Tribunal Thoroughfare <Palace District>

The Tribunal Thoroughfare maintains a steady north-south route on this central span that rests in the shadow of the eastern slope of Caryas Hill, under the ever watchful gaze of Fastheld Keep. Wide enough for four caravans to pass each other with room to spare, the smooth obsidian-paved highway remains one of the key trade-routes through Fastheld, linking the major Township of Hawk's Aerie with the important trade bottleneck that is the town of Lightholder, and the infamous crossroads that exist there.
The central stretch of the Tribunal Thoroughfare travels by numerous small homesteads and farms as it cuts its north-south path, making its way through ancient forests and glistening creeks and streams as marches on. However, the most important landmark along the highway can be found upon the eastern edge of the road, roughly one quarter of the way of the distance of this stretch: The Imperial Tribune.
The place that is home to the Imperial Law is a majestic sight to behold indeed; the pristine white stone battlements of the curtain wall rising among rolling fields and lush forest glades, providing foundation for the banners of the Imperial Crown to flutter proudly in all kinds of weather.
To the north, the Tribunal Thoroughfare begins its north-west trek to the city of Hawk's Aerie, while to the south the highway cuts a south-westerly path back towards Lightholder as it follows the natural curves the landscape. A road to the east heads towards the majestic walls of the Imperial Tribunal, and the seat of Law itself.

Life itself is but the shadow of death, and souls departed but the shadows of the living.

It is the Twelfth hour by the Shadow on Shadowwatch, the 11th day of Seedwarming, and Fastheld is gripped by seeping darkness. Dark storm clouds hang low in the heavens above, threatening those below with torrents of rain and maelstroms of wind, strangling the usual ethereal light that often caresses the land from the two moons - Herald and Dayhunter - that stalk the region above them.

As such, it is a chilled night in which black holds court within a kingdom of natural darkness, broken by little, yet experienced by all. Under every tree, darkness. Near ever wall, darkness. Upon every road, darkness. Yet some shadows are not content to remain in one position while their patron commands the sky. Some shadows like that which stands at the side of the road beneath a shroud of black leather that covers the owner from head to toe.

That shadow waits, watching the approaching rider with a hidden gaze, making little move to intercept or, indeed, to flee. A perfect statue.

Between patches of trees and thicket, distant shouts mar the otherwise silent night. The sound of furious hooves breaking the rolling fog beneath grows as the riders draw nearer to the living shadow. The lanterns bounce to and fro, casting sharp rays of light with dizzying inconsistency over the trio. The central rider, just barely in the lead, is cloaked in black atop a smaller, brown river trotter. The rider's own mane billows with great length behind, unkempt, flapping like a flag to the two archers that ride close to Reliable's flanks.

Rowena leans forward to dodge a branch as the road bears them towards the eastward bend, her eyes kept wide and alert in scrutiny of the road ahead. "I'll send word for a search party once we arrive." She pants loudly, head turning for seconds at a time to breathe at the men gaining speed behind her. Reliable does not give the old man time to respond as the feeling of being chased at such close proximity spurs the swift-footed horse to nearly take to the skies. The horse bounds forward faster, lengthening the distance between himself and the other riders considerably.

The shadows take on a living edge as the Duchess and her steed draw closers; the black cloaked figure, almost indistinguishable from the terrain against the depths of the obsidian-kissed night, instantly showing themselves to those that ride nearer.

"Duchess." that animate shadow calls, his - for the voice is male - words ringing clear against the otherwise silent atmosphere. A silken purr. "I've been told that your cat is missing."

The two archers glance to one another and exchange a few brief words on the matter. An escaped patient and stolen infant from the infirmary was not quite something to be noted in their past experiences, but they could serve to protect their loved duchess regardless. "Do you think she'd be upset if we put another hole in his gut?" The younger of the two men asks, only half-jokingly. The elder grins tiredly and flicks a tangled leaf from his bristled, gray beard. "Only for a little while, son."

Out of ear shot as the wind whisks sounds behind her further into the dust, Rowena contemplates her own intended line of action. Without a doubt someone had gone to warn the drunkard's wife by now of his intentions. She hoped. And what of the infant? What of Miss Thist-

Rowena's upright jerk in the saddle causes Reliable to rear back his head, tugged by the reins, and whirl about in a splattering of mud and stomping of rocks. Grasping for tighter control over the beast, she looks with bewildered eyes to the masculine form, swinging a lantern in hopes of identifying the owner of that voice...

