Preparations for a Search-Rhys
After leaving the Great Hall, Rhys made his way back to his uncle’s tower. Up in the workroom he gathered to a clear spot on one of the worktables the medical supplies he forsaw possibly needing: needles and gut to sew wounds and honey to coat and seal them, strips of cloth to use as bandages, comfrey for infection, willow bark for fever and pain…
He paused from placing them in a leather satchel to stare out the window, suddenly caught up in wondering how Merivel was doing, wondering what Syndra wanted to say to him, wondering if he would be back in time to help with the inevitable injuries arising from the tourney. Death for someone was likely in all of this, whether Merivel or the men sent to guard him or Ser Godfrey or Tamm, and that realization seeped through his belly with cold, icy fingers. He hated death.
Rhys exhaled forcefully and and refocused on packing his satchel.
“Rhys?” It was his uncle’s voice, speaking quietly behind him. “Rhys - do you have a weapon of your own?”
Rhys startled, not having heard Sewell come up the stairs. He smiled grimly at him. “Weapon? Um…” He looked around the room. “No.”
“Take a dagger,” said Sewell. He moved to a chest and opened it. Inside, at the top, were a number of spare flasks wrapped in rich cloth - a supply they had used occasionally in their work. These Sewell lifted out carefully and set aside, before reaching out a number of long, thin, flat objects wrapped in brocade. Her spread of the cloth, and a variety of different blades were revealed.
“I had enemies in my youth,” he said simply. “I have outlived them all.”
Rhys looked over Sewell’s shoulder, fascinated. Not wanting to take a dagger that looked too fancy and expensive, Rhys reached over and withdrew one that sported a more utilitarian handle of warm maple, simply carved with a spiralling design. Edged on both sides, the blade was as long as the distance between Rhys’s middle finger and his wrist and glimmered prettily in the light from the windows.
Rhys carefully ran his thumb over an edge and whistled. “This is a more dangerous blade than the little knife I use for surgery, no doubt.” He looked up at Sewell. “You continue to surprise me, Uncle.”
Sewell smiled grimly. “Do you want to poison the blade? It adds a degree of certainty, but detracts from its overall utility.”
“I…don’t think I want to,” Rhys replied after a brief moment’s consideration. “Thank you.” He lowered the dagger and regarded his uncle. “Do you see a motive for Lady Celia to break guest-right against Merivel?” he asked, clearly puzzled.
“I think I can,” began Sewell - and then he paused, frowning. “There is someone on the steps.”
A small gesture suggested Rhys should investigate.
Syndra arrived at the foot of the stairs to the maesters’ tower. As she started to ascend, she heard voices and her face fell. It was Sewell.
She stopped halfway up and gnawed at her lip. Though she was not above listening in on people she did not respect, like Celia, it made her uncomfortable to listen at the doors of people she cared about. She was funny that way. And while she might have listened at Sewell’s door, Rhys was in fact someone she cared about. She turned and smoothed her dress, then sat on the stairs to wait.
Presently the voices fell silent.
Rhys glanced at Sewell with raised eyebrows, then set the dagger on the table next to his satchel and walked over to stand at the top of the stairs. He looked down, expecting to see Syndra, but the stairs were empty. This was not that surprising, as the stairway spiralled around the central shaft of the tower and most of it was out of his sight.
He looked up and shrugged at his uncle. Sewell shook his head and pointed back at the stairs. Rhys held up a hand in acquiesce and started down them quietly. He pulled up short when he encountered a slim shape sitting on the step, its back to him.
“Syndra?” he said softly.
She glanced up over her shoulder expectantly when she heard him coming. “I heard voices and I didn’t want to intrude,” she said, explaining her position on the steps. “Can you talk?” she added in a lower voice, glancing back behind him to see if Sewell was coming.
Rhys followed her glance, but Sewell had stayed up in the workroom. He continued down the stairs and stopped once he was a few steps in front of her. “Certainly, I can talk. What’s wrong?”
Syndra shook her head slightly. “Nothing. But I thought I should tell you something I overheard last night,” she said softly. “A bit after I talked to you out the window, Lady Celia and Ser Anders walked by. I heard them talking. She seemed to want Anders to do something that would violate guest-right. He refused - adamantly. Then she asked how far guest-right extends. He told her ‘all the way to the destination.’ She seemed annoyed by that. Then she asked about ‘the escort’.”
She paused to let that sink in. “I didn’t hear any more than that, but Rhys, she had to have been talking about Merivel.”
He nodded, his expression serious. “That fits with Ander’s actions earlier and things I’ve recently heard him say. I don’t understand why Lady Celia would wish Merivel harm, do you? Especially after all the doctoring Merivel provided for Lord Hardy.”
