Entrance to Vozhd Keep (Vozhdya)
- The ancestral home of the Vozhd clan of House Kahar resembles a hybrid of a fortress and a manor house. Accessible only by drawbridge, the castlet's high walls are made of thick stone with battlements encircling a sharply steeped roof. Originally of copper, the roof-plates long ago oxidized into a dull, opaque green. From the towers of the battlement fly long golden and blue banners - the mark of House Kahar.
Oren Nillu produces a small handkerchief to wipe away a few beads of sweat from his face. He replaces it within his clothing once he is done. "I am Oren Nillu,
Chamberlain of His Majesty's council. Good evening, Duke Zahir. I am glad to finally meet you." He offers the man a slight bow. "A memorable night, is it not? If only a bit cold.
Zolor Zahir smiles faintly at Oren. "A bit too chipper and pleasant for my tastes. But it will suffice. Chamberlain. You're new. Replacing Orell Mikin?" He doesn't wait for an answer. The faint smile flatlines. "A wise choice by the Emperor, I must say."
Markus Kahar emerges from the Keep entrance, flanked by his archery lieutenant, young Lotan Elkhorn. Markus looks pale and most then a little under the water, his entire frame wrapped in a thick fur cloak. He gestures to Lotan, "Be kind enough to herald them inside."
"I was very recently appointed, yes," Oren replies amiably, smiling. "Chamberlain Mikin's departure was a pity, but I am glad I was chosen to fill the position."
Lotan Elkhorn nods slowly to the Duke Kahar as he says this. Approaching the two, he bows to each of them. "Greetings, My Lords. Please, if you'd follow me inside?" asks Lotan, sidestepping to gesture to the keep.
"No, Chamberlain, the pity is that it took so long for the Emperor to dispatch the man who murdered my son," Zolor replies coldly. He then turns toward Lotan, inclines his head and begins to walk toward the main keep.
Oren Nillu's smile fades away slowly as soon as Zolor starts off, nodding at Lotan and starting towards the Keep as well.
Markus Kahar waits aside his lieutenant, nodding approvingly at his performance. As the two noblemen near the gate, Markus bows, welcoming them into the manorial courtyard - an act that causes him obvious pain. "My Lords, how good of you to come. I beg forgiveness for my appearance," he mentions to Oren and Zolor, "... I was the victim of an unfortunate accident this morning, of which I have not yet recovered. Welcome to my home."
Markus Kahar adds quickly, "... Lieutenant Elkhorn, here, shall be providing security at our meeting. I hope this is acceptable to both of you gentlemen?"
"What manner of accident?" the Zahir nobleman inquires, eyebrows arching as he laces his fingers together.
Lotan smiles winningly, half-bowing to both men as his name is mentioned, though saying nothing more. At the Zahir's question, he glances sidelong at Markus.
Oren Nillu's eyebrow goes up as well. "Do tell, Duke Kahar. What happened? Nothing too serious, I would hope?"
Markus Kahar arches a brow towards the Zahir and both-brows towards Oren, but manages smiles diplomatically. "Among the superstitious, we Vozhd and Kahar, it is customary to not speak of a friend's weaknesses, for fear of inviting further exploitation by the shadow. However," the Duke smiles half-playfully, "... I am not superstitious. I was in a riverboat earlier when it hit a rock and sunk. I was nearly drowned."
"You should be more careful," Zolor observes dryly.
Lotan Elkhorn remains totally quiet for the duration of Markus' story, then after a bit of awkward silence, asks, "Where should this start taking place, Your Grace?" Lotan looks over to Markus, eyebrow arched.
Oren Nillu nods as he listens to Markus' story. "I am glad there was no great harm done, Your Grace. Has the Duchess Mikin arrived yet?"
