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The Bronze Hall of the Horsemen <Fastheld Keep>


The ancestral home of the Imperial Horsemen, this ancient Hall is long and wide, filled with shadows and half lights; mighty pillars upholding its lofty roof. But here and there bright sunbeams or elegant moonbeams fall in glimmering shafts from the eastern windows, high under the deep eaves. Through the louver in the roof, above the thin wisps of the smoke issuing from the flames of the torches that hold sentry upon the pillars, the sky presents itself in pale shades of blue, variant in tone depending on the time of day.
As vision adjusts to the low light of the Hall, one might perceive that the floor is paved with stones of many elegant hues; branching runes and ornate floral etchings intertwined beneath your feet. The pillars are richly carved, gleaming brightly with reddish-gold and silver, holding upon them beautifully flowing sunburst motifs, entwined with stars and botanical designs. The legendary shields and weapons of Horselords long passed rest upon these pillars; at once both solemn and proud and they stand guard over the Hall, and all who walk within it.
Maintaining an appearance of being thatched in bronze, the hall is at once both regal and majestic; caressed in recurrent horse motifs of many highly stylized forms that accentuate the sinewy strength of the animal upon which the Horsemen are so dependent. The finials on the roof cut dramatic silhouettes, while the raised dais of the Horsemaster and the two Horselords rests at the far end of the hall. Great doors, etched with flowing decorations that graphically commemorate the events of riders of the past, ensure that this place of honor and deed never fall victim to attack.

The time to read is any time, they say, as no apparatus, nor appointment of time and place, is necessary. It is the only art which can be practiced at any hour of the day or night, whenever the time and inclination comes, that is your time for reading; in joy or sorrow, health or illness.

To say that there has been a change in the Bronze Hall of the Imperial Horsemen as of late would be an understatement indeed. For where there once were Knights of the Horseguard within these hallowed halls, now only shadows and silence remain. Where there were once plans schemed and missions assigned, now only flickers of firelight and memory hold court. Where once there were Horselords to advise a Horsemaster, now books and tomes offer council.

Indeed, it would seem that books - those immortal sons deifying their sires - have formed a new elite guard around the Prince of the Blood as he sits upon the Horsemaster's Throne, casually flicking through the pages of a large leather-bound tome as pillars of treatises, lexicons, dissertations, and volumes, rest quietly upon the two smaller Thrones that flank his own, and upon the ground around the immediate vicinity.

The sharp eyes of a marksman hunt through these pages; a Prince that has exchanged swords for words - for now - and in doing so created a terrible arsenal indeed.


And it is that quiet fluttering of pages that sounds to announce the opening of the door as a stiff breeze blows into the hollow depths of the hall. The quiet 'thud' of a heavy door back into the place from which it was hardly disturbed punctuates the wind's heralding. A new shadow moves between the dancing torchlight, carried by the whisper of red slippers and trailed by ebony silk.

The Ring of the Stars bobs like an orb for but a moment before becoming swallowed in the folding of hands. "Too much darkness will cause a reading man to become blind, you know." Lilts a voice of feigned caution, as Rowena pads past column after column en route to the occupied throne.


Eyes of imperial ice blue look up from the pages of the tome set before them without the slightest hint of hesitation as a curious - and, of course, warm - glance is offered towards the direction of the cautiously toned comment. The smile that greets her approaching form remaining a pure definition of genuine.

"Light and darkness seem to be able to blind people in equal measure." Serath purrs, offering a lazy sweep of his left hand to gesture over the general area of his newly established army, "I'm just not sure which is worse anymore."

If one were familiar with the handwriting of one Sahna Nillu, then one might promptly see that the tome that Serath is currently reading seems to have been written by the Duchess of Sweetwater Fields herself. The topics seem to cover a comprehensive spread of recent events. From the latter end of the Ravager Crisis, to details of the Light's Reach project, to notes on Archmage Zanorin Drakesfire, to recountings of the Wildlands Expedition and later conclusions on that which was found there. And that just seems to be the tip of the proverbial iceburg. Sahna appears to be nothing if not thorough.

