Courtyard - <Eventide Castle>
Dark green-leafed shrieking violet bushes, with their pale blue blossoms lightly scenting the air, grow along the base of the gray stone battlements in the courtyard of the low-turreted keep along Zahir Road known as Eventide Castle.
The courtyard proper is a paragon of lavish landscaping centered around a three-tiered fountain of white marble that burbles continuously with water. A cluster of Eternal Veil ferns surrounds the fountain, dotted here and there with a colourful presentation of Widow's Shroud blooms, their telltale black and white petals contrasting against the greenery.
A path of crushed rock and pebbles connects off of the main road and circles around the fountain, leading straight up to the biinwood double-doors adorned with bronze knockers that serve as the entrance to the castle. The rolling green lawns to either side of the path.
Often misted with tendrils of fog from the nearby moors, the demesne of Voreyn Zahir is a sprawling estate that includes the main castle, a farmstead and surrounding pasturelands. The keep originally was built in the year 327 ATA by workers in service to a nobleman named Eryan Zahir.
The taller stablehand's brow furrows. "No sign of it since the cry we all heard, m'lord," he replies.
"Almost as if it was waitin' for somethin'," says the shorter stablehand. His attention hovers over one of the horses in particular, a white Paso Fino with a slightly darker blaze on the muzzle.
Darksteed is standing near Esvan who is talking to the stablehands. Darksteed is all dressed up in banded armour, with an axe by his side. "Hn," he says softly, watching the shorter stablehand. "...Is there something on your mind?"
Esvan considers that. "Wolves do not ride horses. But mages do." He frowns. "I don't know if my arrows will hurt a mage very much. But I haven't been able to ask Matriarch about better arrows." That said somewhat apologetically to Darksteed. "Do we ambush?"
None of the conversation falls into Voreyn's realm of notice, for how could it? She has only just arrived at the entrance to the Keep, and she stands in the open double-doored entryway to survey the grounds below the steps. Her attention shifts toward the stables and the small crowd gathered there, and with a flicker of grin silk, she lifts the hem of her skirt and descends the steps on quiet, slippered feet. She is without a cloak and her hair is down, allowing the black locks to float out behind her as she hurries toward the stables.
The shorter stablehand sniffs, spits, shakes his head in response to Darksteed's question. "It's probably nothin'. Just, that horse ..." He nods to the Paso Fino. "It don't look spooked." His brow furrows and he turns to his companion. "Who's horse is that? What's it's name?"
The other guard shrugs. "Dunno. Been here a long while, I think. Stablehands've taken to 'im. Gallops a good pace, they say. Don't think nobody's taken him out other'n fer exercise in some time."
As the Duchess approaches, he and his companion both bow deeply. "Your Grace," they say.
Darksteed frowns at the horse a little and then quickly bows as Voreyn's presence is made known to him. "Your Grace."
Esvan is about as respectful, but markedly more cheerful. "Matriarch!" he calls cheerfully. "The howling thing hasn't been caught yet. Are there better weapons in the armory I can use? It might be a mage." The boy hunter's so cheerfully excited about this, that it's another five seconds before the predictable 'oops' expression crosses his face, and - much more politely - he says, "Um. I mean, good afternoon, Matriarch, how are you?"
Voreyn draws to an abrupt halt before the group, kicking up a cloud of dust that lingers about their ankles for several seconds. She offers the men bowing to her a brief smile before turning her attention to Esvan. The boy's hasty greeting causes the Matriarch to let out a quiet laugh, and she glances away toward the horse as she begins to reply: "Oh, a few better. I have arrows..." But her speech stops, and she stares at the white horse with no little uncertainty as to its identity. Her face pales, and she glances about quickly. "Who brought that horse?" she demands in a fierce tone of all the men present, cheeks flushing now with anger.
"That's what we're trying to figure out, Your Grace," the shorter guard replies, hurriedly, as one of the other horses gives a whinny. "Stablehands have been exercisin' 'im but we can't recall who's it is. Funny thing, other horses 've been goin' nuts since the other night, this one's not worried a-tall."
Another horse whinnies; a third knocks loudly against his stable door, becoming more agitated.
"Now they're all excited," says the taller guard, looking nervously in all directions and placing a hand on his sword. "What's goin' on, Your Grace, if you don't mind my askin'?"
Darksteed looks around as the horses get more agitated, and moves in to take the reigns of the one horse that isn't scared. "Something is coming," he murmurs.
Esvan considers the upset horses, the one strange one, and the Duchess - looking slowly from one to another. He checks that his bow is ready to be put to use at any moment, and then says, "We can see quickly if it's a mage." He then turns his focus on the agitated horses, moving to calm them one by one. "It's all right. I'm here. Nothing will hurt you."
