No Rest For The Slightly Wicked
Corryn cut across the tournament field, wildly skirting the pillory and its obnoxious resident. He felt elated after his conversation with Syndra. Somehow, in a matter of moments, the weight of a decade had been lifted from his shoulders. It showed in his stride and his features; a youthful glow he’d forgotten. The Wolf had found his teeth again. But importantly, he’d found his focus.
As he passed the bustle and ramblings of normal castle life, his thoughts returned to the underlying goals he needed to accomplish. Such foolishness had plagued him for days now that he’d ignored the bloody obvious. A goofy smile shone on his face as he realized he didn’t have to die today; much to the disappointment of some, he was sure. With a few oily words and a pinch of skullduggery, he would feast upon the spoils of the Bolton’s humiliation. He truly delighted in the irony of his plan.
Nor would there be blood on his hands by day’s conclusion; at least, not that much, and certainly from no one who mattered.
He’d leave the last part to Kenrith.
The boy deserved his pound of flesh, a thousand times over.
As he approached the stone arch before the Godswood, Corryn glanced around in search of Eryk’s weasel-like figure.
There was no sign of Eryk waiting for him. But thrust into the ground, like a savage offering to the gods, was a pennant that bore the Bolton standard. And attached to it was a streamer that looked vaguely familiar - but Corryn would have to approach more nearly to distinguish what it was.
“Bollocks and damnation,” he muttered, knowing what he was about to find. He walked forward and examined the streamer more carefully. And then he looked about for the girl he knew would undoubtedly be here somewhere. After all, he had promised to take her. Considering this morning’s unpleasantness, this might be a place for her to seek solace.
“Limosa?” he called.
There was no answer - but it was clearly the ripped and won ribbon she favoured to tie back her dark hair.
“He has her,” said a voice from behind him - some distance behind. Eryk’s voice. “He’s sent me with a message … and if you hurt or kill me, it won’t do you any good - because that’s what he wants.”
He already knew what Eyrk was about to say. He’d been so damned foolish to let her out of his sight. His voice was low, but audible enough for the boy to hear. “Then best give me his message posthaste before I do him that courtesy, Eyrk,” he growled.
Eryk drew a breath. “He’ll return her … unharmed in any way. And he’ll tear up the marriage contract - if you’ll ensure Evan Tamm dies today, and prove your good faith with the Leaning Tower.”
“Bollocks!” Corryn said, standing his ground, but measuring the distance between them mentally. If he needed to, he could draw his blade and plant it in the boy’s throat with little difficulty. Somehow that thought warmed him inside. “If that were true, why was he trying to get you to undermine Godfrey as he suited up this morning? He doesn’t want his true son dead. He wants an excuse to take Holdfast by force. And I won’t give it to him.
Eryk looked startled - it was not an expression, Corryn could see, that had been faked.
“My father wants Evan Tamm dead,” he said, and there was a note of truth in his voice. “He wants to make sure the fight is rigged - for Ser Godfrey to win. And I daresay he wouldn’t mind me dead, either - which is why he’s sent me with him demmed message.”
“He’s also probably aware the Leaning Stone will never be allowed to remain in Bolton hands. Lord Stark is very particular about upholding the Law. But with me out of the way, there will not be a contestation.”
He stepped closer, eyes narrowing. “So, where is she Eryk? You, I’ll let live. The same will not be said for the others. I’ll even throw in your brother’s escape for you.”
“I don’t know!” said Eryk - and there was a note of despair in his voice. “Somewhere in the forest, I think … or perhaps hidden in his rooms. But people would have seen her if she was taken that way … unless … unless … “
“Unless what?” Corryn said, closing the distance between them. He gripped Eryk around the shirt and lifted him up. “Unless WHAT?!”
Syndra had just entered the clearing from behind the sentinel pines when she heard Corryn raise his voice. She froze, throwing her hand out for Volf to do the same, as she took in the scene - Corryn grasping Eryk’s shirt roughly, the Bolton standard twined with a ragged ribbon. Eryk’s back was to her, but she sought Corryn’s eye and raised a finger to her lips. Assuming Eryk would look back, she jerked her thumb behind her, urgently motioning Volf back behind the thick sentinel pines as she ducked back there herself to wait.
“Unless he had … had her unconscious,” gasped Eryk, his hands lifting to flail at his throat as his face reddened and he began to choke.
Corryn let up on his grip… slightly. “Then you’re going to find out for me, Eryk,” Corryn said coldly. “Or I swear the death I provide you will make your father’s darkest plans seem like a blessing.” He pushed the boy away and pressed his hands to his face. He let out a anguished cry and then shook it off.
