(122-04-05) A Shadow Cat in the Swamps

It is not a particularly fancy castle on a rather swampy holding North of the Neck. The folk there are not wealthy or exalted. Even the nobles are rather short, as the folk of this region often are. This house is known for it's loyalty to the Starks, ever since they swore to some long ago Winter King and at a key moment helped him steal a march on the Barrow King and thus win the war. They are also known a deep seated tendency to want as little to do with Andals and Sothron politics as they can possibly manage. Their keep controls a crucial bridge across the Fever River near the Salt Spear, and is thus of strategic importance. The Old Man is on his death bed. Up 'til now he has been vocal about his disapproval of the "Pup of Winterfell," but now, at the end of his days, he has had his son send a Raven to Lord Carolis. The note says he has something urgent to impart, but does not say what. The Keep is ancient and old fashioned, but it and the bridge over the fever River are in excellent repair. A clever Eye might notice that the bridge is designed so that those in the Keep might collapse it at need. The approach from the south might make a nervous man tremble as the path winds through sections of fen and the local folk have a hostile stare for fancy looking strangers. What is worse is the silences where one feels the itch of hidden eyes on the back of one's neck, if one is imaginative. The birds here have odd cries and there are stretches where the still water is eerily clear and one can see down to the remains of dead men, Iron Born, Northern, and even Southron, but a hand stuck in will show they are much deeper than they look. A detachment of the Lord's men would be waiting at a crossroads in to Guide the stark heir safely to the Keep. They have thick accents, but are deferential and from what one can tell, honest.

It was sensible to leave Mal in Oldtown for this one, Andal that he is. Carol rode out with a small company of his brother's men; he's brave but not foolish. His nippy, erratic gelding Midnight may leave a lot to be desired in terms of personality, but he is a rugged and loyal mount, and one cannot argue that he is beautiful, even after all this time on the road. At the Inn at the Crossroads, Carol had paid generously to have him bathed and groomed properly. One of the stablehands got bitten, hence the generous pay. Even at their approach, Carolis is paying careful attention to presentation. He rides at the front of the company of a dozen or so hardened veterans, and he stands out in full armor, the sword his brother gave him sheathed at his hip. His horse's black coat gleams like his hair. He is polite when he meets with the Lord's men, but brusque and wanting to get to the castle without wasting time with chitchat. He's a different man when he's in the North. All his Northron habits come back. Chitchat is a waste of a man's valuable time, and standing on such ceremony is an insult to him. What an Andal might find uncharacteristically rude, Carolis is offering his politeness by giving the men the opportunity to get on with what they set out to do.

The local guard are quite happy to not have to make complicated speeches for a man as important as the stark heir. They are plain spoken, simple folk and happy to be up and riding their familiar ways. Their saddle bags slosh, rather, suggesting they picked up more than Lord Carolis and his guards at the Inn. Horses hooves are loud on the wooden bridge and the river looks unwholesome. All smells of salt and fish this close to the sea. They must have seen the entourage coming as the heir, his wife, and three children aged nine to a babe in the arms of an ancient woman are all waiting at the open portcullis. Everyone is in their best clothes and scrubbed clean with hair neat. The nine year old girl cuffs the middle child for scratching at what is clearly an itchy wool Winter weight tunic, but which has particularly nice pattern and embroidery. The Heir bows low at the sight of the giant Stark on his magnificent steed. and the others do their most formal bows and curtsies.

Carolis' men's saddlebags are quite full, though they are discreetly covered. The host gift offerings shall be given discreetly. There are staples that will last awhile as well as fine things a noble lord of this house would have to make sacrifices for. Nothing too ostentatious, and the exotic things not too foreign. This is the kind of thing Carolis studies so his brother does not have to burden his mind with it. When he comes riding through, he must seem like a Northron Prince from a storybook. Surely the Starks must be descended of Bran the Builder himself if Carolis, the runt of the litter, rides so tall and broad in the shoulders, hearty and hale. He dismounts, and his horse jingles his tack as he nickers at his master. Probably a promise to bite everyone he can get his teeth on, knowing the beast. Carolis pats his cheek, and then strides forward to receive the bow. He offers them a distant smile, and he doesn't embarrass them by telling them to please rise as friends, even if the bowing reminds him too much of how he's one arrow away from being greeted as Lord Stark. Rather, when he gives them leave to rise, he says, "Allow me to say how grateful I am that you will receive me and my men after our long journey. It is good to finally meet you. And how does your father, Lord Jeren?"

