The Base of Arrow's Watch <Apple Village>

Withstanding the passing of time, the rages of battle, Arrow's Watch reaches from the renewed earth at its base ahead of you at the apex of Apple Hill. Its survival is a solemn reminder to all that guard against shadow must be kept. It isn't hard to imagine the souls of ancient watchers keeping an eye on things, as the wind sends hushed whispers and mournful tunes through the hollows. Crumbling stone, aged metals encircle the ruins to introduce visitors to the paradox of life through decay.
Moss nests in the weathered cracks, tiny forests of green in their own rite. Here and there, a symbol of rebirth stretches timidly from the remains in the form of fern fiddleheads.
Jutting shards of buried and broken weapons and foundation evoke the hazards to careless eyes, as they would snag a trouser leg or gown if one is not wary.

It would seem that the tenth hour is a cold one atop Apple Hill; the ruins of Arrow's Watch offering little sanctuary from the bite of the wind when it chooses to blow. Yet such a threat is limited upon this night, for the dark sky is calm and clear, casting only the sparkle of starlight down upon those below, saving the elements for another night. Yet is is quiet, as one might expect, in this remote place, atop this remote hill. Apple Village, far below, is too distant to break this peaceful mood, allowing only the flicker and crackle of a nearby torch, recently lit and set within one of the ancient holders, to make any real noise.

However, Arrow's Watch is not devoid of life upon this night, for a Warhorse can be found grazing near to the base, bearing the colours of house Kahar across it's back as it happily gnaws upon the grass. It would seem that the rider of this horse can be found nearby, watching the stars as he sits upon the weathered entrance steps to the ruins. It would also seem that this person is a rider of the Imperial Horsemen, judging by the glimmer of his armor, perhaps here to pay respect to those who have fallen into shadow.

The sound of slowly approaching hooves emerges from the direction of Apple Village, ringing out loudly in the silence of the scene. As the volume increases, a figure can be seen on horseback, cloaked in green and with a large bow strapped to his back. The quiet is jarred by a loud clanging noise, as Swiftstep knocks a broken sword aside clumsily. Patting the flank of the horse to console it, Vanamur continues slowly toward the shrine, his focus fixed low on the path ahead.

Some small time later, another shadow of horse and rider steps softly into the ruins. The occasional knock of a hoof against stone, the creak of saddle leather and the scrape of tassets on cuisses... Grey cloak shifting lightly with the sway of the horse, Warlan looks ahead, sensing more than seeing the figures of men and horses ahead. Sighing like a weary rider nearing home he puts Plough's nose to the direction of the riderless horse.

The other avatar of the Light looks upon the arriving horses as the echo of tarnish steel being kicked aside breaks the tranquility of the night. However, the rider makes little in the way of movement, nor do his features become any more apparent than those of Vanamur and Warlan do to him; the low hues of the flame doing little other than highlighting the reddish-gold of the bronze in the purity of such darkness. The perceptive may note that this rider seems to maintain a scabbard at both sides of his hips, however, and both most likely contain a sleeping longsword within. His posture upon those steps also seems to be a comfortable one at that; his arms remaining folded against his chest, the rider leaning forward just a little as he watches, and waits, for those of his order to draw nearer.

As Swiftstep draws nearer to the shrine, Vanamur appears to leave the distant state he appeared to be in, and upon hearing another presence, he whirls round, an arrow already knocked and ready to fly from his raised bow. His cold eyes narrow marginally as he squeezes Swiftstep with his heels, slowing the horse. A moment later, he relaxes the draw on the bow, sliding the arrow back into its quiver and the bow once more on his back. "Baron Warlan, I believe," he calls into the quiet distance separating them. A raven crows loudly, flapping into the air, before Vanamur's voice rings out once more. "Are you here to pay your respects, too, my friend?"

