Bronze Hall Guest Room <Fastheld Keep>
The elaborate décor of the Bronze Hall seeps into this small guest room that branches from its length. The etchings of vines scroll between the stones, then creep their way up the walls. Thin, bronze leafing brings shine to the ornate design. There is a single window, small, carved out near the ceiling on the wall across from the doorway. Also against this wall is a table, simple in construction, but polished to a mahogany sheen.
An oak stool is tucked beneath it A mirror, rimmed in bronze, has been hung on the wall to the right of the doorway, and flanking it are paintings of anonymous horsemen. Along the same wall of the door, but on the immediate left, two sets of three candles are held in aged, bronze claws. A spacious bed protrudes from the left wall, the foot nearly reaching the room's center. The headboard is made of the same, mahogany wood, and sheets of a dark, scarlet color. A fur throw has been flung over the top, and feathered pillows are stacked neatly. An intricately woven rug depicts a battle scene on the floor, at the bed's foot.
For now, an elegantly flowing, leafy decoration has been placed on top of the table, perhaps to lighten the mood of the room, while decorative coats of arms, at least as old as the Hall itself, hold sentry upon the walls as they guard the room from all peril.
You appear to be alone here.
Obvious exits: Leave the Guest Room <LG>
While darkness makes its grim arrival outdoors, the lone window's view is cast into inky black. No moonlight streams the floor in romantic fashion this night. A mere six candles light the room to the satisfaction of the occupant. Three flicker along the wall near the door, while the others are scattered about upon the table. One rests upon the window's edge, heralding the stars to join in the sparkle. But join they do not. Seated in silence at the foot of the bed is the woman who would be judge this hour. Her palms fold tightly over the shard of metal that dangles so gently against her breast. "Strength..." She whispers to it while staring sideways at her ghostly reflection. "To use as wisdom tells."
Outside, the clanking footsteps of armored men rattle across the hall. At last, a trio of quick raps are given upon the door to the room and there is silence.
The ethereal blue fades from her face as her hands lower to her knees, the ring's glow becoming lost against the velvet of her gown. Looking to the door, Rowena steels her tired expression and lifts her chin in dignity. "Bring her forth." She calls in reply, then stands to greet the one who would enter.
The door opens and Tomassa quietly steps into the room, followed by two of the quintet of Bladesmen assigned to accompany her when she leaves her room. The woman is clean, but her clothing is rumpled and less than fresh - hinting that she's had no other garments to wear during her stay. The remaining three Bladesmen respectfully salute the Duchess while waiting further instruction from her.
"You may leave us." Rowena instructs the guardsmen with a bow of her head and gestures Tomassa to the oak stool that sits beneath the table. "Wait in the hall and permit no further entry until I emerge." Tone stern and posture rigid, the Duchess exposes the stoic, Mikin trait which has remained hidden for so long.
Obediently, the guardsmen make their exit, reaching to close the door when they are outside. Tomassa, expression tired, moves to sit down where she was bidden. Her hands smooth her skirt out of the way in an awkward gesture that shows she isn't used to such garments.
Rowena remains standing until the guards have gone. Once they leave, however, her shoulders relax from the stiff facade and she perches once more at the bed's foot. As cozy as the scarlet sheets and fur throw may be, of course, this was no endearing form of fireside chat. Staring at the former Surrector for a moment, Rowena lets the depth of her eyes speak the remorse that her words will not. "Lord Shalis wished not to attend?" She questions first. "For he need be aware that his guilt would follow your own, as he has also pointed blame to Duke Zahir. So I have been informed."
"Tomas has been brought to join us here at the palace. He is not feeling well today, so Shalis remained with him. We did not send for a healer because it is my belief that tis only his worries that upset his stomach. He is a sensitive boy," Tomassa quietly explains. "Shalis did not take any part of this, but to stand with me as I made confession to Oren. If you wish to speak to him, we may send someone to fetch him?" She sits easily upon the stool, no trace of tension in her body.
"That decision is your own to make." Rowena replies softly, eyes shifting towards the doorway. "If you wish to proceed as you are, then I am here to listen." But her ears are not the only ones to do so. A soft chittering sound voices from beneath the bed, revealing the presence of a third party. "Hush." Rowena scolds and scoots the cage gently with her heel. A faint trace of color arises to her pallid cheeks and she casts Tomassa an apologetic glance. "The Tax Assessor returned him to me...and he has been a menace since."
Despite the situation, Tomassa must quietly laugh at Rowena's blush and her admonition of the creature. "A menace? What is it? Tis not a cat by the sound," she asks, the smile actually touching her tired eyes. Her hands smooth over her knees and remain curved there, trapping her skirt against them.