“Unless she doesn’t want Uncle Oswain to live.” Syndra shook her head, unsatisfied with that answer. “But that shouldn’t have any bearing. He was leaving. It wouldn’t matter.”
She narrowed her eyes in thought. “Do you think he could’ve said something to Merivel that Celia didn’t like?” she asked. “Is he even able to speak?”
“Lord Hardy can speak,” Rhys replied, “though not very well and the meaning behind the words is often not clear.”
He folded his arms across his chest and pursed his lips in thought. “Merivel did tell me something that, if Lady Celia heard it, would likely cause her some amount of agitation,” he said, thinking of Merivel’s account of the Dream he had of snow and waking to hear Lord Hardy calling for his bastard son. “I wish I could say more, but discretion as a maester advises me not to. I…can’t quite see Lady Celia murdering someone over the information, but perhaps there’s a desperation there that I’m not aware of.”
Syndra nodded thoughtfully. “I understand,” she said, then added softly, “But I wouldn’t underestimate Lady Celia. She is desperate. She and Anders think Kenrith will toss them both out of Holdfast the moment Uncle Oswain passes. Personally, I don’t believe that Kenrith would be that heartless, but they’re worried all the same.”
“I agree with you about Kenrith. But how to convince Lady Celia?” He looked down at his feet and shook his head in frustration.
She shook her head slowly and gazed downward as well. “I wish I knew,” she murmured.
Rhys was quiet then, still looking at his feet, and in the almost awkward silence he raised his eyes to gaze at Syndra’s pale face. “How are you doing?” he asked gently. “These last two days have been very hard and I’m concerned about you. I want to help.”
She looked back up at him and affection cracked the tension in her blue eyes. She smiled at him fondly. “You are helping,” she said, involuntarily reaching for his hand, but lowering her graceful fingers with a blush when she noticed it. “You’re keeping me sane.”
Rhys didn’t move away, but just looked at her hand, then back to her face.
She bit her lip and her voice lowered to a whisper. “I’m so scared, Rhys,” she admitted, looking up at him sadly.
“Shhh, Little Bird,” Rhys said gently, “You have people who care for you greatly and we’ll figure something out. Your father will be all right, and you won’t have to marry the Bolton, I promise.” Wanting to offer comfort, he reached forward to stroke her cheek with the back of his hand.
Her skin felt warm and smooth beneath his fingers and he marveled at the pleasant sensation. He’d touched flesh before, as a healer, so why was this so very different?
His touch lit up her insides like wildfire. She closed her eyes with a little sigh and reached up to touch his fingers with her own, basking in his closeness and warmth.
Then, reluctantly, she came to her senses. She squeezed his hand and rose. Standing on the step above him so she was at eye-level, she hastily placed her hands on his shoulders and kissed his cheek, stepping away immediately afterward with a nervous glance up the stairs. “Promise me you’ll be careful,” she said worriedly, concern and perhaps a bit of longing in her blue eyes.
Rhys gazed silently at her for the space of a few heartbeats.
His body had responded involuntarily to her kiss and sudden proximity. So this is what his great-uncle meant by the difference between touching the harlot’s cheek and Syndra’s, he observed with forced clinical detachment. Fascinating, his mind commented as he gazed at her eyes. And dangerously irresistable, his body added, as his gaze slipped to her mouth.
Rhys lowered his gaze and recrossed his arms. He looked anywhere but at her face. “Careful? Yes, of course. I’ll be fine, I’m sure.
“Speaking of which, I should finish my preparations. Was there anything else…?”
“No. Um… I… I don’t think so,” she said hesitantly, as if not quite ready to leave, but understanding the wisdom of doing just that. She moved past him to a point a few stairs down, then turned back. “You’ll tell me when you return. Won’t you?” she asked hopefully.
He chanced looking at her face again, figuring the moment was passed. “Of course. Take care,” he said, his expression his Citadel-learned neutral mask.
She gave him a little smile. “You too,” she said, then continued on down around the spiral, her honey-brown curls hiding the blush that had come across her face.
Rhys turned away and climbed back up the stairs to the workroom.
He climbed the stairs slowly until Syndra was out of sight, then took them two-at-a-time. He arrived at the top a little breathless.
Mask still firmly in place, he nodded to his great-uncle and went back to packing his satchel, glad to have something to occupy himself with so he didn’t have to look at Sewell.
He was, however, conscious that his great-uncle was watching him.
“That was Syndra on the stairs,” he said with forced casualness. “She told me about a conversation she overheard Lady Celia and Ser Anders having last night. Apparently Lady Celia wanted her brother to do something that would violate guest-right, but Ser Anders refused.
