Visit to the Sept
As was the custom, the seven-sided Sept was built a little separately from the main buildings of Holdfast. By now means as ancient as the rest of the castle, it was still a venerable building, created for some long dead Lady Hardy who had brought her Faith into the north with her. Since then, the Faith had - as in so many places, gained a tenacious hold until now many people looked to the Seven or to the old gods as and when they needed - the Sept for the ceremonies of the town, such as marriages, but the Old Gods for protection when they travelled through the woods. And even newly married couples would often travel from the Sept to the godswood, to seek the blessings of the Old Gods, as well as the new.
At the door of the Sept, Ser Godfrey turned to his brother.
"Go to your sons, Oswain. This I must do alone."
Lord Hardy hesitated, then nodded. He gave a final clasp to his brother's arm, and left him alone with Syndra.
Ser Godfrey watched him go, and then set her down on her feet. "You can wait here, Syndra," he said. "There's no need for you to come in."
"I want to," she said with only a slight waver, the stronger part of her crushing any craven thoughts. She reached for his hand.
He nodded and let her small hand slip within his. Then he pushed out the creaking oaken door and they moved into the cool darkness of the Sept.
It was, of course, seven-sided and - after the fashion of the North - each of the seven altars bore not statues of the gods, but richly carved and decorated masks. Great windows of leaded glass were on each wall between the altars, telling in richly jewelled colours the stories of the gods. Near the roof, plain windows let pure light into the Sept, carefully angled so that at different times of day, the light would shine full on the great crystals placed before the Masks on each altar. At this early hour of the day, the light still shone on the Maiden's crystal, and the Warrior's gleamed with radiance, while the first rays were lighting up the warmth of the crystal sacred to the Mother. But the altar where Ser Godfrey led his daughter was still in comparative darkness, save for the candles on the altar, for three biers had been set before the altar of the Stranger, who guides the newly dead to the other world.
Maester Sewell and the Septon were standing by the largest of the biers; two grey cowled Silent Sisters were standing by the empty thirs bier.
"Their Sisters are preparing Gavrin with full rites," said the Septon as he came towards Ser Godfrey and Syndra. "They will bring him here shortly for the Vigil ... "
But Ser Godfrey was not attending. His eyes were fastened on the bier that held the still figure of his wife. As they came close, Syndra could see they had laid the baby in her arms - and it was a still, waxen little figure - so very different from the laughing loving baby she had held in her arms, that had reached out for her hair.
Then Ser Godfrey dropped her hand and stepped forward as though in a daze.
When her father let go of her hand, Syndra warily backed away from the Stranger and these waxy figures before her. She trembled fearfully.
He sank to his knees, gazing still at his wife's still face for a long, silent time.
"Forgive me," he whispered at last, and then he laid his head against hers, his cheek against her cheek as they must have often lain together before, and he gave a great tearing sob that seemed wrenched from his very heart.
Syndra felt Maester Sewell's gentle hand on her shoulder offering her support.
Syndra wanted to go to her father, but it wasn't just the Maester's hand that held her back. She had said her goodbyes at the gate - not to these people on the biers, but to Mama and Trey and Gav and the babe. It was Papa's turn to say goodbye and she would not interrupt.
Instead, she sat down on the front bench and looked up at the faces of the Sept, remembering. It had been on this very bench that Mama had explained them to her. She, like her husband, spoke with the old gods, but Mama's mother had been from farther south. She had worshipped the Seven, so Mama knew the canon.
Syndra didn't remember it exactly, but she did her best. To the Mother, she prayed for her to watch over Mama and the babe. And Trey too, because he was a handful and might need more than one Mama, since Syndra couldn't help now. To the Father, she prayed that he judge them all fairly, 'cause that's what the Father did.
She said a special prayer to the Warrior for Gavrin, 'cause he wanted to be a warrior and he had fought the sickness, the worst one of all, like a warrior, even if he finally lost. To the Crone, she prayed for the wisdom to know how to look after her father like Mama wanted. The Smith fixed things, so she prayed for him to fix her papa, and Kenrith too, while he was at it. She wasn't sure what to pray to the Maiden, so she skipped it.
Finally, Syndra refused to pray to the Stranger. She had seen Mama and the boys at the gate. They had been happy and they were going to be safe, wherever it was they were going. They didn't need this ugly god's help, 'cause they were already there.
When she was done, she wrapped her arms tightly around her legs and dug her bare toes into the wood of the bench. She shivered with that hot-cold feeling of being not quite over the sickness as she waited to see what happened next.
It was a long time before her father returned to her and Maester Sewell, for after he had spent some time alone with her Mother, he went to Trey's bier and stood looking down at him, and finally to the bier where the Silent Sister had now brought Gavrin. At last he came back to where she sat, the Maester standing beside her, but although he looked at her and tried to smile, it was to the Maester that he spoke.
