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 that 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.
Though the night is cold, the Bronze Hall of the Horsemen is warm.
Though the night is dark, light flickers against the shadows.
Though the night is quiet, the silence here is quietly broken.
So is the way of the Great Bronze Hall of the Imperial Horsemen, lit by flickering torches of flame and light, keeping the night beyond at bay. It maintains a sense of serenity at this point in time, entertaining only a few men - and one or two women - dressed in Bronze Armor, and generally mulling around and chatting. Shields, Armor, and Weapons of Horsemen that have now left this world stand guard upon the pillars, watching the hall beneath the view of the stars that the louver provides between dark and puffy clouds.
The Horsemaster himself can be found sat upon the main chair that rests upon the raised dias, apparently alone and looking over a large and detailed map of Fastheld. The two seats that flank his own, those of the Horselords, appear vacant.
Glancing behind her a final time to guards and her own escorts, Rowena presses her palms to the doors and shoves slowly to open them with caution. In a few seconds, her figure, made even more slim by the shadows that dance in torch light, is swallowed up in the crack between the massive doors. Having left her satchel behind, she feels rather naked as her eyes gape at the impressive architecture. Like a child, she tiptoes a few steps inside, letting the door sink closed behind her as she peers up at the moonlight filtering in from high above.
"Good eve" She softly greets first to one of the few persons that glance her way. Her voice seems to grow in volume after being uttered, the open space throwing it about, and she startles at the sound of it. Her hands hold together before her waist as she gets her first glimpses of the domain while her eyes focus ahead at the dais.
Also a bit wary in such an unfamiliar place, a pair of thin, beady eyes, peek out from beneath Rowena's hair, around her neck. Zareef watches the hall in silence from his position, tucked in her hood.
"Late is the hour in which Lady Rowena rides to the Bronze Hall." The voice is at once both sullen and warm; an odd mixture of the two that speaks of a regal sadness of endurance of these times, and a general warm compassion. The voice is of course that of Serath Kahar's as if echoes at a volume that dictates the speaker is all too comfortable with speaking in such peaceful settings, a gaze of ice looking up from the map and falling upon Rowena, complimented by a mirthfully soft smile. One might also notice upon closer inspection that the legendary Helm of the Horsemaster rests not upon the head of it's owner, but rather on the right-most seat of a Horselord. "Unexpected, but not unwelcome."
"One slips away from the Bluffs when she can." Rowena replies, bowing her head before entering further. She moves slowly, allowing her eyes to adjust to the variance in lighting. "I'd hoped to continue our conversation after the races, but during the tournament, one of my own was wounded mildly and needed both scolding and healing...." A faint chuckle rises from her throat before dying quickly, her fear of making too big a noise stifling it quick. "I tried to return sooner, but as I predicted, my brother remained ill-tempered and kept me under close watch."
The Horsemaster allows a light sigh to sound as the latter comment is spoken, though the tone of his voice changes little regardless of his obviously feelings towards Alieron at this point in time. "If Duke Mikin were anything less than paranoid and discontent at this point, I'd almost feel dissapointed. But..." He gestures towards the free Horselord seat, seeing as it's currently vacant, allowing a soft smile to caress his features. "I won't tell Lord Warlan if you don't."
Rowena permits a grin to crease her cheeks briefly as she ducks her head with brief uncertainty before moving forward towards the seat. "As the youngest child and only female in my family, I've learned the art of keeping secrets, m'lord." And then, Zareef decides her give away his presence vocally, chittering softly and poking his twitching nose from beneath her hair. "And with proper bribery, I am sure that Zareef will keep silent, as well."
Serath quirks an eyebrow at the advent of Zareef, but seems generally amused by the small creature, and doesn't seem to mind. He was a Ranger for two years after all; he has a certain respect for animals. One perhaps befitting of his current career. "Well now, aren't you a little short to be a Horseman?"
Rowena laughs softly and finally reaches the chair. With great care, she turns and settles herself in, allowing the mongoose to unwind from his perch and climb down her arm onto her lap. "Now, Zareef, you must answer the man's questions." She lectures in a mock tone, bopping a finger once upon the animal's nose. Zareef rolls into a ball.
"Hopefully," Serath muses, looking from Zareef and back to Rowena once more, resting his left wrist upon the arm of his seat, "It was nothing I said. But, I digress." Rubbing at his cheek for a moment to evidently gauge stubble length, the Horsemaster finally regards Rowena fully, half expecting a question that has yet gone unasked, but deciding to answer it regardless. "So then, I have a promise to keep."
Folding her slender hands atop the fuzz ball, Rowena nods once with sobered eyes. "Aye, referring to the wily Tash Kahar." She prepares herself with a deep breath, able to brace for the worst possible news. "Tis better to hear it now than mull over it in future nights."
Zareef rolls over on its back, stretching.
