Jade Gardens Keep - Great Hall

The Great Hall of Jade Gardens is an open, well lit space. It extends the full length of the building, beginning with thick, barrable oak doors. From there, heavy tables are arranged the length, five on each side of the room.
The floor is made of smooth cobblestone, plain carpets adorning the open space left for dancing and festivities. At the end of the hall sits one last table, in the middle, for the lords and ladies of the keep. Behind the noble area is an intricate tapestry honoring the Houses of the Baron and Baroness-currently a well-done piece illustrating a man on horseback. On either side of the work, plate glass patio doors open to the north, revealing the namesake of the home.
At the front of the hall are two immense, gentle sloping stairs to the second floor. Just beneath them on the left is the door leading to the kitchens, to the right, the attached smithy. Next to those doors are the exits to the servant's sleeping quarters.

Dinner has never been so difficult. Gabriella sits at the table with all three children, supper spread out before her. Kiera sits with Connor. Tonight's meal is different, however. The noblewoman's arm is bound tightly to her side, and extensive bruising can be seen down her arm and up her neck. She doesn't look happy as she struggles with pie, the tin escaping her every time she goes for a bite. She's nearly crying!

The door to keep opens and the sound of pouring rain rushes into the hall accompanied by a shot of cold air. A cloak figure, drench from head to toe strides in. The door is shut with a thump and Ester looking non to thrilled draws back her hood, revealing a damp set of hair and red faced cheeks.

Duhnen is descending the stairs, returning from a brief trip to the upper levels of the keep. "Gabby, let me hold that," he offers, seeing his wife's difficulty with the pie tin, and moving quickly to try to help.

"I don't want it," Gabriella decides as she sits back, her free hand pushing away the tin. With a sigh, she reaches for a slice of cheese instead. "The new blacksmith has something she'd like you to look at, Duhnen."

Ester looks towards the voice and smiles as her gaze fall on her son and Kiera. The governess looks over and smiles, lifting Connor's hand in a small wave, "Look sweets your Ma is back." Ester nods and starts the careful removal of the sodden cloak.

The little head comes to rest on the broad shoulder, Gabriella willing to soak in Duhnen's sympathy. "She seemed really proud of it," she murmurs with a shrug and a wince. "You're going to have to take over the barns, Duhnen."

"Hello," Ester states bruskly after hanging the cloak on a hook for hanging such things. She walks towards the table, and breaks into a smile as Connor, with the help of Kiera waves again. She holds out her arms to take him, "Has he been good today."

"Things will be ok," Duhnen assures Gabriella, rubbing her hair briefly. "Just rest and get better, love." He smiles over to Ester and nods his head. "He's been good for us, though maybe he's been being bad when we weren't looking with Kiera."

"He's a good child," Gabriella agrees quietly, looking from the pie to Duhnen. She has too much pride to ask, however, and settles for another slice of cheese.

Ester smiles as Connor settles in her arms and she goes about inspecting and fawning at the same time. "He's been a bit gassy," Kiera replies softly, "But you can't fault him for that can we." Ester nods and glances briefly over at Gabriella and Duhnen before returning her attention back to the infant. She kisses him on the forehead, "Missed you today."

"I can blame him for it. He does it on purpose," Duhnen replies with a small snicker. He doesn't miss the look Gabriella gives him, and cuts a small piece of pie, holding the fork in the air. Though not close enough to her so that she can eat it without asking.

Violet eyes look from the fork to Duhnen, narrowing perceptibly. "That's a fine piece of pie," she offers before glancing at Ester. "I bet its tasty."

Ester seems quite involved with her son at the moment and does not notice the glance. He gurgles as she makes faces at him and as she leans down to plant a little kiss she grimaces and sniffs. "Hmm," she mummbles with some amusement. "I believe there is some more going on then just gas." Kiera immediately jumps up, "Oh let me get that then m'Lady."

"It probably is. Do you want some?" Duhnen replies to Gabriella, still holding the pie steady, an inquisitive look on his face."

"I would like some, if I could manage it," Gabriella answers, leaning slowly in towards the pie as though to ambush Duhnen's fork.

Ester dutifully hands Connor over to the governess, "I'll come up in a bit." Kiera nods as she hefts the smelly baby and heads for the stairs. This leaves Ester standing and for a moment or so a little lost. She watches the couple in silence for a few moments and turns to walk towards the warmth of the large fireplace.

"Come eat with us," Duhnen asks Ester, though his attention is focused on trying to feet Gabriella without jabbing her mouth with the fork.

"There's plenty of food," Gabriella adds as she gratefully takes the bite of pie and rolls her eyes. "Another?" the noblewoman asks helpfully. "I can hold the fork.. I just can't.. the tin moves."

