The Wolf and the Dog
Corryn kept an eye on Syndra and Edlyn as he walked over to Ser Herys' table, letting the anger burning inside him fuel his resolve. Images of that fop kissing and pawing at his sweet Syndra meshed with the thoughts of Morna and the boys slowly dying from the disease these Boltons carried with them so many years before. If he had his way, he and the Laughing Knives would butcher the lot of them in their sleep. But that would only lead to further complications later on. He had enough of those at the moment.
No, he would have to use hostile negotiation to solve this dilemma.
With opens arms, he descended upon Herys like a jovial bird of prey. "Ser Herys, my old friend," he chimed, pumping the man's hand. "So good to see you again after all this time, you old sod. You look well; trim and hearty. A little grey in the temple, but no worse for wear. I'd have thought you'd be poor spirits with all this tragedy descending upon you. Just like old times, eh? Holdfast doesn't hold much luck for you. Only this go round you're the one to lose a son and wife. Well, a bastard and fiancée, anyway."
Corryn's smile blossomed, "But have no fear, old boy. I'm here to solve all your ills."
Ser Herys looked him up and down, a sneer twisting his upper lip.
"Marlon Manderly's whelp, isn't it? Have you decided to turn respectable at last?"
"As much as he'd wish otherwise, I am indeed," Corryn smirked. "And yes, I've settled down and begun a family. All that happy nonsense. Which, it would appear, involves you."
He stepped back, looking quite apologetic. "There appears to be a problem with the arrangements you made for that Cerwyn girl. I'm afraid they're no longer valid. My wife and I agreed that we intend to wait for her to marry. And then with someone more… her age."
"Oh?" said Ser Herys, the sneer still in place. "The arrangement was between Lord Bolton and Lord Cerwyn. I fail to see what it has to do with you - or your wife, whoever the unfortunate woman might be."
"Oh you know my wife, I assume," Corryn said. "The Lady Cerwyn. The girl's mother. Lord Cerwyn, I fear, gave her and I all parental rights over Limosa, thus negating whatever contract he'd made previously. Sorry about that. You could take it up with him, but I believe he met an unfortunate end. Something about skipping out on a debt, whatever that meant."
He smiled politely, "So, I am now the child's rightful father, as well as the rightful lord of Leaning Stone. And my daughter is not for sale."
Patting the man's shoulder, he chuckled as if they were old friends. "And what with your son's pedigree now in question, well, that arrangement will probably be also in question soon enough. But fear not. I would like to discuss a proposition with you that would be more amicable to everyone involved."
"You are the rightful Lord of Leaning Stone, subject to the consent of my brother, whose fief runs there," said Ser Herys. "Are you planning on doing the necessary homage to him? And as your new Lord, I wager you'll find he has considerable rights in the wardship of Limosa Cerwyn, whatever pledges her father may have made. But, nonetheless, I will hear your proposition. I might even have one for you, in return."
Corryn remained nonchalant about the entire exchange, even when Herys hinted at his own offer. "Even homage does not require one give up their rights, Ser Herys. You know that as well as I. Besides, there are far more lucrative possibilities other than a crazed girl. Let me explain."
He sat down at the table, gesturing for Herys to do the same. "The Bolton interests in this area are, to put it mildly, tentative. Leaning Stone is in ruins. I won't give Limosa and have plenty of ways to prevent it. Besides, she's as broken as Leaning Stone. And with regards to your supposed son over there. Well, that is undoubtedly a lost cause in itself no matter how the events of this trial conclude. Too many questions and wounds too deep."
Corryn scratched his chin with his thumb. "However, while the north isn't to your advantage, the east could potentially bring you great opportunities. Until now, the Bolton family has been unable to establish a presence in the Bite or the Fingers. That weakens your trade potential, even with full access to the Narrow Sea via Weeping Waters. In exchange for minor consideration, what if I was to offer you some of my lands in Old Castle? And your half-blooded fop over there? Well, that can remain between us. More importantly, his silky ways would impress my family. My cousin Wynafred is in need of a husband. I'm sure she would take to him, if introduced. And I have basically run White Harbor for the last two years. They owe me."
He leaned closer, "Your brother cares little for you. Everyone knows this. He will raise his bastard up before he gives you any true power. This farce of a marriage is a perfect example of it. Same with Leaning Stone. I can offer you true wealth, Herys. And a chance to make a name for your family. Not just your brother's. Why leave this place with nothing?"
Corryn cocked his head, "Now, before we discuss terms… what are you proposing?"
