Prologue: Dead Heir
Hazelyn stared down at the dry blood caked on her fingers. It seemed like red liquid had touched everything in the room. It had splattered on her dress and stained the sheets. The bodily fluid had flowed all over the floor, covered all the bowls and cups, and colored the water within them.
Servants moved about quietly and efficiently, cleaning up the mess as if it was no more than the leftovers after a messy feast. Everyone acted perfectly calm like nothing horrible had just happened. A gentle tap on Hazelyn's shoulder roused her from her shock.
"Child, I need to take you back to your chambers now to get you cleaned up," the gentle voice of her old Septa Elena crooned. The old nurse's gnarled hand clasped down on Hazelyn's shoulder and pulled her up from her kneeling position on floor next to the bed. She let her old septa guide her out of the room and into the dark stone corridor before it truly dawned on her what had just happened.
"My brother is dead," she whispered quietly to herself. Her tired eyes glanced back at Septa Elena. "Domeric is really gone, isn't he?"
The septa gently rubbed Hazelyn's back as she continued to guide the girl along the corridor. "Yes, my girl, but there is nothing to be done about it. The important thing is that the sweet boy is not in pain anymore and the gods have surely brought him to your mother. She loved you both so much and always took care of you in life. I'm sure she will continue to do so for your brother in death."
Death, pain. The words struck a nerve and roused Hazelyn from her shock. She came to an abrupt halt and tore herself from her nurse's grasp. She looked down at the dark blood splattered across her dress. She reached up and fisted her sticky and tangled hair. Her dark grey eyes widened as she shook her head frantically.
"I told Domeric not to go see him. He was the last person to be with my brother. The bastard did it!" She gasped.
Elena reached out her hand in a calming gesture, trying to calm her charge. Her silver brow furrowed worry. "Child, take some deep breaths and calm yourself. Let us go back to your chambers and talk about whatever you are thinking. You don't want to do anything to set your father off. Especially at a time-"
Hazelyn did not hear the rest of her septa's calming words. She turned from her and ran at breakneck speed in the opposite direction.
Domeric, the heir of House Bolton and to the Dreadfort had just died. He had been a healthy, robust youth of 19 name days. All the members of the household had gathered in the great hall to hear Lord Bolton himself make the official announcement. No one knew what had really happened yet, but the rumors surrounding the boy's sudden and violent death ran rampant.
Servants who had waited on the boy whispered that he had been taken by stomach pains so violent that he had thrown up all the blood in his body. Some speculated that he had caught an exotic illness during his years away from home. Others went as far as to say he had been poisoned, stating that no natural illness could have taken one so young so quickly and in such a horrible manner. A few even claimed the young man had been cursed by a witch when he had spurned her advances. Whatever the reason for the young heir's death, everyone agreed it was horrible and terribly sad.
Many had been looking forward to the day the Bolton heir would become their leige lord. Despite his young age, Domeric had acquired quite a few accomplishments in his life. The lad had been intelligent and well read Maester Tybald had insisted. Folks who had returned with the lordling from the south muttered that he had had the makings of tournament champion too.
Roose Bolton ruled his small folk with fear and an iron fist. His son's more genial nature had promised a brighter future for all Bolton subjects. The young man's death left the future of the Bolton lands uncertain. Lord Bolton still had one legitimate daughter, a kind quiet girl who had been quite charitable towards the small folk, but some of the gossip mongers claimed that a cruel unacknowledged bastard son lived in the lower town, and that Lord Bolton might favor him over his daughter.
The hushed babble of conversation echoed off of the tall vaulted ceilings of the Dreadfort's great hall. The residents of the household all huddled in small groups at the long tables or in the corners. The torches held in the grasp of a skeletal hands jutting out from the wall cast an eerie light throughout the room.
Murmurs quieted as Lord Bolton entered the hall with the steward and Maester Tybald. He made his way to the dias at the front of the room and then opened his mouth to speak when the doors banged open. All the room's occupants looked up with startled surprise.
