"I think Kenrith and the Lord need some privacy in any event." Merivel said, as he finished what he was doing and offered the mortar and pestle to Sewell. "This should be dissolved in some water with a dram of spirit." Merivel explained to Sewell.
Sewell took it with a nod and continued, leaving Merivel and Rhys free to withdraw to the other end of the room and talk together.
"Let's go back to the tower," Rhys suggested to Merivel. "What I want to ask your advice about is there."
Merivel glanced toward Lord Hardy, Kenrith, and Sewell. "If I might be excused?" he asked, clearly addressing the elder Maester.
Sewell, who was watching Kenrith, still speaking to Lord Hardy, nodded at this.
Rhys lead Merivel out of the room and back toward the tower. "Did you get the message from Clearwater?" he asked. "I hope it's not bad news."
"Unfortunately, it is." Merivel said with a heavy sigh. "I am recalled to Clearwater immediately. There...has been a death."
Rhys stopped and stared at him. "I'm sorry, Merivel." He paused there, wondering about details, but feeling it was not his place to ask. "When will you leave?"
Merivel swallowed. "In the morning. Both the Lady and the Steward have offered a kindness in ensuring me escort back to Clearwater. I am sorry to leave so precipitously, but my duty is needed."
"That is grave news," Rhys commiserated as he opened the door to the Tower. "I'm sorry. I've enjoyed your company here," he continued as he lead Merivel up the stairs to the workshop.
"I've enjoyed being here." Merivel said in a murmured voice as he climbed the stairs behind his friend and fellow Maester to the tower room, stepping inside once Rhys had done so.
"And you've an open invitation to return," Rhys smiled, resting his hand on Merivel's shoulder. He clapped it and turned away.
A movement outside the window caught his eye. He saw a cloaked figure run for the postern gate, and something about the size of the figure and the way he or she was running made him think of Syndra.
Rhys muttered under his breath, something about young girls and how troublesome they are to control and how a certain one was going to be the death of him. Nothing he could do about it right now. He straightened and turned back to Merivel.
"You were wondering how I'd regained my freedom," he said as a statement, not a question. "I was pulled from the Tower to help Ser Anders investigate a murder that took place here this afternoon. Seems Clearwater doesn't have the monopoly on such things. Had you heard about it?"
"A murder." Merivel winced visibly at Rhys' words. "No, no, I've not had the opportunity at all to hear about it. I've heard about Boltons arriving, and spent much time with Lord Hardy, and his wife, and the Steward. No one has told me anything about a murder, at least, not directly."
He cocked his head to invite Rhys to explain further.
Rhys motioned to Merivel to have a seat and pulled out a decanter from a sideshelf. He held it up to Merivel and shook it slightly in a clear "Would you like some?" gesture.
"The matter I wished your advice in concerns this murder. I was hoping to run the events of the evening by you and see if you came up with the same conclusions I did," Rhys explained. "Perhaps you'll see something I missed."
"Is that permitted?" Merivel said aloud, cocking his head. "Never mind, I'm curious enough anyway to listen. And you said you had something to show me, or implied that you did."
Rhys poured himself a cup full of something gold and slightly viscous, then left the decanter and empty cup nearby in case Merivel changed his mind.
Merivel gave a hangdog look at the decanter and then shook his head and regarded Rhys.
"In my book, another opinion would always be welcome where a man's life is concerned, both the one murdered and the ones currently in the dungeon whose lives hang in the balance," Rhys replied somberly. "I'll bring out the things to show you when I come to them in the order of events." He downed a swallow from his cup and began his story.
"Earlier this evening from here I saw a man throwing food to the dogs while they were in their kennel. The figure was cloaked so I didn't see a face. He carried the nightsoil bucket, but he was not Tommo, our nightsoil man, who walks with a limp. This man was able-bodied. He fed the dogs something and left through the postern gate."
Rhys snapped his fingers. "That reminds me to talk to the guard on duty then. He may remember what the man looked like."
After looking around a bit frantically, Rhys spied parchment and pen by his uncle's books and walked over to get them. He quickly scribbled a note to himself about the guard, then brought the parchment and pen back over to where he was talking with Merivel.
"I knew it would be helpful to go back over all this again," Rhys smiled grimly. "Please feel free to interject if you have a question or wish to comment on something I've said.