Ser Herys was watching him, his deep set eyes narrowed.
"A chance to save your great friend's life," he said. "A chance to prevent Ser Godfrey facing my bastard, Evan Tamm. Oh, he's a doughty warrior, no doubt. But my son is younger and quicker and - from what I saw of him in his youth - a fighter almost without peer.
"But you can save your friend from that - by fighting as my champion."
Corryn nearly choked, the laugh rising to his lips before he could contain it. And then he realized Herys had been serious.
"Do the Boltons remove brains as well as skin?" Corryn scoffed. "My days of riding against the Kingslayer are long over, Herys. And if you'll remember I still lost back then. I didn't just become a widow just to leave my new family fatherless."
He leaned back, rubbing his pate with a sigh. "Unless you intend for me to yield the fight. Is he that important to you? And, if so, what are you offering me? The chance to save my friend from himself, well, that will be more effort than you think anyhow."
"Your friend, as we both know, will fight to the death for the honour of Hardy," said Ser Herys. "And he'll fight honourably too. You have always struck me as ... more pragmatic." He smiled faintly. "I do not expect you to yield. Nor do I expect Evan Tamm to leave the field alive."
"I kill for profit, Herys," Corryn said flatly. "And as yet, I see none offered. Considering the risk I would be taking, you have said little in way of compensation. If I choose to do this at all. The boy is ten years younger than me, I'll reckon and far quicker with a blade than I ever was."
"It's possible," said Ser Herys. "And it's also possible that you yourself might see a profit in Ser Godfrey's death. That you're less interested in my future wife than in my future daughter-in-law." He gave a cold little laugh. "Well, I daresay some accommodation could be reached there. We both have a taste for spirited women, do we not?"
A loud thud made everyone at the table jump. Between Herys' splayed fingers, a thin stiletto had appeared; Corryn's white-knuckled fist clutching its handle. The Riverwolf regarded it for a moment, noticing how close the cruel tip had come to pinning Lord Bolton's hand to the wood. That it hadn't even cut the man was more a testament to his self-control rather than skill.
Ser Herys did not move. His hand stayed where it was, and his eyes were fixed on Corryn's face. But his colour was livid.
Corryn snorted in surprise. "Well, it appears age hasn't affected my alacrity as much as I thought."
Before Herys' men grabbed him, he retrieved the knife and slipped it back into his sleeve. "I suspect that concludes our negotiations. If I were you, I would consider my offer carefully. Roose will probably be far more amicable to it."
Ser Herys smiled thinly. "And why would you wish to make such an offer to my brother at all? What does he have that you want?"
"Elder brothers hold sway over family affairs," he said flatly. "Just ask Godfrey how much choice he has in them. Ado to you, ser."
He stood up and began back toward Syndra and Edlyn. Along the way he ran into Eryk and placed his hand on the boys' chest, stopping him in his tracks. "Tell your father, if he wants his son dead, to do it himself. Maybe Evan will gut him and do us all a favor, eh? And then, you and I can discuss your future. One that will have you as far away from the Dreadfort as you can possibly imagine."
Eryk looked at him for a second - his eyes wide and shocked. "You've persuaded my father to fight E.. Evan?" he finally managed.
"I certainly wish that were true," Corryn said. He sighed, his expression softening. This boy might have been an oiled weasel, but he had done nothing unduly offensive. He just happened to carry a poor namesake. Perhaps the old wolf was being too hard on him.
"He asked me to kill your brother actually, to act as his champion. I doubt he could be persuaded to enter the circle hims…"
Corryn paused, touching his chin thoughtfully. He stared off into the distance, considering something. And then a sly grin came across his face. In a low voice, he said, "What is your father's demise worth to you? For that is what we speak of if he faces Evan. Would you be interested in marrying a Manderly, rather than a Hardy?"
"I'd marry the Crone herslef if it meant ... " Eryk began, and then he broke off, his colour raised. "I ... I should not have spoken so. Forgive me." He glanced a little nervously at the room, and gave a start as he saw how it was filling up. "They're coming back."
"Then we haven't much time," Corryn said sighing. He stared the boy, those cold hazel eyes studying him. Eryk had spoken the truth; the desperation in his voice unmistakable. "No need to apologize. Indeed, I should apologize to you. But we can do that later. Go to your father and tell him I shall be his champion, but I want a signed rite discussing the terms of my payment."
He winked at Eryk, "Don't worry, son. There is method to my madness. Now go."
Corryn nodded to the returning nobles and went to join Volf. He would stand with the boy during judgment and lend him what support he could.