Ballroom <Fastheld Keep>
Although made of the same grim, charcoal gray stone of the rest of the Imperial manor, this cavernous room has a particularly festive air about it, from the gleaming brass chandeliers to the diaphanous blue curtains that drape graceful arcs across the windows that open onto the courtyard. During celebratory events in the ballroom, servants call out the new arrivals and court musicians perform rhythmic tunes. A raised dais with two thrones - one for the Emperor, the other for the Empress - sits at one end of the ballroom. At the other is a long table that can hold refreshments and finger foods provided by the manor staff. The dance floor is a broad sweep of colored mosaic tiles that form the image of a golden crown encircled by an unbroken barrier of stone. An archway leads into the great hall, while double doors lead to the courtyard.
Hollowed eyes...ashen cheeks...vacant expressions. What was once a place of festivity is now a chamber filled with the living pain and fear that the Ravager's blow had struck into the heart of Fastheld.
Sweet-smelling hay litters the floor, sparing only the emblem of the crown from the rough, and scratchy blanket. Linens, boards, planks which had once been tables serve now as beds for the wounded, parted from the chill of stone only by the layer of straw. Near the throne, at the distant end, a table has been set with bowls of steaming water, bread, and various foods available to those who may walk to fetch them. A dressing screen blocks the viewing of the room's farthest corner where a few chamber pots have been placed to accomodate for such basic necessity. In efforts to keep the vast chamber's air fresh, the candle tops have been laced with lavender oil.
Nearer to the archway that bears passage into the great hall is another changing screen, placed at an angle to give illusion to privacy from both those in the hall and the wounded that lay. It is on the other side of this screen that hints of royalty lay. A silver brush, a cloak of rich, black velvet, and a certain satchel, familiar to all who had once found themselves on the poorer side of health. And it is amongst these things that the owner lies, or rather curls, over what had been a lump of blankets. Her lips are pale, parted to breathe trembling breaths of restless slumber. Her lashes do not fully shield the empty stare of her eyes, revealing a sliver of the bloodshot green. Moisture wets her brow and cheek, in the form of old sweat and aging tears. Her hair, lain peacefully to contrast the worn image, spreads like a pool over her right arm and lump of fabric that serves as a pillow. Something sharp glints beneath that fabric, her fingers holding fast to the hilt. The waterstone pendant has snaked free from the wide neckline of her chemise, and glitters softly from its rest within the straw.
A visitor enters the ballroom. Not one of the wounded, nor one of the attendants. Instead, it's Vhramis Skinner, looking as if he's fresh from a hard ride, and tiring. He looks down the rows of hurt, and steps forward, moving quietly as he approaches one of the attendants he can see. "The Duchess Mikin...I need to find her."
Rising from her stoop alongside the small figure of a child, a woman servant clasps the bowl in her hands a bit uneasily as she watches Vhramis approach. "Her Grace...?" Flicking a nervous glance towards the duchess's screen, she nods. "Aye, I'll fetch her."
A body moans in its sleep as her nimble feet step over the man, skirt tickling over his bandaged arm. Balancing the contents of the bowl carefully, the plump woman peeks hesitantly around the screen. A soft 'tsk' emerges from her throat and she kneels to rest the bowl upon the floor.
In the world of dreams, the softest sounds of the conscious can cross the barrier into slumber with the most deafening of booms. A shifting in low light over her glazed eyes...the 'clunk' of wood against stone echoing in her mind...these things cause something in Rowena's mind to stir, and to the fright of the maid, her muscles tense, eyes flash widely open, and breathing halts.
Blind...Blinking slowly now in attempts to ward off the glare of almost non existent candle light, Rowena shivers and glances first to her warped position, then to the maid with confusion.
Vhramis awaits quietly where he stands, staring at one of the sleeping injured with a blank, solemn face.
"Forgive me, your Grace." The older woman murmurs, hand resting upon a breast to calm her startled heart. "There's a man here to see you." A concerned glance darts to the duchess's state of dress, and the woman reaches up to grab Rowena's cloak from the screen's corner.
"What man." Rowena demands in first a raspy voice, then coughs forcefully to clear it. When her lungs again calm, she loosens her grip upon the blade and lets it clatter to the floor. "Who." She inquires in more fluid a tone.
Vhramis turns his head slightly at the sound of the Duchess' voice, before lifting his own voice to answer. "Vhramis Skinner, your Grace. I come from speaking with the Prince."
Taking the offered cloak, Rowena sits up fully and draws her legs beneath her as she wraps the garment half-hazard around her shoulders, distracted. Her gaze is fixated eagerly ahead now, through the screen whilst she gathers her bearings. For the first time in several weeks, relief weakens the tension in her brow and she hastily stands. "Then he is alive." She whispers, closing her eyes in brief prayer before brushing around the maid and into the exposure of the room.
Vhramis lowers his eyes as Rowena makes her appearance, and he bows to her. "Your Grace...I am sorry to disturb your rest. But...I bear a message. And this." He reaches into his cloak and draws out a small object, offering it to the woman.
Vhramis gives Shard Of Arminas to you.
A shard of the purest of steel that shimmers and refracts light seemingly of its own accord. It exists of an almost holy bluish-white metallic composition; a seraphic hue of forged adamantine that is unlike anything seen before in a blade. Evidently once part of a whole sword, this immaculate shard seems to have once been the tip of that unique blade.
"There is no need to bow here." Rowena softly says, head tilting in examination of the shard while her brows mold back into the fierce furrowing. Timidly, as though it may burn her, she takes the seraphic metal from his fingers and holds it gently in her own.
