Goat's Horn Tavern <Fanghill>
- Someone seems to be saving money on candles and lantern oil, keeping this cozy stone tavern minimally illuminated by virtue of a central square fireplace of quarried sun clay that remains stoked and burning throughout the day and night by the barkeep and his employees. The floors are strewn with amber rushes and sand imported from Nillu lands to soak up the stickier spilled beverages.
- About a dozen polished shardwood tables provide seating for groups who want to socialize in the Goat's Horn, perhaps the most popular spot in the township of Fanghill. Despite the shadowy nature of the bar, patrons can lose themselves in good conversation, song and dance, or parlor games.
- A C-shaped counter along the west wall is fronted by six stools for lone patrons just looking for a drink.
Zolor Zahir is sitting at his usual corner table, in firelight-dappled shadows, sipping wine from a gleaming goblet with his back to the wall.
A noblewoman cloaked in black enters the tavern and sets her hood back. She scans the room as if looking for someone, then spotting a familiar figure, she carefully weaves her way to the back of the room. When she reaches Zolor, she bows. "Good Eve, Excellency," she says. "I received your letter. Cryptic, but urgent by the sound. What assistance may I offer? Is your throat bothering you?" She seems wound rather tight as if the slightest startle would send her running out the door, but she is holding her ground, green eyes steely.
"My throat?" Zolor tilts his head as he lowers the goblet, setting it on the table and smiling wryly. "No. But, tell me, do you know where I might find quality carpentry work? I've much needed a new set of shelves in the keep to store some of my trinkets, but the best woodworkers in the realm keep losing their heads."
Aylora remains standing, but blinks slowly, her eyes narrowing slightly. "There are fine carpenters in Hawk's Aerie, I am told," she says. "Ones level headed enough to know how to stay away from trouble, instead of seeking it. Such wisdom is something I should hold true." She pauses. "But I sincerely doubt you are looking to me for interior design advice. As for your throat, I was here when Farris attacked. I may not have been in this room, but I saw you leave it, hand to your neck. Light watched over you that day." There is a half smile on her lips, though her breath is shallow.
"The Light had little to do with my survival that day," Zolor replies with a shrug. "Farris was young, clumsy and oafish. Totally unschooled in such methods. Far too much yammering, far too much emphasis on drama." He leans forward, tapping a finger on the tabletop. "The boy could have pulled the old turn-invisible-and-cut-Zolor's-throat trick any time in the past ten years. He didn't. Why? Because, I suspect, deep down he knew he was wrong to suspect me of such awful things. Because, deep down, he wanted to be discovered. He wanted to be stopped." He sighs. "Or, he was just an idiot. That's very likely the case." He gestures to a chair across from him. "Sit, please."
Aylora inclines her head and takes the chair at a right angle to Zolor, she takes a deep breath and regards him carefully. "It would be useless then to ask if he was correct in his allegations?" she says, unclasping her cloak and letting it fall over the back of a chair. She gestures to a passing wench. "Ale please," she says.
Zolor Zahir chuckles. "I *am* a bad man. A wicked man. I have done terrible things. Usually, I have done them to people who fully deserved it. However, I did not kill Farris Wind's parents."
"Both directly or indirectly?" Aylora ventures. "One can kill by proxy. Perhaps ... Well a suspicious person might not put it past that you could have provoked Farris into killing is own parents to ensure his own survival." The server returns, sets the mug on the table and waits. Aylora doesn't notice her at first until she coughs. "Ten marks, m'lady," she says. Aylora looks up slightly startled, but fishes for coins. She sets them in the wench's hand. "Thank'y." Aylora peers into the mug and seeing nothing but froth, brings it to her lips.
"I only became aware of the boy's innate talent for destruction *after* he inadvertantly killed his parents," Zolor replies, his eyes becoming rather cold and flinty as he leans back in the chair and takes another sip from his goblet. Putting down the cup, he continues, "By all rights, I should have turned him into the Church for their tender ministrations at that time, but I did not." He smirks. "I thought he could be of use to me at some time." He lifts the goblet once more, then says, "You are to receive land as part of your assumption of heritage in our noble House Zahir. Property that belonged for a time to your father. That is why I summoned you."