"Not hungry," Ester replies with little emotion, as she reaches a chair and sits down on the edge of, "Would rather dry out." She bends down and starts unbuckling a boot.

Duhnen digs out another piece, waving it about before Gabriella's face, before holding it still for her. "Well, you still have dry clothes here, at least," he states to her, nodding his head. "Or at least the ones you have will dry out quick."

With a shrug, Gabriella leans forward to take the bite, looking rather grateful. "I have some you could borrow," she offers with a shrug.

"As soon as I get these leather's off..." Ester trails off as one boot is set to the side and she goes to work on the other. "...these will dry of soon enough."

"Stand in front of the forge," Duhnen suggests with a laugh. "Then you'll want to go back out in the rain just to cool off."

"Aye, that woman has it going night and day, I think," Gabriella answers with a grin, planting a berry-filled kiss on Duhnen's cheek. "Another bite?"

Ester snorts with amusement and tugs off the boot. She remarks in a dry, rather dark tone, "And if I'm feeling so inclined I can stick my head in it and never feel wet and cold again."

This takes the smile from Duhnen's face, the man looking a bit more sober as he offers another piece to his wife.

Gabriella extends her hand and pushes the fork away. "I'm not hungry," she states before reaching for her milk. "No more."

Ester starts the rather long process of unbuckling her skirtings. "Another Scourge was killed," she comments over her shoulder.

"I heard," Duhnen answers with a sigh and nod. Glancing to Gabriella, he adds, "Moira Oak, Gabby."

With a little shrug, Gabriella drinks the rest of the milk and struggles to stand. One arm reaches to collect Marai.

"It has some in a tizzy, second one in a couple of months," Ester states. She stands to finishes the removal process and the skirting are gently lain out in front of the fire. "Seems as if something is afoot now."

"I'm sick of evil people," Duhnen murmurs quietly, staring at the table with a small frown on his face. Despite the incredibly childish sound of his words, he seems to mean it.

"I think they shall always exist," Gabriella answers with another shrug and another wince, the child pressing firmly against her torso. "They shall always exist, and they shall always be rewarded." Ester grows silent after the comments as she tugs at the leather pauldrons on each shoulder. 'Whew' lots of work taking this stuff off.

Duhnen sighs slightly, lifting a hand to stroke at his child's head.

Well, that conversation is over. Gabriella motions towards Katya. "Come on, its time for bed," she tells the little girl. The child groans quietly before nodding her head and slipping from her place at the table. "Oh/kay/," she agrees dramatically.

"Duhnen I was speaking with the Marshal the other day," Ester says as she finally gets the last piece, the breastplate off and laid out where it can dry. "They were asking about the mission. I think it's important that they be way or another."

"I've no evidence to follow," Duhnen replies with a nod. "I should tell him, however. It's depressing, really. There's much I would have done if I simply could have."

Magnus is left with Duhnen for want of another arm as the three girls make their way up the stairs, Katya favoring both hands and feet.

"I'll be up soon," Duhnen adds to Gabriella, holding Magnus on his lap.

Ester looks over at Gabriella as she starts up the stairs. She lets out a soft sigh shakes her head in a sad manner and returns her gaze to the fire. "This really stinks," she comments.

Duhnen nods his head, rocking his son slowly in his arms to lull him to sleep. "There has to be some justice somewhere in the world. It can't just be a naive dream, Ester."

"I wasn't talking about that," Ester returns as she slumps against the back of the chair. "Never mind though. I was talking out loud." She closes her eyes and straightens her legs so her stockinged feet are closer to the fire. "I think..." she starts and trails off as she murmurs something not nice sounding under her breath.

"What?" Duhnen asks, looking up from the table and blinking. "If there's something to share, you can, Ester. Well...unless you really don't wish to."

"I think..." Ester starts again, this time speaking carefully. "...I think that it'd be best if we all leave. I don't feel this arrangement is going to work out anymore."

"Leave Fastheld Keep?" Duhnen confirms, blinking. He mulls over that for a few moments, before nodding his head slightly. "I suppose I can't begrudge you that decision. I'm doing the same, after all."

Ester shakes her head once, "No Duhnen here." She gestures with a flick of her hand at the stair as if it is supposed to mean something. "I already know I'll have to leave the Keep when you do."

"As I said, you can be Surrector if you wish it," Duhnen replies, sounding sure of it. "But I won't try to force it on you. But...we can't leave here." He gestures about. "It's our home."

Ester lets out a little sigh of exasperation. "No," she says quietly, "We as me, Connor, Kiera...because this is your home and you have a right for it to be quiet and happy."