Kneeing Plough up the path behind the first rider, Warlan squints into the gloom, seeking both with eyes and ears. Confronted with Vanamur's arrow, he pulls Plough to a stop. "Ho there Vanamur!" in a softer voice than he friends, though it still carries well across the short distance. "I am unsure whether I am here to mourn or celebrate or just finish on trail and start another....come, let's see what the night holds." Bringing Plough close to the riderless horse, Warlan grunts softly in recognition of its bearing, its barding, even the manner in which the bridle is strapped. Slipping smoothly off the saddle, he lands with bent knees...softly, some sense that this quiet is well and right for the place and the business to be attended to. "This is best I think," he speaks, quietly to the night, "best done here in the quiet, under the stars."

The third rider of the Imperial Horsemen - the one who has apparently been here a while longer than the new arrivals - finally stands as the others grow ever closer. He stands in way of greeting, it would seem, or at the very least acknowledgement of Vanamur and Warlan's arrival, though offers little else in the way of gesture. Hands set in bronze gauntlets move to rest upon the respective hilts of the longswords that flank his sides, his form shrouded slightly by a cloak of royal blue velvet that flickers slightly when the breeze decides to pick up.

Vanamur, dismounting his horse deftly, lands with a soft thud. "I have come to remember those who can no longer ride with us, and also to..." His voice trails off as he watches the warrior rising in greeting. His eyes, usually expressionless, widen quickly, and one black-gloved hand closes to a fist. "Serath!?" he asks softly, his whole posture still reflecting his shock. "Is it really... you?"

Stepping lightly, for a man his age and size, Warlan pulls back the hood of his grey cloak. The face revealed bears the first wrinkles of age as well as the tell-tale scar from brow to cheek. A streak of white hair catches the torch light as it runs just off center in his short cropped hair. He turns to watch the truth sink into Vanamur's expression, a soft but slightly twisted smile growing on his own.

Turning back to the figure on the stairs he finally greets him, "And we can now greet you as Horsemaster again Serath." He voice falters as he seems to run out of words. Taking a breath he manages, "Welcome back to the saddle My Lord. It 'is' good to see you again."

"Well, I am no avatar of shadow, returned to haunt you." The Horsemaster finally states, his voice warm as he regards old friends for the first time in two years, taking a step or two forward to approach his comrades. "Nor would it seem that a snowflake ever falls in the wrong place; for here, before me, fall two Horselords that - if I hear correctly - have been seeking a greater snowball."

Swiftly, Serath Kahar proceeds to remove the legendary Helm of the Horsemaster, allowing his visage to grant the answer to Vanamur's question far better than any words might. "It is good to see you both again, my friends. Though I do have one question for you both..." He pauses, tucking the helm under his right arm, then asks: "What took you both so long?"

Vanamur blinks once in disbelief, before his logical and common-sense attitude takes over. "So the rumours were true, Serath my friend. It is good to see you once more, Horsemaster." He bows low, slowly, before straightening to pat Shiningcoat on the nose as well. Shaking his head slightly, he adds "Whoever would have thought it - a lowly weaver, of all people, was telling the truth about your reappearance..." His thin lips curl slightly into his approximation of a smile as he lets this hang in the air between the three, before he looks at Warlan, his gaze empty, and then to Serath. "It is difficult to operate when one believes their friend and Horsemaster dead, Serath."

Warlan's smile grows and reaches his eyes, though the scar prevents a pleasing symmetry. He gives brief side-long glance at Vanamur before turning his attention to Serath. His eyebrows draw together as he draws in a full breath, cheeks puffing. Eyes bore into the Horselord as he slowly lets the air go. The next breath brings his voice out in full. "If you'll beg my pardon for speaking freely, you have been dead now for nigh on two years ...and have nary spent more than a night in one place since your return!"

