Wise Council in Holdfast
Kenrith led the way back to his rooms. They were not far from those of his father, and so he started to take only one false turn, and was able to correct his error very swiftly.
The familiar creek of his door which hung at a slight angle such that it would not stay ajar without the weight of the familiar rock which rested even now to one side greeted Kenrith as it had all through his youth. He held it open for Celia and Godfrey, then moved to the wall facing the bed. Someone had already brought his saddlebags up to the room, but for now they rested at the foot of the bed and had not yet been unpacked.
"Please, have a seat. I'll have to stand until I have a chance to remove my armor," Kenrith said as he motioned to the armchairs and bed with his helm before setting it beside his feet. The small, cracked wooden training blade of his youth was mounted above the head of the bed, and in other respects the room looked like almost a shrine to his youth. He could picture Godwyn or his father standing at the threshhold and thinking of him, although whether the room had remained empty and decorated in this fashion or if the servants had simply taken his old things out of storage and set it up to please the boy they remembered instead of the strange grown many the did not know wasn't clear to Kenrith.
Once they had settled themselves, or chosen to stand, Kenrith simply asked "Why are they here, and for that matter... why have they brought tournament armor and tack?"
"Your father invited them," said Lady Celia. "Before he was taken ill. And he wanted to hold a festival - he said it would be his last. He wanted to celebrate Syndra's wedding."
"What?" said Ser Godfrey. He did not say the word loudly, but the force of it made Lady Celia recoil in her chair.
"After the summer fever," she said, her voice a little unsteady, "my Lord requested a blood-price for our losses. Lord Bolton offered a sum of money, and Lord Herys' eldest son as husband for Syndra without dowry."
"Without dowry?" said Ser Godfrey. "Was my brother so reluctant to provide one? Or did he think my service to our banner lord has left me so ill-prepared I would be grateful?"
Lady Celia glared. "It was meant to help you!"
"To marry my daughter into the family that robbed her of most of her own?"
"My Lord believed it a good match," said Lady Celia. "The Boltons are powerful Lords and important - and Ser Herys stands high in his Lord's regard. As it was ... Lord Bolton made the offer as head of his House - without consulting Ser Herys. What was Oswain to do? To respond in kind, or to bleat that he needed to ask you? Besides - you were mad with grief at the time. Who knew if you would have seen reason?"
"Reason?" demanded Ser Godfrey. "Reason?"
Kenrith had remained silent as the two exchanged words, watching one then the other while keeping his expression fixed like he was an extension of the walls of Holdfast against which he rested. When he did speak, it was with a suddenness which was not meant to startle... but easily could.
"That at least establishes the background of this... situation," Kenrith said as he decided not to say 'predicament' at the last moment. "But if Herys has violated our hospitality, and so soon, then all of that may not matter. We can hardly hang him or lop off his arm any more now than we could have years ago, at least not without starting a war the Starks would frown on... and one perhaps we would lose," Kenrith said emotionlessly, but not without inflection. Still, he could feel his stomach turning in knots and his blood slowly coming to a boil over this just as much as that of his uncle.
"Much depends on the sort of man his son has become... was he fostered outside of the Dreadfort, and if so, by whom?"
"Ser Herys had two trueborn sons," said Ser Godfrey. "There's a Snow somewhere too, I believe. As far as I know, he reared his boys himself - or at least they squired within the Dreadfort. For Ser Herys, or one of his brothers. Perhaps for the Lord himself. A clannish lot, the Boltons." He looked across at his sister-in-law. "And you'd send Syndra into that nest of vipers?"
She spread her hands helplessly. "I believe ... Oswain set the terms that they would spend time at Holdfast ... learn to manage your manor."
"My manor?" said Ser Godfrey. He was silent for a moment, white-faced. "I would marry again tomorrow sooner than run the risk of it falling into a Bolton's hands."
Lady Celia shot a swift look at him but said nothing.
"I didn't hear the whole story from Syndra, but I trust you two did... I have no doubt that if she said he acted in an untoward manner, that he did... from what little I remember of him, he is not one to control his base feelings," Kenrith said as he balled and unballed his fist.
