(121-06-04) The Worm at the heart of Winterfell

Carolis has been spending time at the Citadel these past few days, and unlike he was before, he's actually been taking the need for guards seriously (at least seriously enough to endure them). Tonight he's taking a breather up in the garden. Shadwick crouches beside Carolis, eyeing the dovecote with intense feline interest. Meanwhile, the young Stark lord tunes a lute he's picked up somewhere. "Don't even think about it," he tells the cat. The cat's tail swishes. Oh. He's thinking about it.

Malcolm's hair is freshly cut and dyed and he is sporting fancy new dyed facial hair, having sculpted the shaggy mess he grew on his hard ride from Winterfell. He arrives with his practice sword, clearly planning to take advantage of the cooler air up here. He is barefoot and in a loose grey shirt and dark grey hose. Spotting Lord Carolis, he approaches quietly, smiling to see him preparing to make music.

Some moments later, a third party joins the pair on the roof, his features a mask of businesslike stoicism and concern expressed the way it often is by grim-faced warriors. Cregan's scowl precedes him by its sheer amplitude, given the enigma and importance of the message conveyed to him by his brother's messenger. He's dressed simply, as he generally is— particularly around the manse: a loose, white swordsman's shirt that's partially laced towards his neck, and black breeches worn about matching, dark leather boots. He's likely arrived recently, sword belt in place and occupied. "Carolis. Malcolm." There's a nod to each man, but no other immediate words. A large, brindle-coated dog bounds up the stairway just behind him, surveying the rooftop and planting herself between the dovecote and the cat, the latter eyed evenly.

Carolis grins up at Malcolm. He noodles around with some idle melody. Shadwick's attention shifts to Malcolm and his tail swishes again. Then he stands up and chirps, rubs against Malcolm's leg. Then the fluffy beast pads over to Cregan. He rubs against his leg, too. All this? This belongs to Shadwick. Carolis rises to his feet when his brother arrives, and he puts the lute aside. "Cregan," he says. A glance between each man, and then he says, ""There's news from Winterfell. Malcolm, do you have the letters?"

Malcolm turns and give Lord Cregan a deep, graceful bow. He straightens. he is very still when not doing something specific. He stands in a formal posture now, eyes down. Though he spares a smile for the cat, now is not the time for greeting him properly. Instead he produces a collection of letters from inside his shirt. He has a soft, South Coast Stormlander lilt, and his tone is formal, "There is a plot runs deep and deadly, I think."

When the cat moves on to greet people rather than stalk birds, the large warhound puts her head down on the ground and lets out a relaxed huff. Her charge stoops down to scritch the affectionate cat behind the ears as he listens to the explanation he clearly expects to be forthcoming. In this, Cregan is not disappointed, though the approach to business lends little in the way of details. As such, Lord Stark offers simply a nod, with no lightening of the frown that's found his way onto his face. "When don't they?" He inquires drily, somewhere between unfazed and perhaps a bit cynical about the entire affair. He takes the letters from Malcolm with a cursory consideration of the man's downcast face, then unfolds the first and begins reading.

The Maester's letters: It starts with a series of letters from someone unknown, the size of ravens' scrolls with curling ends. There are only the replies, not what the Maester actually sent, but the gist is clear. /One who can see through the eyes of your ravens is a concern. Deal with it./ And /We will receive the boy in due time and complete his education/.

Then there is the more incriminating stuff. It would take a sharp eye looking for something to even find it, but some of the details smell off. Like a letter asking after the accident that killed Lord Rickon awfully soon after it happened, and queries about the political landscape with the death of Lord Stark. Just… things. An untoward interest, and the gods only know what the old man sent back by way of reply.

Oh, and regarding the death of Lord Rickon, the fate of the other one, the one with the shattered leg, was of no concern unless he saw something.

Within a fortnight, Malcolm is able to gather enough evidence to implicate the Master in, at the very least, intentional neglect in regards to Tellur Snow, though there was serious waffling about it and an inability to kill him outright. Eventually, he couldn't bring himself to refuse the bastard's father's attempts to save him. Oh, sure, he did totally mean to leave him to die. But it was hard, and in the end, he couldn't. There is a letter that tells him he best send the bastard down, too. He could prove useful and, if not, at least those receiving him wouldn't be sentimental fools. That is the concrete stuff. There is a whole lot more implied that goes deeper than an expendable bastard and an intelligent protg.


Carolis tells the cat, "You see? There are eyes everywhere watching you." Shadwick leans into the scratching. Kitty bliss. As Cregan reads the letters, Carolis tries to stare awkwardly. So he looks to Malcolm instead and says quietly, "I haven't seen anything odd at the Citadel. The tutor he found for me hasn't been acting oddly."

Malcolm smiles grimly at Lord Cregan's comment, "Lord Cregan, I had to speak with the Maester extensively to find these. He is a very plausible villain, and I suspect he may have been sent to Winterfell as part of a long plot." He nods to Lord Carolis, and steps back to stand by him, "They are subtle villans, I think, Lord Carolis. How much easier to guide your studies through someone innocent of the plot, whatever it is, if guiding your studies is part of the plan. Whatever the plan is, it clearly hinges on your education and intelligence, My Lord. I wish only I knew what they plan to use you for."