"I ... must stand vigil for them. My brother has said ... he will bear me company."
"You should rest," said Sewell gently, but Ser Godfrey obstinately shook his head.
"No. There'll be a time for resting later when they are ... " He looked back towards the biers and his face twisted. "Later."
Then he looked back at Syndra and his face softened. "But Syndra must rest, and grow strong. Come, sweetheart. The Maester shall take you back to your room, so that you can rest until; I need you."
Syndra stood up on the bench, making herself almost as tall as her father. She stood on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around his neck in a fierce embrace, but this time she did not cling like a monkey. When she let go, she kissed his cheek tenderly, then looked deep into his eyes. Solemnly, she said, "You call for me when you need me. Promise?"
He managed a twisted smile.
"I promise," he said. Then he looked to the Maester. "My brother says he will stand vigil with me ... But my nephew Godwyn. He was Gavrin's friend. Will he be strong enough to stand vigil for him?"
The Maester hesitated and then said, "Perhaps a short vigil. I shall see."
Ser Godfrey nodded, and then the Maester extended his hand to Syndra and gravely led her out of the Sept.
"You should go to your own room now," said the Maester gently. "It will not be seemly for you to share a sickroom with your cousins any longer."
"Good," she replied firmly. "I never want to go back there."
As they walked from the precincts of the Sept and into the courtyard, they saw Godwyn emerge from the tower where the children had all been.
Syndra released the Maester's hand and trotted toward her cousin. "Godwyn! Godwyn!" she called. When she reached him, she said, "Papa wondered if you would stand vigil for Gavrin in the Sept with him. The Maester said he'll let you for a little while if you wish it."
Godwyn watched her approach without speaking, and listened to her without any expression, almost as though he did not understand her words. After a long moment he nodded his head. "I will," he said. "I will." He walked past her towards the Sept.
Syndra watched him walk away and smiled sadly. She had hoped he would do that. It was a knight's duty. She turned back to the Maester and let him lead her back to her room.
The door to the Sept creaked slowly open, and Godwyn found himself inside the seven-sided building. Lady Morna had followed the Faith, despite her Northern marriage, and Ser Godfreyhad humoured her by adopting some of its rituals as his own. But even had she followed the Old Gods, this vigil would still have been a sacred duty.
After the fashion of the North - each of the seven altars bore not statues of the gods, but richly carved and decorated masks. Great windows of leaded glass were on each wall between the altars, telling in richly jewelled colours the stories of the gods. Near the roof, plain windows let pure light into the Sept, carefully angled so that at different times of day, the light would shine full on the great crystals placed before the Masks on each altar. At this early hour of the day, the light still shone on the Maiden's crystal, and the Warrior's gleamed with radiance, while the first rays were lighting up the warmth of the crystal sacred to the Mother. But the altar where Ser Godfrey was standing, as still as though he was a carved statue of the South, was still in comparative darkness, save for the candles on the altar. For three biers had been set before the altar of the Stranger, who guides the newly dead to the other world.
Ser Godfrey lifted his head slightly as Godwyn entered. His eyes gleamed in the darkness as he gave a slight nod of acknowledgement.
Godwyn walked toward the altar, the one that everyone always ignored. It occured to him for the first time that this was the one altar that everyone would eventually visit. He remembered his mother, whom he had never known in life, but who had come to him when Kenrith hovered on the brink, and as he joined Ser Godfrey he through to himself, "How silly we all are to be scared of the Stranger. He's the only one of the Southern Gods who really belongs in the North."
Ser Godfrey was standing between the biers of Lady Mora and Trey. Lady Morna held her baby in her folded arms - it looked like the little waxen faced dolls that Sydra sometimes played with. Lady Morna's face was pale and serene, with something of that same waxen quality.
Ser Godfrey made a faint gesture towards the third bier. Godwyn, he seemed to suggest, should stand watch over Gavrin.
With a quiet nod Godwyn walked to stand beside the bier of his cousin and friend. He looked at Gavrin's face, wondering at how Gavrin looked so like himself, and yet at the same time how he was so very much not really Gavrin at all.
After a few minutes the door creaked open again, and Godwyn saw his father there. He looked out of place - unlike his younger brother, Lord Oswain had never had time for the Faith. He looked at Godwyn and frowned for a moment, as though he was unsure what his son was doing in this nest of vipers (as he had often described the Faith, half-jestingly). Then he gave a brief nod, as though realising the reason for Godwyn's presence, and walked stiffly forward to greet his brother.
Godwyn looked up when his father entered and watched quietly while he walked towards Ser Godfrey.
A bow of the head from Ser Godfrey, a bow of the head in return from Lord Oswain. And then the Lord moved to take up a position of vigil equidistant between his brother and his son.
Three Hardy men, standing vigil over their kin.