It is the Second hour by the Shadow on Lanternglow, the 25th day of Bleakdreary in the year 624. It is a very cold afternoon. The slightest breeze stirs over the land infrequently. A few wispy cirrus clouds streak the otherwise clear sky.

Aerie Heights Keep Great Hall

The largest room of the keep, it is big enough to be warmed by two hearths spaced down it's length. The raw stone walls of the keep are here covered by large parti-colored fabric hangings with the exception of behind the dais at the far end, there the wall is hung with a large tapestry showing a tournament scene from Fastheld's far past. The ceiling is as high as two men at the sides, sloping up to an apex far above in shadow. The whole of it is held up by large biinwoood beams, dark now with the smoke of many winters.
Along the sides of the hall a few biinwood benches and chairs are arranged for the convenience of members of the court as well as those who seek audience with the Baronial Court. The dias at the high end of the hall is polished wood platform, raised a foot of the floor. Here are two ornate chairs for the Baron and Baroness, and here is where the public business of Barony takes place.

Damiante Nillu arrives at the Great Hall of Aerie Heights, a stack of parchments in her hand. She looks around the room as if to check that everything is in order. Satisfied, she takes her seat on the dias. Budgeron rolls around on the ground.

Jacib enters the Great Hall from outside, strolling towards the scullery.

Seeing the carpenter responsible for the wonderful furniture in her keep, Damiante calls out. "Master Carpenter," she calls. "Please approach, I wish to thank you for your work." She stands and sets her parchments aside.. “How is your business? The Baron my husband has said you've received orders from other Keeps?"

"Business 's brisk," Jacib responds. "Orders from Vozhdya, Light's Reach, Silkfield, 'nd Hedgehem."

Damiante resumes her seat and takes out a piece of parchment, setting a quill and ink well on a table nearby. "As you may recall, Master Carver," she says in a more serious tone. "Part of your agreement as a craftsman in my city, is to provide ten percent of your profits each month to assist in the protection and maintenance of Hawk's Aerie. How much would that be this month?"

Jacib fishes around in one of his pockets for a few moments, and comes up with a piece of parchment. This he frowns at for a while, before asking, "Including th' profits I've made from furnishing your own Keep, m'lady?"

Warlan emerges again from the study, looking a good more composed than his first pass through the Hall, decked out in finer array as well. "Yes, well, that's much better. So, my wife? How are we setting for Court today? What can I do to help us prepare?"

At the approach of her husband, Damiante sets her parchment aside, bows to Warlan and reaches her arms out toward him. "Good afternoon, Baron, my husband," she says warmly. "I was just discussing the matter of taxes to our carver." After a brief hug, she returns to her seat. "We would expect only a portion of the profits you have made outside the Keep, Master Carver."

"Alright, then," the carpenter says. "Th' profits I made outside 'f th' Keep this month come t' 2850 Imperials, 'nd ten percent 'f that 's..." Jacib's expression takes on a thoughtful aspect for a few moments here "-285 Imperials." Budgeron capers to and fro, chasing an insect of some kind.

Warlan smiles, taking his seat on the rightmost throne. He sits relaxed and at ease, showing interest and some surprise at Jacib's account. "You've been busy Carver, that's a fair take, and I thank you for your hard labor. I do believe though, that you have been shorting yourself." Running his hands along the smooth arms of the fine throne. "I've seen your work and think you should consider charging your worth Carver."

Damiante scribbles notes on a parchment. "Two hundred eighty five," she murmurs. "Yes a good start, a very good start. But I agree with the Baron, if you have truly been so busy, you should be bringing in more for your work. Especially if you hope to have your own shop in town one day." Her face is placid, neither stern nor warning, rather she appears as one truly concerned with the carpenter's future.

"Most 'f what I made this month 's from this Keep," Jacib replies. "My allegiance being here first, 'f course. Now that I have most 'f what y' asked for done, I c'n start on work for th' other Keeps. By th' way, out 'f th' ten thousand Imperials y' paid me, y' still have four thousand two hundred some left in credit."

"Ha, then you're well kept I'd say." Warlan stretches. "And how is the workshop working for you? Have the tools and room you need? We've added a jeweler, who will set up a table in the corner furthest from the door. Do let us know if you have needs to be filled yes?" With that, Warlan peers about the empty hall. "Now, where are your fellow crafters? Where is that Smith, and the young Bard?"