"Stop!" Voreyn calls out to Darksteed, throwing out a hand to stop the man from moving any closer to the mount. "I will take him," she continues, brushing past the men to reach out and grasp Sundust's reins. She frowns and leans in to whisper something to the horse, perhaps a nice sentiment, and strokes her fingers along the mount's neck. "Put your weapons away," she calmly orders, not even bothering to look back over her shoulder to see if the men are going to listen. "We are not going to hunt this creature."
The whole group is gathered down by the stables, and they appear to be milling about a bit in discussion.
Between Voreyn and Esvan, the horses calm down, and even after Esvan ceases his soothing, they seem to be well quieted. Except for Sundust, the white horse. As the other steeds calm, his ears flick backwards in a gesture of disapproval for something that just happened.
From somewhere nearby, in the moors, towards the setting sun, comes a howl: Tortured and long, it trails off, as if growing steadily more distant.
Darksteed sighs softly, watching Voreyn go. "...Your Grace?" he queries tentatively.
Esvan has his bow in hand in less than a heartbeat, an arrow nocked and drawn, aimed at the creature. But he obeys the Duchess' order, and holds his fire. When the creature disappears, he lowers the bow again. "Big," he says. "Good climber, that's unusual."
Atop Raurin, There's is the steady thump and a panicked whinny, and in through the castle gates comes Raurin, Brand clinging to the horse's back. "Slow! Slow!" he calls to his horse, though he looks just a little startled himself.
Although she was not expecting it, the howl does not seem to take Voreyn off her guard. She continues to stroke the white horse soothingly as she glances over her shoulder and frowns, peering in the direction in which Esvan is looking. She does not catch a sight of the creature, however, as it disappears before she can turn. "Lower your bow, Baron," she orders quietly to her cousin before shaking her head and muttering, "Damnable fool. Perhaps we should go inside and ignore him completely. I bet that would make him angry."
Esvan frowns, but replaces the arrow in its quiver, the bow in its holster. "You know this mage, Matriarch?"
"It's - but - uh -" The shorter guard stammers, jaw working noiselessly, as he looks between Voreyn and the direction of the howl.
The taller guard just blinks, taking his hand off his sword. "Guess that's what happens when you take a job on the moors," he mutters, philosophical.
The horses are now entirely calm, though Sundust takes a step towards the gate, tugging against Voreyn's hand on his reins.
The sun sinks lower in the sky, still hours away from kissing the moors goodnight.
Brand hops off his horse, making his way over to Esvan and Darksteed, nodding. "Inside... that's good."
Esvan considers the behavior of the horses. "...Ye-es," he says slowly, following the Duchess inside. "The Matriarch knows the mage, but that horse *loves* the mage. I think I do not want to meet a mage a horse loves that much."
"Nuh," Voreyn tsks, clucking her tongue to Sundust, her hands still gripping the reins tightly. "You're going nowhere my vibrant friend," she replies to the horse, most likely much to the mount's consternation. "Your master will be back, and I intend to see that he returns to greet me properly, the beastly brute." Turning her head, Voreyn takes in the sight of the others departing toward the keep, and she lets out a sudden, mirthful laugh.
She then releases the horse into the care of the stablehands and turns about to follow them quickly, casting only a few brief glances over her shoulders. "Please, do go inside and make yourselves comfortable. Esvan, would you have a maid bring me a plate of biscuits and some tea? I think I shall remain out on the steps to await the impending arrival of our dear wolf."
Brand nods slowly, and starts making his way for the Keep. "Alright, inside... parlor."
Esvan nods. "...You will be all right, Matriarch? He seems more interested in hanging off the castle walls and scaring horses than talking..."
"I will be quite well, I assure you," Voreyn replies, turning in a swirl of skirts to rest at the top of the stairs leading into the Keep. "You can, if it settles your mind, fetch my Chain from the armoire in my quarters and bring it out to me. You will know the weapon of which I speak once you see it. It is not a necessity, though; this mage will not be cause a hair on my head to turn."
Brand holds out a hand, beckoning Esvan. "Come on... my Lord," he says. "We'll see about that chain?"
Esvan nods. "Let's go," he says. "Just in case."
Darksteed tilts his head a little, looking to Esvan for instruction.
The sun teases against the crenellations of the battlements, and a breeze lifts the smell of the moors into the Keep. With it, two of the horses become excited again.
Voreyn's glance darts toward the stables and the excited horses, but she does not rise from her perch. Instead, she rests her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands, allowing the wind to stir her hair and lift it from her shoulders before it settles about her in a lazy, black halo. Her geen gaze flickers about as if searching for the familiar form of the lycanthrope.
There is no sound. Then, behind Voreyn and a few feet to the side -- near to the battlements -- a light thud and a few quick footfalls.