Picking up the pace, Warlan continues, "Strange as it may seem, we sought you together in the Bronze Hall, only to find you'd barely spent enough time there to warm the wood with your saddle soft butt...then set off in opposite directions to find you. I made my way to Light's Reach figuring you might want to tighten the Duke Mikin's girth strap again...and then...well yes then..." His smile finally breeds a chuckle that threatens to grow over his tirade. "then… Good Light man! Best remind me of your family and station again, or I'll...I'll..." The stream of words finally runs dry and Warlan gives in to just chuckling softly, a deep rumble in his chest.

The Horsemaster just stares at his two comrades, his Horselords of Fastheld, for a few moments before a deep sigh escapes his regal visage; his smile from a few moments ago melting into an expression that looks a little more enduring. It serves to bring out the core look of the Horsemaster: that venerable figure of grace, containing both the wisdom and the sadness of a Kahar born into a later time. Ice blue eyes fall upon Warlan, then Vanamur in turn, and the Horsemaster just sighs again. "It would seem that after nearly passing into shadow, then being assumed dead for two years, I have returned to find that both my comrades have, at some lost, lost their sense of humour."

He runs a gauntleted hand through his hair, allowing to flow over his head to finally rub at the back of his neck. "Light grant me patience." he muses, then smiles once more, "Saddle soft, you claim?" Serath finally states, quirking a brow at Warlan, "From what I hear of a certain Horselord being destroyed in mounted combat against none other than Varal Mikin, it would seem some people have a very short memory."

Vanamur's face remains completely impassive at the mention of losing his humour, his cold eyes flickering not one bit. Instead, he simply stares at Serath for a few more moments, before looking to Warlan for an explanation of his loss on horseback. His thin mouth again curls at the corners, adding a further ten years to his deceptively ageing appearance.

The laugh dies away from Warlan's chest, leaving him with the calm and staid countenance his tenants at Hawk's Aerie would be more familiar with. Again he draws in a breath to fill his cheeks, looking from man to man in a moment of silence. With smile touched eyes he seeks to defend his reputation. "So I cannot stage my own resurrection? I have no intention of loosing that contest, to the Mikin or the Zahir! I am a landed Baron by rights now, and find I must not only fight with horse and sword, but words and careful steps as well. I could not afford to embarrass either Family at that point. And...yes..."

The smile is back, as is his chuckle, making the straps of Warlan's armour creak. "Aw pish, that's dusty trail long past under hooves anyhow. We'll 'all' have to deal with this mess now." As his second speech of the night winds down, Warlan chooses to glare down Vanamur's smile, always the easier target in the past.

"Saddle soft indeed." Serath again states, finally drawing the Helm of the Horsemaster back upon his head, allowing his now free right hand to again take up position upon the hilt of the longsword that sleeps against his right hip. Evidently, Warlan's words have not been accepted well. "I did not forsake the darkness of the shadow, track bandits across the frozen plains of the north, nor delve into the heart of ancient Zahir tombs, encountering Wildlings that would dare keep an ancient heirloom of my House under their tainted clutches, only to be called 'saddle soft'. Nor do I intend to be involved with this 'mess'," he finally smiles, "my friend. You fell off your horse, you can climb back on it again. There are darker events unfolding than wounded pride." He sighs, looking to Vanamur, "Much darker, I fear."

Vanamur watches the verbal jousting without giving any outward sign that he is listening. At Serath's final words, he gives a cordial nod. "I have heard of some bad tidings myself, on my travels. Things bode badly, I fear, for Fastheld. Tell us, Serath," he says with a brief glance at Warlan, an attempt to stem any further complaints about the Baron's horseback skills, "what is the most pressing problem at the moment?"

Breath steaming in the cold air, Warlan's expression changes to match the change in the Horselords' tone and topic. Pulling at his gauntlets, he voices his own suspicions, "I jest often now to keep the shadow from my heart Horsemaster, and though I have not fought Wildlings or pierced the Shadow, I have seen and felt it moving through the Fastheld." Gauntlets in place again, he glances from Serath to Vanamur and back. "You have not returned without cause, path or plan I'll warrant. Games and taunts aside, I 'have' been itching to ride. But what trail do we ride? What path the arrow, what path the sword?"