Cat bats at a flying insect with a paw.

Damiante continues to scribbles notes. "Hmmm, yes then," she says. "Your pay this month is 580 and your taxes 285. Please keep the 4200 for other things we might need." She take a pouch from her belt and counts out coins. Standing, Damiante offers the Carpenter a handful of Imperials. "There you are then," she says. "And our thanks again for your beautiful work."

"A jeweler, eh?" Jacib repeats, a smile growing on his face. "Good. 'f I have anything I need, I'll let y' know. I just got back from Vozhdya 'nd 'n order for th' Duke, so I don't know exactly where they are. I saw Alainne in Vozhdya, though I'd expect she's back by now; 'nd I think Rinsha's around too." He steps forward to accept the money from the Baroness. "Thank y', m'lady; 'nd 't 's my pleasure."

Looking up at the sound of footsteps crossing the Hall, Warlan gives a brief smile, before covering it poorly with a sterner countenence. "Ah, and here is our Smith. No doubt the ringing of hammer and anvil make the heralds voice announcing Court unhearable." Letting the smile come out again, he continues. "We are here for an accounting Smith, to listen and give out as well. Well? What have you to say of your first month as a crafter here?"

Rinsha enters the Hall, looking a little nervous. As Warlan enters some of the nerves fade, and he takes another two steps into the room. This done, he bows deeply to Warlan, repeats the gesture for Damiante, and smiles lightly. "My Lord, I have much enjoyed working here this month. I have been well accepted, mistakes I have made have been forgiven, and my work is progressing well."

Damiante smiles as the Smith enters. "Good afternoon, Master Smith," she says. "We are pleased you have settled in well. All is well with my Uncle, Baron Astian, Rinsha, you have naugt to worry." She take out a fresh sheet of parchment. "As you may recall when you first arrived, as part of your access to Aerie Heights, we expect ten percent of your profits made outside the keep to help with the upkeep of the city. How has your business fared this month?"

Rinsha looks up into a corner of the keep, squinting his eyes as he thinks. "I have had several orders, Baroness, and most of them have been completed. However, I have not yet delivered any of the larger orders, those for the sets of silver armour, and so my total may seem low. When I recieve payment for them, be assured I will pay my dues, m'Lady." Pausing, he adds "I think that brings my total to around 4000 Kahar Imperials, so ten percent will be... uhh...."

Warlan speaks up "400 good Smith! And you may hold the rest until you have received your payments of course." Leaning forward in his seat, Warlan's gaze holds the Smith's eyes, "Who is it that has asked for silvered armor now? I am curious."

Rinsha's eyes fall, as he appears to be deciding whether to break client confidentiality, or remain loyal to his Lord. "Well, obviously Lord Lomasa, this information is only for your ears." He pauses again, before saying "A relative of yours, Lord Arturo Lomasa of River Turn Keep, has ordered a set. Also, a Lord Fael Mikin has ordered a set of silver armour for himself, although I am afraid I am unaware of his occupation."

Damiante scribbles figures, her finger tips darkening with ink. "Yes, 400, Master Smith," she replies. "And your wage is 580 this month, less the taxes." She sets aside the parchment and quill, and takes a few coins from her pouch and stands to hand them to the Smith. "There, a good start to your first month here, but like our Carpenter, I would imagine you are charging far less than the skill you put into your work. I expect you will have a greater profit next month."

Rinsha nods in acceptance, taking the money gingerly. "Thankyou, Baroness. The price I am going to charge for the silver armour sets will be in the region of 15,000 to 20,000 Kahar Imperials, so my takings next month should be substantially higher. As word gets around, hopefully business will continue to grow, my Lady." He bows again, dipping his head low.

Warlan nods slowly to the orders Rinsha details. "I understand your reluctance Smith, to let fly a confidence. It speaks well of your character. But understand that my duty as First Horselord keeps my mind to the safety of the Fastheld. Orders of armor can, on occasion, give a pulse to the noble's own thoughts as to how safe is their own person."

In response to Warlan, Rinsha smiles and says "Of course, m'Lord, I understand. If I suspect anything is amiss, I shall certainly alert you to the issue. Simple metal tools can wreak havoc in the wrong hands."

