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Dining Hall <Fastheld Keep>


An expansive chamber with gleaming brass chandeliers suspended from the arched stone ceiling above a long wooden table surrounded by two dozen tall-backed chairs, with the tallest and most comfortable at either end of the table, reserved specifically for the Emperor and Empress.
The table is perpetually set with serving dishes, flatware and swiveling trays for food to be placed upon. Swinging doors lead into the aromatic environs of the kitchens, while an archway leads out into the estate's great hall.

Duhnen sits at one of the chairs in the dining hall, resting his chin in his hand, while he stares down into a bowl of thick soup or porridge, or something or another. He stirs it about and hums quietly to himself.


Chaori Balsam brightens as she spots Sahna. "Your Grace! I was just looking for you." She curtseys to Sahna. As an afterthought, she curtseys to Duhnen, but seems intent on leaving him to his soup.


"I just received your missive a little earlier.." Sahna replies, then gestures to Duhnen. "There's the Surrector. We can work this out immediately, if he's feeling helpful today. Other than the problems indicated, you seem to be doing a competent job so far, Mistress Balsam. "


"He's busy," comes the response, Duhnen's tone rather dry. The man doesn't look up from his food. "Come back later. We'll speak then."


Chaori Balsam replies to Sahna, "Thank you, Your Grace. I've done my best. I truly wish this could have worked out, but I do not want to be knifed by the wife of one of my patients."


This earns a frown from the Assessor, one of puzzlement. "Suit yourself, Duhnen. But can you just ask Gabriella not to threaten the palace healer? It's unprofessional, unless I'm unaware of some logical reason for it." She glances back to Chaori, shrugging. "If physical harm is a risk, just don't treat the patient. I don't want to dish out hazard pay."


"Yes. No need to be snappy," Duhnen answers with a grunt, lifting up half a spoonful and letting the contents drop back into the bowl.


Chaori Balsam tells Sahna, "Your Grace, I thought assigning another healer to the Surrector would suffice when I sent you my first letter. I fear it's gone beyond that point. Logic has little to do with someone who threatened to spill my guts on the ground of the Tribunal gate and produced a dagger. I thank the Light that the Imperial Justicar happened to hear my scream."


"I wasn't being snappy." Sahna replies, looking completely confused now. "I was just asking, since I have no idea what happened. I... Oh, just never mind." She gestures to Chaori expansively. "You'll like Rowena when she gets back, at least. The problem is we're short on healers. At the moment you're the one assigned to the palace, and.. Wait, I beg your pardon...?"

The new information brings an outright scowl to her features. "The Justicar! Last thing any of us need to do is wake sleeping wolves. Let's get a table and some wine and you can tell me the whole business from start to finish."


Chaori Balsam replies, "Yes, Your Grace," and confers with her guard in a whisper. This leads to Chaori sitting at one end of an empty table and her guard sitting just on the edge of earshot.


"Of course you weren't," Duhnen replies, finally abandoning his food and rising to his feet. The man stalks off to the exit of the dining hall, black velvet cape trailing slightly behind him.


Duhnen Seamel heads into Great Hall. Duhnen Seamel has left.


Stalking over to the seat opposite, the Assessor perches on the edge of her chair and adjusts her skirts. She looks after Duhnen, grinds her teeth, and looks back to Chaori. "Leave nothing out. Start at the beginning."


Chaori Balsam asks, "Of this entire mad business, or of yestereve at the Tribunal?"


"Everything that's relevant, Mistress Balsam. Gabriella's probably insane, but even she doesn't usually go nuts without any reason." Sahna answers, gravely. She gestures airily to one of the servers and adds, "Wine for both of us."


Ganeos Seamel arrives from Great Hall Ganeos Seamel has arrived.