Indeed, Castle folk can be caught peering in awe when they think no one is looking. Servants and the man of the castle can be seen lined up in the courtyard to pay their respects and to get a squint at this nigh mythical Stark. Lord Jeren tries to speak, but gives a rather alarmed squeak instead. Eyes still firmly on the ground, he clears his throat, "My father does poorly. Would ye like to visit him now, Your Grace? Or might ye like wash water and refreshment? We've been baking a feast in honor of your coming…." He trails off. Up close, none of the family except the boy in the Winter weight tunic look to have had proper sleep for at least a fortnight. The baby is fussy and the nigh toothless old woman is jiggling it and making soft shushing sounds.

Carolis has arrived in as good a state as he can, and by Northron standards he's near mint condition, so he's confident when he says with a small, kind smile, "I shouldn't like to keep your noble father waiting on my vanity." He knows the old man has no fondness for his brother. He expects to hear insults, and he braces for them. His brother's honor can survive the rantings of an old man, after all. He does take a moment, however, to take in each of the children one at a time, and to their mother he offers a dazzling, dimpled smile as he inclines his head. "I look forward to dining with your family," he says. "At your leave, then, I shall pay my respects to your father."

The mother gives a deep curtsey again, and the heir bows low, "This way, Your Grace, I fear the stairs are rather steep after such a long ride." The Keep is square built and designed for defence. All the windows are arrow slits, and so the Heir looks apologetic as he leads the way up a narrow steep stepped spiral with deliberately uneven spacing designed to trip up invaders, the spiraling clearly chosen to give the defender's shields an advantage over invaders as the Jeren Household retreated backwards up the stairs. The old stone has a steep scoop in each step from so many centuries of feet. At the heavy wood door to the Lord's chamber the Man bows and says very quietly, "His eyes are failing, your Grace, but his ears and mind are sharp." The door is well oiled, as all the doors have been so far, no hint of rust despite the Salt Air. The old man is propped up in his bed and each breath is clearly a struggle from the sound of it. One eye is dead, and the other milking over. Like his son, he is a small wiry man, the vigor long sapped by the fluid building in his lungs. He gasps, "Come closer, Lad! Who's that with ye!" For all the wheezing there is still command in his voice. This must be the heir's grandfather, either that or he was very late getting a son. The embarrassed Heir steps forward, "The Brother of Winter has come to see us…." The Old Man cuts him off, "The Pup's runt, eh?" There is curiosity, under the gruffness. A withered and arthritic hand gestures 'Come Forward.' "Come close so I might get a look at ye." The heir is blushing to his ears and horrified.

Carolis takes in the place as he follows, and of course the stairs are no matter for a man as fit as he is. He's the runt of the litter by Stark standards, it has to be said, not normal ones. He tells the heir, quietly, "Thank you, I shall bear it in mind." He offers him a small, tight smile. Lord Carolis is not without heart. Perhaps the stories of him being aloof as a shadowcat are exaggerated. He ducks as he steps through the doorway. Habit by now. When the man calls him the Pup's runt, he glances sidelong at the Heir with an indulgent look and a quirk of his brow that might be humor? Does Lord Carolis have a sense of humor? He steps forward with easy steps, and he inclines his head with deep respect as he says, "Lord Jeren, it is an honor to meet you at last." His voice is smooth, pleasant to the ears. He doesn't have to try to look imposing. On the contrary, he takes a seat beside the bed so that he isn't looming over the old man like a spectre.