"I suppose you were never introduced to Zareef, were you?" Rowena returns the smile, but does not make a motion to make the introductions now. "The bravest mongoose in the realm, to have survived the collapse of West Bluff and reign of the Ravager's fire." Hearing his name spoken, Zareef turns a small circle in his confinement and scratches at the flooring with claws of protest. "But pay him no mind." The sobriety returns to her features and she sighs. "If you so desire, you may now either defend yourself against the charges brought by the Duke, or return to your chambers while the former lightkeeper is summoned."
Tomassa lifts her hands from her knees and spreads them as her shoulders lift in a helpless shrug. "I shall speak. If my husband is dismayed that I did so without him, he may take me to task for it. Ask me what you will, Your Grace. I shall do my best to answer," the Contessa offers, mouth quirking.
"Very well..." Rowena murmurs, fingers snaking away from her gown to rest upon the fur beneath her. "But I have no questions with which to begin. Instead, I want you to tell me what it is you understand Duke Zahir to have accused you of, and why the court should accept your word of innocence over his own. I pray that you speak in complete honesty. I know not what lay in store for the soul condemned, but I am certain that it is not pleasant. If the Blademaster and I cannot come to agreement on this judgement, if the facts given do not make for sensible conclusion, then your fate lies solely in the hands of the Regent." Warning given, she quiets and nods for Tomassa to begin.
"I did not know my cousin had levied any accusations against me until Shalis and I came before the Regent to speak our oaths and for me to confess. Is that why I am here? Because of what Aiden has said of me?" Tomassa asks, brows lifting. "Oren told Shalis and I that Aiden would also be confined to the palace just as we are until this matter was resolved."
"Well clearly he believes you to be a commiter of treason." Rowena responds in monotone. "And in turn, you have so accused him, the Regent has said. That is why you are both held here. One of you has been plotting against the Regent, against the realm. Upheaval, of sorts." She pauses, brows furrowed together as she works her memory. "A Dark Rider? Some armor..." Curse the stress. Unable to remember the precise words of the Duke spoken long ago in Council, Rowena frowns. "Treason, nevertheless."
Tomassa exhales and looks downward toward her knees. When she glances up again, both her face and her voice are patient. "I had a conversation with Aiden in which he told me Oren was sending squads of Bladesmen around the realm to -force- people to make oath to him. He said Oren had forced himself, Sahna Nillu, and Duhnen Seamel to kneel and do just that the night he received the word from the Emperor of his true appointment. He told me that Oren is a tyrant and a madman who needs to be stopped. Aiden told me that he, himself, preferred a return to the old ways... when lands were ruled by the heads of the family and there was no emperor." She steadily looks at Rowena, one corner of her mouth partially curving. "I am, as Shalis has said, something of an excitable sort. When Aiden told me that armed men might be marching to my door to *demand* that I give my oath of fealty to Oren Nillu, I was less than happy as you can well imagine."
"A return to the ways of old would leave opportunity for internal warfare between the houses. That is indeed chaos." Rowena states flatly, unamused. "To deny him oath would be to deny the Emperor's choice. His word. To make worthless the sacrifices made..." Eyes narrowing, she turns her voice to a quiet but well-heard growl. "And that is indeed treason." Her throat twitches as she swallows. "When did he come to you with this opinion? Did he suggest a 'solution' to the "tyranny"? How did you react?" After firing those three questions at her, Rowena stands and treads silently over the floor towards the wall-mounted candles. One has died.
"I do not disagree with you about the return to the old ways," the Contessa admits, folding her hands atop her lap. "But I also do not much care for Oren Nillu. Talus Kahar, I would have followed beyond the Aegis without a look back." There is something as solid as granite to her words that is echoed within her eyes as she speaks of the Emperor. "Aiden's words inflamed me with anger that Oren would be so audacious. He added, however, that perhaps the Regent might not come to Hedgehem since Aiden had already given oath. Nonetheless, he thought it best that we do something. He... he named me as Goram's heir." Now, her face tightens and there is something of bile within her voice. It is obvious she did not care for that title. "He said the Black Rider should return to Fastheld. That the Black Rider should stir up the populace against Oren by posting propaganda upon the news posts. He even wrote one in his own hand for me to copy as I carried it around the realm."
Watching Tomassa from over her shoulder, Rowena lifts the deceased candle from its sconce and reignites the wick with an adjacent flame. "A letter, which I'm told, did not hold resemblance to the Duke's script after close examination. It is therefore irrelevant, as evidence." She pauses, holding in her breath as the light is conceived. With steady hands, she returns the stick to its cradle. "Did you object to what he, Duke Zahir, asked of you?"
