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Jonas drew a deep breath - and Kenrith recognised the nervousness from his own childhood encounters with his choleric father.

"No," said Jonas firmly. "No ... not at all."

Kenrith paused for a moment, and placed his hand reasuringly on the young man's shoulder, then turned to knock.

Jonas drew a deep breath and straightened his belt as Kenrith knocked.

The door was opened by the elderly chambermaid who beckoned them in.

Kenrith allowed Jonas to lead the way, and looked to make sure Sewell was still present.

Sewell was sitting by the fire still, but when he saw who had entered, he rose and moved toward the high bed where Lord Hardy lay. Jonas gave an audible gulp, and then moved forward, gazing steadily at the shattered figure of his father. The old man gave a sudden groan; Jonas froze - but Kenrith heard in it a sound of relief and even pleasure at seeing the boy.

Kenrith placed a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder, and indicated he should move forward with a light pressure. He did not want to force the boy ahead, but was there to support him when he did take his step in that direction. "He is glad you're here, just sore," Kenrith said to him quietly with a faint smile on his lips. He could imagine himself looking thus, when his father called.

"Jonas." The word was almost a groan from the old man. His clawlike hand stretched out feebly towards the boy who went forward, flinching only a little as his father clutched his shoulder. But Lord Hardy was staring intently at Kenrith.

"Swear!" he said suddenly.

Kenrith froze, and his face scrunched up in confusion. He was already looking in the general direction of his father, but his eyes had gone to Jonas and the hand to make sure he wasn't clutching it too tight or, alternately, that his father wasn't returning the grasp with too much of his energy. He looked his father dead in the eyes, then shifted his gaze to the Maester Sewell. Finally, he looked to Jonas and back to Sewell with an expression which had gone from confusion to uncertainty.

"Swear!" said his father again, urgently - and Kenrith saw Jonas writhe a little in the old man's fierce grip. "Defend ... protect ... all of them!"

Lord Hardy was glowering at him with something of the fierceness of old, but Kenrith saw one fat tear was trickling down the withered cheek.

"I shall start with his arm, Father. You're hurting him, to say nothing of scaring him," Kenrith said angrily, but still with some measure of calm. "Let go of it," Kenrith said as long strides carried him across the room and stared into his eyes, as if gaging how much life was left within him and how much more he could take.

"I will so swear... but first, we have unfinished business between us, Father," Kenrith said from behind a mask of pain and anger. His steely eyes were lit with a fire kindled years before, and stoked in a far away land, but his voice was still measured.

"How dare you, 'demand' I look after our family, as if I wouldn't? It is so that you never saw me grow up, but that is your fault. You left when I was sick and would have died, and for good reason. You knew Celia was with child. But you never even thought to explain, in person or by letter. Did you ever explain this to your son, even as a hard neccesity of life? No," Kenrith said as scorn bled into his voice.

"I was sick, and you sent me away... but did you think to explain your reasons to your son? As if I was enough of a man to travel hundreds of miles a month after I all but died, but there was some truth you couldn't tell me? As if I would have refused to go, or if I had refused, it would have mattered?" he asked as scorn blended into sorrow.

"When have I ever defied you, before right now? When have I ever been anything but the good son? You sent me to your own brother in law, and had every opportunity to write to him and ask after my progress and character. If you tell me he never wrote to you of me, I will call you a liar here and now. If his word, of a man who is a brother to you by bonds of marriage wasn't good enough for you, there was that of Lord Tully," Kenrith said as sadness became exasperation tinged with anger.

"You, on the other hand," Kenrith said heatedly before pausing as he saw the look on his father's face. "I love you, and shall do as you command so long as you live and are of sound mind. I do love you, father," Kenrith said as his eyes softened and he drew breath to insure that his words came slowly and with composure.

"I love you, but you are a bloody idiot. You promised Syndra to be a Bolton. Brought Boltons within the walls for this stupid tournament. Allowed the walls to go to pot, the steward to cheat you blind, a number of the guards to fall into dicing and dishonor, and the woods to fill with rogues. Divided the authority to run the house between your brother and your wife at a critical time, as if a nineteen year old knight wasn't old enough to be lord. If I'm not, Sewell and Godfrey and Celia are of stern enough stuff to handle a single one-armed twit," Kenrith said as he looked away from his father's eyes for the first time in his long speech to Sewell, as he named him. If the look on Sewell's face had any impact on the lordface he now wore, it did not show.

"Now then... I swear by the old gods who spared my life those many years ago, that I shall make right all that I can of this. I will protect and defend my family... Godwyn, Edlyn, Jonas, Katina and little Spring* with my life," Kenrith said without having to struggle for any of the names.