"Although I'm starting to think that they're just aspects of the same thing. Which is most likely not something that'll make me very popular."


"There is a difference, Serath. The fusion of the two is only a result of what morals are practiced by a person labeled to be on either end of this holy spectrum." Lingering near the throne, Rowena stoops to run her fingers over some of the aged volumes as though by touch she may identify the contents.

"I hope to add to texts such as these..." She sighs, and parks her royal rear upon the floor as though it were a velvet cushion. Taking one up in her hands - The Standard Etiquette of Classes: an illustration of favorable interaction between nobleman and freelanders - Rowena makes a less than intrigued face, then arches a brow to the studious Prince. "Though it shall serve to pique its reader's interest while remaining of practical value." The document is lain back to rest with its peers with a silent 'puff' of dust from between the pages.


"White Dove Herald research." The Prince notes as Rowena dismisses the old book of etiquette, watching his intimate take up sentry at the side of his chair, before promptly standing and offering it to the Duchess. "Apparently, the Chancellor has become a bloodthirsty despot, which I really didn't expect. I'd ask him who died and made him Emperor, but..." Serath offers a small little shrug, and a smile that at once laments and makes light of his Brother's untimely death. "It wouldn't be all that amusing, really."

"Which is not to say that I don't miss him, Row." the Wildcat softly states a few seconds later, in his own defense, "Only that if I don't work my way through it, I'll just... I'll... I don't know what I'd do. I don't want to find out, either."

"His temper has changed..." Rowena murmurs solemnly, favoring to lean her head against the vacated seat rather than sit in it. "But try if you will to position yourself in the man's boots. Only then can you see the implications of your own actions through his eyes and understand." Raising her head, she extends a hand to him. "I spoke with him earlier this eve."


"My own actions." Serath states, rather than questions, in a tone as dry as the Ashlands. He places Sahna's tome down on the arm of the throne adjacent to Rowena's head, pacing back a little before halting and turning once more, bringing body and gaze back upon his Duchess, the edges of his longcoat shivering around his form. "This is going to be one of those "Poor Chancellor" conversations, isn't it? Should have done this. Should have done that. Duty demanded this. For all the good duty would have done. I had a duty, personal as it was, and I did it. And it /cost/ me far more than it cost them, hidden safe behind the walls of Fastheld Keep, surrounded by a thousand Blades, a world away from where I was..."

Though there's no anger to his tone - that seems to be, quite bizarrely, something that didn't survive the Wildlands - it's clear that there's no lack of hollow agitation in his tone. Not at Rowena, of course, but at Fastheld itself. And this is before Rowena has even elaborated.


"There is a larger, more immediate threat that Fastheld faces now, Serath." Rowena continues quietly, lowering her hand to rest with the other in her lap while her eyes shift to stare vacantly into the rows of columns. "From within. Its own people are growing further apart, as they have for many months. The Chancellor is not the only soul to feel this burden. The anxiety of being powerless to what fate demands the future must bring. This is not about cost. It is about saving what remains and uniting those pieces into strength once more. The Chancellor cannot do it alone. I know personally of a few that would revolt his commands simply for the sake of proving their discontentment. But such revolution will cost many lives, Serath, if matters are not brought to peace. It disturbs me as deeply."


"I have to wonder," the Prince quietly muses, looking away from the Duchess once more to gaze long and hard upon a set of crossed blades behind an ancient shield upon the side of a column near to the dais; no, not at the old artifacts, but rather through them, at some point behind actual vision. "What he was thinking by threatening to execute anyone - /anyone/ - found to be in connection with a parchment of writing that happens to hold a negative opinion."

Serath shakes his head, sighs, and then promptly and swiftly turn, steps forward, and kneels to take up a position in front of Rowena, the agitation of but a few moments ago now replaced with affection and, indeed, resignation to events take place beyond him once more. "The Chancellor cannot do it alone. He doesn't seem able to do it at all." he quietly offers, before sighing and mirroring Rowena's posture. Still, a smile eventually finds it's way back onto his roguish features all the same. At what? Who can say?