The better eye does seem to track his movements, though it is unclear how much else he takes in. After a moment he says, a bit grudgingly, "You're taller than I expected." The Heir winces. He does not leave. Finally the Old Man says, "This concerns you both." He gropes for his water cup and takes a sip. "I have no love for politics and…" Here he sneers, "Andal things, but here is one concerns ye, Heir of Winter. Pup or not, Winter fought well against the Wildlings and the Pup conducts himself well enough for all his cavorting in the South, and the thing weighs heavy on my mind." He snaps at the Heir, "The chest beneath the bed, Lad!" The Heir gets down on hands and knees and brings the hing up. It is hard wood covered with and bound in iron. The old man's hands are surprisingly steady as he fishes out the key from around his neck and opens it. There are diverse papers inside and some antique rings and earings. He fishes out the sort of thin parchment a raven might carry, which from it's folds it is. "Yon…" He says the next worse like a curse "Measter sent this thing, we think. I've a suspicion we aren't the only ones got one. Ye've a snake in yer waters, I think…" he is already visibly tiring as he thrusts the paper at Lord Carolis, "We are loyal folk here, and though you are young, you are still our Kings and gladly. Since my ancestor bent the knee, we have served faithful and our bridge and men are always ready at need. 'Tis yer ancestors stopped the raiding and let our children grow in peace. Winter was always better than the Barrows an…" Here he trails off, struggling for air. The heir looks distressed and helpless before the only battle the Old Man has no weapon against.

Carolis clasps his hands to rest upon one knee, going nowhere near weapons or making any sudden moves, as he bears the old man's words without rancor. In a thousand subtle ways he projects an air of non-threatening warmth without losing the noble distance his countenance requires. He only moves when it's to take the offered papers. "Thank you, Lord Jeren," he murmurs as he receives them, and he reads them carefully, though he does pause to look up at the man with some concern. "With your leave, Lord Jeren, may I take these just outside to see them in the light?" He glances to the Heir with a small nod, indicating he would like his company.

The Old Man waves dismissively, more focused on the struggle for air than anything else, "I'll just rest my eye a moment." The heir seems rather in haste to speak to Lord Carolis out of the Old Man's hearing. The letter speaks of weakness in the wall, the prevalence of Wildling incursions and the tardiness of Lord Cregan Stark in riding North to protect the people of the North. And calls for a firm hand. It is signed by Lord Carolis Stark, in a very good forgery indeed, though it lacks a seal. The heir makes haste to say, "Please don't take offence at his rudeness. We are all loyal to your house, but he is sick and in pain…." He takes a deep breath, "There is something else you ought to see, Your Grace. We didn't want to worry him….."

Carolis tells the Heir, "It costs nothing to allow an old man the truth of his words. Listen, we brought with us a tea from the South. I'm afraid it cannot give your father more days, but it can make the ones that remain easier for him. I don't think he would take it he knew where it came from." And there he leaves it in the son's hands, to handle as he might wish. And he does read the letter out here where he can see in the watery dimness of the Northron sun, such a pale and silver disk compared to what burns like the Andal Hells down in Oldtown. He frowns when he sees what's written, and the forgery, and there one can see in his youthful features how he very much has the capacity to dole out violent justice if needs must. That flicker of calm, ice cold rage is a dark thing indeed. When he looks up at the Heir though, it's gone, leaving only solemnity. "I bid you show me."

Lord Larke takes the tea with much thanks and genuine respect for one who understands the pride and prejudice of old men, "We knew it couldn't be from ye, your Grace. Who but a Maester would have such a fancy hand and Starks are great and honorable warriors, and anyway, ye've been in the South and that was a Winterfell raven, sure enough…." He simply produces a scrap of paper from his sleeve. "A lad shot the raven down by accident….." The letter is not addressed to Lord Jeren. In fact, it is not addressed at all. It simply says, "There has been no sign of Lord Cregan, I fear your men will need to use more subtle methods to secure the succession." The Heir is stumbling over himself to explain, "It came from the West and in the silhouette against the sunset he took it for a sea bird…."