"I will starve before they go hungry, and die to spare them from danger. Godfrey shall always have a home here so long as we both live, as will Syndra. Celia, Sewell and Rhys... will have a home here and every scrap of my flesh between them and harm so long as they remain faithful to hearth, holdfast, and home. Anders will have a place as captain of the guard as long as he shall faithfully do his duty, and the best I can provide for him when he grows old. I swear I will Hold Fast to this Oath, or may the Gods strike me dead as they once saved me," Kenrith finished with a look which was pure determination itself.

Several times Sewell had tried to speak, but now he moved forward.

"Ser ... you're pushing him too hard! His strength ... he cannot ... "

A terrible sound came from Lord hardy, a groaning rattling sound, as though the brreath was being torn from his body by force. Again it came ... and his face was fixed and rigid - only his eyes living and moving - showing his terror and anger at what his body was doing.

"Father!" cried Jonas in horror. "Maester - help him - make him stop!"

"He has my oath. I will disturb him no further... I thought it best to have it all at once," Kenrith said in a withdrawn fashion as he turned towards the door.

"I will not disturb him again," Kenrith added over his shoulder with a sigh. If he had expected to get some satisfaction from finally telling his father his mind, it seemed he was mistaken.

Sewell was frowning at him. "You are aware," he said, and without apparent effort, his voice seemed to fill the room, "that you could have killed your father?"

Jonas was white faced. He began to back away from the bed - and from Kenrith.

It was at this juncture that the elderly maid, responding to the knock she had heard, opened the door to reveal Godwyn standing there.

"It was his decision, as to whether he felt well enough to demand an oath from me. I understood that it might kill him, yes. Speaking to hear my oath might have killed him, for that matter," Kenrith said somberly after turning to face Sewell from near the doorway.

Godwyn stood in the doorway and blinked at what he heard.

"Please... show me the same courtesy. Tell me the truth, even if it will kill me. I will hold fast, or die of it," he said with a sigh.

Kenrith half-turned to Godwyn, but remained facing Sewell so he could see his face as he replied.

Godwyn half reached out towards Kenrith, then let his hand fall back once more. He looked worried and confused.

Kenrith nodded slowly to him and held up a single finger. He understood that he would need to leave soon, but it needed to wait just a moment.

Sewell looked up from where he was bent over the stricken Lord Hardy on his bed.

"What is this 'truth' that you would risk your father's life to hear?" he demanded.

Kenrith looked as though he was about to answer multiple times, but each time he disciplined his features and reconsidered whatever words he had in mind. Anger clearly boiled within him, but he would not allow himself to speak until it was below the surface.

"Maester Sewell... you heard what I said. If you do not feel I deserve to tell him the truth about how I feel, when the hours of my life may well be fewer in number than Fathers, and he demands such an oath from me... you may lecture me on it at another date," Kenrith said calmly from behind a wax face.

"Jonas, I regret that this was our first meeting of any length. If you would give me leave to do so, I would like to explain what I said at greater length. I bid you good day," Kenrith said with a note of sadness that he tried to bottle down and made a minimal bow from the waist.

"If you will help me adjust my armor as we go?" Kenrith asked Godwyn as he turned and indicated the pile of mail on the ground. It was not the fine plate he had worn from Riverrun, but suitable for the sort of trip he had made the previous day in search of Merivel.

"Aye," Godwyn answered, bending down and gathering up the armour. He seemed grateful to have something to do. "And our uncle wanted to talk to you. He's in the armoury, preparing for the joust."

Kenrith nodded his understanding with his usual slow bob. He stooped down, and Godwyn helped him get the armor over his head. They buckled and adjusted the armor as they moved towards the stable.

"Father wanted... demanded... my oath that I would protect and defend Jonas and the others. As if I was about to chuck him down a well," Kenrith mentioned quietly.

"I agreed, but first spoke to him of what I thought of the mess we are presently in, and things past. If he is well enough for the one..." Kenrith said before shrugging once to indicate he did not know what else to say, then again to adjust the fit of his armor on his shoulders.

"I hope that expressing my affection for him, I blunted the pain of the truth," Kenrith said as he belted his sword back on over the armor, then looked at his brother's face to gauge his reaction to what he had said.

"Father..." Godwyn began, then paused. After a moment he tried again. "He's no easier now than he ever was. He always was one to order, not ask, and..." he looked away.

Kenrith nodded.

"And he has never really bothered to get to know us. Not really."

Kenrith nodded again, adding "This whole situation is so...," then shook his head and threw up his hands as he ran out of words.

Godwyn nodded. "Aye," he said.

"Well, enough of that. It will be a bloody day," he said as he patted his brother firmly on the shoulder, "But we will Hold Fast."

"Aye," Godwyn answered again. But he sounded much more cheerful now.

Kenrith and Godwyn expected the rest of their short trip towards the armory to be conducted in amicable silence.

Page last modified on October 05, 2006, at 10:55 PM