Aylora nearly drops her mug, but manages instead to set it down on the table with a bit of a splash. "Pardon, Excellency?" she says, incredulous.
After taking another sip from his goblet, Zolor smiles crookedly. "Are you familiar with the Oakstone Lodge?"
Aylora sets her arms on the table, the mug between them. She loosely laces her fingers and shakes her head. "I'm not familiar with the place," she admits.
"Beautiful hunting grounds, along the Fastheld River," Zolor explains, setting down the goblet and running a finger along the rim. "Spacious accommodations. Lovely view." He twists his mouth slightly. "Except for the Pillars."
Aylora looks up. "Pillars," she repeats. "Somehow, I get the feeling there's more to these pillars than holding up a pavillion." She seems to be relaxing as she takes up the mug and draws from it.
"Balak's Pillars," the nobleman continues. "A crazy Shadow-Touched Lomasa man killed his family near one of them a long time ago. Since then, the crown has imposed death sentences on anyone caught getting too close to the towers." He raises a hand pre-emptively. "The lodge is at least a mile from the towers. Balak had to lead his family a good distance to reach the killing ground."
Aylora pales slightly and looks down at her mug. "Interesting history," she says. "Now I know why a bastard Zahir daughter wins this prize." She shakes her head. "My apologies for my sharp tongue, Excellency. Your gift is most generous, especially given my appearance only a few months ago. Thank you for thinking of me. Is there anything else I should know about Oakstone? Any boon to the Zahir family that comes with such responisibility?"
"Well, as I said, there are some auspicious hunting grounds - brown elk and nightsliders, among other things," Zolor replies, his smile fading to cool neutrality. "And there's never been any absolute proof about the whole haunting thing. I am certain you'll find it most pleasing."
Aylora drains her mug and sets it down, more gently this time. "Then I can expect you for dinner some time?" she asks. "Or perhaps a hunt?" She pauses and shifts, a concern to her face. "Do the Blades routinely patrol the area, to keep folk out of the Pillars?"
"I may take you up on the invitation at some point," Zolor says, inclining his head as he lifts the goblet again. "And, yes, the Blades do make regular rounds. So I would impress upon your guests the importance of steering clear of those towers, lest they want to become unacquainted with their heads."
Aylora nods. "That will be the first thing I tell each one," she says. "I like my friends with their heads on." Aylora gazes at Zolor as if in appraisal, then looks away again, rolling the mug between her hands. "I do not know you personally, Excellency, I only know what people have told me which boils down to Stay Away, He's Dangerous. And nothing more." She lifts her head and looks to him again. "But I am grateful for the gift and will remember it."
The slick-haired nobleman grins almost ferally as he settles back into the fire-dappled shadows and takes a sip of his wine. "I am a scion of the House of Vipers, Lady Aylora. I *am* dangerous to those who cross me." His smile fades with the descending glow of the fire as one of the patrons passes in front of the fireplace. "Remember this gift, yes. But, more importantly, remember that I am not a man to be taken for granted. Zolor Zahir can be a staunch ally or a bitter enemy." The smile slowly returns as the patron gets out from in front of the fireplace, allowing the glow to emerge from its eclipse. "Guess whether my allies or enemies enjoy longer lifespans."
Aylora chuckles and stands, the chair scraping behind her. "Why guess at the obvious?" she says taking up her cloak. "Loyalty must be a Zahir trait for my inclinations run the same. Power does have its responsibilities after all." She clasps her cloak about her neck. "Good Eve, Excellency. I look forward to my new home as well as a visit from you." She seems about to give the standard Fastheld blessing, but stops herself. "May your path be light and easy, Excellency," she says, using the old Craftkin farewell.
Zolor Zahir takes a sip from his goblet. Inclines his head. Then says, "Sleep with the lights on when you stay at Oakstone." He winks.