"He's next in the line of succession." Cregan observes simply of Malcolm's uncertainty regarding Carolis' importance. It comes some moments after he's gone through several of the letters in the stack, and then back over several of those. It may be the most obvious answer, but there are limited rewards worthy of a risk of such magnitude. "I don't see any sigil or signature on any of these. No leads on who he's working for?" More's the pity for the Maester, most likely. Ice is a merciful tool, but extracts little information with its stroke.

The implication with regard to his father, perhaps even his dead older brother, is not lost on Cregan. "He practically raised you." Cregan observes, a bit incredulously, towards Carolis, eyes rising from the parchments. "Likely gives him the illusion of control." The anger that has to be surging somewhere between the surface seems to mediate Cregan's tone— less concern, less agitation than had initially been there. It's cold, almost monotone. Even the fire behind those Stark eyes burns wintry, like shimmering ice reflecting the sky. "Is there more?" Not that this isn't enough for action.

Carolis tells Malcolm gently, "It's all speculation, Ser. We must look at the evidence and take a rational approach." He glances to the letters, then nods to Cregan. "I'm not sure if I can trust my own mind in this. I still have a hard time believing it." Shadwick eyes the dovecote again, then looks toward the dog, and with a look of mortal offense only a cat can master, he slinks away toward planter to perch upon while he grooms himself. Carolis glances that way, distracted, but then back to Cregan. "I had a few thoughts, but they're just hunches."

Malcolm looks wry, "I thought is rude to mention you might be a target, Lord Cregan, as your brother likely was." He shakes his head, "I fear there was no clue I could find. It might be that someone with months to sort through decades of correspondence, we might discover it. Perhaps he had ties at the Citadel or before to give clues. I suspect his treachery goes back to the beginning of his posting. We could ask at the citadel or try direct questioning, perhaps, My Lord. Best to be careful; though as there was an attempt to waylay me riding south that looked professional. I fear I am from a minor House, not given to politics and am out of my depth when it comes to that level of political maneuver." He looks sad, "Lord Carolis, he groomed you your whole life for whatever this plot is." He takes a deep breath, "you understand that he likely wanted Tellur out of the way to strip Lord Carol of protection and that likely Lord Andolin would not be breathing if he had said the wrong thing under the influence of the poppy?"

"Whether you trust your mind or not, I would know it." Cregan answers simply of Carolis' contemplations. As for the rest? "There's no space for offense in such matters." Cregan dismisses of any implied rudeness on Malcolm's part. "Better I know a threat than that my ego is comfortable." If there was ever a more universal truth that the young Lord lives by, it's less relevant at this moment. "We need to know the details of his appointment to Winterfell. Subtly, so no one is tipped off— we don't know where this conspiracy originates, or in what institution or House. I won't have word getting to this man before he's locked in the most uncomfortable cell in Winterfell." Which may have little on the Eyrie, in that regard, but they make do. Careful planning may be the wise course of action— but putting an abrupt stop to such things is also a priority on Cregan's mind. "I'll be travelling north with Lord Bolton for a time, while treaties are negotiated to pursue our other quarry. These events may even be connected to the same conspiracy. If there is other incriminating evidence in the Maester's chambers… or within his mind.. it /will/ be uncovered." The stress is subtle, but fervent, his tone still icy; deadly.

"There's no proof of any of that, Ser Malcolm." says Carolis. He then allows, "It looks bad, but these are heavy accusations to levy against a man." He's young enough he wants to fidget and disciplined enough he doesn't. He stands stark (har!) still, hands at his sides. He regards his brother steadily, meeting his eyes, "Whatever anyone thought they might do with me, my loyalty will always be with you." As if the idea that any other notion would be ridiculous, he adds, "You're my brother." As for his thoughts, he says, "When we were children, Tellur had dreams about being animals. I didn't give it any thought, because Tellur's always had a touch of the wild in him. One of the letters says seeing through a raven's eyes would be a problem. The Maester dismissed our First Men stories as fiction rather vehemently, but if Tellur's abilities were manifesting, and the Maester had found out, maybe when Tellur came in wounded from that boar, the old man meant to help nature take its course. As for the rest, whoever tried to grab me at the docks was desperate. It was a risky move, but it would've kept me from riding out to meet you in battle. Maybe they didn't want you to think I would come. The Maester knows how much I fear being a disappointment to you. I've told him as much."