Markus Kahar smiles appreciatively to Oren before responding to Zolor flatly: "Perhaps I should." With that he looks to Lotan, "Please, show our guests to the Mastery. The Duchess of House Mikin expressed that she may have some difficulty arriving tonight, and in the case that she is not able to attend until tomorrow - which seems quite likely, at this point - I have decided that we should proceed and first here House Zahir's rendition of the events, and hear what demands they wish to make. Does that suit you, good Duke Zahir?"
Zolor Zahir inclines his head. "Of course."
Lotan Elkhorn nods slightly, speaking again as he gestures for the foyer, "Please, My Lords, this way." He marches off toward the innards of the keep.
Oren Nillu nods, but remains silent and thoughtful.
A moment later, in the Mastery...
Soram Nillu steps into the Mastery, cloak sweeping behind him. He nods his head toward those present. "Duke Zahir. Duke Kahar. Chamberlain." He also gives a curt nod to Lotan. "Apologies for my tardiness."
A large, circular table has been set in the room, flanked by a half-dozen comfortable chairs. Pitchers of wine have been laid out, as well as plates of fruit and bread.
Markus Kahar smiles lightly as Soram enters, bowing his head. "Good Master Soram, a pleasure to see that you've arrived. I hope that it wasn't too much trouble." Markus hobbles slightly, and gestures to the tables, "Please, seat yourselves - my servants shall care for your things." The seats are designated - the two Imperial assessors together, the Zahir and absent-Mikin across from one another, and Markus at the other end.
Oren Nillu offers Soram a smile and a nod, walking over to the table and taking his seat.
Zolor Zahir walks toward the table, running his fingers along the wood, tracing the grain. His gaze travels briefly to Oren Nillu, then to the spymaster before finally settling on Markus Kahar. He does not sit. Instead, he rests his hands on the back of the chair he might otherwise claim. "I shall take up precious little of your time, particularly given your weakened condition. My son, Zolde, has been dead for nearly a year. Orell Mikin killed him. His kin, Alieron Mikin, the Emperor's own Chancellor, conspired to deny me my due. Further, someone arranged to obliterate a statue I ordered placed in Light's Reach and saw fit to blame *me* for the havoc wrought." He sighs, resting his left palm over the top of his right hand. "Now, I learn that Alieron Mikin lacks the spine to deal with me, face to face, and would send a *woman* to negotiate in his stead. I find it laughable that he comes from the same bloodline as the Emperor's Hawk." His eyes shift toward Oren Nillu. "Now, I come to learn that Orell Mikin is removed as chamberlain, and this good gentleman from House Nillu has taken his place." He looks back at Markus. "I am satisfied. I have no further demands. My quarrel with House Mikin is at an end."
Lotan Elkhorn takes a standing position beside Markus. As Zolor's impressively long dialogue comes to a decisive end, he then looks over at Markus, a confused look inset on his thin features.
Soram Nillu raises an eyebrow. "Indeed." He looks toward Markus, awaiting his response.
Markus Kahar wets his lips, his eyes flitting between Soram and Oren, then to Zolor, as the bombshell is dropped. He seems somewhat at a loss for words. "The Duchess Rowena was chosen by Imperial wish - it matters not if she is a woman, she was picked by your Emperor, and you shall respect that as Alieron must. However... this is... news, good Duke. It is the first we've heard that tensions have ceased. You have before you two representatives of Imperial power, entirely to yourself, here to hear *your* complaints... and you no longer have any quarrel with House Mikin? Why was no one informed of this beforehand? While I am... pleased, that House Zahir no longer sees reason to quarrel, I am confused as to why now, of all times, it is revealed?"
Zolor Zahir blinks languidly. "Was I unclear? Goodness. I shall reiterate, using shorter words." He points at Oren. "New chamberlain. Replacing old chamberlain. Old chamberlain killed my son. Old chamberlain was a Mikin. Mikin removed from power. No point in feuding now."
"It is in the land's best interest for the quarrel to cease fully, not fade into the background and become the source of quieter tensions. There will be no better time for you to speak your mind than here," Oren tells Zolor. "If you are certain this is all you wanted, then I must echo Duke Kahar's own curiosity and wonder why you never made those demands known before now."