Budgeron rolls over on its back, stretching. Damiante sets her acounting parchment aside. "Have you need of anything, Master Smith?" she asks. "Any further assistance you may require."

Rinsha taps an extended finger on his cheek, thinking. After a moment, his face lights up, and he says "Actually Baroness, I do have one request. Will you be hiring a hunter to replace the former resident of the post? His health problems mean I am having difficulty obtaining some things for items I am making, m'Lady."

Warlan turns to his wife, "That is a good idea, I am certain the Chatelaine could find good use for a hunter as well. Shall we search one out?"

"Yes, of course, Baron," she says. "In fact, Master Smith, you and the Carpenter here can assist us. In your travels I expect you meet many new people. Offer a likely hunter the same terms as we've given you, and we can offer a bonus to you. That can also apply to the other positions we seek to fill, Steward, Healer, Tailor, Fisher, Forester, and such."

"Excellent, m'Lady Baroness. If there is anyone I meet who seems able to fill any of these positions, I will tell them to come and visit you to see whether they are suitable. Thankyou again," he adds, before bowing to both Baron and Baroness. "If I may...?" he asks, motioning toward the door.

Warlan stands, stretching for a moment, "Of course Smith, and you too Carver. We thank you for your hard labor and skill at hand. Good day to you both."

Damiante gestures to a servant who brings two goblets of wine to the dias. Diamante takes one and offers it to her husband, before taking the other.

"'nd a good day t' you 's well, m'lord," Jacib replies. He bows to both of the nobles, and continues, "There 's a little work I'd like t' get done. 'f y' don't mind?" He gestures towards the door.

Warlan bows lightly and accepts the goblet in a long fingered hand. "Thank you Dear Baronness. And shall we drink to our first month in this, our new demense?"

Damiante raises her goblet in salute. "Yes," she replies. "To our continued prosperity." She clinks her goblet against her husbands and takes a sip. "Of course, Master Carver. You may leave."

Jacib nods and turns to walk out of the Keep.

Warlan takes a sip and smiles a true and happy smile. "Thank you my darling. Now, if you will excuse me for a moment or two?" Warlan departs the dias and returns to the study.

Tomassa Zahir eases into the keep, sweeping inward with a jingling of mail and a whisper of violet velvet. The Contessa's helmet is tucked beneath her left arm as if an afterthought.

At the approach of the Countess of Hedgehem, Damiante stands and bows. "Excellency," she says gravely. "You grace us with your presence. Thank you for coming." She gestures to a servant who brings the Countess a goblet of blue star wine. He bows and offers the goblet on a platter. "Please take your ease." She gestures to a chair to her left with a smile.

The greeting of the Baroness causes Tomassa's face to ease from the faint, dark frown that had shadowed it. She inclines her head to Damiante and sketches a move that is half-bow and half-curtsy. "Thank you, Baroness. I received your invitation and was glad of it. It has been some time since I have had the pleasure of attending such an event."

Damiante remains standing until the Countess takes her rest in the chair near her. She stands with her hands behind her back, the throne behind her quite imposing, given her small stature. "The Baron my husband is taking care of a few last minute details, but will be joining us later," she says. "I trust your journey was safe?"

Tomassa Zahir exhales as she settles down into the chair and places her helmet atop her left thigh. She sips of the wine, smiles in appreciation of its taste, and then flashes a grin to the Baroness. "It was quite exhilirating," she admits. "My mount enjoyed the opportunity to madly dash across less familiar territory."

Damiante sits and takes her own goblet in hand. "You ride also?" She asks. "And with spirit, I can see. The Baron my husband will be anxious to speak to you. He favors those who have the same love of speed and horses as he does. Were you able to attend the Duke's last contest?" She takes a sip of her wine.

The scowl returns to Tomassa's face at -that- question, but she directs it toward the goblet in her hand. "No," is the short answer that she gives. The Contessa does her best to keep her bitter ire about the incident from her voice. "Duke Kahar neglected to inform me of the date and time, so I did not know of the contest until -after- it was over. Had I *known*, I would have been a participant."

Damiante's eyebrow raises at the light tantrum of the Countess, but her voice remains even. "Yes, well, the Baron was quite put out also that it had been cancelled after the first round," she says. "Though from what I hear, he came off the field vowing to take to the practice field immediately. His Grace hasn't announced the rematch yet, so perhaps there is still a chance for you to participate."