As if on cue, the two archers slow their own mounts with a guttural cue and bring their bows to bear.

A brisk trot, the even pace of a good horse, a lone rider from the North. The hues of dark violet cloak, cowl down despite the dark, cold night, mingle with the light gray of the steed. The sight of shadowed figure makes his hand slide to scabbard; the sound of voice makes it draw away even as he halts the horse, a swift, controlled, confident movement.

A movement following an immediate and certain decision. The horse, its rider still indistinguishable in the light, draws to a halt some many yards distant - to the pair, a silhouette sidling towards the shadows beside the road and eventually disappearing among them: silent observer.

"I have lost my cat, indeed," Rowena replies firmly, if not a bit curtly, lowering her lantern and waving a hand of dismissal to the archers behind. They lower their weapons and remain motionless. "His hesitation to come fully inside from his previous rat hunting excursion lost him his place by the hearth to an opportunistic serpent that emerged from the cold of night to warm himself. Such a thing would strike a dead blow to my dear kitten in battle over that hearth, and so perhaps he was wise to run. Nevertheless..."

The lantern is returned to its original riding position, "I must now dwell with that serpent, till it is content to leave. I fear it will be so only after it has devoured the babe. I would do my best to safeguard 'gainst those fangs, but I cannot break the strength of those coils. Tis a shame the cat has gone, you see. If you've any hints as to my kit's whereabouts, I invite you to tell the tale as we ride. There is another rat afoot that is in need of capture."

The rider, some distance off, remains a silent speck of shadow sheltered by the branches over his head. His horse shifts its feet, quietly; but this specter is removed from the scene almost completely.

Until: "Serpents and their kin are dangerous ilk." The Rider's voice is clear, accompanied by the fall of shod hooves as they return to road. "Prone to venom and slithering. With coils around a victim, they will twist and tighten until they've squeezed from him all that is of value. There is no hope for escape. At least, not for those who don't make a habit of resurrection." He exhales softly, tone sad. The voice, youthful, tinged with the hoarseness of sparse use and rough speaking. Familiar. "I had hoped that, serpent that I am, I would conveniently forget having ever seen a more joyous reunion. Now I fear I must announce my presence before I gain anything which larger and more devious old snakes might squeeze from my lungs. Kindly, stay yourselves." Hooves fall almost mournfully. "Allow a snake to pass before he hears things more difficult to forget."

"There's very little to hear." The cloaked figure states to the equally eclipsed rider, his voice the only form of identification. Admittedly, it isn't difficult for those who have met him to place the owner of that voice, but it remains just a voice all the same. "Just a rogue with information about a cat. Nothing for respected journeymen to trouble themselves with."

A gaze of shadow returns to Rowena, dismissing her escort without making any visual action to do so. "As for that rogue, he regrets that he does not know how to ride, Duchess. Yet he has more information about your missing cat; namely that he is in good health, and cares little for chasing ravens." A pause follows, and one can almost see the touch of mirth that must caress his visage after that latter metaphor, considering the company. "I myself imagine that the kitten is fine, and will remain so for the safety of the Crown. As for the cat, should you wish to reclaim him, you may find him at the place where he made you an offer you couldn't refuse."

A second pause, and a touch of sincerity follows. "Though perhaps it was not your cat of which I heard. Charcoal fur, from a place named Crown's Refuge? Strange place. The name of Cinder."

"Quite a bother, that Cinder." Rowena murmurs, watching the hoofed shadow move past. The archers nudge their mounts closer to the Duchess, hands still gripping the bows with uncertainty. Kenneth had not warned them of any riddle speak along the journey.

"As much as I'd like to pluck the whiskers from his face in vexation, I do mourn that these brisk and showering nights leave my feet too cold when I sleep. No serpent has scales warm enough to be worthy of that bed. And so I will hunt for that scoundrel cat as per your advice, though I've not returned to so desolate a place in quite some time. I do wonder what he has found so desirable amongst the ashes."

"It's just as well I'm not hearing a conversation between two people who don't exist in the first place," the passing rider says, presumably to himself. Moonlight reveals Thayndor Zahir astride Stringer, eyes squarely on the road ahead. "Although misplaced ears are sometimes an asset." He exhales as he passes the group on the road, angrily kicking his horse to a trot.

