Throne Room <Fastheld Keep>
The high ceilings of this gray stone chamber are supported by rows of massive columns along an aisle that features a purple carpet that extends from the arched entrance to the Emperor's throne room and ends at the first step of the dais that holds the gleaming majesty of the Imperial throne - a chair of gold, armrests encrusted in jewels, back and seat cushioned with stuffed pillows covered with crimson velvet. Torches flicker in stanchions attached to the columns. The fluttering wings and twitter of birds can occasionally be heard in the shadows overhead, where the fowl have nested after coming into the estate through one of the balconies or the courtyard. The seal of Fastheld - a crown within a dark, unbroken circle - is on the tapestry that hangs behind and above the throne of Talus Kahar.
Shalis Kahar and Oren Nillu are here. The masterpiece Battle of Rolling Green is here.
Also here: NPC Knight Sentry Marker, Fastheld Courier Service Obvious exits: Leave Throne Room <LTR>
The night is restless. Outside the palace, the sky rages with the thunderous promise of a possible storm. Here, within the hall of Fastheld rulers, the sound is dimmed to the mere echo of a distant drum. Sitting upon the throne is a man of blood foreign to the one that has previously held the reins of the realm. "Go, Baron Nillu," Oren Nillu tells a man now standing in front of the dais. "Good evening and good luck." The dismissal sees the departure of the noble and leaves the Regent to indulge the peace of silence for as long as it will last. A herald, as always, stands by the entrance waiting to announce those who may wish to seek audience.
Tomassa smoothes her palms down her green skirt as if to dry them, her face held into a tight, dark frown she cannot quite control. The sword at her hip has been bound into place with a green silk ribbon to keep it from being drawn from its scabbard. The woman's hair is neatly, but simply braided to hang down her back past her shoulders and her attire, though simple cotton, is clean and of good quality. Beneath the skirt she wears, boots can occasionally be seen upon her feet when she steps inward. Her eyes glance to Shalis rather than to Oren as she lets her husband speak to the herald.
Shalis stays close to the ex-Surrector through the palace, leaving her only momentarily to murmur to the heralds. He presents his arm to her once more with a slight, quick smile. His step is casual, the lines of his body easy, as he starts forward on the herald's announcement of Dean Shalis Kahar and Contessa Tomassa Zahir.
Oren Nillu remains silent as the herald announces both nobles, watching them approach. He waits until they stop in front of the dais to address them. "Lord Shalis, Countess Tomassa, good evening. What business do you bring before the throne?"
Tomassa tightens her fingers upon Shalis' arm, but then slowly releases her touch upon him. She lowers her hands and clasps them behind her back as she glances sidelong to the Kahar priest. For an instant, there's a touch of tension around her mouth, but then the woman lowers her gaze to the floor. The attitude is apparently respectful, though there is a certain stiffness to her stance.
Shalis smiles again, slightly, at Tomassa, but his face settles into gravity immediately upon the shift of his glance to Oren. His bow is unstinting, and he is silent a second before he says, "Two matters, Lord Regent. The first, and the simpler, is a vow of fealty to your charge. The second matter springs from that vow."
"Let us get the first one out of the way, then," the old man replies. "I, Oren Nillu, have been chosen to sit on this throne as living representative of the Imperial Line's rule until such a time as the Prince Heir comes of age to assume his rightful place at the helm of the realm. Lord Shalis, Countess Tomassa, I will now demand that you both swear, under the laws of Fastheld and by the bonds of blood, that your allegiance lies with the Kahar Imperial Line and to me as symbol of that power until the law decrees otherwise."
Tomassa looks up at Oren at last, her coppery brown gaze assessing and somewhat guarded. She briefly looks to Shalis, but her eyes return to the Regent as her hands unclasp at the small of her back and hang by her sides in fists that tighten. A deep inhalation is slowly released as the woman readies herself. "I so swear," she says at last in her husky contralto.
"And I," Shalis says evenly, "so swear. Do you accept our oaths, Lord Regent?" His eyes remain on Oren, brows drawn in a tiny frowning wrinkle together now.
Oren Nillu nods a single time in response. "Let us move on to this second matter you spoke of." The Contessa moistens her lips and turns her head to regard Shalis with an expression that is difficult to read. She gives him a small, encouraging nod as if urging him to take the lead on this new matter.
Shalis' mouth twitches rather wryly. "I have no wish to sound hopelessly dramatic, Lord Regent, although it may be a relic of my former profession to be so. My wife and I have become aware of at least one plot against the realm's stability and against yourself, and have some slight reason to doubt the usual channels for passing this information on. We wished, therefore, to turn it over to your ears." His head tilts slightly, wryness dropping from his mouth. "Quietly," he adds.