From his pocket, he drew out the wrapped keys and thrust them into Eryk’s hands. “These are the keys to your brother’s manacles. He’ll be alone just before they dress him for the tournament. Both of you can make a run for it after that. You can go to White Harbor and call upon my father’s help. Evan will undoubtedly do whatever the hell he wants.”
Corryn’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve given you what you need to free your brother. Now find me my daughter so I can kill that bastard without fear.”
Eryk fumbled blindly with the keys - then thrust them in his jacket.
“I shall,” he said. “I’ll find her - and take you to her!”
He made as though to dart way, but paused to shoot a worried look at Corryn, almost as though asking permission.
Corryn gave him a dark smile. “You can go,” he said. “But if she is…” The bile rose in his throat, stinging his tongue. “If she is harmed, I’m coming after you and Evan when I’m done with your father. Do something good for a change, Eryk.”
He waved his hand dismissively and walked over to where Limosa’s ribbon remained hanging like an accusation. He took it into his hand gently, cradling it. “Why can’t I protect the women I love?” he asked of no one in particular. The Godswood provided him no answers, only a faint rustle of leaves.
Behind the tree, Syndra looked back at Volf, wide-eyed. “There’s only one ‘her’ they could be talking about. We need to get the dogs. Come on,” she whispered urgently. She leaped up and set off back down the path at a run, trusting Volf to follow.
And he was at her heels as she ran.
“Can you find something of hers at the camp?” she panted once they were out of earshot of Corryn and Eryk. “Something for the dogs to scent?”
Volf nodded. “Her shoes!” he said. “She kicks them off whenever she thinks Ser Corryn isn’t watching - I’ll be bound they’re left behind.”
Syndra grinned. “Brilliant! Of course. And if you can’t find any here, there’s the pair she left in my room yesterday.”
As they approached the camp, Syndra slowed and spoke to Volf quietly. “As much as I’d like to have the entire troop of Laughing Knives turning over every rock to find her, I’m afraid to make too much of a fuss. Ser Herys must have her - Wo… Ser Corryn wouldn’t be so upset otherwise. And if we spook Herys before we get close enough to snatch Limosa away from him…” She raised her eyes to Volf worriedly. He’d fought alongside Corryn long enough to know how to finish that sentence.
“I’m thinking Tamlin and one, maybe two dogs,” she strategized. “We do it quietly, like we’re just walking along with Tamlin. Perhaps that will allow us to get close without Herys suspecting that we’re looking for him.” She looked up at Volf inquiringly, as much asking advice as doling it out.
Volf started to reply when they heard a sudden roar in a very familiar voice:
Startled, Syndra looked toward the bellow and saw Corryn stalk into the camp, agitated and enraged. “Oh no,” she moaned, and Volf could hear both the discouragement and the sympathy in her voice. She turned back to him. “Find Limosa’s shoes, or whatever you can find, and meet me at the wagon. I’ll try to calm him down,” she instructed, then trotted off toward her friend.
Corryn tied the ribbon to his wrist and then marched back towards his camp. His entire body radiated violence. It had been building in him for years, festering inside him like a sore, barely contained. He pushed it down again; he needed his wits about him now, more than ever. But that violence would come out today. And neither Man nor God could prevent that now.
As he approached his camp, he snapped, “Phalan! Get the men ready and start breaking the camp. I want us to be mobile in an hour.”
After Phalan snapped to his orders, Syndra trotted up to Corryn’s side from somewhere within the camp. She stepped solidly into his path, blocking it, and grasped him by the forearms. Her grip was not gentle; it was firm and unyielding, meant to breach the rage and the fear and the hate she had heard in his voice. She looked him in the eyes and forced him to look back into hers, ocean-blue and deadly calm. “Herys has her, doesn’t he,” she finally said softly, her voice braced with determination. It was a statement, not a question.
Corryn raised an eyebrow at that and then nodded glumly, “Aye, he has. And if I don’t assure Evan dies, he’ll… he’ll…” He couldn’t form the words, but considering Herys’ manner, he didn’t really need to expound further. He looked at her hand, feeling its grip for the first time. He smiled faintly and then turned back to Phalan.
“Phalan,” he called, drawing the man back. “Change that order. Don’t break camp. I want us to look like we’re still here. But get the men ready to move and fight. The Bolton’s have broken the Guestright. He took her… he took our Lady.” The last words cracked in his throat, all brittle pieces and pain.
Syndra squeezed his arms comfortingly. She felt him waver for a moment, and then straighten up. The feral flame returned to his eyes, but now it had more focus thanks to her calming presence.