The last words star-crossed strangers can hear:

"The problem with being a serpent," says a young voice suppressing anguish, "Is no matter how many times you shed your skin, underneath there's always scales."

The black leather hood of the figure clad in night moves to watch the shadowed rider move away, before just as slowly shifting back to place a visage of darkness looks upon the Duchess once more. "It's not what he found among the ashes." the Rogue offers, voice taking on a brief unchecked edge of affection beneath that regal purr. "It's what he already had before he got there. I'll let you do that which needs to be done now, my Lady."

Spirited facade crumbling as Thayndor vanishes again down the road; Rowena turns her eyes back to the night walker with far more worry and angst in her gaze, voice trembling. "I will go...and once I have spoken the needed words in the Tribune I shall endeavor to make the longer journey to those fallen torches. And there I hope I shall find this cat and his words of hope, for I know not how long the child will peacefully sleep in the coils of man that cannot possibly love him. And I know not how long my heart can bear to see him caged."

Ending the hoarse whisper with a yank to the horse's reins, Rowena becomes launched forcefully forward, head bowed low in grieving submission to the winds that lash her cheeks. The archers plod forwards slowly at first, each casting the hooded man at the road's side a skeptical stare. The old man gives a harrumph and nods to the younger. As one, they leap forward in pursuit of the Duchess to the east.

Three Days Later…

Light's Reach <Forest District>

<i>The crumbled ruins of Light's Reach, razed in 624 by the vicious skeletal flying serpent known as He Who Destroys or the ravager, are scattered along the fractured expanse of a mesa that has collapsed into a deep crater on its east side. A road winding off from the crossroads ends rather suddenly at the precipitous drop into the chasm.
The town, which was originally built six and a half centuries ago by workers employed by Fahral Mikin, met its end from the withering energy breathed by He Who Destroys. The harrowing of Light's Reach came just a day after a ceremony commemorating the life of the late Duke Alieron Mikin, the former Chancellor who fell from grace with Emperor Talus Kahar XIV by trying to foment rebellion against the Crown. Alieron Mikin had taken issue with the Emperor's decision to publicly seek aid from mages in the Luminary to try to track down and deal with a creature known as She Who Protects – sought feverishly by Wildlings and driving the threshing beasts' incursions into Fastheld.
During the ravager's brutalization of the town, former Surrector Gell Mikin and dozens of House Mikin soldiers perished and the four mighty torch towers that gave Light's Reach its name and reputation tumbled into ruin.

It is the Twelfth hour by the Shadow on Fealty, the 13th day of Seedwarming, and Dayhunter and Herald haunt the clear night sky. Against a field of darkness, peppered with flowers that sparkle and shine with radiant clarity, these two hunters - crimson and blue in turn - march ever on as they trek across that ethereal plain.

And a clear night it is for those who wish to witness this hunt, for neither wisp nor cloud taint the purity of the heavens above. It sets a beautiful horizon to look upon, true, but the real benefit of such a night is that the light cast from the two spheres that hang overhead is enough to cast the ground below in a peculiar kind of ambiance. A hauntingly peaceful ambiance that serves to light the way with twilit grandeur, keeping most of the shadows at bay to cast the night kissed world below in an insubstantial illumination.

Which, amidst the ruins of Light's Reach, between buildings that have been gutted and the ashes of those less fortunate, is a small mercy indeed.

At the lip of the eastern crater, an unusual torch can be seen against the otherwise bleak backdrop of desolate landscape and majestic night. A torch of dusty blue, held high to snare the attention of those that may venture into this queerly sacrosanct land.

Two years since the Ravager had lain this productive land to waste, born from the very ground that had been considered blessed, the second liege and relic of the Order of the Flame returns to look upon the sunken landscape. Weary hooves plod with a heavier, slower force as they emerge into the moons' glow from the east. Reliable pauses midstep as the road leads them further along the uphill path through town. He snorts, bellowing forth a puff of inhaled dust of those long dead. The horse bows its head and glances behind with uncertainty. He had never been asked to tread this route before.

"Be calm," Rowena murmurs, gazing up the hill to where she knew the crater-her brother's old home- to be. The restoration of Light's Reach had ceased o'er a year ago and what little progress had been made now collects dust of its own. "Tis only Alieron's ghost you need fear," She says with fondness, brow crinkling to stifle the brief wave of emotion as she studies a rather peculiar glint of light o'er the peak. Something on the ground was mirroring the moons' light back to them...or someone. "I believe we have found my cat." She announces quietly to the hesitant mount. "Let's move on, then."