A young woman coiled like a cobra ready to strike stalked into the hall towards Lord Bolton, her skirts balled up within tight fists . Her bloodied and rumpled attire and her wild hair, matted together into stringy clumps, gave her the appearance of a mad woman. The only sign that gave away her identity were wide grey Bolton eyes. Roose narrowed his pale eyes at her, roughly seized her by the arm, and dragged her out of the hall.
Lord Bolton, neither muscular nor tall in stature, flung the girl over his shoulder with surprising strength and carried her all the way to his own chambers.
Once the doors had swung shut, Roose flung Hazelyn down into a chair. "What was that?" he growled quietly.
The young woman did not raise her voice but hissed in a razor sharp tone, "Your bastard! He killed him! He killed my-"
A crack resonated throughout the chambers as the back of the lord's hand clashed with his daughter's face. She bit her lip as pain flooded her senses, determined not to give the man the satisfaction of her pained cries.
"You will stop your infernal hissing and will begin again. You will calmly and respectfully address me or I will lock you up in a closet for the night for presenting yourself in front of the entire household as a mad widling bitch." His cool gray eyes narrowed dangerously at her as they usually did when she got into trouble.
Hazelyn stood up defiantly and glared at her father. Her fists clenched tightly at her sides. "Your bastard killed Domeric. He was the last to be with him before the stomach pains seized him." Her voice trembled with anger. "They went drinking together. I saw them. I followed them back to the bastard's mill where he offered Domeric a drink! I think he poisoned him! He must've! He-"
Roose held up his hand for silence. He rubbed his brow and sighed as he often did when talking with his daughter.
"You think that my bastard poisoned your brother because you saw them drink together?"
The girl nodded stiffly. The lord studied her face with his pale eyes for a long moment. Her darker grey eyes shone with fierce defiance. A purplish bruise was already starting to form on her cheek. He turned away for a brief instant before facing her again.
With pursed lips and hands held behind his back, he calmly stated "I'll investigate it."
"You'll investigate it!?" Hazelyn's voice rose in volume. "Your true born son was killed by your bastard and you only say you'll-"
"I will investigate to see if there is any truth in your claims and then act accordingly," her father said in an unsettling, quite voice. "Might I also point out that you left the keep once again in direct violation of my orders, and that your little display in the hall has further sullied our House's reputation. You will not disobey me or conduct yourself in such a way again unless you want to lose far more than your brother."
Shivers went down Hazelyn's spine, but she drew her self to her full height and snarled "My brother, your only true son, is dead, and all you can think about is me disobeying you? I guess that murderer is not the only Bolton bastard."
Roose walked over and wrapped smartly on the chamber doors and two guards walked in. He nodded over to the riled young woman standing before him. "Escort Lady Hazelyn back to her chambers, find her septa and maids to mind her, and do not let her go anywhere else in the keep until I specify otherwise." He turned away from them and started to walk towards his desk before glancing back with a smirk. "Oh, but before that, get the master to leech her until she calms down. My poor daughter seems to have worked herself into quiet a state of grief over her brother's death."
Hazelyn's eyes widened in horror at the mention of leeches. Roose reserved the nasty creatures for his worst punishment. The gross things painfully latched onto her skin, sucked her blood to the point of unconsciousness, and left scars. She shook her head and started trembling madly. The guards seized her roughly and dragged her out as she struggled against their arms.
After the door clunked shut, Roose turned and stared at the flickering flames in his hearth. Shadows danced across his face as he became lost in thought. His only true born son was dead, leaving him with a defiant girl that acted like her mad bitch of a mother as his only true born heir, and apparently his uncontrollable, pain in the ass bastard had killed him. He was in troubling situation indeed. His true born son, Domeric, had been a quiet lad, but he'd had potential. He was pliable, easy to control, and could have been shaped. How could he shape the girl into an heir who could further his house's reach and power and keep his untamable bastard from slaughtering her as well, if what she said was true?
He pursed his lips as he pondered his impossible situation for quite a while before a small smirk crept onto his face. Maybe he did not have much to work with now, but he could still manage. He would use his disappointment of a daughter and uncouth bastard to produce a worhty legacy yet. Roose Bolton's mind, just like his house's blades, was quite sharp indeed.