulled a crystal from his sleeve and held it up to the light.
"We shall proceed," he announced.
"Of course," Corryn said, biting his tongue. There might not be anything wrong with the man's hearing, but lords if he wasn't the daftest fellow he'd ever met. That would serve him well in the next few agonizing minutes.
Morbid beyond measure, the 'wedding' began in earnest. The Septon guided the proceedings and Corryn dutifully followed along. A keen sadness began to weigh upon him as he recited the marriage vows. Lilith had been a beautiful woman once, but her dark fate seemed unusually cruel. She'd been traded away to a brutal and uncaring husband, lost seven children, been unable to help her daughter, and never truly saw her son. The only peace she found was in death. This 'joyous' occasion was but one more insult piled upon a mountain of travesties.
Fortunately, she performed well enough during the ceremony; much in thanks to Corryn's skillful slight-of-hand and art of deception. A distraction here, a strategic cough there, and a nudge now and again, all gave the appearance of life in this otherwise empty shell. Enough for the septon, anyhow. If anything, he seemed quite pleased that Lilith would become Lady Manderly. As dimmed as his mind was, even he could recognize the horrid life she'd had.
And then, thankfully, it was done. They were married with all the blessings for good health and long lives. Corryn found himself a widower before he was even a groom. His father would be so proud.
He stood up and directed the Septon over to the writing table, "Perhaps we'd best settle the will and inheritance before we celebrate? My fair wife seems to be taking a turn for the worse. And we want to make sure our children are cared for, yes?"
Corryn directed the proceedings as best he could to make the transition legal and binding. The children would be his in the 'event' of his good wife's death. He would inherit her property and lands, namely Leaning Stone and its surroundings. He would then serve as regent until her boy or Corryn's true heir was of proper age. Either way, Lilith's children were now his, with all the responsibilities and benefits that garnered. By the time they were done, it finally felt at least bearable to him. He had served this woman and her children as best he could.
And what was one more ghost to his collection?
"Sir, if you would go down the bier, my wife and I will be along promptly," he said, unlocking the door. He directed one of the men outside to help the septon along and then closed the door once more.
The tears he'd been holding back finally came. Exhaustion had taken its toll, drawing out the sorrow he'd felt for some many years. Dark irony wove itself into every aspect of his life. A dead love he could never marry and a dead wife he had never known. The Mother continued to mock him for his sins.
He sat down beside Lilith and took her pale hand, holding it. "I'm sorry," he said, but he wasn't entirely sure who he was apologizing to. He sat there in silence, thinking, but the truth was never revealed.
After regaining his composure, Corryn called for the men outside. He nodded to them sadly, "It is time. Let us finally give this woman some peace."
There was something in his face that awed them into silence. They filed into the room and collected the bier, lifting it reverently for its journey to the Sept. No northerner, Lady Lilith had doubtless found the old gods of the North as harsh and unyielding as the life she had lived.
In the Sept, the chill air held the faint fragrance of flowers. Killian and the girl were waiting, their arms filled with wild red river roses, small and delicately sweet. It was late in their season, even for this prolonged summer; the girl must have known where the bloomed best. Now she came forward and scattered the roses over her mother's still form, and Corryn saw the tears that made their way silently down her pale cheeks.
She was calm throughout the service; Fortune was holding her younger brother Arrys who cried remarkably little throughout the service - indeed he slept through most of it.
Corryn placed his hand into the girl's softly, squeezing her fingers. He remained silent through the service, his tears speaking for him. He was not so much crying for Lilith, as the idea of her. She represented lost potential and tragedy. The one that could not be saved. The tears he had not shed for Morna and his mother came now in earnest. Soon, he realized he was not so much supporting his daughter, as gaining support from her. He smiled gently at her and kept her hand even after the words were said and the silent mourning began.
Afterwards, it appeared that someone - perhaps Cameron - had attempted to organise a clumsy meal of roasted meats that were still half raw and burnt bread, all to be washed down with thin ale. The girl seemed to find nothing wrong with this - indeed, her eyes widened as though presented with a unprecedented feast.
Corryn thanked the men and led his daughter to the head of the table. He held out her chair and nodded for her to sit. He took the main chair and had Killian sit beside him. As he gazed out over the table, Corryn noticed the instinctual camaraderie shared by soldiers flourishing amongst the ranks. Certainly, there was the healthy competition between those of garrison stock and those of the field, but that was to be expected. Even so, the men laughed and joked as the sparks of family ignited. Perhaps this would work after all.
He stood up and tapped his goblet. He waited for the roar of voices to calm down and nodded to those gathered. "I have never been one for speeches," he said. "And certainly not for such solemn occasions. Much has changed in the last few hours. For all of us. We have lost a great deal… some more than others." He looked down at the girl beside him and sighed.
"But in my travels, I have learned that death is not an ending. It is a beginning. It is simply a way for the world to change. Sometimes for ill, sometimes for the better. As I look upon your tired faces, I see a glimmer of hope. I share that glimmer with you and it burns in my heart even now. I believe despite the tragedy that has befallen this place and these people, together we can return the honor and glory that once filled these halls. That together our glimmers of hope can become a fire that will never be extinguished.
"From this point forward, I claim these children as my own. And if you will allow me, I would claim you all as friends. Together, that makes a family. Will you be a part of my family?"
There was a long moment of silence, and then Cameron rose to his feet. "Aye, Sir," he said. "We'll be part of your family, and thankful for it after all that has passed here."
A ragged cheer went up from around the table, and then the men began to bang their tankards on the table in appreciation. The girl shrank back a little from the loud noise - it seemed she associated noise with anger, not unexpectedly.