"You don't need to go. I don't see how you make it less pleasant to live here, Ester," Duhnen replies with a shake of his head. "Where would you go?"

"Duhnen if you haven't noticed, Gabriella and I are barely speaking," Ester returns. She opens her eyes and stares into the fire, her tone laced with sadness and resignation, "And I'm really not so sure that’s going to change much."

Duhnen looks down to his son, sighing quietly. "I'll not try to force you to do anything. As always. Though I can't say I don’t wish to convince you otherwise. But I respect you too much, and we've been through too much, for me to begin second guessing you now."

A hand moves to rub her temple. "So say you could convince me otherwise. You would be happy having two people around that simply do not like each other? With one being your wife?" She shakes her head, "I still really don't understand what happened." She adds an afterthought sounding quite guilty and upset, "You realize she got hurt because she refused help. Happened right in front of me. And my first thought was...well it wasn't what it should have been..."

"She always refuses help," Duhnen responds. "That's how she is. She feels that if she asks for help, then she's weak, and she'll lose everything. I can't manage to explain it to her."

"Yes I know how she is," Ester says quietly and the temple rubbing starts up again. "It seems however that my patience and understanding for it have run thin." Her voice takes on a monotone, "And I am not asking or expecting you to do anything about it, nor put you in the middle. I am just explaining because I owe it to you. It has and will continue to drive people away. The irony...loss anyways."

"I can't help her," Duhnen replies quietly. "She's been trained to be wary. Her brother..." He sighs and shakes his head sadly. "I'm sorry, Ester. For everything."

"Duhnen, it's not you fault. I don't blame you. I don't even blame her," Ester replies with a sigh. "Some things just are. I care about you. I still care about her. If you want to find any fault its with me. I'm the one that's changed. I'm the one for whatever reason is having the awful thoughts."

"I'd kill him myself if he wasn't already dead," Duhnen murmurs, shaking his head. "We both care about you, Ester. Don't think otherwise, please."

Ester turns in her seat to look at Duhnen. She looks genuinely confused, "Kill who? I don't understand what you mean?"

There isn't quiet entrance for Gabriella. The young woman is still unstable with the arm bound to her side, and she grips tight to the railing as she slowly makes her way down the steps.

"Never mind," Duhnen shakes his head. "It's not important. Not anymore. Nothing really is, except for us doing what we can for our children. What's best for them."

Ester gives him another questioning look that falters at the sound of footsteps on the stair. She looks towards them and upon spying Gabriella answers Duhnen as she turns away and slides off the chair onto her knees, "Aye, I suppose." She starts lifting the various pieces of armor and turning them over.

"I'll take Magnus," Gabriella announces, glancing between the pair as she reaches her husband's side. "Marai and Katya are sound asleep, now. Katya hardly threw a tantrum at all."

Magnus is dozing off, as is, in Duhnen's arms, and the man shakes his head in response to his wife, carefully standing. "I'll bring him up, love. It's quite fine. I should retire for the night, anyhow."

Ester finishes with the armor and pushes herself up to her feet. "And I will see if Kiera is awake and start packing," Ester says quietly and starts walking towards the stares doing well enough to keep her gaze averted and at the floor.

If Gabriella has ever felt awkward, its at this moment. Its obvious she interrupted something, and rage and hurt flicker across her features once more. "There's no need to take Connor from the only home he's ever known," the noblewoman announces. "The Vozhdya farm will probably require quite a bit of my attention this year."

"We were talking about how we need to do what's best for our children," Duhnen tells Gabriella, alarmed, not having missed her angered look.

"Aye," Ester agrees as she scratches absently behind her ear, a nervous action. She has stopped at the bottom of the stairs at Gabriella's admonishment. "Connor will fair well wherever his home is..." she adds quietly.

"The best thing for our children is that they should not be torn apart," Gabriella declares. "I will not find it so hard to busy myself in Vozhdya when you find yourself residing here. I think it should do me well."

Duhnen shakes his head and wordlessly turns away, a pained and sad look on his face as he carries Magnus off to the stairs to head up.

"Connor is to young to even realize," Ester says as she turns to face the noblewoman Duhnen all but forgotten for the moment. "This is your home. I will not be somewhere where the Mistress of the house feels that she must leave her own home when I am present. How good would that be for the children to experience?"

"It would be better than their father hating their mother for pushing his best friend away," Gabriella spits, sweeping her arm wide. "Don't you think? I'd rather they have half a happy home than a whole hateful one."

"He's not going to hate you Gabriella. He loves you," Ester states defiantly.