And so the pair, no longer escorted, climbs the hill.

Ethereal crimson light from Dayhunter. Empyrean blue light from Herald. And from the ghost of a Prince? The gossamer dusty blue of Seraphite, no less; apparently contained within the blade of a scimitar, considering the arc that the unconventional - yet effective - torch being waved. That light is eventually tempered and replaced with nothing of substance as the errant Prince evidently re-sheathes the blade, moving to meet Rowena half way.

The Lady of the Flame radiates her own light as the horse bears her upward. The Shard of Arminas winks its seraphic glow as it sways and slide across her chest, accompanied from another angle by the Ring of the Stars. The blue beacons bob closer, their wearer bathed gently by the assortment. Aside from the heavy pant of a tired Reliable, silence paves her path...until a quiet 'clink' interrupts the river trotter's step with a kiss of metal against hoof.

Rowena halts and both woman and horse direct their attention downward to consider the glistening object. Had it been unearthed by the winds' blowing of ash? Had others visited this site? Leaning sideways to get a better look, she slowly slides into a more suitable dismounting position, keeping her wardrobe in mind.

"You know..." a certain purr of a certain silk belonging to a certain anarchistic Prince begins, voice carrying across the deathly serenity of a ruined city of Light's Reach without challenge as he draws closer. A voice that seems to belong here, and yet seems entirely out of place, all at once. "I think Crown's Refuge was the longest we've managed to spend time together in quite a while. That's pretty depressing, Row."

Serath doesn't seem to pay any heed to whatever it is that Rowena has seen; nor is he paying special interest to her 'wardrobe', shall we say. At least it doesn't seem that he is. No, he's more interested in the lady herself, his visage a shadowed reflection of deep affection of relief. "Given the state of your home, though, it's almost fitting."

"Given the state of the realm, it certainly is." Rowena replies with a distracted tone and slides to the ground. Bending slightly with one knee, she reaches to pluck the trinket curiously from the dry soil. "Though that's not to say that I'm content to accept it." Turning the pendant over in her palms, she rises and at last lays her eyes directly over his illuminated figure. "It frightens me that acknowledging your disappearances has become rather routine. This time, however, I cannot openly declare that I know otherwise of this 'dead' Prince., now can I?" Putting the pendant aside for further scrutiny and identification, she slips it into a saddlebag.

The 'dead' Prince offers a wry smile; tender, though twisted with the mirthless irony of the situation. "Apparently not." he finally affirms, walking a little way away from Rowena to the broken remains of what was once perhaps a very nice wall, but which now remains impetuously scarred. It is here that Serath decides to sit; the reflective obsidian of the Pathfinder armor beneath the leather cloak shimmering in the moonlight. "Dead again. It's getting to be quite the habit."

"I never did make an effort to include more yellow in my wardrobe after your first death. I don't suspect that anyone expects it of me now." Giving Reliable a pat, Rowena releases his reins and steps carefully over the broken ground to join Serath at the wall. "Which is just as well. I never did look particularly well in the color." Mustering a smile with the purposefully shallow rationalization, she turns to lean against the stone.

"You look good in any color." Serath offers in return, summoning a soft smile that almost mirrors Rowena's own as they continue their reprieve from the rest of the Empire beneath a resplendent sky, and within a forsaken landscape. "You know, I really thought that Talus would have rebuilt this place."

"It began... but complications with the funding and man power arose, then the weather turned for the worst." Rowena explains, watching Reliable nose around for any baby weeds that had since sprung forth. "Last I spoke with Sahna, before this newest mess, I had agreed to donate my own financial resources to some of the cost and vowed to take part in overseeing the progress if she would procure for me an official script of ownership for the Sheltered Flame Keep. I'd wished to make it my new home, my study, and preserve what was left of the dispersed Order."

She shrugs a shoulder half-heartedly and lets her vision blur into the darkened horizon. "I've not had the chance to speak with her about it since she was freed from her cell. Regardless of what the papers say, I intend to begin to refurnish its interior and make it more habitable. It's amazing the way that each stone, each glass pane has survived the burning of Mikin wood. I had wanted to show it to you, one day."