Corryn finally sat down and turned to the girl with a tender smile. "I am your father now. I know how terrible that word might be for you. The man before me…well… he dishonored himself and the very word, 'father.' But if you will trust me, I will try to be a good father to you. Protect you and help you in everything."
She gazed at him with those dark eyes wide and wary. As she sat there, grubby and barefoot in an over-sized dress that had been her mother's, perhaps it was not so wonderful that she was not inclined to take what he said on trust.
Corryn touched the edge of the dress appraisingly and sighed. "Well, I think I have a surprise for you once we've eaten. No daughter of mine will want for anything." He smiled again to her, raising an eyebrow. "Once we clean it up a little tonight, would you like to have your mother's room as your own? When I lost my true mother, I moved into her room. It made me feel like she was still watching over me.
"Would you like that?"
Her look changed to something like fear and she shook her head quickly. Something had happened in that room, something that made her associate it with fear and pain - something other than her mother's death.
He raised an eyebrow at that and then nodded. "We'll find you another place to sleep then," he said. "Sometimes memories are best left forgotten. He squeezed her hand lightly and smiled as best he could. This poor girl had suffered more than he dared imagine. How could he hope to heal her wounds?
He removed the paper and charcoal he'd taken from Lilith's room. He pushed them over to her and smiled. "Can you write?" he asked gently. "I would like to know your name."
She looked up and him and then shook her head, pushing paper and charcoal away.
"Her mother called her Limosa," said Fortune, who was hovering to serve some dark green vegetables. "After the little white flowers that grow on the wall of the Sept, Ser. But whether that was her true name or a pet name, I do not know."
At the name, the girl started, and then stared down at the food, her hands folding in her lap.
"Limosa?" he said, turning from Fortune to the girl. "It's a beautiful name for a beautiful girl. Thank you, Fortune. For everything."
He tapped on the paper lightly, "We'll have to teach you how to write as well. That way we can finally talk together." He touched her hand and grinned. A rush of fatherly pride overcame him that he had not felt since talking to his own child, resting against Morna's belly and reading aloud. In that instant, he knew this girl was a blessing and he would not shirk from the responsibility. He may have lost Tasha. But not this one.
"It's okay," he said, gesturing to her food. "You can eat. But go slow. I don't want you to get sick."
Cautiously she reached out and took some of the bread in her fingers (the idea of using utensils, even a knife to cut the food or a trencher to scoop it, did not seem to occur). She shot him a quick look to assure herself that he had not changed his mind, and then settled to eating heartily. Her table manners left much to be desired.
He grinned as he watched her eat. Now and again, he would politely stop her and demonstrate the correct way a lady should act. But never did her press her or chide her. He only led by example. Corryn found himself falling back into the fatherly role he had once maintained while staying in Holdfast. He had forgotten how joyous the experience was. He only wished his love was there to share in the experience.
After he and Limosa had finished their meals, he called Fortune over. "Fortune, we'll be retiring for the evening. I'll escort my children to bed now. Could you have someone make up a room for me and bring up my things? One near them if possible. You'll be staying in the castle, I hope?"
She bobbed a curtsey.
"Yes, Ser. I've had a bed made up in one of the rooms and put Arrys's crib in there too." She frowned. "I couldn't find which room Limosa slept in. They're all of them pretty damp and gloomy. I think the old lord, Ser Cerwyn, just used to sleep where he was when the drink took him, Ser."
When Corryn looked around for Limosa, she had vanished. So too had Killian.
"Well, with luck, we shall return some warmth to this place," Corryn said. "Thank you for all your help, Fortune. I will be gone for several days after tomorrow. We were on our way to Holdfast before…" He paused and rubbed his eyes. "I'll leave Killian and you in charge of getting the castle into some sense of order. Hire a small staff to help you."
He stood up and yawned. By now the day had worn on far too long. "But I will be of no use to anyone if I don't sleep soon. Just point me in the direction of my room and I will take my leave."
Corryn wandered through the halls for a moment, briefly looking for his daughter and uncle. He hoped they were together. If they wanted to be alone, then he would leave them to it. The shadows curled around him in welcome as he sought out his room. He wanted some solitude and silence. Too much had happened and it wore on him. And yet more was to come.
For the first time in days, he wondered about his Little Bear and Godfrey. Trouble hung in the air like a dank miasma. It clung to his skin and stung his nose. For all the darkness that had befallen him here, only worse was to come.
He was in the corridor that led to the room he had chosen to sleep in, inadequate as it was, when he saw Killian. He was standing by the wall near a window, looking out at an angle to see the darkened courtyard beyond.
He spoke without looking up as Corryn approached.
"I found her bolthole. She sleeps in the stables; a disused stall. Still, I suppose she has the luxury of fresh straw - the mattresses smell rancid. Hers might be the wisest choice." He lifted his head now and looked at Corryn fully. "What will you do with her? I'm beginning to think she's more wild animal than young lady."
"I'll love her and treat her like my own," Corryn said frankly. "That's what fathers do. I've been given another chance, nuncle. An odd one, I grant you, and difficult to be sure. But I will not turn my back on it. She's simply scared and alone. But she is a young woman, nonetheless. She'll come around. I can see it in her eyes."
"But there is much to be done here as well. And that is why I need your help."
He leaned against the wall beside Killian, "I need you to stay here while I'm in Holdfast. Make some arrangements and start getting this place in order. Try to order some supplies from Winterfell. Bedding, utensils, what have you. Hire some help if you need, but I'll make the final hirings when I get back. I wish I could stay and help you, but… I think Godfrey is in much more trouble than he's letting on. I can feel it."
He gazed back out the window and sighed. "Let her sleep in her own bed tonight. We'll talk more in the morning before I leave. Maybe when the beds don't smell like death, she'll take to sleeping in one."