"What good is it to love me if he's just a bitter old man with no friends?" Gabriella asks, raising an eyebrow. "When you are here, I shall be in Vozhdya. It is not because I feel I must, but because it would be best for Duhnen and the children."

Ester shakes her head and mutters, "No, no, no..." with each swing. "This is ridiculous. What is best for Duhnen is to be with his wife and his family, just as he wants to do. I..." she jabs her thumb at her chest, "...this is my fault. He understands. He will get over it. /If/ there is anything to get over."

"You didn't think of that when you came /banging on our door/ and started this whole affair, Ester!" Gabriella shouts in annoyance, her face turning red. The pain, the hurt, and the anger is too much, and her hand reaches out for the table as she closes her eyes and draws a deep breath. "Decide what you want. But by the Light, Ester, you're not going to walk away the martyr. I've offered another way, and you won't take it. If you and Duhnen didn't stop talking every time I entered the room, perhaps we could both live here. But I understand what I am and what I represent, and the Vozhdya farm does need a tenant."

"This did not start when I came to your door Gabriella," Ester says softly. She lets go a long breath, "...It started when..." She trails off with a shake of her head, "Oh Light Never mind. There is little point in even trying to explain. You are who you are. And I am not who I was. It is that simple."

One hand comes to Gabriella's forehead, pressing against the burning skin. "Ester," the woman tries to explain kindly, her voice tight. "You are not taking Connor away from here because you decide you can no longer be my friend. There are other ways around this. Do you plan to take him to your property and keep with there, alone, with Kiera while you go on hunts and trips beyond the wall and Light knows what else? Contrary to your opinion and everyone /else's/, I'm capable of caring about things. And I've grown to care for that little boy. He is Corriden's son, and I see it in his face every day."

Ester throws up her arms in exasperation and spins around with no real direction in mind, "Light. I just can't win. No matter what happens. Ever..." Her hands jerk behind her and clasp behind her back as she starts pacing across the room.

"Get used to it," Gabriella announces, leaning further on the table as the flush grows across her body. "Do you think I'm some foolish child? I know what this is costing me. Now. Choose. Either we try to live here peacefully, or I move to Vozhdya. And move I will, Ester, because I will not be the ruin of my own husband."

"For Lights sake Gabriella, why do you keep saying that me leaving with Connor will ruin him? And what costs are you talking about," Ester asks as she continues to pace. "And how is insisting that you will leave here unless I choose right not foolish. It just makes such little sense to me."

"Because Duhnen needs friends.. I 'm not ignorant of that," Gabriella answers tightly, her teeth grit as she stares at the other woman. "And if you leave, he has no more. He's giving up his Surrectorship. So, you have to say. Now we have to decide if I go."

"Duhnen and I will still be friends," Ester says as she finally stops. "You say that you won't let me be a martyr. Yet you are asking exactly that. I will take no part in your decision to stay or go. That is entirely your own choice." She pauses, hesitates for a split second and gets a really odd, distant look on her face. A dark look.. Her tone follows, even and precise, "Actually here... I'll make it easy for you. Stay here. Look after Connor. I'm leaving him here with you. For good." Her brow lifts and she trudges back to the fireplace and grabs a boot.

"You're abandoning Connor?" Gabriella asks, raising an eyebrow as she stares at the woman. "He is your son, and you love him. You can't simply /abandon/ him. I have offered to stay, Ester, if you can find it in yourself to stop dropping conversations every time I enter in the room. I feel as if you are the wife and I am the mistress.'

Ester laughs darkly as she tugs on her boot with a grunt and snatches the up the other, "Funny. You should really work at getting over such insecurity. /NOT/ my problem. My patience in putting up with it is spent. Gone. Done. Disappeared. Not there. Had enough." She leans over a deftly works the buckles as she continues her staccato speech, "Just cannot pretend anymore. No emotion. No feeling. All gone. Disappeared. Poof. Funny huh? You notice? Barely even upset. Just don't care. Couldn't shed a frickin tear even if I wanted to." She scoops up the skirtings, breastplate and pauldrons. "You're right. There is no life for a child whose mother is off gallivanting wherever. Never should have... forget it."

"I don't think you're sleeping with Duhnen," Gabriella corrects, rubbing at her forehead. "I trust you more than that. You know what I was trying to say, Ester. I feel as if I'm the guilty party, as if I'm the one that should be packing my things. But obviously, if you can discard a friendship so quickly, your friendship is worth nothing. All I know is that you have a son who needs you to make the right decision, and isolating him on your farm while you go wherever you feel you need to go is /not/ the right choice. You know it."