Malcolm looks worried, "I have a fear my taking the evidence could have tipped them off, Lord Cregan. I am sorry. I put everything else back as I found it, but you may want to take the Maester into custody or at least have him watched, lest he abscond." He bows, "I would not at all be surprised if the suborning of the Black Watch Brothers and the rest is connected. Just be very careful of your person, both as far as 'hunting accidents' and the like as well as what you eat and drink. We have no way of knowing who else might be suborned and how quickly they are apt to move against you if the plot is threatened." His tone is just as icy, "I very much want the minds that planned and did these things to see justice done to them." He colours at Lord Carolis' gentle rebuke, "I think the line about the one with the crushed leg is suggestive that they were worried Lord Andolin might have seen something when they arranged your brother's accident, but it is speculation. Still, I think it is safest to proceed as if all of the Starks are under threat." He looks carefully between the two Lords and mentions, "The Maester was very interested in the old stories. He certainly knew about the tales of skin changers and the like. Having spoken to Tellur Snow, it may have been when he was helping with the Ravens that the Maester turned against him. The goring would have been a very good excuse, and both the papers and the Maester's vehemence in his spoken dislike speak to his preference that Tellur Snow not have lived."

"-Could- he follow a raven to its destination, see through its eyes over such a range?" Carolis knows more about both the lore, and the man in question, than Cregan does. If it's seen as a critical threat— it behooves them to treat it as such. "Though yes, I agree. At the least, it's only a matter of time before he realizes the documents are missing. I'll send a man to see to it myself, and make preparations for the rest. If they want to improvise their timetable and come after me, all the better. Every adjustment while we're informed increases risk of full exposure— and make no mistake, I want the men behind this as much as anyone." Perhaps more. "If he is not guilty…" a possibility it's rather clear Cregan barely entertains, but accommodates for Carolis' sake nonetheless, "I'm sure the Maester will be most eager to help us learn who -is-." Those Stark blues narrow dangerously, as the parchments are turned over in his hand, as if holding some deadly or toxic thing. Which isn't that far from the truth, in this case. "Regardless, we'll need to move quickly. Do you know anyone with access to the Citadel's records or persons who might know of this man's appointment?"

Carolis shakes his head and says, "I don't think he could have, but if he could see through he eyes of a raven where the Maester was writing one of those letters or speaking to someone, it would be enough. It might explain why he pitted Tellur and I against each other. I hated him so much back then if he'd told me one word against the old man, I would've punched him." He doesn't seem terribly happy to say these things, but there they are. "I can see what I can find at the Citadel. I'm sure they've got records. I can probably make up some reason to want to see them." He glances at Malcolm, then his brother, then back again. Tentatively, he says, "If those ruffians' boss still wants to meet me, I could meet him. See if there's a connection."

Malcolm, being a clueless Southerner, makes an 'I've got nothing' gesture in response to speculation about Tellur's abilities and doings at the Citadel. His expression suggests he very much approves of the older stark's plans for the Maester. He looks alarmed at Lord carolis' last suggestion, "Not without a guard, you don't."

Cregan says, "If you can find them, and arrange a meeting, promise them nothing— and do not go alone. We can arrange a hound to follow your trail with reinforcements if necessary, but there's no reason to give them an opportunity to make even -that- too late." There's a pause, and a deep sigh, before he nods. "We'll see if his actions give him away, but I'll not delay this long enough to take Tellur to Winterfell and start watching then." There's just too much at risk. A nod is offered, perhaps under better circumstances it would be thankful, before Cregan turns back towards the door, "Watch yourselves, as well. There's no guarantee whoever's behind this won't simply try to wipe out all possible leads, should it get back to them prematurely." And with that foreboding idea, the young Lord Stark makes his way back into the manse on rather swift, sure feet— there are things to do."

"If you can find them, and arrange a meeting, promise them nothing— and do not go alone. We can arrange a hound to follow your trail with reinforcements if necessary, but there's no reason to give them an opportunity to make even -that- too late." There's a pause, and a deep sigh, before he nods. "We'll see if his actions give him away, but I'll not delay this long enough to take Tellur to Winterfell and start watching then." There's just too much at risk. A nod is offered, perhaps under better circumstances it would be thankful, before Cregan turns back towards the door, "Watch yourselves, as well. There's no guarantee whoever's behind this won't simply try to wipe out all possible leads, should it get back to them prematurely." And with that foreboding idea, the young Lord Stark makes his way back into the manse on rather swift, sure feet— there are things to do.

Carolis's brow furrows when Malcolm insists he not go without a guard. He doesn't argue, though. The Knight isn't wrong. Mumble. He nods to Cregan, then. "That sounds like a decent plan. I'm relying on the fact that whoever it is wants me alive." He nods to his brother as he turns to take his leave. He calls out before the Lord gets too far, "Maybe we should send for our brother, or we can gather him when we head up North." We. So he thinks he's going.

Malcolm bows respectfully to Lord Stark with a characteristic graceful efficiency. He says quietly to Lord Carolis, "You are not going alone as bait. I can be very quiet, if need be."

Carolis gives Malcolm some serious side-eye. "Alone? Are you insane, man? No, I am going to seem alone, and you're going to be nearby, I'll have a hound on my trail, and if he's not in mood where he wants to shoot me, I'll have Tellur watching through the eyes of something with lots of claws."

Malcolm looks relieved, "I am very glad you are taking security into consideration. I take the safety of my starks seriously, but please let me trail you too. I want to be close enough for my sword to aid you at need."

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