"Judging also from how his... younger?.. son behaved, the apple may have fallen far from the tree. Herys may not know how to raise a man to take after himself." Kenrith said as he stared out the window in the opposite wall. He was, for the moment, seeing a fair being assembled many years previous. It may have been years ago, but the events of that day still echoed in his mind like they were the previous evening.
"The question is... what -can- we do now? If he wasn't consulted before the deal was struck, he may have been trying to provoke us into owing our own blood debt so he may have his son marry who he chooses. He may accuse Syndra of lying. Any number of things. We might try to take this to Winterfell, but their hands would be almost as tied as our own... and justice should be swift, I think."
Kenrith looked to Lady Celia and then back to his uncle.
"I would break this match if I could," said Ser Godfrey. "As Regent for my brother, I might be able to do it - with your support, my Lady."
Lady Celia looked at him, her gaze as serene as ever. "You heard your brother, Ser. He believes this match is for the best, even as your own was. To break the match with his support would be ...difficult. To break it against his wish, when he is so very ill? I do not know."
"It seems I had neglected an important question, but you have both answered it for me now," Kenrith said with a small measure of irritation showing through his stony mask as his jaw set and eyes hardened.
"We have two matters before us, and they are regrettably not as linked as it sounds," Kenrith said while facing Ser Godfrey.
"To follow our obligations to the letter, if Ser Herys did assault Syndra... then we are well within our rights to kill him, however foolish a move that may be. We would accuse him, he would either agree or most likely lie... he could then be challenged in the Grove. I have never seen Ser Herys in the field, so I can't say how practical such a position would be in any event... even if we were not surrounded by his own men in our home," he said as he indicated the walls with a sweeping gesture of his hand.
"This does not free Syndra from the promise between the heads of our respective houses, however. Clearly, father intended to end a feud, not start a new one... but in the strictest sense, even if Herys dies, Eryk is still betrothed to Syndra, is he not?" Kenrith said before sighing and shaking his head.
"Also... before rejecting Eryk out of hand, shouldn't you meet with him and see whether he would be an acceptable match? If he is not, perhaps Edlyn would be considered a reasonable alternative by the Lord of Dreadfort... she is, after all, father's adoptive daughter, and Lady Celia seems to have fewer objections to the Boltons and their room for hanging skins..." Kenrith said as he looked to his stepmother.
Lady Celia listened thoughtfully to this and then nodded. "I would be prepared to offer Edlyn as a substitute, should Ser Herys consent. Edlyn has been brought up to accept that she should act for the good of her family - which is this family. She won't indulge in girlish tantrums. Or allow spiteful tales about the Boltoins' past to upset her."
"Your daughter did not watch her two brothers die from a fever that Ser Herys was responsible for bringing to Holdfast," said Ser Godfrey drily. "That's a good notion, Kenrith - if Ser Herys agrees. And I'll add to Edlyn's bride price myself to sweeten the offer."
"How very generous of you, brother," said Lady Celia mockingly.
"And... I hardly think them 'tales'. Skins of Hardy men hang alongside those of the Starks in that dark room, mark my words... This is all a moot point if Eryk proves true to his father's character. No Hardy is going to marry a beast like that, and the previous conditions with regards to where the couple are to spend their first years, who is to foster the children, and so on must be retained even if we are to sweeten the deal with coin. And what of the other matter... do you both propose we just forget what Herys tried to do?" Kenrith asked, a measure of disgust creeping into his tone as he spoke up until the end, where he noticed it and forced it beneath the surface.
"What would you suggest I do, Kenrith?" responded Godfrey. "The option of challenging him is still there, and believe me, I'd be more than happy to do so. However, I am bearing in mind your father's illness, and the fact that he named me Regent in his stead. Together with Lady Celia."
Kenrith sighed and stared out the window for a few moments as he considered the situation. "The actions of a Lord reflect on more than just himself... as do those of a regent in this case. Moreso than even a man reflects on his father, or son. While you are acting as co-regent, I see your point. That means that either Godwyn or I should make the challenge. How far along is Godwyn in his training? I trust he has not been ignored while I have been away..." Kenrith said as if he were weighing each word as he said it.