"All right...to continue... About the same time it came to light that a Bolton man was missing. A servant was ordered to ready the dogs to help track him down. Soon after the servant called to Godwyn that someone had drugged the dogs so they could not track. I shouted down what I'd seen and Ser Anders, who was in the courtyard, ordered me to come down and assist with the proceedings."
"The dogs were fed something to keep them from finding the Bolton man." Merivel repeated. "A man who is not your Tommo. How do the dogs here react to complete strangers, Rhys?" he asked.
"You would think they'd bark and growl. They didn't. They yipped, as if what they were being fed was a treat." Rhys wrote again on the parchment. "Could be that the food overcame their instinct to bark... Perhaps we can test that theory tomorrow with you and the dogs before you leave?
Merivel nodded in agreement.
"On the other hand, as Godwyn pointed out, a local man would know that there were other dogs at Holdfast besides the ones in the kennels. This person apparently didn't know, which suggests a stranger, or didn't care.
"Hmm." Merivel nodded as he followed along.
"Godwyn and Tam took their dogs to go track the missing Bolton man while Ser Anders and I went into town to the Goose and Gander with a Holdfast and Bolton escort. Ser Ander's thought was to check to see if the missing man was there and simply inebriated.
"We searched the stables first. I saw livery from Riverrun, apparently from the sellswords who accompanied Ser Kenrith home--they decided to sleep at the inn rather than accept Holdfast's hospitality, which is rather unusual in and of itself--and Manderly livery, with the additional sigil of a dagger curved into a smiling mouth. I asked Ser Anders about the strange sigil and he said it was from the Laughing Knives, a 'band of merry cutthroats who answer to Ser Corryn Manderly.' Inside the Laughing Knife's saddlebag I found a knife wrapped inside a shirt."
Rhys stopped the tale and walked over to a table where he picked up the knife and brought it back. He handed it to Merivel. "This knife." It was an unremarkable weapon, aside from the dark, dried substance on the blade that Merivel could clearly see was blood.
Merivel examined the blade in his hand, hefting it and testing it. "A potential weapon of murder." he said. "Dried blood."
"Still no sign of the Bolton man, and now potential foul play." Merivel said. "There's not anyone walking around wounded, or anyone else missing like the Bolton man?"
Rhys paused, thinking. "Not that I am aware of...but it would indeed be prudent to inquire around." He wrote another note on the parchment.
"We went inside the inn after that," Rhys continued. "Odette, the mistress who owns the Goose and Gander, confirmed that the Riverrun sellswords had arrived there that afternoon. I wish I'd had opportunity to talk to her more, but events happened very quickly.
"The Laughing Knife denied knowing anything about the knife and accused Ser Anders of planting it in his saddlebag. He bolted out the back and was caught by Ser Ander's men.
"Godwyn arrived with news from his end. They'd found the Bolton man, dead and buried. According to Godwyn, the scent of dung led the dogs back to the Goose and Gander. He thought the nightsoil man must have been the killer.
"I couldn't identify the nightsoil man from the men there. Ser Anders suggested to young Godwyn that the dung smell is not one easily disguised or gotten rid of, so Godwyn sniffed around the room and ended at the table holding the sellswords from Riverrun.
"They denied Godwyn's charge. I noticed that one of the men was cleaner than his companions, his clothes still damp. I inquired about this, as it seemed noteworthy. The sellsword's leader showed up and words were exchanged between the two parties. It was decided to pull the accused men outside to have the dogs take a sniff at them.
"The leader claimed that the other one we pulled out, the one cleaner than his companions, was wearing his clothes. I remember thinking at the time what an odd thing to say. The clean man was being charged for murder. You'd think the leader would not want to do anything to implicate himself, but instead he encouraged it. He said he'd take responsibiity." Rhys shook his head.
"Hmm. Odd." Merivel interjected.
"The dogs weren't interested in the Laughing Knife, and they weren't interested in the leader, but they were very interested in the clean man, starting at his shoes and ending at his shirt. He was ordered to remove his jerkin and his shirt underneath had a blood stain over the front with a tear in the middle of the stain."
Rhys retrieved the bloody shirt from the table where the knife had been and handed it to Merivel. "The leader claimed the blood was from a rabbit had for breakfast."