"I would bid that matters were not so pressing so that we could all ride off on some damn fool crusade to find a lost artefact in a Light forsaken place such as the Wildling Woods, just to catch up on two years worth of friendship. Or to reside in the Bronze Hall and do little but see that those of our order who would now return to us would do with with the skills befitting of their title." The Horsemaster states, his tone dipping from the amused to the sincere, "But there will perhaps be time for that at a later date. For now, I would have the Arrow and the Sword ride the same path, to the same end. I assume you're both familiar with the events surrounding one Dianna Lomasa?"

Tugging an arrow from his quiver, and spinning it idly around his hand, Vanamur Seamel, Second Horselord of Fastheld, shakes his head slowly, his short hair waving slightly with the motion. "I have absolutely no idea who this person is. Dianna Lomasa, you say, Horsemaster?" His eyes move slowly to Warlan, and he asks "Is she anything to do with you, Baron?"

Warlan huffs, taking a moment to glance at his horse. "Aye, and sorry I am for it. She is my niece of a distance, Sinon's branch of the family...and that may explain some of it already." Looking to the stars, perhaps for guidence, he continues, "I attempted to put a straight path under her, but she had her own reigns by that time." Looking now back to Serath. "I had thought the situation was one of a jilted lover gone running down the wrong path. That young Kahar shaming himself and his close kin in the process? What stirs beneath this then?"

Serath's hands grip the hilts of his longswords for a moment as a certain Kahar is mentioned, evidently having no love for the man in question, regardless of House relations. Still, waiting for Warlan to finish, the Horsemaster reveals that which has him troubled, and that which requires the attention of the Imperial Horsemen. "It is not what is beneath, but rather around. Our duty to this situation is an impartial one; Dianna Lomasa's fate, be her Shadow Touched or not, is not ours to define, nor offer opinion upon. We must remain impartial, and trust that the Light of Truth will shine... but there are those who do not think as we do."

He sighs, collecting his thoughts, then takes a breath and continues. "I have heard reports from a close friend that there is a man - a painter, apparently - who claims to be in the service of a "Knight of Gold" who can do the "impossible" if the money is right. The very fact that there is one who pretends to be a member of our Order would be worthy of our attention, but there is - as there always is - more to it."

The Horsemaster falls quiet, allowing his words to sink in before he gets to the crux of the matter: "This "Knight of Gold" would seem to have plans to liberate Dianna Lomasa before the Light can judge her. I need not detail why this can not be allowed to happen."

Before Serath has finished speaking, Vanamur lets out a harsh bark of laughter, the unpleasant sound echoing down the hill and into Apple Town. "A painter!" he exclaims under his breath, before listening quietly to the rest of Serath's explanation. When the Horsemaster has finished, he turns to Warlan and says "I am sorry to hear this has come to trouble you, Warlan. These allegations, be they true or not, are the sort to stick." Quiet for a moment, the Archer spins the arrow in his hand rapidly around, too fast to be seen by most eyes. "And what of this Knight of Gold, then? Do we know any more about this individual? It sounds like some sort of common fool, to me. Nobles have no real need to discuss gold all of the time - whereas the commoners, they seem unable to think of little else."

"Fools," he adds harshly, before mastering his emotions once more. Warlan's thoughts cloud his eyes, and his scar has gone white around the edges. "Everyone who stepped into this arena has been painted a fool. And still, a pregnant girl now sits in the Keep dungeons." Warlan paces shortly beneath the ruined walls. "But this 'Gold Knight'... I agree. That sounds calculated to bring notions of the Horsemen to the common mind." Troubled eyes raise to the stars again. "It's been two years and we are scattered to the Wall in all directions Horsemaster. Have you considered this Gold Knight might actually be an errant Rider?"