Chaori Balsam warns, "This will be a long story," and gets started before the wine arrives. "It all began several weeks ago, when I met the duchess in the Lightholder Tavern. She was wobbling on her feet, but friendly enough. Shortly after she'd introduced herself, a drunken bard fell down the stairs from the lodgings upstairs and managed to impale himself with his sheathed rapier. There was very little hope for his recovery, but I had to try. The duchess asked what she could do. To my eternal sorrow, I asked her to pull the rapier out, once I was ready to stanch the bleeding. She pulled it all over and the man died instantly."


"Yes, but it isn't like you could have done anything to treat the wound with the rapier still in it. Perhaps it'd pierced his heart or some other vital organ.. But even Gabriella should realize that a man can't live with a rapier sticking out of him." Sahna responds, frowning slightly. "Drunk again. Hmmph. Go on."


Chaori Balsam says, "The rapier had pierced the man's intestines and stomach. He was lucky it didn't exit out his back. Well. A few days later, I met the Imperial Surrector in the Sprouting Keg. I didn't realize who he was at first. When he realized who I was, he invited me home to his keep, in the hopes of helping his duchess deal better with the bard's death. She went into a cold rage the second she saw me."


"Light.. Duhnen, you poor fool." Sahna mumbles, pinching at the bridge of her nose. "Mistress Balsam.. Gabriella's not a very.. Logical person. I suppose it's just who she is. This is starting to make sense, now. Please, continue." The wine arrives, and Sahna reaches for her goblet.


Ganeos comes strolling into the Dining room, not noticing the two women seated at the table immediately. Mostly because his head is down, deep in thought. Or staring at the floor for some reason even more profound.


Chaori Balsam picks up hers and sips it slowly, from ingrained training. "All was quiet for a while. Then I was speaking with Baron Aughol Zahir in the Lightholder Tavern. Duchess Gabriella came down from upstairs. At the good baron's urging, I made one last try to talk to her about the bard's death. I hadn't planned to be as stern as my teachers were with me, but she called me a madwoman. She came over to our table after I left her at the bar. She threatened me with unspecified dire fates. When Baron Aughol defended me, she told the baron that she'd challenge him to a duel, but she was going to spare him the disgrace of being beaten soundly by a woman."


"Poor Aughol!" Sahna replies.. Oh, but she's trying not to laugh, now. "She called you a madwoman? This is precious! I know for a fact she wouldn't pull this on Rowena.. I swear, she thinks she can stab at anyone male because they won't fight back. It's the biggest mistake of the realm to allow her to be a Duchess, if you ask me." Glancing up, the petite Nillu motions to the Seamel. "Ganeos, come join us. We're talking about how your cousin's wife is an unrestrained madwoman."


"That's nice." Ganeos says, voice a careful balance between neutrality and amusement at the introduction. "I was supposed to ride with her at one point or another, I believe. Talked to my cousin about a nice horse ride together. Just the three of us. Good to know that the one riding only a short distance from me is a delirious monster of a woman though."


Chaori Balsam says, "The duchess had told me to stay away from her family, but as she stormed out of the Lightholder, heading here, I was suddenly afraid for people here. I came up the next day to check on everyone, saving the Surrector for last. I cleaned a shaving cut he had and suddenly ran a terrible fever. I remember vomiting. The Surrector was kind enough to take me for a short ride to try to bring the fever down. I was just mounting my horse to ride home when his wife appeared. Her threats weren't clear, but the anger in her voice was."


"Oh, no, she'll adore you, don't worry about that." Sahna replies, with a laugh. "Oh? I didn't know any of that lot had sprouted rapiers recently. " Her expression sobers as she returns to a 'listening seriously' mindset, nodding in a dour manner. "I don't know if I'd have used a horseback ride for a fever, but that's neither here nor there. I assume you are feeling well once again, Mistress Balsam?" Automatically, she pours out a goblet of wine for Ganeos.


"I do tend to get madwomen's affection easily." Ganeos muses, hands steepling in front of him, listening intently to Chaori's story. Which doesn't mean he isn't thoughtful enough to acknowledge Sahna pouring him a drink. "Thank you, dear."