Tomassa Zahir's mouth slowly curls as she lifts her goblet toward her lips. "There is no 'chance' to it," the Contessa drawls in her husky contralto. "I -shall- be a participant in the next match. Did you hear of my victory in the first one?" she inquires before sipping the wine.

Damiante smiles and sets her goblet down. "No, I hadn't heard," she says. "Please, share your tale. How I wish my bard was here also, so she might commit it to memory. When did the event take place?" She settles into the throne as if to make herself more comfortable.

Tomassa Zahir drinks from the wine again, the fingers of her other hand negligently gesturing as if to indicate that the tale is of little importance. "It was a month or so agone. The Duke announced his contest and I thought to enter it for a bit of enjoyment. I faced the Duke's Warmaster and his nephew Adaer Kahar... and found myself the winner when they both were too injured to stop me from scoring my final goal," the Lioness humbly relates with a shrug of one shoulder.

Damiante's eyes widen. "You speak so lightly of your accomplishment, Your Excellency," she replies. "I have witnessed the Baron at many labaton tournaments, and to defeat your opponents so soundly is truly amazing." She hesitates putting a hand to her chest. "Meaning your skill must be quite high to trounce two skilled opponents. You and my husband have much to speak of." She chuckles and shakes her head. "His Excellency loves the tourney field second only to serving as a Horselord."

The Contessa quickly grins at the second mention of Baron Lomasa. She chuckles as she studies her wine for a moment and muses. "I do not know whether I love riding or fighting the most. It depends upon my mood, I suppose. On the field, there are always so many gathered to watch... but on my horse, it is just myself and the beast... moving as one across the ground. Riding might very well be my first love."

Damiante nods. "I too have a love of riding," she says. "Though I tend to trot less than gallop. Steam is a wonderful, but slow horse. Nothing like the warhorses my husband prefers." Damiante gestures to the Hall. "How like you our Keep? My Baronnes mother enjoyed this keep very much, but I hope to set our mark upon it. Our crafters have done quite well by us."

"It is quite luxurious," Tomassa remarks, gesturing with her goblet of wine. "With your family's skill at mining, the stone of your buildings is always marvelously crafted." Pausing, the Lioness asks, "Did you know that I am named for the Lomasas? My father's mother was of that House as was his best friend."

Jacib strolls into the Great Hall from outside, brushing a few annoyingly persistant woodchips from the sleeves of his tunic. His path takes him towards the scullery.

Damiante shakes her head. "No, I didn't know," she says. "Which Lomasa? I am not familiar with my husband's family." She glances at Jacib as he strolls by, quirking an eyebrow.

Tomassa Zahir looks a bit wry as she admits, "I cannot recall his name, I fear. He died before I was born. However, that is how I came to be called Tomassa. I do believe that the name of Father's friend began with a T."

Jacib disappears through the scullery door.

Damiante smiles and nods. "Have you many dealings with my own family?" she asks. "I have great hope of starting trade between our two towns." She takes up her goblet again and takes a sip.

Tomassa Zahir's rich, husky laugh tugs from her at Damiante's question. The Contessa finally seems to be relaxing. Socializing is not her strength, but she can ease into it after a bit. "Thankfully, no," she replies to the Baroness with a sparkle in her coppery eyes. "The Nillus remain tolerant of me due to the fact that I haven't yet had enough time to offend any of them."

The Study door opens and lets the Baron through. Looking healthy, hale and happy, Warlan takes the full Hall in at a glance, nodding briefly to the Contessa and his Lady wife as he moves to join them. "I find that same answer works for me most times, dear Contessa. It is good to see you, Lady Zahir. Though I fear I have only court life to offer you this time, the Tourney Grounds are finished and just waiting for the soil to thaw and dry."

Jacib emerges from the scullery, munching on the end of a loaf of bread held in one hand while attempting to remove a few woodchips from his unruly hair. A black and white calico cat follows him.

Damiante stands and bows to her husband. "Ah perfect timing as always, Excellency!" she says. "You can keep the Countessa company while I see to the serving of the feast.

