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(Continued from Gathering at Marshend and A Wolf's Tale: Corryn)

Catriona's grip on her bow remained firm as the stranger slowly moved towards the Septa's lands. She muttered a "Hold" to Keir, waiting to see whether the newcomer's subdued approach was merely subterfuge. "Rider moving slowly towards us," she called to the group on the other side of the cottage.

The hunter kept up her wary guard as the newcomer approached within hailing distance.

"Hail, goodfolk," he said, raising his good hand. "I'm looking for my daughter, not trouble."

"Hold there at the gate," Catriona called out. "Marshend has had its fill of trouble these past few days. Who are you, and who is this daughter you seek?"

Corryn brought his horse to a halt, feeling his heart leap at the sight of Catriona. Freckles, he thought. She just /had/ to have freckles and red hair. For a moment, he forgot that she could plant an arrow between his eyes. All could think of was the way that hair moved on her shoulders.

"Maiden, why do you vex me so?" he muttered.

Catriona's left eyebrow arched. She kept her arrow targeted at the mounted man, noting the flush on his cheeks and the unfocused look in his eyes. She wondered if it was merely that his wits were addled, or if he bore a contagion that was causing a delirium.

Valarr, the wiser of the pair, snorted, bringing Corryn out of his distracted daze.

"Ser Corryn Manderly," he called. "And I am seeking Lady Limosa Manderly. But you should probably know that. After all, the Boltons you're presently with kidnapped her after trying to murder the goodfolk of Holdfast."

"Corryn," came a voice from the other side of the house. Keary came from around the corner, his bow lowered. "Gabriel told me of you." He glanced at Catriona, then back to the mounted man. "He never told me about a daughter."

At the sound of Keary's familar voice from around the corner, Catriona relaxed the tension on her bowstring slightly, but kept it aimed in the general direction of the newcomer. After all, Keary knew of a lot of people. Some trustworthy, decent folk, and others quite the opposite. She had no idea where this Corryn fellow fit along that spectrum.

"You know Gabriel?" Corryn said, regarding the man with a broad smile. "How is that old tosser? Been far too long since I saw him last. And you're right. Limosa is my step-daughter. It's all very complicated. If the lovely lady promises not to use me for target practice, I'm sure I can explain it."

His gaze drifted back to Catriona. What color were her eyes? he wondered. A Dragon said they'd be green. Freckles, red hair, and green eyes… what better death could he have than at the hands of such a beguiling woman?

"Oh, now that's a difficult promise to make," Catriona replied in a dry voice. "Right now, there'd be little practice in shooting you. But later, who knows? You might prove yourself a better target, and then what would I be? An oathbreaker."

Corryn smirked and gave a surrendering nod. "True enough. And I'd be loath to cause such a stain upon your honor. Best we discuss alternative arrangements at another time."

After exchanging a glance with Keary, she lowered her bow to her side. Her right hand reached out to touch Keir lightly on the shoulder, bidding her to hold. "Better that I agree not to shoot you now, and see if you earn my trust or my arrows later." A smile flickered across her face with her last words.

"I shall endeavor to make you feel justified in your decision, m'lady," Corryn said, breathing a little easier. He couldn't help but mirror Catriona's smile, watching in fascination as she handled the direwolf so effortlessly.

Keary paused; the bow dipped lower. "Not too well," he said, "but that's a story all by itself. We ought to talk, if you haven't ruined that with accusations that may have been overheard." His head jerked in the direction of 'those Boltons'.

"They know their crimes," Corryn said with a shrug. "And if they bolt… well then, you'll have their answer to the accusation.

"Heh. Bolting Boltons. Need to remember that one."

He made an indication that he was about to move and then slowly dismounted, favoring his left arm. "Is Gabriel alive at least? I saw the damage to Marshend and I feared the worst when he wasn't about. The Bloody Mummers, Ser Davin told me."

His eyes drifted back to Catriona, "M'lady. If you shoot me, could you aim for the right arm? A certain maester will be most put out if you ruin his stitching on my left side."

"If I decide shoot you before that stitching comes out, Ser Corryn," Catriona replied, one hand ruffling the fur on the back of Keir's head as she spoke, "I'll give you the symmetry of an arrow in each arm. But I'll make sure that I miss the stitching so that good maester can survey his handiwork later."

"My thanks to you for your kind offer," Corryn said with a besotted grin. "Maester Rhys will be most pleased with your generosity and I shall make a handsome corpse. What more can be asked for than that?"

"Gabriel's alive," Keary said. "Just not here. His inn was burned when the Mummers came. He's out raising capital, I think were his words."

Corryn turned to Keary and let out a relieved sigh. "Good. May the Smith watch over him. My men and Ser Godwyn Hardy are watching over the town for the moment. They think the Mummers might be back. But I rode on alone. I couldn't let Limosa…"

For the first time, sadness entered his voice; his smile faltering. "The trail led here. Do you have my daughter?"

"Not as far as I know," Catriona answered with a frown. "Unless your daughter has been missing for days on end, or looks remarkably like a burly Bolton soldier."

Corryn couldn't hide his disappointment. He ran his hand over his head and sighed. Rather than dwell on the idea further, he took Valarr's reins and guided the horse to a suitable place to tie him up.

Her chin rose slightly as she called out. "Steward Thorne? Would you like to speak with our latest visitor here, or should we escort him around to talk with you and the other guests?"

While she waited for the Steward's response, Catriona glanced at Keary, then back at Corryn. "I'm glad that the people of Marshend have some assistance. I fully expect that the Bloody Mummers will be back." Her gaze shifted to look beyond Corryn to scan the surroundings for any signs of other company, wanted or unwanted. Softly she murmured, "Our first dance with their leader was all too short."

Keary frowned at this.

"The Knives have dealt with them before," Corryn said, following her gaze back the way he'd come. "They keep the people safe."

Derron had been about to ask Mariam what she preferred, but since the rider had come close enough for Catriona and Keary to speak with him, he waited. When the huntress called out he paused, then shrugged to himself. "Bring him around, if you please." He then knocked softly on the cottage door. "Mariam, we have another rider coming in. Listen in as we speak, and call out if you have anything to add."

"After you, Ser," Catriona gestured with one hand, indicating which way around the cottage Corryn should head. She then flashed Keir a hand signal. As she fell into step behind the newcomer, Keir followed at her heels. Just before rounding the corner into view of the Boltons, Catriona gave the direwolf another signal. Keir stopped in her tracks, at attention and on guard from the set of her ears, but out of the line of sight of the Bolton entourage.

Not one to question a beautiful woman, Corryn dutifully obeyed Catronia's directions. He paused only once to watch her signal and guide the direwolf. His hazel eyes burned with respect and admiration. "Someday, you'll have to tell me how you came about that magnificent talent, m'lady," he said and headed in the path she'd instructed.

Keary stood a moment, glancing in the direction of the other group. His frown grew deeper. He looked back towards where Corryn and Catriona had gone, then back towards the Bolton men.

Then, he looked towards the marsh, and the mists. His stance indicated that he would like nothing more than to be away from this place, but instead he placed a hand on his direwolf's head.

"Stay here, Mist," he said. "Stay with Keir." And with that, he strode around to join the group in the house.

(Continued in A Wolf Arrives at the Cottage)

Page last modified on March 23, 2007, at 04:51 PM