Carolis says, "No, it most certainly was not. I would like to take this letter your father has given me as evidence to give my brother." He takes this new letter and reads it. He waves a hand to indicate that he intends not to pursue the matter of the shot raven. His brother, who has been far from languishing in the South but rather plotting his move very carefully, but Carolis reports to his brother, not on him. "I would like this as well, if I might, Lord Larke." Soon to be the new Lord Jeren, but Carolis won't say the words until the moment the old man breathes his last. Lifting his gaze to the man, those impossible blue eyes troubled and his pale features knitted in a frown. He clasps the smaller man on the shoulder and says, "House Jeren has done the North a great service. I shall convey to my brother your loyalty and valor — do not think I don't understand what you risk here — and I will recommend to him that we forge an alliance. I shall pen the letter tonight and it will be away in the morning." With one of his brother's most trusted men, not by raven.

The Heir looks wildly relieved by Carolis not taking offense or planning to exact grim punishment on a young boy still learning to hunt. "The bird was rather bedraggled, likely caught in a storm, but it wasn't one we knew. What is ours is yours. You speak for Winter here…. Will ye be raising the banners? We'll need to call out people in for drills if so…." he looks utterly surprised and delighted by Lord carolis' kind words for him and his House, "I've a daughter and it's hard to find good matches for such. If ye could put in a good word for us somewhere suitable, that would be an honor beyond price."

"Perhaps the gods smile on the Wolves of Winterfell yet." When he smiles, it's a small thing but it dispels his grimness and it's like the sun peeking out from behind gathering stormclouds. "For today, let us get my men settled in, and we will break bread as friends. There will be time to raise the banners." At the mention of the daughter, his smile broadens, not without wry humor, and he says, "I would be delighted to meet the lady, so that I might know who to recommend." He does have a younger brother after all, but twelve is a bit young yet. There are cousins, though, and allies of lesser Houses. Still, for a deed like this, should all go well? The man deserves a stronger tie to his liege's House. His noble brother won't even do this legwork for himself, so Carolis takes it upon himself to be the decider of these things. "Let us see about that tea, shall we? It would please me to hear more of your father's thoughts on the matters of the day." He winks. No offense taken see?

Lord Larke ducks his head, "Ella was the young lady who ye saw riding up. She's good with a bow or trap. I know she's young yet, but best to think on future plans…. I'll have them make up the tea right away. First, Let me show you to your chamber." So up they go. This is clearly Lord Larke's room. There is a large sturdy bed with thick curtains against future winter, larger window slits with recessed padded seats set to catch the best light on the eastern and Western sides. Her needle work has been cleared away, and they have emptied a wardrobe for the Lord's things. A number of servants likely hauled a copper hip bath up here and it is filled with clean, still warm water for the brother and Heir to Winter. There are tapestries here in the old style, likely centuries old as they are fading and thread bare in spots, depicting the shining moment of house Jeren: The bending of the knee to a long ago Winter King, the crossing of the bridge, the Jeren men with bows and pipes aiding the Stark's charge on the Barrow King's flank, and a particularly gruesome feast afterward with the bodies of the slain lying about and the Jeren ancestor sitting proud at the High Table with the Winter King.

Carolis makes a mental note to commend House Jeren to his brother further, to see the sacrifice they've made to house him. Sure, he has grown accustomed to luxury in the South, but even in Winterfell his chambers are not much bigger than this, and half the time he lets his little brother crawl under the furs for warmth. "Ah, she seems a charming girl." His little brother isn't too old for her or too young. Arranging the match would put paid to the traitors' plans to put the youth on Winter's throne. It would also make little Ella Jeren a target for assassins. Lord Carolis' mind chews on all of this as he he appreciates the artwork. He turns his attention to the bath though with some interest. Best to get to it before the water cools. "Might I avail myself?" he asks with a nod toward the tub. It's not a request for the Lord to leave, merely for Carolis to undress and soak.

The man bows himself out, "Make yourself at home, your Grace. I will set about making all ready and having them make this tea for Great Grandfather." And then he is gone, leaving Lord Carolis to his thoughts and his bath.

