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Trial and Error

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And down in the cells, a new guard banged on the doors of the cells.

"Wake up!" he bawled. "Time to face justice!"

It did not, however, seem that they were to be given any opportunity to break their fast first.

There were the sounds of boots on the stairs - it seemed someone was coming to visit them.

It was the rattle of the chains that woke him; he'd started in his sleep, and the grating clash of metal on stone had pulled him out of the fitful rest he'd managed to get. Evan frowned, trying to remember what he'd been dreaming about, but he so rarely did, and now was no exception.

The cell afforded little room for stretching, and chained to the wall as he was, there was even less. But he stood anyway, the joints in his neck and back popping, and he winced, realising his day was only going to get worse. Evan turned his head slowly around the cell, taking in the dank, dark walls and the cold realisation that this was no longer a dream, but a stark and terrible reality.

As he tried to shrug the knots out of his shoulders, Evan searched inside himself, wondering if he'd truly become so cold that Grunther's death meant nothing. He tried to remember what he could of the man - nothing redeeming came to mind, save a certain unswerving loyalty to Ser Herys, no matter how unpleasant or objectionable that duty might be. That, and the fact that he didn't care for wilful boys with attitude. Grunther hadn't cared for much at all, he recalled, except administering the occasional vicious beating to whatever had riled him that day. But he and Evan had only rarely crossed each other, and if he were to be honest, Evan had never spared him a second thought.

Till now.

This second thought was coming somewhat late for Grunther, and Evan reflected on that as he flexed from the waist, listening to his hips and knees pop and protest as the chains scraped along the wall. Not that he was aghast at having killed a man without a second thought - over the years, he'd done that many times, often with barely time for a first thought. But it had never been quite so - premeditated. That was not exactly the right word, he realised, since that would imply that he had had time to mull over the course of action before he had taken it, when in fact he'd done nothing of the sort. Instead, the killing had been - deliberate. That was the word, he thought to himself. Deliberate. And, on reflection, Evan found that he couldn't feel especially sorry for it.

It hadn't worked, of course. By now, he thought to himself irritatedly, he should be on the road north, and Holdfast and all the bad memories coming here had dredged up should be behind him. And that, Evan thought with a little wry smile, was the most ironic part of it. Nobody wanted him here - nobody in Holdfast, nobody in the Bolton retinue, and not even himself. And yet, here he was.

He reached out with both hands, one to either side, and found he could touch both walls simultaneously. He had been thinking of Holdfast when he first thought of 'here', but in the more immediate reality, 'here' was a terribly small, smelly, and ugly place, and though he knew that what was to come would be much worse, Evan suddenly found himself yearning to get out of here. Anywhere but here. He waved a hand through the dirty, weak beam of sunlight that trickled in through the window. A fine, late-summer day in the North, and, as the ironborn said, a good day to die.

The door creaked open slowly. A familiar figure stood there - Ser Anders Tollet - the Captain of the Guard who had taken him the night before. He surveyed Evan in silence for a moment, and then gave a slight nod - which could be interpreted as a gesture of greeting.

"Good morning," he said. "A fair one - at least, in some senses of the word. I trust you passed a ... peaceful night?"

"Does it matter?" Evan could not keep the irritation out of his voice, and held his chained wrists out expectantly. "One way or another, I'll be glad to be getting out of here," he said.

"And I'm sure our guards will be glad to see the back of you," said Ser Ander equably. "Have you shared your real identity with your followers?"

Evan shook his head. "It's of no matter, and never has been." He shook his wrists, and the chains jangled. "Let's get moving."

"Certainly," said Ser Anders. "Why, by the way, are you wearing chains? Did someone decide you were liable to escape our dungeons? That argues a want of faith in the stoutness of our walls that I find rather disturbing in any of my guards. Let alone Godwyn Hardy, to whom the durability of Holdfast is something of an obsession."