“You have a theory that explains motive? I have a thought, but I didn’t think it was enough to warrant murder.”
“I have thoughts too,” agreed Sewell. “And mine don’t necessarily involve murder. After all, why are we assuming that the Maester was murdered, or even threatened with murder? That is not the way I would manage this myself.”
Rhys paused and smiled. “Ah, I sense a learning opportunity coming up,” he said wryly, this question-and-answer format a familiar game his uncle played with him.
Sewell merely smiled gently.
He paused a moment, ordering his thoughts, then said, “All right. First of all, interesting things I know about Merivel: he’s the third son of Lord Belmore; Belmore is a minor house in the Vale of Arryn; there was an attempted poisoning of Lord Belmore some time ago which led Merivel to learn about poisons and healing, leading him ultimately to the Citadel; he did not return to Belmore, but was assigned by the Citadel to Clearwater instead; he alluded to a recent situation—I assume at Clearwater—where his loyalties and ethics crossed, but did not give me details; he—” and here Rhys paused, wondering whether Merivel would mind if Sewell knew about his unique ability to Dream and deciding it best not to break confidences unless necessary, “—he told me he heard Lord Hardy calling for his Snow son.”
Rhys started to pace, arms behind his back. “Interesting things I know about Lady Celia: she’s the daughter of Lord Tollet, also a minor house in the Vale of Arryn; she was married to Ser Martyn, widowed, and married to Lord Hardy; it is common opinion that she fears for her position if Lord Hardy passes away; she appears to be cultivating a relationship with the Boltons of Dreadfort; it is my opinion that the the Lady’s three most motivating desires are for power, wealth, and security, and it is also my opinion that she has few scruples in obtaining her desires.
“This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s what has come to mind immediately,” Rhys stated, then shrugged. “All right. Common elements and observations: both Merivel and Lady Celia have ties to to the Vale; the existence of a Hardy Snow would be information that Lady Celia would likely not want revealed; Merivel is Maester to Clearwater, Lord Draupaud of Clearwater was fostered to the Dreadfort, and the Boltons of the Dreadfort iare here now looking to marry Syndra to one of theirs. I will admit, none of these observations are leaping out at me and singing ‘I am the reason, pick me!’
Rhys stopped pacing and frowned. “So why would Lady Celia want to hinder Merivel? If not murder, then kidnapping? For ransom, diversion, or just to get Merivel out of the way temporarily?”
“Ransom…maybe. Clearwater is a profitable House and Holdfast is arguably in decline. But Merviel is newly come there and inexperienced. From what I’ve heard of Lord Draupaud, I can’t quite see him putting forth the money. I’m also not sure Lord Belmore could afford ransom, or would want to, callous perhaps, but true—Merivel is a third son that Belmore hasn’t seen for some time.
“Diversion? Perhaps to force him to find information of this Snow, but that’s weak.
“Get Merivel out of the way? Is there something of a timely nature that’s going to happen soon that involves Lady Celia that I’m not aware of? There was the recent proclamation that Ser Godfrey and Lady Celia are to work together to oversee Holdfast while Lord Hardy is indisposed, but I don’t see how that connects to Merivel at all, except that he was there to witness it.
“Murder? Perhaps to keep Merivel from spreading the information about the possible existence of a Snow, but that’s weak too, I think.”
Rhys sighed and shook his head in frustration. “I see no clear motive and have no clear thoughts on the matter. So tell me, Uncle, where is my thinking faulty?”
“Something in the past,” said Sewell, “is definitely one possibility. It could be that Merivel knows something from our Lady’s past that she is anxious to keep hidden. Or that she believes he knows … something he said might have triggered that - even if he was unaware of it.
“The Snow … Lady Hardy is no fool. She knows that we know … or will know. So why should Merivel be prevented from carrying the news out? Unless she fears the Boltons … or unless … “
He paused, frowning.
“Or unless she wants to eliminate another potential heir and doesn’t want him forewarned…?” Rhys speculated.
“An unknown Snow in a remote village might be easy to remove,” said Sewell. “If there was a rumour that he was Lord Hardy’s son … the task might become harder.
“It may not just be Maester Merivel that needs to be found.”
Rhys thought back to the image he had after touching Lord Hardy—dark water lapping against the side of something long and flat—and Merivel’s Dream of reeds and a small town and snow falling. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of his vision, but Merivel’s Dream certainly fit the description of Marshend, and Marshend was certainly close enough for a dalliance.
“You’ve given me much to think about, Uncle,” Rhys admitted. He strapped closed the satchel and slipped the dagger into his boot. “I mislike this situation. Take care while I am gone.”
He embraced his uncle warmly, then started down the stairs, satchel over his shoulder.