The great hall has fresh rushes on the floor and all the torches lit. The tapestries here are of varying ages and mostly depict battles against Reavers. They have not hosted an actual Stark in a generation or more and everyone is rather over excited despite the Old Man's expected demise. This is a feast in the old style, with only men at table. Lord Carolis is given the place of honor, his men are seated above the House Guards. At the high Table with Lord Carolis and Lord Larke are Lord's from several families from the marshy areas North of the Neck, come to pay respects to Lord Jeren and incredibly pleased to get a chance to peer at the stark Heir from close up. After all, he was rumored to be the sickly one, wasn't he? And a Stark in these parts is a happening indeed. There is even a lesser Reed in attendance. The trenchers are fresh baked instead of stale and there is one for every two guests as is proper. There is clean water for washing hands between courses and a fine Subtlety in the shape of a wolf. The food is humble by the standards of the South: no fancy spices or imported fruits. Instead it is wholesome fare caught in the Salt spear or marches here about: fish, birds, rabbits, greens, all prepared with local herbs and berry seasonings. The drink is good local brewed ale, fresh from brewing.

Carolis takes his time in the bath, and after the water goes cool, he takes his time drying off and dressing. Let the household have the time it needs to get his men lodged and preparations made for dinner. Oh, how good it feels to be home again, dining on food from him in the style of home. He cuts a rather nice figure for a runt. Sure, he's a pretty boy, but a stalwart one. They say he survived the plague, too. He raises many cups to House Jeren, to the other Houses gathered there, and to the North. Oh, and he has stories! None from the South, save to perhaps poke a little fun at the Andals. Just a little. But the best stories are from Winterfell and of his brother's deeds, and not one word is untrue. The tragic fall of his father and his older brother, of his brave cousin Andolin, and he speaks with honor of the men who have fallen in Winterfell's cause. Oh, he's sure there are traitors among the lords who have come to gawk at the runt. Let them see, then. Let them receive news from Winterfell.

Some of the visiting Lords started out rather suspicious or frankly curious. Perhaps they have had odd ravens or heard disturbing rumors, though the Reed, like the Jerens clearly thinks that no Stark could possibly be treacherous. As the night wears on though, even the most wary is raising enthusiastic toasts to the Stark heir and talking about good looking kinswoman of marriagable age whenever thtere is a lull on the off chance. Clearly the young Stark is a good sort and loyal to his brother, charismatic and a good leader, but in a Northen way, not in a showy southern way. They drink many toasts to the departed and tthere is much manly weeping into cups in sympathy. And then Lord Larke calls for music and the instruments come out. The music is all simple instruments, but well played and with passion. And soon the men are dancing and there is loud singing and a few less hearty souls start to nod over their ale.

Carolis collects his share of the Westeros equivalent of phone numbers. It's always good to know who the marriageable ladies are, and men, for that matter. Carolis does have sisters. He smoothly diverts praise to his brother. Let there be no doubt Carolis Stark is loyal with no aspirations for his brother's seat. He does do his trick where he paces his drinking while the rest upend tankard after tankard. His toasts to the fallen very deliberately, naming names to tell these good Northern men that their Lord knows them, honors them, and does not forget them after they've given their lives for Winterfell's cause. When the music comes out, he perks up. Northron music is a sweet thing to ears that have grown accustomed to the sounds of the South. He applauds when the others do, pounding his tankard on the table. He puts off more drinking to dance. The lord's little daughters have the first dances. He doesn't move to out-dazzle anyone, but he does have skill.

The Lords are happy to brag about marriageable kinsmen and kinswomen in hopes of winning an illustrious match. The name trick works like a charm. Most of these are very minor Lords and their names between Stark lips is something to boast of back home. Most of these men had forebears who followed the Stark banners south during the Conquest and for all their normal recitance with outsiders, the wine and attention soon has them boadsting of ancesteral exploits against the Dragons and even more against the Iron Men, the Wildlings, the Riverlands, The Vale, and even further back when the Starks were still consolidating the north to the horrible wars against the Dread Kings. The women do come out for the dancing. Lord Larke's daughter is a slender thing and very serious about getting her steps right in the figure. She is clearly on her best behavior and utterly in awe of the handsome and charming Stark Lord, who is twice her height and clearly a descendant of Brad the Builder and other kings of legend. her hands are calloused like and archers. She has dark hair a very tan face, and has misplaced her slippers between the formal greeting under the portcullis and now. Her little sister being a babe in arms her Grand mother tending the babe and the old man, and her little brother being a boy, she and her mother are representing the woman of the house. She tries her best to be dignified, but really what she wants to know about is his horse and what sort of hunting he has had lately. She is athletic and hardy as a goat.