Voreyn stiffens, but she doesn't turn about to see what is coming. The muffled cries of the servants in the keep as they hear the climbing and then the thud are enough to tell her what she needs to know. "Thayndor," she calls out in a steely voice, chin still clasped in her hands. "You've had your fun and games and scared my entire staff as well as my honored guests senseless." Her gaze remains focused ahead of her although she releases one hand to thrust it upward in some sort of signal. Nothing about her moves, however, so one can only imagine what in the hell she's about.
"As if I could come back," growls a voice, the one Voreyn was expecting but deeper, harsher, with a faint fey echo, "as if I wanted to." The voice's owner lingers in the shadows beside the wall of the Keep. "You will not trap me."
Esvan comes back out, his two friends in tow. He's holding, draped across his two arms, the Chain of Commmand - as if it were a very large viper that might turn and bite at any moment. "Matriarch...your chain."
Brand... is carrying a small tray of biscuits and a cup of tea, and an expression plainly asking what he's doing there.
Darksteed slips out behind the others, still clanking along.
Slowly, Voreyn rises up from her position on the steps and turns about, taking her time to make herself comfortable. She gazes ahead into the shadows, and although she can barely make out the lurking form of the brutish beast. Her attention is thusly distracted, of course, by the appearance of her young ward, and she grins in amusement at Esvan as he offers up her weapon to her. She takes it carefully in hand, and the sound of chains rattling and smacking against stone follows as she pulls it completely from the boy's grasp. "Go back inside," she murmurs in warning, eyes darting toward the shadows once more.
As the Duchess's other hand falls, so appears about the lower level of the grounds a flank of Ravensguard at the ready. "Really, Thayndor," she continues, addressing the shadows as she draws closer to it one step at a time. "You talk as if you're an outlaw, when you know you are welcome on my lands. Are these, pray tell, the actions of a guilty conscience or have you spent too long bounding about in that form?"
Thayndor Zahir steps back as Voreyn steps forward, eyes glinting in the shadows, the outline of large claws visible, briefly, before he seeks the darkness of the coming sunset. "Guards are a strange welcome," he growls. "I promised once you wouldn't see this form again." This changed voice has all the force and verve of the one Voreyn might remember, but something -- confidence? Righteousness? Humanity? -- has gone. "It will go unbroken."
Esvan ...looks absolutely *shocked*. Stunned, even. "Thayndor?" he echoes, blinking. "*Uncle* Thayndor?" One hand comes up to cover his face. It masks well whatever it is he's muttering.
Brand looks over the shadow's wide-eyed, to Esvan, and then leans in toward Darksteed. "His uncle isn't all there, is he?" he whispers.
Darksteed blinks at the entire scene and gives brand a small smile. "...Well, somehow I'd imagined him more... more human..." he murmurs back.
Voreyn must look a very odd, but hopefully fearsome, sight as she stands before the hulking lycanthrope in a mere dress and bearing a brutish weapon. She swings the Chain carefully, allowing the links to clang against the stone ominously with each lazy hurl. She handles the weapon with great ease as though she is well practiced with it. "Do you remember the Chain, Thayndor? Do you remember when it was given to me, and what was said?" she inquires of the shadow, even as she flicks a gesture toward Esvan and Darksteed to ready their weapons. The chain continues to rattle its eerie sound as she drags it hither and thither. "I suggest you retreat before I am forced to hurt you. Before you commit treason."
"I am not here to fight," says Uncle Thayndor, the werewolf, outline of his jaw -- snout -- visible as he talks. "And chains worry me less than the idea of treason." The growl that comes next is animal, frustrated. "The Shadow comes at cost I fear I have not completely paid." A pause, then a human admission: "I wanted to see you."
Esvan looks toward Darksteed, and gives a small nod. And then draws his bow, nocking and drawing back an arrow. Both reluctance and determination are clear in every line of the lad. "You abandoned your people." By the sad, flat tone, it's a crime worse than being a werewolf. The arrow's aim does not waver at all; pointing at the heart of the beast.
Brand steps back just a bit, and places the tray of biscuits down. He looks left, then right, then curls his fists, as if that's gonna help anything.
"He has already committed treason, your grace," Darksteed murmurs, reaching down for his axe, leaning over to murmur to Brand. "Get behind me, I will keep you safe. ...Though, perhaps the Baron will get Darkwater. That would be nice." Ever the cynical optimist.
"Well then I beg your pardon!" Voreyn cries to Thayndor as she curtseys to him in mockery. "Although I admit it is more reasonable to stride up and knock on my door rather than prowl about, scatter my servants, and scare away the food from my land." Still, despite the light tone of her voice, the Duchess appears to be all steel and no-nonsense as she gazes at Thayndor unblinkingly.
Clink. Clink. Clink. The Chain continues its pendulum-like swinging as Voreyn gestures behind her with her chin. "My Keep is surrounded. The Ravensguard will not allow you to escape, and my own cousin's aim is true. Now if you do not come as a threat, you will return to your form this instance or, Light be with you, I will tell my archers to fire and feel no guilt for it. Your presence in this form is threat enough to warrant the protection."