Chaori Balsam nods to Sahna. "Yes, or I would not have returned to my duties yet. I felt much better after a good night's sleep, but took a few days just to be sure. I wrote you about that. I met the Surrector purely by chance on the Market Road a few days later. We talked in Aegisview. He begged me to apologize to his wife for speaking to her in the Lightholder. Since I hold the Surrector in the highest personal regard, I agreed to do it, but told him I would not seek her out."


Tomassa arrives from Great Hall Tomassa has arrived.


Chaori Balsam is seated at one of the tables, with Sahna and Ganeos near her and a guard in black and violet at the far end.


A figure stalks into the Imperial Residence, its outline and bearing hauntingly familiar to those who frequent the place. Rather than pausing, the individual continues to the archway to the dining hall with purposeful steps.


"Tell me about the Justicar's involvement, will you? I think I understand the basis of her reaction.. Not that I approve, but there's also very little I can do about it. Talus won't jerk Gabriella short, he's not that kind of ruler. And nobody else, save Duhnen, has the authority. I doubt Hartnek or the Justicar would even so much as yell at her, and that's a depressing result. As for apologies, however.. You owe her none and I won't hear of you offering one. Gabriella is an embarrassment to any self-respecting peer of the realm, and you are an employee of the Fastheldian government.. More specifically, in my realm of responsibility." She smiles wryly over at Ganeos, raises her goblet in toast, and drinks from it.


Chaori Balsam takes a sip of her wine. "I spoke with the Lady Broess Seamel at the Halls of Healing yestereve, Your Grace. That most gracious lady insisted that I accept one of her personal guards until the situation changed. We were out at the gate, by the stables, when the duchess rode in on her donkey. The duchess told me that I didn't seem to understand a word she said and asked Lady Broess if the Surrector knew she was handing out guards to family enemies."


Chaori Balsam continues, "I apologized to the duchess, but my apology went unheeded. Matters deteriorated from there until Duchess Gabriella produced a dagger from her donkey's pack and told me that if I spoke one more word, and I quote, my guts would be bloodying the ground. I thought the dagger was unsheathed, so I decided to make my last word count. I screamed for the guards. The Justicar answered. He must have been checking on the gate sentries."


Sahna's attention is distracted-- Something about the gait of the person entering catches her attention, and she turns with a puzzled expression. "Well, if it isn't Tomassa Zahir. Would you like to join us?" She invites, with a rolling shrug of her thin shoulders. "Of course, I won't blame you if you didn't wish to." Turning her attention back to Chaori she queries, "Did the Justicar take any action beyond that? Somehow I doubt it, but that's my jaded nature speaking."


"Someone more temperamental than *I* am?" drawls the armored female who abruptly stops just within the confines of the dining hall. Tomassa's fur cloak sways forward to caress the length of her back, not stilling as easily as she does. Eyes of copper flick over those present and then return to study the tax assessor with chill civility. "I seek the current Surrector. Is he about?" she asks in cool tones.


"Light's Bless." Ganeos says, rising one slim finger to scratch at the side of his nose. "You want to find answers on why no one respects nobility anymore, your Grace, a quick look at some of our peers would answer your questions." He turns his gaze to the armored woman, offering an absent nod. Then he turns to his glass of wine, sipping from the goblet thoughtfully.


Chaori Balsam bows her head to the newcomer. "The Surrector is here somewhere; have you tried the northeastern tower?" She returns to her sorry tale. "The Justicar said he felt certain that the duchess would reconsider the wisdom of producing a weapon on the steps of the home of justice. He reminded us both that there's no law against bravado. He did, however, explain to Duchess Gabriella that House Seamel affairs are not above the affairs of the Emperor, nor free of Imperial Law. He also warned her that he dislikes needing to leave his duties to arrest royals. That's when the duchess accused me of assaulting her family on several occasions."


Sahna returns the look levelly, but without any particular chill. "He stalked off a little earlier.. Try the tower, he might be there, or walking the grounds." She answers, almost cheerily. "Well, it wouldn't be me. I'm as respectable as they come. Anyways, Mistress Balsam, that's delightful to hear. At least there are still some wolves among us. Just steer clear of those two. If they get sick while Rowena's away, they can go find their own healer."