Oren Nillu's own face does not show any emotion. His eyes remain apathetic upon the couple. "How very unsettling," he replies, although his voice does not seem to match the words. "Please, go ahead and tell me about this plot."
Tomassa's booted feet shift beneath her green skirt, causing it to gently sway. She looks again to the ground, pale lashes shielding her eyes, and stills but for her tightening fists.
"This one is perhaps a little more worrisome than many," Shalis responds in an even tone. His shoulders life, and then fall. "You will know already that my wife is of an exciteable disposition, and of a family with dubious connections. You will know, too, that she is not proud of these connections, but feels the ties of blood strongly-- or has until recently. We believe this is why her kinsman chose to approach her, Lord Regent, to request her inclusion in a situation which played upon these things, and upon her loyalty to the Emperor's bloodline. The overt goal, of course, was your overthrow. Will you know which kinsman I speak of?" The Dean's eyes are quite intent upon Oren now.
"I would not dare even gamble a guess upon those who have already sworn themselves loyal," the Regent says. "Go ahead and tell me."
There is a rippling of Tomassa's pale eyelashes when she looks again toward her husband. However, she makes no move to answer Oren. A slight tightening comes over the former Surrector's features.
"The most persuasive, Lord Regent. Aiden Zahir," Shalis says simply.
"You are saying Aiden Zahir conspired to overthrow me?" Oren Nillu inquires, eyebrow raised. "Those are serious allegations. Perhaps you can offer more details. How did you come about this information? How did or does he intend to carry this insurrection out? I am all ears."
Tomassa's chin lowers as her head bows, but still the woman says nothing. Her fists loosen from their tight grip, fingers remaining slightly curled as if merely waiting to clench once more. The woman's attitude is one of waiting.
"While I have spoken as to his motives, Lord Regent, it truly is not my place to do so. I can only present to you the information that he approached my wife, aware with knowledge only Zahirs are given that she had certain abilities in this matter. He, of course, said that you intended to kill the heir and seize power-- I can't imagine what else he would say. He presented as evidence that you were requiring an oath of fealty to you rather than to the heir, which of course stirred my wife's loyalties to the Emperor. It was afterwards that she realised that it might be wisest to check these facts, and that she had been decieved. The details of the plot are best left to her to explain, as I was not involved." Shalis' voice is measured, rising and falling slightly, low in tone and quite reasonable in intonation. The frown between his brows remains, however.
"So Aiden Zahir told Countess Tomassa that the vows I was demanding were to me rather than the Heir?" The Regent asks, turning to the noblewoman in question. "I will now hear anything you have to say on this matter. I suggest you leave no details out."
Tomassa lifts her eyes, if not her chin, looking quietly at Oren. "Me?" she asks of him, one brow lifting ever-so-slightly. "Or my husband?" There is a hint of amusement in her attempt to seem like a meek wife, but she does seem to defer to the man.
Shalis' very, very slight wince goes along with another wry twitch of his lips. Nonetheless, he smiles at Tomassa. "You know more of this than I, My Lady."
Oren Nillu's eyes remain on Tomassa. "Yes. You."
"My cousin," begins Tomassa in a quiet voice, "Told me that you were sending squads of Bladesmen into the noble districts to force fealty to you, if necessary. He made it seem as if an armed force would soon be at the gates of Bramblestone."
The Dean clasps his hands behind his back and cocks his head at Tomassa, watching her with casual attentiveness.
"How did you respond to these accusations?" the elderly Nillu pursues.
Tomassa spreads her hands a little as she gives a small shrug. "Admittedly, I wasn't very happy. Then, however, Aiden told me that you probably would not come to Hedgehem because you'd forced himself, Duhnen Seamel, and Sahna Nillu to kneel and pledge fealty to you only the night before. He said that you were a tyrant and he feared for the future of the realm. After more conversation, Aiden said he wished the realm would go back to the old ways - each house governing its own with no emperor to rule. He said that Sahna Nillu and Duhnen Seamel were equally keen to remove you from power."
There is no particular chance to Shalis' expression, which remains attentive and knit just slightly atthe brow.
Oren Nillu nods. "Did you believe him? What did you tell him you would do?"
The woman's mouth purses, her arms relaxing. "I tried to remain quiet and listen. It was most difficult when he said that I was Goram Zahir's -heir-," Tomassa says with a taut look of bitterness and bile. "He said that he would write out a statement for me to copy and post around Fastheld while in the guise of the Black Rider. Something to stir up the people against your regency."