"I would call no Rider who forsakes the Light for a handful of coins my comrade, regardless of the armour he wears." Serath darkly notes; evidently, his faith in the Light, and his devotion to all that the Riders stand for, has only gained strength over the past two years. "If this "Gold Knight" is an errant rider, then the shadow has corrupted him. Yet I do not believe this is so. Indeed, I believe that this painter who claims to know this Knight is none other than the Knight himself; a common sword for hire with delusions of granduer who deems to taint the very nature of all that we are, and disrespect the memory of all those who have fallen to shadow defending that nature."

"Common fool or not," his words now seem to be aimed at Vanamur, "I will not sit by and allow him to go unchecked. Therefore, I would bid you to ride to Vozhdya and find this man - a painter named Kalla - and find the truth behind the lies and threats. Seek a woman of grace named Althea Weaver, a good friend of mine. She will be able to give you the personal details of this man better than I."

Vanamur listens impassively for a moment, until Serath mentions the name of Althea Weaver. At this point, his says coldly "Horsemaster, with all due respect, I do not wish to consort with commoners. They have nothing to tell of worth. This weaver you speak of, I do believe she is the same who told me of your continual existence." Pausing, he adds "Although that may have been true, I even offered her payment for the information, which she -dared- to *refuse*." Vanamur's voice drips with venom, stabbing the words out like arrows from a bow.

Warlan's brows lower a bit at Vanamur's tone. "You have always missed the human worth of those stationed beneath you my friend. I know this Weaver." This to Serath. "And I have found her to be honest and of sound character." He begins his pacing again. "Then we are to Vozhdya. If warranted, we will bring the painter to the Hall, and if not, we will send a message of our progress Horsemaster." Warlan stops his pacing to place a gauntleted hand on Vanamur's shoulder. "Worry not my friend. We are riding again. There will be road flying beneath us and a plenty to keep us busy before we see the end of it."

"And yet, Vanamur," Serath warmly states, flickers of amusement playing upon his voice, "It was a commoner, I hear, who granted you the knowledge of my return. It was a commoner who first informed me that this Knight of Gold existed. It was a commoner who granted me the name of the one who claimed to know this Knight. And it was a commoner who refused your coins, proving that -" he quotes Vanamur's very own words - "not all commoners seem unable to think of little else. Some do indeed have honour that far exceeds the role they have been given in Light, and some loyalty extends beyond title and status. That I, the Brother of the Emperor, the Horsemaster himself, would consider her a friend, should speak enough truth to proclaim that there are some commoners worthy of even your acceptance. Would it not be for commoners, we would not be having this conversation right now, nor would we see the shadow of the threat to our order."

"Besides," he adds, gesturing to the First Horselord, "You can let Warlan talk to her. One the Fury, the other the Grace. Avatars of the Light. Horselords of Fastheld. Now ride my friends! Ride for Vozhdya, and bring the hope of the Imperial Horsemen in your wake. Let the sound of hooves herald beacons of Light in dark times!"

Vanamur receives the lecturing without flinching, having never been able to get on with those below his own station. By now used to these admonishments, he greets Serath's advice with a crisp nod of approval. "As long as I don't have to deal with them for long, it seems I must place the business of the Horsemen above my own particular likes and dislikes. Light keep you well, Serath... although you seem to be able to come back from the dead, so I am not sure how much more help you can get." A hint of a smile tugs at his thin lips once more, as he leaps into Swiftstep's saddle fluidly. "Onward, TO VOZHDYA!" he cries, spurring Swiftstep on with his heels.

Warlan gazes for a moment at the stars gracing the night sky above the ruins. Looking again to the Horsemaster, he pauses, a moment of calm before his old life overtakes him again. "Serath...Horsemaster, I am glad of your return." He chucks for Plough. The horse raises his head and comes swiftly from the long grass at the verge. Swinging up into the saddle without haste, he adds in his clarion-clear voice. "Light keep you." Then, putting his heels hard into Plough's flanks, rider and horse fairly fly down the starlit path after Vanamur.

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