Warlan returns the Contessa's laugh with a deep, comfortable chuckle. "Yes, you are right Contessa, all things in their time. I just itch for the saddle and a blade in my hand. So much is moving in the Fastheld now, yet I wait and the weather waits." He puffs his checks and lets the air stream out slowly. "Still, today is for celebrating what is and not anticipating what may be." Warlan gestures to a bench out of the way of the busy Baroness. "If I may ask, how are things for you South? Has the tension leveled out a bit? I will be reporting to the Horsemaster soon. I would like to bring him good news."

A long line of servants trail into the Great Hall, carrying platters of bread, wine and Mikin roast. Laying each platter carefully on the long tables that dot the hall, the servant march out in an orderly fashion. Near the scullery door, Damiante gives final instructions to her cook. "Keep the tables full and the goblets too," she says. "I am counting on you all." She clasps her hands behind her back, and head to the dias, her face flushed from the heat of the scullery. "My pardon, My Baron, Countessa. So many last minute instructions for my people." She settles herself back down on her throne and casts a wary eye to the servants.

Tomassa Zahir rises from her chair and moves toward the indicated bench, cradling her helmet beneath one arm and holding her wine in her opposite hand. "Tensions remain, but not so much toward my own person," Tomassa admits. Her attention is drawn to the food when its delicious scents reach her nostrils. "Everything smells wonderful," she reassures the Baroness, though she seems somewhat more at ease discussing more physical subjects with the Baron. Despite her gown, the Contessa carries herself with a confident stride that does not really match her skirt.

Warlan draws his own chair crooked so that he may see and address both his Baroness and the Contessa. Nodding to Tomassa's answer, "Good, that is good then. We have some time to sort and shrive. I wonder though, if..." Warlan breaks of as he spies the upright form of his Uncle enter the Great Hall. "If you will excuse me, I would ask that we leave this for now, though I brought it up." Standing and turning down the Hall, he raises his voice to a rich baritone. "Ho there Uncle, you've come. Welcome, welcome to you!"

The Duke of East Leg enters the Great Hall flanked by a servant, whom he dismisses with a nod as Warlan rises and nears to greet him. He opens his arms, smiling warmly. "Well met, Warlan, and hello. What a wonderful evening, aren't I right? I am glad to be here. I was all but jumping at this opportunity to tear myself away from the drudgery and leave East Leg in the hands of my capable majordomo. How fare you?"

A figure swathed in red arrives not long after, accompanied by a pair of guards. After submitting to the heat in the room by handing off her black cloak to one of them, Rowena lifts her eyes up and about to quickly study the hall while her hands smooth down the front of her gown rather bold gown. Unafraid to bear a touch of the permanent damage the cursed statue had thrown upon her, Rowena squares her shoulders and resists the urge to snatch and cower inside her cloak. Her eyes rest ahead to the hosts of the event and she's readied to greet them with a smile, however another Mikin hustles inside to tap her on the shoulder. A hushed whisper of urgency is spoken to her ear. Seeing that the hosts are still engaged, she nods and ducks back out of the hall.

Damiante stands and steps off the dias to join her husband in welcoming Sinon. "Yes, be welcome," she says. "Come! Sit! Let me show you what a Nillu can fashion for a feast!" She gestures to a bench near Tomassa and pours a goblet of wine for him herself.

Warlan takes a sip of his wine before setting the goblet down on the table. "We are doing well, your Grace. Both the keep and the household are growing well. Perhaps more importantly, we've both vinyards and a tourney field in place. Perhaps well see you visit more often?"

Tomassa Zahir pulls off her chainmail gloves as the time for the meal approaches. She tucks them into her belt and settles down to another glass of the wonderful wine. She glances up at Damiante's words to Sinon and the widowed Contessa's face grows somewhat bland as she looks upon the infamous Sinon Lomasa.

The petite young woman follows her mother inside the great hall of Aerie Heights with an apprehensive smile upon her face as she keeps close to Merielle, who...has just been called to return home for some reason leaving Sophia almost in a panic. It has been four years since she has been back and feels completely out of place despite her rank. Standing by the doorway a guard annouces. "The Contessa Sophia Mikin of East Bluff and Light's Reach." Sophia inclines her head to those present as she moves within the room. "Good evening. Please accept the apologies of their Graces the Duke and Duchess of Light's Reach, they shall be late."

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