Carolis is very serious about the dancing, of course, and his lovely partner, and while other dancers speak of romance or politics or both, Carolis takes two turns with the young miss, for one cannot rush the discussion of good horses, and to perhaps put a bug in her ear about the great Northron ladies of old known for their bravery as well as their beuaty. Yes, he recognizes those callouses. He is himself an archer. And it is with great regret that he tells her he must not be greedy for the young miss' company, though in truth he shouldn't leave the other ladies waiting for their turns. Lord Carolis can turn a step, it has to be said. And while he makes merry, he watches the crowd, makes eye contact so as to nod and smile to each person whose eye he catches. And, of course, to read them like a book. The way the dances turn, it gives him a fair chance to see the entire room. Who looks shifty, who stands out, whose gaze lingers oddly. What kind of odd? Is the Maester around? And what's the look of him? Maesters talk to one another, after all.

The young Miss is rather sad to see him go, and will be talking about this to anyone who will listen the next eight months at least. The men who are a bit shifty or stand offish can be easily catalogued. The Old Religion is strong in these parts, and Maesters mostly kept about for healing and barely tolerated otherwise. There is one in attendance, a rather morose fellow not long out of the Citadel and clearly not anyone the Citadel considers important given the relative poverty and rather high incidence of killing fevers for which the river was named. He is drinking rather gloomily

Carolis notes who is acting how and files it away in his mind while he's still sober. While he dances with each lady, he makes perfectly charming conversation, hinting at much while confirming nothing. When the song ends, he bows to his partner, and then has an aside with one of his men, asking for him to discreetly tell the Maester to be on a parapet overlooking the courtyard within the half hour. Then Carolis hob-nobs his way to an acceptable request to depart for a bit of night air to clear his head. Time to bump into the poor morose fellow where they might talk alone.

The man is there, leaning over the parapet with a rather queasy air about him and an expression that suggests he thinks Lord Carolis will push him off but that it might not be such a bad thing when all is considered.

Carolis moves silently, and when he emerges it's like he coalesces out of the darkness. Shadowcat. He doesn't push the Maester off the parapet, but he does appear beside him with little warning, his voice soft and non-threatening as one could please. "Maester Tober, is it?" It's not hard to get a little girl to talk about her teacher, and they do tend to name names without thinking about it.

Maester Tober shrieks like a terrified five year old and nearly goes over the parapet on his own out of alarm.

The little girl is not much of one for book learning outside the keeping of accounts, so she is disinclined to take to any teacher, but this one is nicer than the last one in her opinion, being less inclined to use the stick, and smells better.

Carolis does take the little girl's assessment into consideration. Children understand things adults forget. Carolis stands read to pull the man back from his doom if necessary, but otherwise he leans upon the parapet, hands clasped, and he gazes out at the night in thoughtful repose until the Maester composes himself, more or less. As if the man hadn't just screamed like a terrified child, Carolis continues, "A rather pleasant evening, I think. It's so good to breathe in the Northron air."

The Maester has clearly been drinking rather steadily this evening, but his teeth are not rotting and he is reasonably clean. The last Maester had terrible breath, washed seldom, and was prone to spitting when he talked. This one is in his twenties and likely would have been good looking if it weren't for the eyebrows and the wildly crooked teeth, with several growing out of the wrong parts of the gums. Once he gets ahold of himself, he draws himself up to his full 5' 8" and asks in an accent that suggests Riverlands peasant origins, "Are you here to kill me?' He lifts his chin defiantly and waits, swaying gently with an air of resigned expectation of the worst.

Carolis glances at the Maester and arches a brow. "Maester Tober, I'm a guest under Lord Jeren's roof." Of course, the Northrons heed the laws of hospitality far more stringently than the South. "I've no intention of killing anyone." He considers a moment, as though he might well be truly puzzled. Then he leans closer and asks in a low tone, "Is there any reason I should want you dead?"