"Your cousin can shoot me if he likes," Thayndor replies, sounding a little more human -- as if practice helps. "Would that it would help."
The were-lord takes an abrupt step back, and the growling, animal tinge returns to his voice. "I can't change back, Duchess. Not yet." The conflicted mage-thing's lips form a snarl, and he adds, "And I'm not sure I want to. There are those who understand. I can see that you do not!"
Thayndor lopes toward the rear battlements and the nearest stairs to the top, moving away from Voreyn and the guards with an inhuman speed.
Esvan nods acquiescence of his Matriarch's command. Without comment, the boy aims, and fires an arrow at the werewolf as it runs.
Brand just... steps behind Darksteed. He's not going to be able to do much trying to tear apart a werewolf with his bare hands, and he knows it, so he seems to be settling for watching, around the guard.
Darksteed doesn't really have much to do with ust an axe, letting out a quiet sigh as he draws backwards towards Brand, shielding the younger boy with his body and armour. Just in case an arrow goes off target. "...I really must get something to throw, one of these days..."
Voreyn's lips are set into a grim line and she pulls her Chain back with a flick of her wrist. Her arm comes over her head and she swings forward to lash at the lycanthropic form of Thayndor. He's far out of her reach, though, so much so that the chain merely dashes viciously against the stone and causes cracks to appear in the walls, but at least she's vented some of her anger. "Fire!" she screams to her men, to all of them - the ones flanking the keep, the ones atop the battlements. "He shall not leave these grounds!"
"This isn't going how I'd planned it," Thayndor grumbles to himself, surprisingly human, as he runs for the battlement steps. But when Esvan's arrow pierces him, squarely in the middle of his back, as he leaps up to the first step, the sound that leaves his lips (snout?) is more animal than human.
The were-lord ascends the steps two at a time, yelling over his shoulder as he goes. "I broke my promise, Voreyn!" He yells, leaping forward to step on the battlements with both feet at the same time. "I had no choice!"
He seems about to hesitate, or turn, up there on the wall -- until another arrow pierces him, this time in the shoulder. With a howl of pain, those long wolf's legs coil and uncoil, and he leaps forward and out, towards sunset on the moors.
Esvan draws another arrow, but lowers his bow as Thayndor disappears. Well aware of the Duchess' wrath, he shifts to stand between her and his two friends. "There wasn't a clear shot, Matriarch."
Brand grimaces, stepping out from behind Darksteed to look at the wall where the werewolf disappeared, before looking to Esvan and Voreyn. "Mad," he murmurs under his breath.
Darksteed turns to look at Brand and Esvan with an assessing eye. "You are both unharmed?"
Voreyn turns about before she can see what work the archers make of Thayndor, and whether or not he escapes. However, the dismayed cry of the men atop the battlements seems to be sign enough that they did not succeed. Despite the disappointments of the pursuit, the Duchess gazes calmly at the men in front of her before reaching out to clasp a hand on Esvan's shoulder. "You did well, Baron," she commends quietly, and with a faint smile. "The damage is done, and I have letters to write and notices to deliver to the criers. Would you gentlemen be so kind as to help me?"
Esvan - still rather subdued - nods his head. "Yes, Matriarch. What do you want us to do?"
"We were nowhere near him," Brand points out quietly to Darksteed, before standing to rigid attention. "Absolutely at your service, your Grace."
"Arrows fly a long way," Darksteed informs Brand softly before nodding to Voreyn. "Of couse, your Grace."
"Inform the criers that the Count Thayndor Zahir is no more," Voreyn replies to Esvan, and her expression turns a little crestfallen as the words slip past her lips. "Tell them--" she hesitates, swallows, and continues, "--that he is an outlaw on Zahir lands for the breaking of the Syladris Amendment and for accosting a member of the Duchy and her people. Darkwater is relinquished." She pauses, and her hands tremble a bit as she reaches up to push her hair back from her face. "I will write to the Ordinators and the Regent; a hunt will begin for him very soon."
Esvan puts away his bow again, nudging the other two inside. "No more Shadow for today," he says quietly.
Brand nods slowly, and starts to walk for the keep entrance. "I can agree to that," he murmurs. "Way too easily."
"Indeed," Darksteed says softly, leaning to whisper something to Esvan as he moves.
Voreyn makes as if to follow until the others reach the door, and then she decides otherwise. She beckons them in silently with her hand and turns about quickly, raising her fingers to her mouth as if to cover a hiccup or a cough. She descends the steps about halfway before settling down upon them and draping her viscious Chain across her lap like a comforting blanket, apparently prepared to sit outside for the night and watch the growing shadows surround Eventide.
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