Lotan Elkhorn remains silent, having no right or need to speak out, anyway. He does, however, watch the situation happen with great curiosity, looking over the various royals and nobles as he waits for further explanation.
The Zahir duke turns toward Oren. "*All* I wanted was my son restored to life. *All* I wanted was tribute paid to his memory. *All* I wanted were consequences for what happened. I am now fully satisfied, with your ascent to the post of Chamberlain and Orell Mikin's departure, that, while I may never get my son back and while Light's Reach may turn a blind eye to what Orell Mikin did, the Emperor has seen fit to replace the man - late as the hour may be - who killed Zolde. Privately, I had made it known to Emperor Kahar that I wanted Orell Mikin removed from power. He refused, mostly, I suspect, out of loyalty to his weak-kneed Chancellor and Gell Mikin. So, I settled on the statue as a fallback position." He shrugs. "My original demands appear to have been met retroactively. I do not need to pursue this any further. I hate to disappoint you, after you have clearly gone to such pains to arrange for this summit, by being entirely reasonable. But, disappoint you, I must. Nothing can bring Zolde back. But at least Orell Mikin is out of the picture. I take immense satisfaction in that."
Markus Kahar steeples his fingers quietly, absorbing the Mikins words, before responding - at last - carefully. "Well said. I think it important to note that, indeed, you have come to this table in peace, and with no avoidance. I cannot say the same for Duke Alieron. And I appreciate the fact that you feel the matter is settled. This aides the pursuit of peace greatly, and for that, I believe you deserve commendation."
Now, Markus nods. "That being said: this is only one half of the conflict. For all we know, the Mikins may have a claim against your house, and we must hear their words and council the situation. Chamberlain Nillu was absolutely correct when he stated that this matter must be seen to its end, and not left up. Therefore, I would like to recommend the following to this council: that we adjourn for the night, and stay in Vozhdya. On the morrow, we shall hear the Mikin side. If it is as accommodating as the Zahir, then we shall all be home before nightfall. If it is not, then we are vindicated in pursuing this conflict further. I want to be sure that these tensions, long simmering, are entirely at rest."
Oren Nillu nods at Zolor, then at Markus. "Very well, then."
Zolor Zahir inclines his head to Markus. "As you wish."
The next day...
Markus Kahar sits quietly at a large biinwood table, flanked on all sides by various chairs and seats. He is alone, for now, flipping through a few pieces of parchments.
Currently, Duke Markus rests at the table, alone. The hall is relatively empty, his usual court held outside while negotiations move forward. Markus adjusts the fold of his robe for a moment, waiting quietly for his guests to arrive.
Now was time to make amends. With the awareness that she holds the voice of her family and Lights Reach in her careful palms this day, Rowena briskly approaches the mastery door, flanked by two of her guards. Her cloak and gown rustle together along her ankles in her lengthy strides, a few wisps of hair mimicking the motions harmoniously. The notorious sense of Mikin seriousness has firmed her jaw and hardened her gaze, but not beyond the point of approachability. There is still gentleness to her movements, a grace that has only been lately seen in the feminine portion of her family.
Zolor Zahir strides into the chamber shortly after the Mikin woman, his violet cloak flowing behind him as he steps through the entrance. His face remains impassive and cool, veiling emotion as he walks toward the table.
Markus Kahar stands as Rowena and Zolor make their entrance, his guards bowing as the expected Nobles appear. The Duke of Vozhdya smiles lightly, snapping his fingers as servant come scurrying. "Duchess Mikin, Duke Zahir, thank you for coming - allow my men to take your things and bring you something to drink. It is a pleasure to see both of you in better health."
"Aye, today is more of a pleasant day, Rowena replies with attempts of amiability as she casts Zolor a swift glance. The suns warmth does ease the airs inescapable chill. While her guards take their dutiful places as far from sight as they can stand, she works diligently to untie her cloak. She fumbles slightly with a knot, then lifts it off her shoulders to hand off to the hosting Dukes servants.