There's a rustle from the darkness behind one of the buildings to the north, as if someone had stepped upon loose rubble, but Serath doesn't seem to pay it much heed. "Sheltered Flame Keep still stands?" he asks, as if the answer hadn't already been spoken before the question itself. Still, the Prince seems to take heart from that. "Forget the papers, Row. It's your Keep now. After all, there's no one else that can claim a right to it."

"In all its glory..." Rowena confirms, head turning in the direction of the sound. Like Serath, the horse pays little mind and continues his browsing. "The towers, each room containing a portion of the library. All those aged texts..." A wistful sigh escapes her lips and she closes her eyes to envision the estate as she continues a listing of its goods. "An expansive assembly hall, my own throne-right across from Alieron's-and an array of secret rooms and gardens...all kept safe behind the walls. None of it was touched by the fire, and to the day I last paid visit, the old caretaker remained bravely to continue his duty in maintaining the interior."

She ends the dream there and opens her eyes to look at him with the memory of the place still dancing in her eyes. "I thought it the perfect place to escape from the busied, Palace gossip. Solitude and safety and intrigue, all in one package. I could conduct my research in the tower and entertain as I chose in the hall. If I wanted to flee from visitors I only had to find my way to the secret passage and could escape for as long as I pleased in the hidden bed chamber there."

"Pathfinders." Serath notes after Rowena recovers her dream from within the depths of memory and desire, casting a casual gesture towards the source of the recent sound. He doesn't elaborate, however, content as he is upon the revelations of his best friend. To put it lightly. "Part of me wonders why you're not there now. As I hear it, there isn't an Imperial Council any more. You don't seem to have an obligation to stay... how did you put it?" He smiles, recounting. "Under the coils of opportunistic serpents?"

A light scoff comes from Rowena's lips and she shakes her head in contest. "It exists as long as we live to advice whom we please. When I pledged to serve your brother in this position I was in the same words pledged to serve Fastheld, in all her entirety. To simply abandon my post, as diminished as some may think it to be, would be to abandon our people as well. It is because of them that I have an obligation to stay. It is because of young Talus, too. I may not be permitted to take him into my own arms, but I will remain as vigilant as I can. Someone must take care, after all, to tell to him stories of his father. I fear that all Lord Zahir will spout, if he gives care to do so at all, are lies." She casts him a meaningful dip of her brow. "If he remains on the throne."

"He will." Serath curiously admits, looking away from the meaningful expression cast upon him to place a gaze of imperial ice-blue upon the rubble in front of his feet. "As much as I hate to side with reason, Zolor's managed to keep the Empire together. He's not the greatest ribbon with which to bind people with, but it seems to have done the job. I have little desire to disrupt that political equilibrium. Could I take Fastheld Keep?" He sighs, looking back upon Rowena. "Probably. Could I keep it? No. Would the realm accept that I am who I claim to be? Perhaps not. If they did, would the result be peaceful?"

A second regretful sigh. "I won't bring war to Fastheld over a Throne. I'm not risking you over that. As for young Talus..." He trails off, going over the words in his head before offering them. "I've sent a letter to Sirius. He's going to send one to Zolor. We'll see what becomes of it."

Rowena nods, lowering her chin to rest against her slouched breast. "Zolor lacks an heir, with sorry thanks to Orell. Let us hope he does not choose to adopt your nephew, for when he dies, as he *is* growing old, there will without a doubt be another scramble for the seat. But...that time is well within a decade or two yet to come."

Smoothing her hands over her face then gown to wipe away the feeling of nonexistent ash, she adds "But surely that does not mean you must remain hidden for all those years...?"

"Your secret lover?" The Wildcat grins, looking over Rowena as smoothes her clothing down. "Not bloody likely. No, I'm still a Sovereign Prince, it seems, and unless we elope back out of Fastheld, someone's going to notice me /eventually/. What will happen after that... well..." He offers an almost casual shrug. "Whatever happens, happens. I imagine that things will get interesting after that, but no matter where events lead, my promise to you remains paramount."

Rowena utters half a giggle before it is overthrown by grim realizations of those possible outcomes. "I suppose that would be a rather impossible secret to keep. Hidden rooms and gardens aside. Speaking of such, again, I offer it to you as a temporary dwelling, if you'd like. It's far from the road...still covered by some foliage. I'm certain that the old man would appreciate the company."