The drunken Maester starts back in alarm as Carolis leans close, but gathers his tattered dignity, and chin up again declares carefully, "I tend the ravens here. I read the messages so I might know who to deliver them too. That's reason enough, isn't it? And I'm nobody! Why else would they send me to this land of trees with eyes and fevers!"

Carolis tilts his head, and his clear blue eyes are so intent, and his pleasant voice rather frank as he says, "I would rather have off my right arm than betray my brother. You do know this, yes? The only one who need fear me, Maester Tober, is whoever thought to pass off vicious lies as my own words." Admittedly, Carolis is a little wounded that whoever did this would think he would be so careless as to send an unencoded letter. Not only is this person saying he's a traitor, but implying he's a sloppy one. Heads will roll. "Listen, if there is something you know that you're not telling, Maester Tober, I would very much like to know what it is."

Maester Tober eyes him warily, "So you say, but isn't it all for you? I've heard the rumors about the deaths and… and… I have no patron. I'd be easy to be rid of. To the people here I will always be an Outlander, barely tolerated insofar as some of my remedies do work, but not enough of them and I represent invaders, foreign gods. I suppose it could be worse: I could be Bolton, or one of Kubos' bully boys. Then I'd not have lasted a fortnight. A bit of poison and down into the bog….

"The bogs on Lord Bolton's lands are frozen most of the time," Carolis points out vaguely. He shakes his head then and says, "It isn't for me, Maester Tober." His attention drifts to the night again. He's calm. Serene, even. "Or if it is, I don't want it. I love my brother, and were he not my brother, I would still say Lord Cregan is every bit a Lord of Winterfell as its Lord before him and so forth back to Bran himself. Were Winterfell not the home of my heart, I would still rather sit in a library than a great hall. Now, you've brought up some interesting points, and I would offer the following in turn: I could have you brought up before Lord Larke with the accusations you've made. You would tell him everything you know, and it would be a fascinating tale, though not one to which you would hear the conclusion." He holds up a finger to stay any response. "However. I could put a word in at the Citadel on your behalf, offer you Winterfell's protection, and I can see that you're understandably nervous and think nothing of the implications of what you're saying about my honor."

The Maester nods with intoxicated wisdom at the information about Bolton's bogs. "But the bogs here are full of thousands and thousands of years of the dead. These bogs swallow armies. What is one Maester in all that." He does seem to be listening though. He sighs, "Someone has been trying to raise you an army, My Lord. Some folk are saying your brother is more interested in what is between a Dornish woman's legs than in laying up stores or rounding up Wildlings in the west or raiders from Skagos in the East." He holds up his hands in surrender, "I know nothing of these things. There is also talk of how Glovers and Boltons were Kings, but around here they's rather die to a man than see a Bolton in Winterfell, and what are Tall heart claims after all this time. There were whispers about Reeds last April or so, but the Reeds stabbed anyone said they'd rise against Lord Cregan with there frog spears and into the bog they went. Glorp!" he makes an exaggerated set of gestures to illustrate all this..

For whatever difference it makes to the drunken Maester, Carolis looks genuinely shocked when he draws back and looks at the man. "Who's raising an army for me?" He shakes his head then, his voice carrying an incredulous laugh as he says, "I would say that my brother sent the Wildlings running back where they came from, but there weren't enough left to make the trip when he was done with them. Whoever says he cares nothing for the North is courting an enemy they won't care to reckon with." Something in his tone implies he's not talking about Lord Stark, either.

He relaxes again, not that he's raised his voice once during the exchanged. "There will always be Starks in Winterfell," he says. "May my brother reign long, for I know he will reign well." He clasps the man on the shoulder. "A word of advice, Maester? Lay off the bottle, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and prove you're worthy of the respect you desire. Use that mind of yours to observe these people, learn their ways, and see the value in them. You act like an outsider. Stop looking so disappointed that they treat you like one." On that note, he turns to go back inside.

The Maester listens wide eyed to the advice and to the Lord's retreating back he calls, "Beware them at the Citadel. They are as cut throat as any Lords fighting for land and power." Then he leans over the parapet and has a really good vomit.

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