There is perhaps a little shift in Shalis' weight, one foot to the other, as he listens. No more.
Oren Nillu leans back on the throne, still watching Tomassa. "A plan you will now tell me you rejected entirely, I assume?"
Tomassa's chin comes up and her look is proudly defensive. "Have you seen any fliers posted around Fastheld?" she asks, jaw tightening. "I never carried out Aiden's wishes. I would not lose my husband over such foolishness. We pledged to be truthful to one another, so I -told- him of what Aiden asked of me."
"Do you wish to know her words at the time, Lord Regent, or her actions once she was away from her silver-tongued kinsman?" Shalis inquires in a gentle voice.
"I wish to know how she replied to Aiden Zahir at the time she was addressed. She has clearly told me how she acted later," Oren answers. "I also wish to know if there are any witnesses or if there is any evidence to prove the veracity of these claims."
"My horse was witness, but I doubt you'll get much information out of him," Tomassa drily responds to Oren's query. "I told Aiden that I would look into the possibility of becoming the Black Rider, but I did not make him any promises. I did not like the idea of keeping a secret from my husband." The Contessa's shoulders straighten and there is a fierce glittering in her eyes.
Shalis Kahar nods slightly to Oren, and then he looks back to his wife. A slight twitch lifts one corner of his mouth.
"You are walking on dangerous grounds, Tomassa, so I would suggest you keep such comments to yourself. The very accusations you have tonight brought up have, in that very likeness, been brought up against you. Your word against Aiden Zahir's. The only difference is that the day you were dismissed as Surrector you made it clear you had no intention to serve me and that you would continue to do what you wished regardless of who stood in your way," Oren Nillu explains, his voice now tinged with anger. "As it stands now, whose word do you think has more weight? That of a man who serves on the Council or that of a woman who has in the past shown nothing but a reckless disregard for authority? You should be hoping, Countess, that your horse could provide information."
Tomassa's posture stiffens, but she manages to keep a rein upon her anger. "May I be allowed to return to my horse, Regent Nillu?" she tightly asks the man seated upon the throne. "Perhaps he has something to offer, after all."
"Ahh," Shalis says, quietly. "Tomassa, we seem to have been accused of treason in turn. It must be somewhat plain that we have committed no actions treasonously, and we have come here of our free will to this audience. He will know of your reputation for truthfulness in spite of the consequences, and he will know of your kinsman's own reputation no doubt better than we. This is not a time to flee, but instead to hold firm if there should be more required of us." His brow remains furrowed, and there is a slightly abstracted air to him as he holds a gentling hand out to Tomassa.
Oren Nillu is silent for a few moments before he speaks again. "So you have no evidence whatsoever? You better hope your cousin has none either." He sighs. "One thing is certain: one of you wanted to stand against me. By the grace of the Light, the guilty party shall be exposed whether by trial of word or trial of combat."
That movement from Shalis does bring a measure of calm to Tomassa. She exhales and takes a moment to regain herself. "There is a paper in my saddlebags that may serve as evidence, though it has no signature. If you allow me to fetch it, with or without guardsmen, I shall return in only a few moments to present it to you," she says toward Oren. Her boots whisper against the floor as she steps to stand right as Shalis' side.
Shalis Kahar places his hand lightly on the small of Tomassa's back with a pressure somehow approving, his face gone neutral now.
"What kind of paper? Go ahead and bring it," the Regent says.
Tomassa inclines her head to Oren before turning to look warmly at Shalis. "I will be back," she softly says to him in promise. Turning away from the priest, the woman's braid swings outward and falls against her back as she prowls out of the room. Despite the skirt, she still stalks along as if in pants.
"I would expect so," Shalis murmurs, more shaping his lips than voicing the sounds as he watches Tomassa go.
Oren Nillu nods and says no more, waiting.
Shalis eventually swings his gaze back to Oren, studying the man with a faintly raised eyebrow.
The door is opened after several minutes have passed - enough time for Tomassa to retreat to the stables outside of the castle and to return. She carries a rolled parchment in her grasp and smartly steps forward to offer it to the Regent with a flourish. The parchment is extended and she lowers her head while waiting for the man to take it.
The herald at the entrance quickly walks forth and takes the parchment from Tomassa's hand, climbing the steps of the dais to hand it over to Oren. The Regent reads the piece of paper and shakes his head. "This will not help you much, Countess," he states simply. "This proves the intention was there but not that Aiden Zahir was the mastermind behind it at all."
"He was the one who contacted my wife," Shalis says levelly, "and with the content offered. What he meant by it is, in light of your revelation, somewhat questionable. Whether it was his idea originally is even more so, and we cannot seek to prove it."