Tomassa begins to turn away, her information received, when she overhears Sahna's last comment. "The Duchess is away?" she inquires, looking back at the much smaller woman. "Where did she go?" Her right eyebrow quirks upward in inquiry.


Aughol Zahir arrives from Great Hall Aughol Zahir has arrived.


Chaori Balsam is sitting at one of the tables. Sahna and Ganeos are seated with her. The guard in violet and black is seated at the far end of the table. Tomassa is standing near everyone else.


Ganeos remains silent for a moment longer, then shakes his head. "Ridiculous. I cannot find a better description for this broken tragedy of stupidity and egos running out of hand and sight."


"She went past the wall, Tomassa.. She's been a bit off since Serath left the mortal coil, and she decided to go with an expedition rather recently. I don't know when or if they'll be back." Sahna replies, taking a sip of her wine. "This is Chaori Balsam, who's filling in for the time being. And this," She gestures to Ganeos, "Is my intended, Ganeos Seamel. He's far more sensible than Aiden ever was. I have no idea what good that'll do him around here, but it's appreciated."


Aughol Zahir strides into the Dining Hall, followed by a single unarmed guard. His cloak is folded over a shoulder, whilst his rapier is completely absent. Looking about the room, the frown on his face grows before he spots Sahna and begins walking in her direction, glancing to the others about.

Surprise registers upon the Zahir female's features at the news of Rowena. "Over the wall," she repeats in a murmur - mostly to herself. Her lips thin. "Rowena is not as hardy as she thinks. I hope she survives."

Tomassa's eyes move once more to Ganeos and take his measure in a silent moment. "I hope -he- does as well. Men have a terrible habit of dying around here."


Chaori Balsam rises and curtseys to Tomassa as she is introduced. Then she sits back down and takes a carefully measured swallow of her wine.


Ganeos cool smile at Tomassa is without any particular meaning. Superficial, one could call it. "I suppose you're speaking from a personal experience?"


"Well, through holes in the wall, technically.. She wished to go, there wasn't much I could do about it. Anyhow, you're quite correct about the male mortality rate around here. I think that must be what everyone sees in poor Duhnen. He'd live through another cataclysm." Sahna smiles, wryly. "The Lady Zahir is a widow rather recently, so it behooves us to make her welcome back here at the palace. It's dreadfully hard to lose someone." Not that there's much conviction in her tone, at that last part.

"You know what I wish the kitchens would make here? A good sockweasel is perfect for a gathering. Being a Nillu dish, it's naturally the best out there."


Aughol Zahir stops as he nears the group, awaiting recognition yet making no true attempt to get it.


Chaori Balsam is more observant than she appears. "Good evening, Baron!" she calls over to Aughol. "Have you come to collect your guard?"


Tomassa turns away from Ganeos, Sahna, and Chaori as if in dismissal when the tax assessor speaks of sockweasel. When she spies Aughol, a small sneer of distaste comes to her features. She takes a step toward him and begins humming a certain infamous tune that has been making the rounds. The one about a man and his chairs. Without pause, she saunters past her kinsman and toward the archway.


"Baron Aughol! So good to see you. Why don't you come join us as well?" Sahna queries, in her rich contralto. "It would seem my company isn't for everyone, this eve... Surely, you can rally our company for a while? I have yet to thank you for defending one of the good citizens , Mistress Balsam here."


Aughol Zahir glances over his shoulder as Tomassa walks away, ignoring Chaori for the moment. "Oh, just damn hilarious." He calls out after her. "Yep, why don't you just continue... Damn that bard. Damn him!" He mutters the last five words, before turning back to the group at large, obviously angered. "Great evening, eh? And no, feel free to hold on to the man."


"Oh, my." Ganeos says, catching up the underpinning of the tune, eyebrows rising up in exaggerated surprise. "That song -is- getting around. How does it go again?" A second passes, and the smile disappears, listening to the man rant idly. "I do believe she has every intention of poking fun of your questionable acquisitions, Baron Zahir. You truly have inspired a modern classic."