Chin lowered, she stares not in wonderment at it, but sickened realization. The pendant against her chest quivers with the swift change in her silent gasps for air. "From Serath." She whispers.
Vhramis nods his head. "Yes...Your Grace...he bid me to bring a message. He bid me to tell you that he loves you, and he is sorry."
The shard glows softly against the touch of its kin metal which encircles her finger in promise. "Why." Rowena questions, lifting her gaze from the rare sight to settle squarely into Vhramis's eyes. "I knew he would hunt it. I knew from the moment he left...it is in his blood. Why then is he sorry?" Folding her hands together to clasp the blade's tip in her palms, she lifts it to her lips, waiting.
Vhramis meets her gaze for a moment as he considers her question to which he has no real answer to. "He is sorry, perhaps, for putting you through this, your Grace," he says quietly.
"For every day that I mourn him, fearing once more that I shall be again called to honor his death in the monument of Arrow's Watch?" Rowena murmurs, seizing one breath at a time to keep what composure she'd left. "Or the pain of knowing that when Serath does reach his brother, that even if he shall survive it, they both will suffer? His Majesty will be in great need of a healer. For each day that passes, I know his condition worsens. And yet the Council voted in favor of remaining here, idle by." She says somewhat bitterly, eyes flashing with the anger of a woman whose hands have been tied without her consent.
"Those are not his faults...not entirely. For, I, too, wish to bring the Emperor home. To us, to his son. Why then must he go alone? When did he leave?"
Vhramis bows his head to her, and his next words are spoken in a barely audible whisper. "I'll keep him safe. On my life."
Rowena sniffs after a long moment of silence, cracking open her palms to watch the shard's light again. "He knew I'd try to follow, didn't he?" She nearly squeaks forth. Eyes that are but emptied river beds narrow in scrutiny over the object. "He knows I hate to sit, both helpless and useless in this matter." To throw more conflict into the waves of emotion passing over her features, she smiles a sad but warm smile. "But he must find his brother. To do what some of us cannot."
"I believe he expected many to try to follow...and now I need to go inform the Chancellor that he has left. And that the rule of Fastheld is up to him and the council," Vhramis responds. "If anyone can find the Emperor...it's the Prince, your Grace."
A tender swallow clears the clench which had taken hold of her throat. Nodding, Rowena lowers her hands, prize still captured within. "Before you go...I want you to take something. To him." Glancing upwards to Vhramis, she gnaws on her lower lip in serious thought, then turns on heel to slowly return to her screen.
When her belongings are reached, she bows to a knee and opens the flap of her satchel to lovingly place the shard inside. Her hands then close around another object, softer, and pull it from the bag.
Vhramis nods his head slowly and waits for Rowena to stand, his face solemn, though his eyes are saddened. "I will, your Grace. On my honor and life."
"A time ago, before the Prince of the Blood grew into the strength of his title, before I had ever touched an herb knowingly, words of fear, of hope, of courage and doubt were spoken." Rowena dictates quietly, voice regaining its strength as she unfolds the silken wrap to reveal what very few would consider to be a treasure. It is thin, palm-sized shell, pitted with holes, shiny nacre chipped. Through the holes, strands of leather bind bits of squawker feather and river pebbles to the ornament. A longer strand permits the owner to wear it 'round his or her neck.
"Words of such truth are rare to find from the mouth of adults. Of friendship...of childish freedom. Of memories." Rising gingerly from her hunched position, she turns to offer up the seemingly worthless trinket. "When belief in the light was fierce and unquestioned. When a bond was first forged. To never forget. This thing we so made one afternoon at the river's bank."
Vhramis reaches his hand out to accept the object, though he does so carefully and reverently. "I will pass this to him," he says quietly, tucking it away. "Thank you for tending to me all those times, your Grace. I never did fully express my thanks to you. It was appreciated."
Rowena retracts her fingers to her belly, knotting them with a shake of her head. "The only show of thanks I need is for you to pass those gifts of returned life to others." She smiles and clears her wavering voice again before gesturing to what he now holds. "A luck charm, as ugly as it was." Rowena explains, a bit of a flush bringing life to her cheeks. "I've kept hold of it, all these years. I'm not certain that he even remembers its birth, but I want him to take it. It's been twenty years since its creation. It's his turn. To keep for another twenty."
Vhramis offers gently, bowing his head. "I'll do this. Is...there anything else?"
"Only my love." Rowena murmurs, face ashen in its somber expression, but jaw held firm. "My prayers that he and His Majesty will be guided safely home, here. And that if he would so permit it...I would join in the search to be their sanctuary against the pain." Exhaling thinly through her nose, Rowena quells the would-be cry that presses at her lips to be released, and extends a palm to place it softly over Vhramis's cheek. "Thank you. May the Light keep you all safe...for I shall anticipate a return."
Vhramis lowers his eyes humbly at the contact, the man nodding his head ever so slightly. "Your Grace...I resigned from Wedgecrest as steward...I spoke with Lord Fael. He knows to send the word to the Marchioness. But...if she still doesn't understand...perhaps...?" He looks up to her, the rest of the question unsaid.
"I will tell her. She'll come to understand, one way or another." Rowena promises, withdrawing her hand to rest against the warmth of her belly again. Behind her, the maid crosses the room to answer the pleading call of a patient's nightmare. Rowena glances aside to the quiet commotion, knowing that she, too, must now go.
"Ride Swiftly." The healer breathes in farewell, bestowing Vhramis with a final smile of grace and gentle bow of her head. She turns then to disappear behind the screen, leaving in his hands the memory of the exchange.