Memorial Chapel <Fastheld Keep>
An arch-ceilinged chamber of green marble with stained glass windows depicting the various phases of construction of the Aegis wall, this chapel is a reverent place suited for quiet contemplation and the remembrance of those who are lost.
Rows of wooden pews flank a wide aisle of cobbled stones that leads to the funeral bier where caskets are placed, and the dais for those who speak in memory of the deceased.
For the Lightbringing, the chapel's dais has been modified to include a long biinwood table where Bandus Flint and his brethren from the Church of True Light sit and wait for the arrival of their next guest. Pale wax candles flicker and burn in sconces before the stained glass windows - windows that yield no light from outside on this moonless night.
Ashlynn arrives in her favored attire as imperial courier, cloak drawn close against the turning season's bite. On the threshold of the chapel, she shakes back the hood that had been drawn against the chilling wind, regarding the panel of examiners from the church with a composed mien usually reserved for her most difficult clients before venturing forward. "Brother," she greets with a bow of her head and a touch of her fingertips to her heart.
"Ah, Lady Birch," Bandus Flint replies with a grim smile as he rises and laces his fingers together before his stomach, sketching a brief bow. "So good of you to come. Prompt too. You can take the woman out of the courier, but you cannot take the courier from the woman, it would seem. Splendid. Welcome. As you are well aware," Flint goes on, settling back into his chair, "my colleagues and I are assembled in the palace for the purposes of conducting a Lightbringing. The realm is overdue for such a review, I am sorry to say. But we are here now and this shortfall will be rectified. Would you care for wine?"
There is only the barest up-arch of her brows at the slight jibe before Ashlynn shakes her head. "No, though I thank you for the offer, Brother. And I only wish to help expedite your proceedings as much as possible," she returns with studious politeness.
"We shall keep you no longer than absolutely necessary," the priest replies. He taps his fingers on the white cloth-covered table and opens his questioning with: "How many times have you been beyond the Aegis and into the Wildlands, Lady Birch?"
Ashlynn blinks once at the bluntness of his initial salvo before she inclines her head, gathering her thoughts in the time of that acknowledging gesture to respond with, "Once, with the expedition that found His Majesty immediately after his abduction, and then a second time with Lady Sahna Nillu's party."
"So, twice you have passed beyond the great wall that protects Fastheld from the taint of the Shadow and twice you have been allowed to return without consequence," Bandus replies.
The line of Ashlynn's mouth hardens for a breath before she returns evenly, "If it was truly without consequence, I can only imagine that the Light saw my faith worthy of such rigours."
"Surely, Lady Birch, you are aware what happens to less favored individuals who pass beyond the wall and seek to return, yes?" the priest inquires. "Imprisoned, at best. More than likely, however, they are shot and killed by archers of the Emperor's Blades. Well, at least that is the *intent* of the Aegis Directive as it was set down by our ancestors. Clearly, a dimmer view is taken of that Directive in these dark times."
"Surely not all laws or directives should be taken only in their literal meaning, else there would be no need for interpretative judges," Ashlynn surmises with a tilt of her head as she regards the array of priests.
"Has any Emperor of Fastheld *ever* commuted the death sentence of a Shadow-Touched mage who has been caught practicing the dark arts in public?" Bandus asks, but apparently the question is merely hypothetical, for he bulls right on into: "No. Never. *Some* laws and directives *are* and *should* be taken at their literal meaning, especially when it comes to matters of the Shadow. We can afford no compromises. Your love for the *man* who wears the crown is touching. Truly, it is. But the price you and those who traveled with you may have forced the rest of us to pay for generations to come - whether it is worth that price, history will judge, I think."
"I think all of us have little choice where history's judgment is concerned," Ashlynn states, studiously noncommittal. "Thus, it would seem wiser to worry less for the opinions of future generations than to secure their existence altogether, by salvaging the lives and hopes of the current populace."
The priest smirks. "Clearly, Chancellor Oren Nillu must have agreed or he would never have sanctioned *one* mission of this kind, let alone two. Now he speaks of making more regular visits to the Wildlands. Committing our troops. Opening the Aegisport Gate. What will history think of these choices if they lead to the destruction of our populace?"
Ashlynn shrugs one shoulder as she meets the priest's gaze unwaveringly. "What will history think of these choices if we not only manage to free Fastheld from the fears and dangers that have plagued us for the past year, but reclaim a lost settlement of our brethren? Respectfully, Brother, can you predict the final outcome and say with certainty how anyone would view these events? It seems to me that if anyone is able to predict the future with complete accuracy, there would be no more questionings...merely actions."