The Contessa is extremely startled by Rowena's words about the letter. "What?" she asks, visibly disturbed. "He wrote it and sent it to me. For copying and distribution. That was his plan and I did not dissuade him. However, I also did not copy or distribute that notice. Instead, I made confession to Shalis of what Aiden had said. My husband forbade me to have anything else to do with Aiden and I have not. Neither have I done what Aiden asked. Instead, Shalis and I journeyed here to make oath to Oren and to confess."
"To confess of the conversation held?" Rowena presses for good measure, returning to her seat upon the bed with less fervor than she left it. Zareef rustles in his cramped quarters again, grunting with dismay. His tiny claws snag at the trailing sheet as he reaches, causing it to wiggle behind her ankles. "And did you or did you not come to posses Goram's armor of the Dark Rider?"
"I have never seen Goram's legendary armor," Tomassa truthfully confesses without taking her gaze from Rowena's face. "I have never sought it. If someone has said that I have, then they lie. You know me, Rowena. Hotheaded, I may be, but I do not lie. Not when asked a direct question. True," she says with a faint grin. "I suppose I have told someone that it was good to see them when I wasn't that happy to be in their presence, but..."
"I'll admit that I was in much denial with Duke Zahir 'revealed' this information of your supposed association with the Dark Rider to the Council." Rowena whispers, voice too tired to speak much beyond. "I suspected that you would have objection to the Emperor's exile, but to hear that you intended to destroy..." She shakes her head, eyes closing to break the stare for a moment. "I knew that you cared for His Majesty...for the Prince. To overthrow the Regent and upset the peace would be to defy His Majesty's word. It would spit upon what Serath has done." Gaze reopened with a gravity to touch even the cold of heart, Rowena says "I pray that I was not wrong in my former assumptions of what you are not capable of. For the man or woman responsible for such conspiracy will be shown no mercy from I." Her words fade into mere breaths, chin firming as she looks past Tomassa to the armor which hangs on the wall. "Have I, have the Council and Regent your word that you had, nor have, no intentions of committing treason by way of stirring public objection to the Regent's ruling? Or by in anyway moving to hinder what is slowly becoming the recovery of Fastheld?"
"If I had any intention of going against Oren, I would not have given my oath to him," Tomassa quietly, but gravely states. "It is not within my nature to betray others in such a way. I would not give oath to him and then ride against him. No. Instead, I would never have come to give my oath. I would have defied him openly. You -know- me, Rowena. Is that not my way? Is it not?" The woman sits upon the stool without stiffness or tension, her body at ease, her hands lightly clasped, and her gaze fierce upon the face of the Mikin.
After a long moment of study, 'the Mikin' concludes "Hope then that the Blademaster agrees." And while she may not have said it, Rowena personally acknowledges Tomassa's 'way' with a faint trace of smile. She looks about the chamber, perhaps seeking the confidence of ghosts that yet linger to guard their former home. "I will draw this meeting to end, then, if you've nothing else to offer in either defense or accusation. I will consult Duke Zahir, then the Blademaster. I may call you each again for second questioning if I so see fit." Landing her eyes upon the lioness again, she grips the edge of the bed and slowly stands.
Tomassa pushes herself to her feet with a small smile of acknowledgment when she realizes Rowena understood her. "I am glad that one so dear to you was returned. Perhaps it will give you some comfort. My heart is heavy for your burden," she gently says to the other woman.
"My burden will be lifted when all is as it should be." Rowena states matter-of-factly. Dropping low again, she reaches beneath the bed and opens the latch on the cage. A brown, fuzzy blur scuttles out and into her arms with the whipping motion of a snake. Agile form twisting and wiggling about in an explosion of pent-up energy, Zareef chitters wildly and grips at her shoulder with sneaky paws. He roots through her bound ringlets with a nosy snout. When nothing is found, the little beast leaps free and lands to scurry next toward Tomassa's feet with unbound curiosity. "Heavier a burden will belong to the one found guilty in this trial." Rowena notes solemnly. She follows Zareef's motions of mischief with a sharp eye and steps forward to intersect his winding path before it leads to chewed laces.
"I doubt my burden could be much heavier," Tomassa quietly says, smile faded away. "Not since I have learned of Corriden's death. That dark taint will ever be upon my soul." Unhurriedly, the woman turns toward the door to the room and the guards that await her beyond it.
"Do not let it blind you." Rowena murmurs and scoots Zareef aside with a slippered toe. She grips the door handle with a hand that borders on frail and tugs it open. "Lady Zahir is released back to her chamber through your custody." Rowena announces to the guards outside and steps aside to offer Tomassa an exit. Posture returning to its former authoritative stance, the healer bows her head in farewell.
Tomassa steps outside, but only after resting a hand very lightly upon Rowena's shoulder in passing.
You head into The Bronze Hall of the Horsemen.