There was a long pause, while Evan simply stared Ser Anders in the eye with a faintly quizzical expression. "You seem to have mistaken me for someone who feels like chatting, ser," he said frostily. "I'll answer questions when I'm called upon to, and when I'm released, I'll be gone without another word. And outside of those instances, I don't think I have anything to say to anyone in Holdfast." True to his word, he left it there, and shrugged his shoulders mildly, sighing as one of them popped in protest.

Ser Ander glanced at him, but said nothing. Instead he beckoned one of the guards.

"Take those chains off," he said. "Why was he wearing them in the first place?"

"The Bolton boy insisted he was chained before he'd speak with him in the cell," said the guard. "Leastways, that's what Oland said. And afterwards, this one refused to have them removed."

Ser Anders' eyebrows lifted. "They'll be removed now," he said curtly. "If he attacks Eryk Bolton in open court, it will just add to the evidence against him."

The guards hastened to obey his orders, while Ser Anders propped himself against a pillar to watch.

The chains were unlocked with a series of short, metallic clicks, and Evan rubbed his wrists, stretching his arms out in a long and deliberate display. He gave a loud sigh of relief, amplified strangely by the small confines of the cell, and nodded that he was ready.

"Regretting your choice of nightwear?" said Ser Anders, amused. "Come - we're going to the guard house. Your companion will be released a little later. Will you give me your parole - or shall we have a full escort?"

Evan stared at him again with a slightly irritated expression, but his only response was to sigh and head for the door. The guard, still holding the chains, raised a hand to stop him, and Evan fixed him with such a stare that he looked to Ser Anders for confirmation. "Full escort it is then," Anders commented drily, and motioned with his hand.

So it was that Evan found himself surrounded on all sides by stern Holdfast guards, none of whom looked like they were in any mood for any nonsense. That suited him - it matched his mood too, particularly when the first morning sunshine hit his tired eyes as they crossed the courtyard.

As his eyes recovered, the first people he saw were Ser Herys Bolton and his son, deep in conversation in the yard together.

But the sound of a prisoner moving with a full escort is not a quiet one. Before they had moved five paces, Ser Herys Bolton had turned to look at Evan Tamm and was staring full at him as he crossed the yard.

Even after so many years, Evan found he could not look back, and so maintained a stoically defiant expression while studiously avoiding that gaze. Even as he slowly turned his head to watch everywhere else in the courtyard, Evan felt Ser Herys' eyes boring steadily into the back of his head, and he felt his pulse quicken and the hairs rise on the back of his neck.

The clarion call of the horns sounded loud and clear, and the guards with him fell into murmuring among themselves. '... Manderly..." he heard, and sure enough, the arrival of Ser Corryn and the associated pomp and circumstance drew everyone's attention. The escort stopped, and Ser Anders gave a distinct, resigned sigh, before gritting his teeth and walking over to greet the Manderly. The Hardys turned out in force as well, and Evan observed the proceedings with detached interest.

Ser Anders was acknowledged with respect, but not drawn into the following conversation - which involved, it seemed, Kenrith, Syndra and an older man who had a look of the Hardy's (and who wore the insignia of Stark and Hardy together, suggesting his noble standing as a bannerknight of Lord Stark). After a moment, Evan noticed two other watching - the fair-haired girl, Edlyn, and Godwyn - standing together in an upper window and unseen by the others.

The tableau in the courtyard held for a moment, and as it did so, Evan realised he was being regarded by someone else as well - Garyn, who was standing anxiously by the gate of the castle.

Then the main tableau of Manderlys and Hardies divided; Syndra, Ser Kenrith and the girl moved away together; Ser Corryn and the bannerknight (Syndra's father?) went off another way.

Ser Anders who had been watching intently, turned now. "Move on," he said. Then, it seemed, he noticed Garyn by the gate.

"One of your men?" he asked Evan. "Do you wish a word?"