"I was not ill," Zolor observes, removing his cloak and offering it to one of the servants. He then turns his attention back to Markus. "You, on the other hand, were in abject misery, recovering from that bracing dip in the Fastheld River. You appear to be well enough." He settles into a chair at the table, glancing toward Rowena. "I do not believe I have had the pleasure of meeting you before, Duchess Mikin. Please accept my personal sympathies for the disaster involving the statue. While I certainly meant to cause embarrassment with the erection of that work of art, I never meant to cause such a catastrophe.
Markus Kahar does his best to hide his chagrin, his face morphing into an uneasy facade. Truly, he does still look pale, despite the returned colour to his cheeks. Markus gestures with a smile, "Well then," he sits only after the other two do, "... with your permission, good Duke, I'll make Rowena aware of what transpired at our last meeting. For lack of a better explanation, the good Duke has dropped all pressing claims against your House following the fall of Orell Mikin's Chamberlainship to the good Oren Nillu. He wishes for hostilities to be put to an end, and seeks no further retribution."
Rowena takes her place across from Zolor, nodding quietly to Markus words. "Well I can assure you that the desired embarrassment was aroused, Duke," Rowena murmurs while smoothing the front of her gown. "I can assume half the township bore witness to my shorn bodice and exposed flesh and wounds that evening. Of course, those found responsible for that fatal stunt shall feel our wrath and steel. I am pleased to hear that it shant be you or your bloodline." Finding that her mouth is drawn into a rather grim line in remembrance of her gown lost and mutilated citizens, she tightens the corners upwards into the likes of a passive smile. Her brows soften from their stern arch and she delicately places her palms onto the tabletop. "I do not suspect that the statues replacement will be made possible, in my brothers eyes, so I am glad to know that you seek no further payment."
Zolor Zahir inclines his head. "Your brother, if I may be so bold, is a spineless shriekweasel. All noise, but incapable of movement to use those shiny teeth." He shrugs. "He continues to hide, behind his walls. Behind your skirt. The very palpable cowardice demonstrated by the new generation of Mikin leaders is more than enough payment for me." A smile touches his thin lips. "However, I believe I may offer some illumination regarding the perpetrator of the explosion in Light's Reach."
Markus Kahar listens quietly, finger steeped - a grim smile the only reaction to Zolor's unusual diplomacy stylings. Markus interjects only once, just before Zolor explains the explosion, "... which we will be glad to hear, unless the House Mikin has some concerns it would wish to press against the Zahir? This was the reason why a second day was called for the conference; this is House Mikin's chance to bring forward anything they wish. While Oren is unavoidably away on business, you have the Emperor's ear."
Relaxing her clenched throat and tensed jaw, Rowena wills a more neutral expression to mask her inner bristling after Alieron's name has been scorned. Again. She breathes slowly and softly, reaching up to brush a lock of her rich mane behind her left ear and glances between the two gentlemen. For a moment, the contrasting line of white tissue that mars her temple peeks forth, then is swallowed again as the hair slips forward. "I do not think it would be wise to repeat my brothers opinions on the Zahir line, for it would only hinder our negotiation. That is, of course, why I am here. However," She pauses for a moment, turning her doe-like gaze from Markus to land upon Zolor and she becomes more intensely focused. "From the beginning, we believed in Orell's innocence. Twas an accident in all our eyes, for horses are known to go mad. Mine bore me straight into the river just a season ago. The death of your son was unfortunate beyond words that even an educated person such as myself is capable of. But do not think that it was intentional, I beg you. Orell knew your pain. Your fury. His wife and unborn child were stolen from him by evils, not too many years past" Letting that be known in a final attempt to clear the haze of accusations, she threads her fingers together upon the tabletop and leans slightly forward. "Any information regarding the abominations that cost lives of many from that stone will be graciously accepted and put to thorough use. Please. As a healer and Second Liege, I dread to think of this occurring a second time."