Chaori Balsam tells Aughol, "I shall, your lordship. The Imperial Tax Assessor and I are still discussing the events of yesterday evening."


Tomassa heads into Great Hall. Tomassa has left.


Aughol Zahir mutters, eyeing Ganeos. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Gets around. I swear by the light, if I hear that damned song once more..." He brings up a fist, squeezing it tightly. "If I could find that bard..." He takes a few long, deep breaths before looking towards Sahna. "I was merely helping a friend."


"Ah, but being infuriated won't do you much good, Aughol." Sahna murmurs, with a slow, predatorial smile. "Consider it this way.. Before this you were a nearly unknown peer of the realm with small holdings. Now people have heard of you. So why not make fun of it along with everyone else? It won't harm you to work your way into the public consciousness. I seem to recall I made an embarrassment out of myself at Sophia Mikin's wedding, ages ago. So you're known at court for having chairs. It's not a devastating social gaffe, yet. The freshly-departed Tomassa Zahir was accused of trying to bring back the Black Rider, for example. Chairs don't match up to treason."


"Infamous still has famous in the word." Ganeos says, "Any publicity is good publicity, until you stab someone. Even then... sometimes, that can benefit more then it hinders." The Seamel pauses at the mention of treason, before nodding his head in something that can only be called agreement.


Chaori Balsam sighs. "Speaking of stabbing, Your Grace, this matter is almost literally at daggers drawn. I need not seek out the Surrector or his wife. They keep finding me. I fear the only way to avoid both of them is to go somewhere that they cannot find."


Aughol Zahir seems to have regained his composure, straightening himself with a slight sigh. "Yes, yes. I suppose it is better then it could be... Things most always are. Nevertheless, it is quite the annoyance to deal with such things..."


"Well, I'd say that bards have accidents, but I don't think you'd want that attached to your name for so petty an offense.. Not that you'd be responsible for any ill to the hapless commoner." Sahna replies airily.

"At any rate, Mistress Balsam, I'll write a letter to dear Hartnek to let him know about the danger. All you have to do is simply leave when Gabriella shows up, being the mature woman of the matter. Gabriella has been told that she is not above the law, so if she attempts any harm, I will be gleeful to know that they'd be obligated to arrest her."


Chaori Balsam quietly replies, "From something I overheard two days ago, I think Duchess Gabriella might block the exit. Fortunately, the Surrector is more rational."


"No, of course not." Ganeos says, pushing back his chair. "I am very sorry to hear about the distress all this has caused you, Miss Balsam, but my intended gives good advice. Be the mature woman, and turn your back. She won't stab you, I assure you. I think this is more likely the unintentional relapse from sanity that comes with seeing such horrible accidents."


Aughol Zahir smirks at Chaori. "Which is why you now have a guard. He shall forcibly unblock the exit."


"Well, I wouldn't recommend any back turning. That's never wise." Sahna muses, with a wry chuckle. "Maybe I'll send her a rapier for the next holiday."


Chaori Balsam says to Aughol, "I fear he'll have to. The woman is delusional and violent."


Aughol Zahir smirks at Chaori, "Yet there is one good... She's also apparently extremely stupid. When your foe is stupid, victory is easy."

Ganeos rises, bending down to kiss the top of Sahna's head. "Night, dearest. Light's Keep, all. This gossip has brought new revelations into focus. Some people are irrevocably insane."


"You know, for once, it's nice to not be the only one to notice these things. It's a shame, you know. She once was a good friend." Sahna replies, pouring herself another glass of wine. "Aughol, how much do you know about trade and commerce, by the way?" She reaches out to poke Ganeos in the side before adding, "Notice, they're all Seamels. Sleep well, and all that."


Chaori Balsam says to Ganeos, "Light keep, Lord Ganeos."


"Of course." Ganeos saids, nose wrinkling at the poke, before turning to start walking.


Return to Season 4 (2006)

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