When Merivel inspects the shirt, the stain is clearly over the heart.
"I put my trousers on one leg at a time like anyone else." Merivel said. "But its clear that this stain is not from a rabbit. In the center of the chest, and spreading outwards?" Merivel said. "If it was from food, it would be dripping downward from the head."
Rhys nodded agreement.
"It is unfortunate that there is no known way to compare the blood on the shirt to that on the knife." Merivel mused. "But I think your evidence is strong even so."
"The rip and stain on the shirt match the position of the knife wound that killed the Bolton man," Rhys continued. "So...we have what looks like convicting evidence. What we don't have, however, is a motive. Any thoughts in that regard?"
Rhys downed the rest of his drink.
"The Boltons are not well liked, that much I've gathered even in the short time that I've been here." Merivel began, giving a hangdog look at the decanter and finally shaking his head to look at his friend again. "They are an ally of Clearwater, but Holdfast has not had good relations with them. But that's not a true motive." Merivel said. "But it suggests some sort of subterfuge or maneuvering might be going on that the Bolton man was caught in. Spying, for instance?"
Rhys leaned forward in his chair as he considered Merivel's words. "If that's the reason, it might be illuminating in the 'what's the motive' category to determine where the man was murdered. I wonder if the dogs can help in that regard by tracing from where the man was buried to where he was stabbed."
"The trail." Merivel agreed, nodding slowly, considering Rhys' words. "There may be something highly significant to where he was stabbed, or something to be found there in the traces."
He looked at Rhys. "All of this smacks of alacrity and some desperation on the part of the murderers. Something...sudden, perhaps. And with their scramble to hide the traces, they might have missed something to be found. Something that might shed more light on this."
Rhys made more notes on his parchment. "That'll have to wait until daylight, too. I hope Ser Anders set men to watching their friends that were left at the Goose. It'd be unfortunate if they were allowed to go back to the murder site and clean up. Assuming they're even involved. They may not be."
He sighed and put down the pen. "Why in the Seven would someone kill a man and then put on the dead man's shirt? I wouldn't want anything near me that connected me to the murder."
"And not even the murderer who put it on, if we are right, but someone else." Merivel added. "That's even more suspicious."
"Someone else?" Rhys asked, interested. "You don't think the man that had the shirt on did the murder?"
"Well, its as you said before, that it seemed strange that the leader seemed to want to take responsibility when the evidence was on someone else." Merivel replied. "Its a very odd sequence of events, even so."
"Yes, I quite agree with you. Very odd." Rhys paused to mull over for a few moments all that'd been said as he toyed idly with his empty cup, but no new revelations appeared.
Rhys looked up at Merivel. "I've been thinking some more about these Dreams you're having," he said, changing the topic to something other than the murder. "Do you want to continue to have them, or did you want them to stop?"
"I want to learn more about them." Merivel replied. "I want to be able to use them, if there is use to be made. In fact, I think I had something happen along those lines while watching Lord Hardy."
Rhys's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Please continue, if you like...and if it's not too much an invasion of your privacy."
Merivel nodded, but first he rose and, with reluctance, poured himself a cup of the wine and took a drink of it.
"When I was watching over Lord Hardy,after you had been accused, I drifted off to sleep in my chair." Merivel began. "And I had a vision, a fragment of a dream, a set of images. Snow...a reed bed, a small town. Snow falling. And then I awoke, to Lord Hardy calling for his son."
Merivel paused. "His son Snow."
Rhys blinked. "By the Seven, there's no end to the excitement today," he said dryly as he sat back. "A reed bed, and a small town? Did you get the impression that's where the Snow lives?"
"I tried to, even though he was less than cogent, to ask the Lordship himself about it." Merivel explained. "I don't understand the symbols of the dreams well enough to understand them." Merivel smiled thinly. "I can barely recognize them so far. But I want to learn more."
"We've not time to talk about it now, but I learned some things at the Citadel from another initiate that I think would help you," Rhys said. "Perhaps we can discuss it by raven, or if you're uncomfortable with that meet again sometime in the future. You have an open door here at Holdfast, as I've said."
"I would like both of those things." Merivel agreed with a smile, finishing the last of his wine in his cup.
Putting the weighterier issues of the day aside, Rhys and Merivel end the evening with pleasant small talk, then bid each other good night.