"I would not volunteer my brother for this at all, except that he may be my better with a blade. Our only other two options, as I see it, are attempting to pass judgement upon him as regent of the keep or pretend it never happened... and the last is not an option, from where I stand," Kenrith said gravely.
"No," said Ser Godfrey flatly. "That is not possible. I have seen Ser Herys fight. He's one of the finest fighters I know - he's older than you both, and ruthless. Godwyn has been trained, has he not? But I doubt he'd be a match for Ser Herys."
Lady Celia nodded. "But if the boy insists ... or Kenrith does ... "
Ser Godfrey looked at her coldly. "I will issue the challenge myself."
Lady Celia spread out her hands and looked at her polished nails. "I see no good to come of all of this. Either Ser Herys kills you - and we lose your valued counsel. Or you kill Ser Herys, and we find ourselves in conflict with the Dreadfort. Either eventuality could kill my poor husband in his current condition - and certainly would sully Syndra's reputation - for all will say that only the grossest of dishonours could lead to such an outcome. Syndra herself has shown more wisdom than either of you by saying she could have mis-interpreted Ser Herys' actions. It gives you the perfect excuse to abandon your determination to rush headlong to disaster." She raised her lovely head and looked at them both. "But that, of course, is a woman's opinion," she said drily, "and we women are notorious shaky in our understanding of the concept of honour." She rose to her feet. "So issue your challenge and have your fight. And look around at the results and then wonder if honour has brought you any comfort. That is, if you are still alive.
"I shall be with my husband."
"There is little sense in fighting for Syndra's honor only to sully her good name," Kenrith said iritatedly. "But she is a Hardy, and should not be asked to recant her earlier words... although, I'll grant her willingness to pretend she might have been mistaken is neither a retraction or a lie. Northerners would understand that the attempt is more than enough to merit our response... the mere suggestion that he might act thus under our roof, is reason enough to hang him from the neck until dead... but for the time being, it may be best to watch and wait. We are not all Northerners, even in the North. It would seem my unthinkable third option... is not so unthinkable," Kenrith said as he shook his head.
"Now you begin to learn what it means to be Lord of Holdfast," said Ser Godfrey drily. "That what we want to do, what is right to do, is not always what is best for our House. And even in the North, all men are not purified by our winters. You'll find them as venial, as politic as other men. And if you are to succeed your father, you must learn to deal with them."
"Lord Tully is a wise man... I've learned this much already from watching him. That doesn't mean I must grow to like it, however," Kenrith said quietly, but without sulking.
"And if there is no immediate threat of a blood feud, I shall leave you," said Lady Celia. "Kenrith - I shall send you word when your father awakens."
"Thank you, Lady," Kenrith said with a depth of meaning which suggested thanks for more than her offer of sending word when his father had awakened. Had she been absent from the council, he might have made a terrible mistake.
After she had left, Kenrith started to remove his lobstered gauntlet with his teeth. Although ordinarily a difficult task, he had much practice in loosening and sintching the straps himself.
"Uncle... I have another question, if you have the time. I had meant to ask Father about it... for many years now. I would not pain him with it now, while he is ill, but I have waited many years to know the answer and if it please you, I hope that you will speak to my question," Kenrith said as his hand worked free from the gauntlet after the straps had been sufficiently loosened that he might speak.
"When I was told that I was to be fostered in Riverrun, in the place of Godwyn, there was some subtext between Ser Anders and my father. Meaningful glances, things half said then bitten off... do you know what it was that they did not say? I have not heard that my father called for Godwyn to be by his side, yet I know my brother's loyalty is iron clad in my heart... what is this thing that I haven't been told?" As he spoke, Kenrith's voice took on an emotive quality which he had suppressed from his earlier participation in the discussion of how to deal with Herys. It was not quite fear, or anger, or sadness... but it was a raw pain in his voice mixed with a little of each.
"I don't know the full reasoning behind it," said Ser Godfrey. "I have ... certain suspicions which I should not voice, perhaps.
Kenrith listened as he spoke, and worked the straps of the rest of his arm free with his teeth.