Velvet rasps against pocked stone as she scoots a bit closer to him and leans her head against the glint of pathfinder armor. "I'm beginning to wonder if such metals have forged themselves to you as a second skin after all this time."

Serath submits to Rowena's lean, and her almost accurate observational statement, with a defeated sigh. It's an affectionate one all the same, however, and one that prompts him to lean into her a little, enjoying the closeness. "Leather and ringmail, at least." he offers in his own defense, poking at the inky expanse of that fine ringmail as he does so. "Soft and flexible, unlike bronze. Aside from how it looked, I never really enjoyed wearing armor like that."

He pauses as something occurs to him, laughing softly at the internal revelation. "So, I didn't like bronze armor," he elaborates, "And I'm not fond of horses, either. And yet, somehow... they made me Horsemaster."

"I was never fond of blood and the pungent stain of herbs," Rowena admits in turn, an almost shy grin pushing aside the tension on her brow for the time being. She follows suit of his finger in the poke. "Fancy that. A man who prefers his own two feet to that of hooves grew to wear the revered helm and a woman who once fainted dead-away while aiding a midwife now is charged with overseeing the health of Fastheld's numbers." Her hand retracts to join its mate in folding over her side. "A most unconventional duo indeed."

"And now I give people death, and you give them life." The Prince whispers, considering that stark contrast, and the reality behind him. "I kill to keep others alive." He almost laughs; the sound mirthless. "An odd way of keeping people safe, when you think about it. Not by my design, either. Thankfully. Just the way the world if made." His left hand finds the top of Rowena's right, shielding that as it covers its counterpart. "You don't ever... regret that aspect of me, do you?"

This was a strange fact that Rowena had considered many time, and thus her answer is easily prepared. "I'd prefer to think of it as a challenge, you see. Motivation for me to reassemble more pieces than you can take apart, leaving more joy in place of the sorrows that may result. Of course, any bodies you do take apart are surely not worthy of reassembly, so I fret very little over the idea." Together, her hands raise beneath his, bearing the knuckles to her lips for a brief kiss of reassurance before the three settle back to her hip.

Serath just nods in answer to the words of one Rowena Mikin. It's a silent answer that speaks more than words could ever need to as he sits there, leaning into the one that leans into him in turn. The landscape, once wrapped in empyreal light, is now utterly black; the heavens having turned their watch over to dark clouds, the prospect of inclement weather, and a cold breeze that whispers from the north.

"We'll rebuild Light's Reach one day." The Prince finally offers; voice as silken as the zephyr is chilly. "It deserves better than this. You deserve better than this. A princess needs her Kingdom."

Huddling a bit closer as a particularly strong gust breathes the promise of rain into her ear, Rowena smiles into the distance. "There are many things one can hope for," she murmurs, then closes her eyes to the daydreams before the approaching weather blows dust into them. "A 'kingdom' is not so necessary. I'd be content to see the first of the buildings marked by foundations within the next year. Progress can be as slow, if steady, as it wishes from that point. I have my doubts that the "crown" will be so willing to donate funds to the effort at this present time. And I refuse to build another statue on these grounds in the man's name as reparation."

"We'll figure something out." are words that Serath has spoken on a few occasions before, but seem to work as an optimistic - and usually truthful - mantra all the same. "It'll involve dragons." he adds, although in a tone that doesn't flow quite as naturally as it should have done, and the pause that follows it suggests that even the Prince isn't sure as to why he said that. His gaze falls upon the object of his love, and he hugs her closer still, forsaking the breeze that vies for equal attention.

"And I have no idea why."

"It had best not." Rowena mutters, brow furrowed into his shoulder. "I've seen and heard all I wish to of the beasts for my life's remainder. Unless of course they intend to deliver us the needed stone and masons to do the task. Even then, to rebuild a beacon of the Light with a shadowed hand is not going to bide well with my kin nor the Church. And who precisely will be willing to conduct our ceremony if such a stigma is placed over our heads. And if that shall be the case, then we may as well live as secrets." And there you have it, the Rowena verdict. "No drakes."

Inappreciative of the swirling dust that's repeatedly whisked into his nostrils each time he attempts to nibble, Reliable finally gives up and plods towards the shelter of a wall.