"He means not to be filled with such bloodlust as the writing suggested...I heard him question his own reasoning today. He wants only what is best to maintain order. He is waiting for you to come to him to take your place as Regent. If you hesitate much longer, his faith will be lost and he'll be willing to stand by you no longer." Unable to mirror Serath's smile, Rowena rests a hand on his knee. "It is time, Serath."


"I don't recall him ever standing by me to be begin with." The Prince notes, and there's just a hint of a warning in his tone as to what he thinks about that threat, "So I'm not going to lose any sleep over the prospect of losing something that wasn't there to begin with, Row." A pause, and thought, and finally the reason behind that previous smile is revealed. "You know, Sahna claimed that being instated as Regent - and I hate that word - was just a formality. I wonder if she knew how wrong she'd turn out to be."


A thin sigh of patience pressed blows unsuccessfully at one of the resurrected curls that hangs invasively close to her eye. "It's far more than a formality, for a child cannot fill the void in that throne. Not yet." Giving his knee a reassuring squeeze, she retracts her hand and hooks them both over her shoulder in efforts to hold in her escaping warmth. Listening to the crackle of flames, she watches his face intently, as if thoughts alone could traverse the space between them and spare her lips the trouble of the weight that the awaiting words posses.


"Well," Serath purrs after a few moments of watching the eyes that in turn watch him, and finding serenity in their depths, "I suppose someone has to save Fastheld from itself, and I apparently seem to be the most qualified. There's a Dragon in Ebonhold, one in the Wildlands, and one that... well, we don't know where Kas'arath is. There might as well be an Imperial one here in Fastheld."


"What is it that causes you to hesitate, Serath?" Rowena presses inquisitively, her brow bent with concern, overlooking the drake analogy. "Why is it that I may still find you hidden in here?" Ending with a hint of a smile, she shrugs the bothersome hair aside before nestling her temple against the arm rest once more. "Your horse still awaits you, you know."

"Nothing." Serath answers, he skipping around the horse comment as she skipped around the Drake analogy. Apparently, Dragons are something that have become a source of fascination for the Prince, rather than abhorrence. That answer, and the sincerity behind it, remains simple and clean enough to betray no hint of duplicity at all. "I merely had history, sleep, and time spent with you to catch up on. Did people honestly expect me to walk in from a year in the Wildlands, sit on a Throne, and take the helm of an Imperium with no knowledge about the events that had shaped it?" He shakes his head. "Not to mention the state I'd have been in."


"Would you be surprised if I said that yes, he honestly has?" Rowena mumbles tiredly and leans forward to scoot on her hip closer to him so that she may lean against an object of softer substance. "I know that you've a great deal of history to swallow...but perhaps you can at least meet with the man face to face and state your intentions. He will not hear it from me, as I have already tried in order to buffer whatever he may launch over you."


Serath offers a disarmingly affectionate smile to his counterpart that states that, no, he wouldn't be surprised at all. And, more importantly, isn't. Shifting his own position to offer himself as the pillow that the Duchess seeks, the Wildcat purrs, "I'll have to. And soon, it seems, before the Imperium devours itself."


A dainty sneeze testifies to the might of the dust bunnies that hover in the air above the books as they conquer the duchess' nose at last. Fanning the unseen enemies away, she cowers back against Serath's chest. "Please do. And I certainly hope that you aren't tracking any of this 'ancient' parchments' air into bed with you." Another sneeze and she blinks her eyes blearily at the mound of texts.


"No." The Prince affirms, pulling Rowena a little closer against him as they sit there together in the serenity of the Bronze Hall upon the Twelfth hour by the Shadow on Willowwalk, as a light rain patters upon the thatched bronzed wood that creates the elegantly decorated roof above them. "Rowena would get jealous."


Sniffing her approval, Rowena smiles to his jest and closes her eyes to the tempting sight of so many volumes. "It is good to know that they are dismissed at the door, then. I'll not be cuckolded by such intangible irritancies." She will, however, be persecuted by it for the present time. Warding off a third sneeze by pinching her nose closed, she squints and says in a nasally tone "I must make note to wear a scarf should I transform Sheltered Flame's forgotten tower into my study."


Return to Season 4 (2006)

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