"Godwyn ... I understand that more, although I like it not. Your father's feelings about him reach back to the day of his birth - and the day of your mother's death. If I were to speak candidly, I would say that your father dotes upon Lady Celia, but he loved your mother with a deep and true passion. When she died ... he was desolated. And Godwyn, who should have been his comfort, he saw as the instrument of her destruction. I arranged his fostering at Riverrun - I saw how he was being brought up here, overlooked and ignored. But after the illness ... I don't know. Perhaps the substitution was made because it was felt you would flourish more in a kindlier climate."
Kenrith nodded before he worked his arm free of its metal plates and reached his arm back to loosen the straps of his breastplate. With that done, he would be able to shrug out of the leather and mail which encased his body from the waist up.
"In Riverrun, though... I did not need a softer clime. I needed someone who would push me until I couldn't get up again, day after day. I found it in Ser Grell. I owe much to my uncles," Kenrith concluded with a smile.
"Edlyn tried to warn me... about all this," Kenrith said with a wave of his hand to the air. "I fear I made less than a salutory first impression. She said I was disagreeable... I fear I have much more to grow out of than I thought," Kenrith suggested.
"Edlyn? Oh, Celia's girl. I wonder why she tried to do that. Syndra seems to get on better with her than I expected - at least to judge from her letters.
Kenrith shrugged. "We are all moved by our greatest fears, it seems. She seems close to your daughter, and does not want an undesirable marriage to befall her... but perhaps more importantly, she and her mother fear being cast aside when I become lord. They need not fear so much... it will be winter soon, summer can not last forever..., and I will not murder them so by casting them out into the cold.
"But yes. You're young yet. Whether your father lives or not, Kenrith, in all honesty I do not believe you are ready to take command here at Holdfast yet." Ser Godfrey was looking at him gravely.
Kenrith shrugged to hide the tightening of his jaw. "I do not agree, but it seems my father shares your view. I understand that I have been raised outside of your watchful eyes, and that you do not yet know what to make of me... and I do not pretend that I can get by for long without wise counsil. I hope that my father will recover and this will all be but an awkard memory... but that may not be so..." Kenrith said before pausing and looking off into space for a moment.
"Please... if Herys is as good as you say, even if he should provoke you further... do not challenge him if you do not believe you can win. We must Hold Fast, but we can not endure the campaign if we do not husband our resources," he said with sentiment in his tone. He may have spoken of his uncle as if he were but another pawn on the board... but he genuinely feared the loss of another Hardy, and it was apparent in his voice.
Ser Godfrey sighed.
"I will try, Kenrith. But are you saying that I should scarifice my daughter's honour and the well-being of Maester Rhys above my being available to give you advice?" He stood up and laid an arm on Kenrith's uninjured shoulder. "Keep Godwyn by you for the moment. I know he's destined for the Wall. But there are greater priorities now, until you reach a time when you can Hold Fast in truth. For the rest - I'll see you at dinner."
Kenrith sighed and said "That isn't what I meant... I do value your council, but if I thought your death would save your daughter's honor I would not ask you to hold off... but if it ocmes to that, only victory will do," and shook his head.
"I will see you at dinner, Uncle. The old gods be with us," Kenrith said.
Ser Godfrey bowed his head in silent acknowledgment.
After his uncle had left, Kenrith called in a servant to help him remove the last of his armor. He let that servant return to his duties, then made sure Mal and Jayne had been provided with rooms. Jayne complained sourly about how cold the north was, but Mal allowed as to how the rooms would be fine. Quarters were tight in Holdfast, with so many Boltons visiting, but there were an almost countless number of little rooms which had been closed off for who knows how long. They had been found such quarters as didn't have anything living in them and had a roof which only leaked in one spot, and then only into a waiting battered pot which was emptied daily anyhow. This requent foot traffic to attend to the leak-catching pot was probably responsible for the otherwise fine condition of the room.
After that, Kenrith left word with the castle staff where he could be found should his brother be looking for him before dinner, requested hot water be sent up when possible, and returned to his room to rest and wash before dinner.
Hot water was brought immediately he commanded it. And his own rooms had been kept in perfect condition - perhaps not surprisingly, as every indication was that he would still be sharing a bed with Godwyn and (suggested by a certain aroma and hairs on the coverlets) two or three large hounds.