"The Lightbringing is about questioning the actions we take, Lady Birch," Bandus Flint counters, his tone growing icy as his fingers lace together once more. "Your responses have been most illuminating. You are subject to recall, of course, but you are dismissed for now."
"Of course," Ashlynn echoes neutrally as she bows her head once more. "Light keep, Brother," she offers with only the slightest twist of her mouth before she is stepping with long, but unhurried strides back out of the chapel.
As for the next guest, he arrives at the entrance to the chapel in his typical manner. Which is to say, Duhnen is humming a quiet tune to himself. Though he was using a shardwood quarterstaff as a walking stick, striking it against the ground with each step, he has the presence of mind to cease that action as he steps indoors, holding it easily at his side.
The master of ceremonies for this gathering, Brother Bandus Flint, rises as Duhnen Seamel enters the chapel. He laces his fingers before himself, bows briefly, and then says, "The Lightbringing welcomes Surrector Duhnen Seamel to this assembly." Settling down into his chair once more, Flint inquires, "Would you care for any wine?"
Duhnen takes another step in at the greeting, returning the brief bow with one of his own. "Thank you, Brother, for the welcome." He moves to stand before the table, bowing his head to each of the emmisaries in turn. "No wine for me, thank you. I try to not drink too late into the night. I'm past those day of my youth, when it was a novelty."
"In that regard, we are much the same," Flint replies, his mordant smile etched across his face. "A shame we share little else in common." The smile, grim as it was, evaporates like dew before a midday sun. "The Surrector of Fastheld, charged with protecting the realm from the Shadow, and I'm led to understand you support this plan to open the Aegisport Gate and commune with the tainted dregs that dwell in Crown's Refuge?"
"As the Chancellor said, should we open our arms to those who've never had the chance to live in a civilized world, perhaps they will see the Light, and turn to it," Duhnen replies in a polite tone. "Should they not...well...there is much evil in the world, as we've seen as of late, which needs to be destroyed. At the least, Fastheld might be able to make use of mineral deposits located past the Aegis. Perhaps higher quality iron to aid in our defense?" He lifts an eyebrow.
"So, do correct me if I'm wrong, but the Surrector of Fastheld advocates the opening of the Aegisport Gate and the establishment of relations with the Wildlands because of *economic* considerations, without regard for the far-reaching spiritual implications of such a step - not to mention the fundamental vulnerability we place ourselves in by breaching the wall that protects us against incursions?" Bandus inquires flatly.
"The wall appears to already have been breached, Brother. Countless times. Correct?" Duhnen replies in an equally dry tone. "Wildling wars? Assaulted keeps? Exploding taverns? The list goes on."
Bandus Flint scratches his chin. "I daresay Gell Mikin never sounded as cavalier about these things as you. Small wonder the emperor has enlisted you in that post, hmm? Simply wouldn't do to have someone telling him what he *needs* to hear, rather than what he *wants* to hear. I suppose it goes without saying, then, that you have no qualms with the forays Lady Ashlynn Birch has taken into the Wildlands?"
"Hardly cavalier about it. Simply aware. A decaying shell certainly won't protect such a large realm indefinately from those who wish to destroy it. A more aggressive stance is required." He shakes his head slightly at the second statement. "I certainly don't think it's the safest of behaviors she can engage in."
"Regardless of her personal safety," the priest ponders, "do you not think it creates the potential for chaos if we continue to allow people to come and go past the Aegis without proper consequence? After all, for centuries we have imprisoned those who sought to pass beyond the wall and *killed* those who tried to come back."
"Should matters proceed as planned, it would seem that such policies will continue to be changed. Undoubtably there will be new regulations put into place," Duhnen responds, considering that. "Still. Seeing as Crown's Refuge was declared as protected by the crown, there's undoubtably a need for a line of communication."
"You consider making it a protectorate a wise choice?" Bandus asks.
"Much could be lost, but much could be gained," Duhnen replies. "I would hope that the Church would lend it's guidance. Perhaps there are some that can be saved."
Bandus Flint peers at Duhnen. "Kindly answer the actual question: Do you consider it a wise choice to make Crown's Refuge a protectorate, yes or no?"
Duhnen watches Bandus thoughtfully. "Yes. I do. I support the Emperor's descision on it."
Bandus Flint hrmphs. "Shocking news, that. I think we are done for now, Surrector. Do keep in mind that you are subject to recall before the Lightbringing ends its deliberations."
With a blink at that, Duhnen nods. "I thought it was such, anyway. I'll come as needed, of course." He nods his head to those assembled and turns about on his heels, making his way out with no real hurry.