Oren Nillu steps into the Mastery, stopping to inspect the gathered faces. He then offers a quick bow. "My apologies. I was delayed by things beyond my control," he announces and walks over to the table, taking his seat.
Zolor Zahir arches his eyebrows at Rowena's comment. "The general opinion of the Zahir line of all those outside House Zahir is known to be unfavorable. That doesn't trouble me. Honestly, it makes negotiations such as these all the more intriguing. However, it is that very opinion, especially among the Mikins, that creates the impression in my mind that sometimes accidents are far more than accidents. Naturally, I can see where, as a result of that phenomenon, the same phenomenon that led me to immediately suspect foul play from Orell Mikin, your kin would jump to the conclusion that I intended that statue to explode." He laces his fingers together. "Others can see this too. And they have taken advantage of it." He looks toward Markus Kahar. "The culprit you seek is a young man, a courier, named Farris Wind. A troubled fellow, orphan. His parents worked for me. They died some years ago. Terrible accident. He has always blamed me for it." His right hand waves dismissively. "Farris refuses to acknowledge that he caused the accident. He's touched, you see. He became angry with them one day, when he was quite young, and he willed a cliff face along the base of Fanghill to shatter. The debris crushed his parents. He nearly died himself, but passersby rescued him. Better, perhaps, if they had left him to die." The Zahir duke sighs. "He made that statue explode, to spark a war between our houses. He kept my letter to the duke from arriving, to encourage the continuation of suspicion and strife." His gaze returns to Rowena. "Farris Wind. He is behind all of this. I am certain of it."
Markus Kahar absently tugs at the hem of his cloak as mention is made of Zahir treachery, his eyes, however, fully intent on the scene. His Grace sits up a bit straighter upon the mention of Farris - "Once, long ago, I had him run a letter for me - if he is indeed touched, it would be the second case. Pash Cobble -- he is touched, is he not? -- and now this Farris. He can really will rock to explode? But I am confused - what grudge does he have against the Mikin? The symbolism of the statue and the people around it suggest intent... not just unbridled madness. It might be as you say, to cause tensions, but there must be more possibilities."
Normally, Rowena would lift her chin to watch any new arrival with a polite nod and smile in greeting. Zolor only steals her attention when he names the courier. Her lips part with a silent stare of awe, eyes widening a touch to betray her surprise. That vivid emotion morphs almost as quickly as it appeared. Her brow scoops inward in troubled state, lips draw into a solemn line, and eyes take on a knowing look of gravity. Her lengthy lashes close heavily over those expressive eyes for a moment of reflection, head bowing forward to rest her forehead upon steepled fingers.
"Then you realize this information reveals the taint of shadow which has thus evaded our desperate search. If what you say is true, young Dianna shall have accompaniment on her way to the next life." She whispers. The feeling of her own breath against her tender wrists causes an uncomfortable tingle to shimmy up her spine. Deaths belly would be gorged by the time the darkness had passed. When it seems that she has passed into that realm of inky silence herself, Rowena lifts her head just enough to peer at Zolor. "Yes, as the Duke has questioned, why would he desire to do such a thing, even if to place blame upon you? I wonder if he drew satisfaction from hearing the tortured wails that sang to the stars when blood ran fresh that night."
"If this Farris man blames the Duke for his misfortunes, I would believe the idea that he caused this trouble only for some taste of revenge," Oren notes. "If this man has been tainted by the Shadow, I have no doubt his own heart has fallen under the corruptive darkness that comes inherent with the Touch."
Zolor Zahir inclines his head toward Oren. "I do not pretend to comprehend the lad's mindset or the full extent of his motivations." He then looks at Rowena. "But I learned quickly enough that the people of Light's Reach, soon after the explosion, were calling for my head on a pike where the statue once stood. Had that happened, our houses would most certainly be drawn inexorably into a bloody war. For his own part, I think Farris only wished to see harm come to me. But, as the Chamberlain astutely notes, it is possible that he acts from more than his own base motivations."