Ester stands and turns, her expression is fierce but her tone quiet and even, "Get this...I DO NOT CARE. If you feel guilty the YOU figure out why. I have barely seen Connor anyway. He barely knows me. Light I was missing for practically have his life so far. How's that for irony? And do you realize that there is danger that it will happen again? My days are numbered in this world because of it. So yes I am making the decision, because I care little otherwise. Do you understand that I forget he even exists? Sometimes for days on end? How's that for a /loving/ mother. It's fake Gabby. I'm nothing but a fake. Have been for a while now. Ever since I got back. You're just getting to see the real me now. Least maybe my kidnaping was good for one thing...don't have to wear a bloody mask all the time anymore."

This causes Gabriella to stare at the woman, her expression twisted. It isn't the Ester she once knew, and its obvious by the way she looks at her. "You.. you forget he exists for days?" she chokes out, disbelief clear in her voice.

"Yes," Ester returns. "So you see. As I said before. I am not as I was before..." She starts walking slowly to the door, "And you want to know what else? When that horse hit you. My first thought was 'good perhaps she will learn something now. How her actions affect her and others. Serves her right' Not... 'oh is she alright...' So you see. You do not want me here Gabby and neither do you want me to be friends with your husband or a mother to Connor."

Color drains from Gabriella's face as fast as her features turn cold and distant. "I see," the young noblewoman answers before she looks back to the stairs. "I think I shall go.. to.." She drifts off as she stiffens. "Perhaps it is best if you leave. Connor will be taken care of."

Ester is already on her way to the door. She turns to Gabriella, her expression hard and cold. Little emotion sits behind and her eyes best described as dead. No Ester. Her brow lifts, "So there you go. All explained in one neat little package. And how about need for anyone to be or feel they need to be a martyr."

"Perhaps it is best I do not trust people," Gabriella answers, fighting pain and tears as she turns towards the stairs. "What do you want us to explain to Connor, Ester? That he's another forgotten child, a byproduct of a mistake? At least Katya shall know that she would have been loved, had she a mother or a father."

"You'll figure it out. If not lie. It's not that hard to do with practice, my whole life is based on a lie," Ester replies in the same cold tone as she lays the armor down and grabs her cloak off the hook and swings it over her shoulders.

The tears come freely now as Gabriella wanders her way up the stairs, leaning heavily on the rail. "Is that why you did not help me, as I knew you could, Ester?" she finally asks. "As you would have helped Duhnen, or the children? Because you hoped I would learn a lesson?"

Ester fastens the clasp on her cloak. "I did not help you, because I am no longer putting my life at risk. For anyone. You, Duhnen or the children."

"Not even for Connor?" Gabriella asks, pausing in her steps. She doesn't turn around, but lifts her hand to wipe at her eyes.

This question cause the woman to pause as she considers it, all of her motion coming to a halt. Her voice catches as she starts to speak. Hmm maybe there is still something there, though the words say otherwise. "No," she says simply and adds, "Feel better now Gabby? You don't have to leave and you can have Duhnen and Connor all to yourself. Funny how these things always work out isn't it."

"The funny thing is, Ester, that you'll make me seem like the person in the wrong," Gabriella answers, true sadness in her voice. "This will be my fault. I separated mother and child. I separated friends. No one else will have heard the things you have said here. Perhaps that's the way you planned it all along.. Connor will always be here for you. I'm not taking your son, but I'm not giving Corriden's child to a woman who cares less about him. His own mother."

"Yes Gabby. You found me and my evil plan out. It's all about making you look bad," Ester returns with a roll of her eyes. "I will make it seem like nothing then what it is. I left. My choice. My doing. And you know what? No one will care. Because you see I will be around no one who will even bother to ask and its not really something that I'm going to go blab about. So please don't concern yourself. Your reputation at least the part that comes from me will remain intact."

"It isn't my reputation I worry about, Ester," Gabriella snaps back, suddenly angry. "It is my /marriage/. I could care less what /others/ think. I care what Duhnen thinks, and what you are doing to him. Does he know you've become so cold hearted and bitter? Does he know you're willing to give up your only son?"

"He will soon enough when you tell him. I told him I had changed," Ester replies. "Though I was sparing him the details. To keep up the facade so to say. But no matter. You helped me see the impossibility of continuing as if nothing was the matter. The truth shall set you free so to say." She looks away to the fire, "As for your marriage. You'll weather it. He loves you."

With a shrug, Gabriella continues up the stairs. "Leave, Ester," she informs in a quiet, little voice. "Say goodbye to your son if you remember.." Then, the woman's gone.

Ester picks up her pieces of armor, shoots one last look around the hall and walks out into the cold and rainy night.

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