"Compare that writing with documents you have received from him," Tomassa states, easing back to stand at Shalis' side once more. "Other than that, I have nothing more to say. I have come to swear fealty, which I have done, and I have confessed my participation in this action. You have nothing more to fear from me on such a front. That is why we have come." Her eyes move from the floor to her husband's face and she gives him a small smile.
Oren Nillu's gaze shifts to Shalis. "Aiden Zahir approached me about this before I even decreed that vows of allegiance should be renewed. That leaves the Countess on even worse ground. Everything is pointing against her." Again, he faces Tomassa. "The Spymaster even claims he knows the location in your keep where you hide the very armor that Goram Zahir wore. Yet you have nothing but this paper to offer. An unsigned parchment." There is a pause, then the old bear's voice takes a more formal tone. "This matter will face trial. Someone will answer for the act of treachery. The Light shall guide us true in this matter. Until the time of the trial, the two of you will be given quarters in the palace. You will be closely watched by an escort of Bladesmen and you will not be allowed to send any outside messages. The same will apply to Aiden Zahir."
"May I speak to that accusation, of Goram's armour, Lord Regent?" Shalis says, his voice level still. His hand finds Tomassa's back again and settles there, but he doesn't glance to her, quite yet.
Tomassa's eyes close when the Regent speaks of his decision, her hands clenching. She seems to wilt a fraction before she can stiffen herself, but the hand against her back does much to grant her strength.
Oren Nillu nods at Shalis. "Go ahead."
"I've known the Zahirs less than I might, but there seems to be much hidden knowledge within that clan. Lord Zolor cherished such knowledge, without word to the church, only to bring it forward when it was needed. I'm certain that my wife has such knowledge; I am certain, too, that she will share it with you if you deem there to be need. I know nothing of the traditional feelings of the Emperor for such knowledge, nor how it has been handles in the past," Shalis tells the Regent steadily, "but that she has such a thing, in itself, is not so uncommon as I understand it."
Tomassa lifts her head to look at Shalis sidelong, a hint of confusion upon her features for a moment. Nonetheless, the woman says nothing, closing her mouth and lowering her gaze to the floor as if in meek obedience - an unusual behavior for the normally assertive female.
"I am not saying ownership of the armor is in any way proof that she is guilty," Oren Nillu answers calmly, "but the fact that she has it will make the case against her stronger even so given the nature of the acts that were conspired. That is not for me to decide, however. Yours will be a fair trial, Countess, or as fair as is possible under these circumstances. You have my word. Now, if there is nothing else, I will have your escort show you to your quarters."
"I've one more thing, which you may not grant me: a question, Lord Regent," Shalis asks, his brows both rising together in a slight expectant gesture.
Tomassa turns toward Shalis just enough to whisper something to him in a worried tone. She doesn't look toward Oren. You whisper, "What of Tomas?" to Shalis Kahar.
"Go ahead," the old bear grants.
Shalis Kahar's eyes widen a touch at Tomassa's question, and his arm settles around her waist more firmly. "It seems, two questions. The former you may not answer, but I would find it enlightening: what is it which Lord Aiden says he was asked to do, if my wife is equipped with everything to carry out this plan on her own? What was his part to be? And, apologies," here Shalis bows slightly, "but I request that some provision be made for my wife's son, either that he be confined with us and unable as well to send messages, or that some trusted go-between may arrange provision for his care."
Tomassa's mouth softens as Shalis speaks, but her eyes continue to look toward the floor. If she wishes to add anything to his words, she gives no sign of it.
"The first I will not answer. The trial will provide you with the answer to that," Oren Nillu explains. "As for the latter, I will send for the young Lord Tomas to be brought here and accompany the both of you." He turns to the heral and nods, a gesture which sends the man off. "Bladesmen will be waiting for you outside the Imperial Residence. You may walk freely in the palace, but leaving is out of the question. If anyone from outside the keep should visit, the meeting will be conducted in view and hearing range of your military escort. These rules will apply to Aiden Zahir as well. That will be all. Light keep."
"Thank you, Lord Regent, your concession is much appreciated," Shalis responds simply enough. He bows deeply, his hand a light contact on Tomassa's back still, and on rising says, "Light guide you."
Tomassa cannot seem to decide between a bow or a curtsey, so she doesn't really offer either of them to Oren. Her eyes dart to Shalis again, but then her head bows and she only turns when the priest guides her to do so. Her mouth is tautly set.
Oren Nillu nods again. "Light guide us all."
"Indeed," Shalis says, his voice for once intensely fervent, and he reaches to tuck Tomassa's arm in his and to follow the escort.