Markus Kahar sighs lightly, leaning back in his seat, "... then this only leads me to one conclusion - yet another manhunt. We must find this Farris, before he tries to attack any of us again. However that we know now none of us acted in disregard of the Emperor's enforced peace brings much relief to my mind. The last I heard of Farris, he disappeared with the Duke's letter. Perhaps one of our retainers has seen him recently."
"I shall spread word to both the Surrector and Alieron." Rowena murmurs, gaze lingering in the expanse of her own thoughts as she appears to muse over the tables surface. "He will be questioned by the Church. I agree to bear witness if need be." Her hands have since sunk to the table again, and her fingers now clench together in a brief squeeze. She hated bloodshed. Hated it with a passion that drove her between the desire to forgive and acquire revenge in order to prevent further violence. Such a dilemma. Quiet and motionless, she listens to the sounds of bodies breathing. A sound very faint, yet brazen proof of life and power. For Farris, that sound may be replaced by the whisper of a blade.
Rowena Mikin 's face seems to have paled a bit, her sudden shift of intensity almost too stern for her character.
"It seems lately, a great deal of things are being turned over to the Lord Surrector," Oren says. "He has many things on his hands. A second manhunt with as much chance of success as the other one." He shakes his head. "Failure reflects negatively on His Majesty and the land. I will speak with the Surrector myself. Perhaps with the help of the Church and a great deal of manpower, we will bring the courier to justice. These acts of treason, specially carried out by those who are Tainted by the Shadow's foul touch... these cannot stand."
Zolor Zahir nods slowly. "The boy travels with a fat white donkey. Goes by the name of Grut. I don't think he's all that shrewd or sly, and I don't think he has a tremendous amount of guile or foresight. But you know what he did to his parents. You know what he did in Light's Reach. Capturing him may not be without a price, and he may not go peacefully." He rests his attention on Rowena. "The hunters may not have the option of waiting to let him feel the bite of the axe."
Markus Kahar nods in agreement, "It would seem, then, that the greatest of caution must be taken." Markus pauses a long moment, looking between Oren, Rowena and Zolor. "Well, then, if the houses Mikin and Zahir are at peace, I..." Markus sits up and blinks, "... I suppose we've accomplished our goal then. Unless they have anything else to add or state, mayhaps I should call this meeting adjourned - Master Chamberlain? Perhaps you have something to say?"
"Then he will feel the bite of a sword should he resist." Rowena replies sharply to Zolor before she can tether her tongue. A flush of red creeps to her ears, blood pounding with the unintended rush of anger. She casts a somewhat sheepish glance to Markus, then Oren. As if offering apology for the tiny outburst, she smoothes her voice into a softer one, drawing her hands to rest in her lap. "I am willing to resume civil sentiment with the Zahir, and as Second liege to Light's Reach, I shall encourage others to do the same." Then, "How old is Farris?" She asks Zolor directly, perhaps not quite ready to abandon the meeting. "Tell me of his temperament, aside from his dangerous ability."
"The land prospers when those who serve it more directly are at peace with each other," the Chamberlain states. "Let us be glad these talks went without problem. This man, Farris... he shall answer to the Empire's justice."
Markus Kahar nods his head, eyeing Rowena for a moment, "Well then, we're settled. I'll prepare the official report of the Emperor, with your permission master Chamberlain. Rowena, I thought perhaps you might do me the honour of speaking with me later tonight, when you have a moment." Markus rises slowly and bows his head, "... I want to thank everyone for coming and resolving this matter. The Emperor will be most please I'm sure, and I cannot overstate how important it was that this was done in a civilized manner. It speaks well of both your houses. Furthermore, you have done me great honour - I only hope to return it in kind. Please, feel free to stay - I hope to speak with all of you later this evening. If you'll excuse me..." and with that, the Duke bows again and makes his exit politely.