“We’ll get her back,” Syndra told him, calm and confident, still holding his arms to give him strength. “But we have to be careful. She’s a hostage. If Herys thinks the whole camp’s after him, he’ll kill her.” Syndra saw no reason not to be blunt. Nothing would come of pouring honey over the truth, especially since Wolf knew it anyway.
She stepped to Corryn’s side, still holding one arm, and led him toward the wagon. As they walked, she explained quietly, for his ears only. “Volf saw her go toward the godswood, so we were on our way there to look for her. We heard you and Eryk. Not the whole thing, but enough to guess what happened. We’re getting Tamlin and a couple of dogs, to track her quietly. No one knows that I know he has her.”
She paused to let that sink in. “With luck, Volf and I can get close enough to snatch her away - if no one tips him off.” Syndra looked up into his eyes and he could see the Hardy determination, the stubbornness in her expression. But it was tempered with something else… love. And loyalty. If he ever doubted the seriousness of her childhood oath to protect him, he could doubt it no longer.
Corryn smiled faintly, touching her cheek. He stared at her with grateful, loving eyes. “When did you become so wise, Syndra?” he said in quiet reverence. “It’s a good plan.”
His hand fell away from her face and he straightened up; a calming breath running through his body. “Eryk mentioned that Herys may have moved her to his rooms,” he said. “She would have had to be unconscious with the way she fights. She may still be, so Volf will need to carry her. The poor thing can’t call out. Gods, she must be so afraid.” He shook his head and turned around.
Corryn stalked towards his tent, pushing back the flap. He immediately went to his sea trunk and opened it. He pulled out a belt and put it around his waist. From this, he hung a sheathed cutlass and then covered it with his cloak.
Before Corryn closed the lid on his trunk, Syndra peeked into it. “Do you have another knife?” she asked. “Herys is certain to have taken anything Limosa might have had with her, and I want her armed.”
Corryn nodded and handed her a small blade from the trunk. “Be wary of that blade, Syndra. It was my mother’s. Although the poison on it has undoubtedly deteriorated to nothing, I can’t be sure. She was Dornish and, well, their skills with the Black Arts never cease to surprise me. I don’t want either of you nicking yourselves by accident. Understood?” He gingerly handed her the sheathed knife; its curved scabbard catching the faint light.
She nodded, her glance indicating that she knew how much the weapon meant to him and would be careful with it. “Understood. And thank you,” she said, tucking the knife, sheath and all, into the waistband of her skirt.
“Now that Herys has broken the Guestright, how do you think I should proceed?” Corryn asked, turning to look at her. “Your father and cousins might be disturbed by my men and me slaughtering your guests out of the blue. And if we warn Godfrey, he’s prone to act without thinking first.”
Syndra narrowed her eyes, analyzing the situation. “They’re going to need to know eventually, but my first concern is Limosa. We need to get her away from Herys - now. Once we find her in his grasp, that will be proof positive for Father. He will be honor-bound to stand with you against them. Not that he wouldn’t have anyway, but that will clinch it.
“If you tell Father what has happened, though - privately - and stress the importance of stealth, I’m sure he’d see the wisdom of that course, too. Perhaps between you, you can divert Herys’s attention somehow?” she proposed, looking up at him to see if he had any other ideas.
Volf stood close by, listening a little self-consciously.
Corryn nodded as she offered her thoughts. “You’re right, my dear. He is still my friend and has been known to act with some sense now and again.” He smiled faintly. “But if I approach him, it will need to be done discretely as well. Herys will have him watched now. He may respond before we have the opportunity to move against him.
“True,” Syndra responded with a grimace. She hadn’t thought of that.
“I hope that weasel son of his comes through with his promise,” he said in a grim tone. “And I pray Herys continued to think me the villain I’m rumored to be. He may be too confident in his position and that will help us act more freely.”
Syndra nodded and crossed toward Volf. “We should get moving,” she said to the squire. She turned back to Corryn before leaving. “So you think we should follow Eryk if we happen to spot him? Can he be trusted?”
“No,” Corryn said, following behind them, now that he had his sword and knife ready. “And I mean that in both cases. Herys wanted Eryk dead, so he’ll be watching the boy closely. It’s what I’m hoping for. When Eryk tries to release Evan, Herys will be forced to make his move. That should keep him distracted long enough for you to get Limosa free. And for me to do what I should have done when he took your mother from us.”
He touched her shoulder, “Be careful, Syndra. I can’t lose all the people I love today. You, in particular. You’re my voice of reason. I doubt I could live without your guiding spirit.”
Syndra looked up into his eyes and smiled reassuringly, reaching up also to touch his fingers lightly. “I’ll be careful, and Volf’s here if there’s trouble. You just make sure Herys stays busy.” She ducked out of the tent then before either of them could get too maudlin.