"A Church that supports House Zahir." the Wildcat Prince notes, looking upon Rowena with an almost amused expression. "Between running around Fastheld, stabbing each other in the back, and subjecting innocent men and women to various forms of punishment because someone suspected that they might be linked with the Shadow." A pause. "The Shadow that's built a quaint little community north of Fastheld without destroying half of the Wildlands in the process."

"In that light, between political bloodshed, devious maneuverings, a virulent pox, a People willing to go to war over someone's class of citizenship, and everything that goes between it... Drakes almost seem like good company."

"Almost is a far cry from /do/, in my opinion." Rowena further adheres to her initial assessment. "Let us not forget what felled this town. I would prefer that myself, my children, and their children never witness a fleshy reminder of that era." She ends it there, falling silent to listen to the wind howl in mourning through collapsed walls and fallen torch cauldrons. Who were they, of course, to chose when powers greater than their own took hold over life as they once knew it? Unable to answer that beyond the long-held mantra of 'the Light does not abandon her faithful', Rowena hushes this thought as well.

Silence passes for a few moment after Rowena affirms her stance on the matter, with only a mournful wind to present the case of Light's Reach itself; the weather, or the souls of those that fell beneath the white bone claws of a Dracolich? After a while, the silken voice of an Imperial Dragon asks - and not without mirth -, "Your children?"

"Pending that you aren't /afraid/ of the concept." Rowena adds quietly, peeking open her eyes, but not to look up at his for fear of what answer she may find there. "I had only assumed that such a thing was, well...." The word that comes to mind causes her to smirk and muffle it as its spoken. "Conventional."

Serath feigns vexation for a moment before adopting a tone of confusion to ask: "Conventional? What means this word? Can you eat it?"

A heavy breath of frustration is given as answer as Rowena works to pry herself free and deliver a rather stout blow to his chest, rattling the ringmail. "If I find myself eating the word than you shall find yourself swallowing far worse." She decrees firmly in promise, her eyes earnestly lacking the same degree of jest as she stares up the line of his nose.

The Wildcat can only offer a feral smile, raising both hands perpendicular to the ground, palms towards Rowena, as he offers a mirthful display of submission. "Row! Row! I meant me. Not the concept." Some would say that Serath Kahar, master of the bladed arts, is one of the deadliest creatures alive in Fastheld. "The concept is... something I suppose we'll have to explore in more detail at some point." he purrs, earnestly and - believe it or not - sincerely, lowering his hands to rest them upon his knees.

So, if Serath can be tamed by Rowena, what does that make her?

A very much stirred mongoose strained by the hiss of serpents and ticking of time.

"At some point, Serath, I will be too old." Lowering the threatening hand to rest limply at her side, Rowena turns to retrieve the straying horse and bites her lip with force. Ten years she'd waited with patience. Half that time had been spent following the trails of a dead man with prayer, time and time again, ignoring the wiser advice of dear Oren. Defying logic, earning the odd stares and whispers. And for what? The fleeting moments like these.

A sharp whistle comes from between her lips to call the horse to her so her feet needn't trouble themselves the extra distance. "He's far more wanderlust than Umbrus." She notes aloud and dips her chin to rub at an irritated eye.

"At some point, you might be." The Wildcat cannot refuse the passage of time, which is an admission that even he seems willing to make. There are many things he can do, yes - but keeping time at bay isn't one of them, it seems. Nor does it seem to bother him as he looks upon Rowena with a level of adoration that's seen him do more than his share of irresponsible and reckless feats in his time.

Yet it is indeed these fleeting moments, and many more to come, that have made it all worth the risk. "But only by the standards that others set, Rowena Mikin. Never to me."

Rowena keeps her back turned as Reliable looks over and contemplates heeding the order. "I wish it were only so simple." She whispers and gathers the sides of her cloak to bundle over her hands in front.

"As a girl living as Maeve's shadow I was so terrified of the...the tragedy of birth that I refused to attend her orders on midwife summoning. I watched a woman die there, through the crack in the door after Maeve bid me to leave. I've since seen battlefields less bloodied. And I almost ran... I almost cried out. But then I heard this mewling, this strange sound that I hadn't heard before and as I looked again I saw it there, in Maeve's hands. It was life in its least tainted form and just listening to it scream at the injustice of the world seemed to make all the pain, the death, everything... worthwhile, so very much."

Perking his ears to a sound here and there, Reliable trots slowly towards her in submission.

Return to Season 4 (2006)

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