Evan looked at Garyn's pleading expression with surprise - lost in his own thoughts, he'd almost forgotten Garyn and the others who had come with him to Holdfast. His mind flashed back to last night, when he'd crept incognito into Holdfast, and his lips tightened as he remembered why he'd come in the first place. On reflection, he realised just how foolish it had been to think that Ser Kenrith might have been willing to give Garyn a place as a man-at-arms, or even a squire, here in Holdfast, just because he asked. And now, Garyn was standing there, obviously expecting him to say something.

With a shrug, he walked over, and though Garyn expected him to open the conversation, Evan merely frowned at him until Garyn began to stutter. "They - they said you two had been charged with..."

Evan cut him off. "What are you doing here?"

"Well - I, um, didn't know what to do, and Ox and Stavro weren't saying anything, and I thought by now this whole thing would have been cleared up, but it doesn't look like it, and I was telling the guards that you couldn't have done it cause I'd been with you guys all evening, and they let me share their ale for a bit, and I think I slept on the guardroom floor, cause it's morning now, but..."

Evan resisted the urge to reach out and slap him, mostly because he didn't know what to say to interrupt this time. He couldn't very well say that he'd explain everything later, because in a few hours, there would be no later for him. Nor could he think of any meaningful instructions to give. That was the cardinal sin of command, he realised - even if you didn't know what to say, or weren't sure your decision was right, some decision was better than none, and those you were giving commands to would rather a potentially erroneous course of action than no direction at all. He leant forward, and the cold look in his eyes stopped Garyn better than any slap could have.

"Go home, Garyn," he said in a low voice, and his voice rang hollow even to his ears. "There are no friends to be found here. Go home." It was the best he could do, given the circumstances, he told himself. Without another word, Evan turned his back on him and returned to his escort.

Ser Anders gave a nod and led on to the guardroom - at least he attempted to.

"Stop!" said another voice - that of Eryk Bolton.

Ser Anders, with the faintest of sighs, signalled the escort to halt again.

"I want to speak to ... to that man," said Eryk. He swallowed, not meeting Evan's eyes.

Ser Anders glanced at Evan. "So popular you are," he said. "This is beginning to feel like a royal progress, fraught with petitioners."

Evan ignored the gibe, almost as disdainfully as he ignored the presence of Eryk Bolton. Nonetheless, he stopped with only the slightest of sighs. "He can speak. Whether or not I listen is another matter."

Ser Anders raised an eyebrow at that, but Evan did not feel the need to explain further, stepping aside to allow Eryk to speak out of earshot. True to his word, he said nothing, and simply stared off into the middle distance, giving no indication as to whether he was listening or not.

Eryk drew a breath. "I have a message from ... from my ... from our Father. He says ... he says if you you are to surrender yourself to the justice of the Dreadfort."

So far his voice, if not intended to be overheard, had been clear enough. But now he said something in an undertone that could only be heard by one who was listening hard.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Evan turned and looked him in the eye for a long moment, before twitching one eyebrow slightly. He seemed to consider for one long moment, and then abruptly spoke. "Very well."

Eryk looked almost taken aback, as if he had not expected such a simple response. Evan Tamm did not disappoint, and he inclined his head towards Eryk as he added, "Here are my terms. Tell Ser Herys that if he will go to the Hardys and refuse to bring accusation against both myself and my men, in return for my surrender to the Dreadfort, I will do as you say. When Ser Godfrey comes to me and offers amnesty for myself and my men on the condition that I surrender to the Boltons, I will accept." He met Eryk's gaze without blinking. "Alternatively, I am quite prepared to take my chances at trial."

Eryk recoiled a step. There was something in his face, hard to read.

"Very well," he said quietly. "I will tell Father."

Then he turned and walked swiftly back to the watching Ser Herys, leaving Evan under the gaze of Ser Anders and Ser Kenrith.

Page last modified on May 16, 2006, at 07:26 PM