"It all depends on your perspective on things." Serath notes, his tone remaining neutral although managing to retain that lack of love he has for his blood cousin, smile melting away into a solemn expression befitting of his voice. The name of Tash Kahar manages to attract a glance or two from those gathered in the Hall at the moment, but they quickly return to their own discussions. "Though the perspective comes with a list; some factual, some circumstantial. However, they all describe a man who is without honor, and one that is an insult to his lineage." He pauses, then takes a breath and continues: "Though unproven, I've heard a few reports that his conquest trail began with Lady Ishara Kahar. Evidently, she wasn't quite enough to keep him entertained, and so he instead laid his lust upon Althea Weaver, wishing to claim her as a mistress. However, after having been told by Althea" first name basis. A slip? "that he needed to seek permission from Markus," no title: Not a slip, "which he apparently did so. However, Althea declined his lustings for both her, and his benefit..." It seems there's more to come, but Serath pauses for an interjection.
Rowena's color blanches slightly, expression twisted between disgust and pity (for the woman). "Seems he has been a rather busied young man." She manages, condescending tone far from complimenting his 'productivity'. "So after his heart was broken, as he did so confess onto me, he sought another temporary solution to satisfy himself with." She snorts, offended, to say the least. "Such behavior is no different than the bucks in the wood."
"Sadly," The Horsemaster warns, "The Bucks have better behavior. It would seem that, after Althea Weaver turned him down, the rodent that is Tash Kahar took it upon himself to confess suicide as loudly as he could within the Gold Coin Tavern of Vozhdya, in front of many other people: Blades, Freelanders, Vassals. A noble or two. I need not tell you what a dent into the integrity of the Kahar name that was. Evidently, at Althea's rejection, he had "nothing left to live for". Until an hour or two later, where he apparently professed his adoration of your graceful self, Lady Mikin." Serath allows that to be taken in, before continuing.
"In the days that followed this sudden change of heart, the rodent was sighted a number of times at The Twins, and around Light's Reach. I hear reports that he took a liking to your bedroom, and was escorted out of Light's Reach at least once. There are also unconfirmed rumours that he, at this time, also took it upon himself to become 'familiar' with one Katrin, *in* your bedroom. Though how far his relationship with her, Dianna Lomasa no less, went I cannot say. In following the various annoyances I hear he's been causing you, another unconfirmed report dictates that he was sighted upon Adaer Kahar's horse just recently. However, that is the extent of what I know, and the source of my fury."
As the list goes one, Rowena's eyes grow larger, until they compete with those of the owls. Speechless for a moment or two, she vacantly stares ahead at a curious dance of dust particles in a moonbeam. Her expression wilts into one of grave disappointment, sense of trust insulted to the highest degree.
"If what you say is true, then the only greeting he shall next receive if ever setting foot into my home will be the cold steel of a rapier's kiss." She growls, causing Zareef to glance at her rare display of anger. "For weeks I lay near death in that bed and I thought it was kindness of heart that brought him hence. The moment I left it then, to pace the halls, he allowed himself inside!? I cannot even place a word for this...this abominable disgrace." Her knuckles are now bleached white with the death grip she has on the chair. Zareef rolls around on the ground.
The Master of the Bronze Hall allows a few moments of silence to flank Rowena's words, letting the quiet of the night follow silently in the wake of the furies. "I think..." he offers, softly, "You now understand where my concern for you has risen from, and where the vengeance of those Kahar buried in the Valley of the Blades emanates. However, it would now seem the honor of those Mikins who rest as brothers-in-arms have leant you their wrath also."
Rowena shakes her head sadly, peeling her fingers back from the chair to massage into Zareef's fur in a soothing effort for her own nerves. "So what is to come of this man?" She questions, still a bit taken back by the notion of him in her room. Her gaze remains straight ahead, neck rigid in deep thought.
"That remains to be seen." Serath darkly states, looking upon Rowena softly even if her gaze remains firmly fixed ahead. "I would have him stripped of title and name, for he lacks both the honor and integrity to do justice to either. However, in light of what Markus has done, and what was done to him in turn, I do not see this as something that shall come to pass. I would have threatened him with all the fury that my position can muster, though I wonder what good this will do in the long term. However, now your own scorn is set in motion, and now his desires are not expecting that scorn, I believe it will be..." a dark expression caresses his visage, "...a deep wound cut when he next meets you. Where he goes from there will determine what I do next, unless you deem it fit to bring this matter before my Brother, which I will support you on."
Zareef capers to and fro, chasing an insect of some kind.
"Perhaps it is best if he is left with fear in knowing that I'm aware." Rowena murmurs, her lashes breaking her sullen stare with a single blink before she turns her head to face the horsemaster. "I wish not to begin a petty squabble until he crosses the line further, for in that instance, swift justice will take place, at either the hands of the guards, or my own." Questioning herself inwardly now as to how she'd really react if she found him lurking her chambers, Rowena looks back at her furred child in her lap. "There seems to be an epidemic which has spread-one of foul behavior and intentions-and that is a disease that even I cannot disperse."
Serath inclines his head softly in agreement with Rowena's last comment, choosing to let silence be his elaboration upon it. Deeds have spoken louder than words, after all. "And so the dead have returned to try and wrangle sanity back from chaos, and restore honor where this no longer is any. To date, it seems to be going well, but I do agree..." he smiles, softly, breaking the mood with a gaze of regal compassion, "I'd rather the fear of your scorn, and my vengeance, be left with him for now. Let him sweat, and doubt, and worry; he deserves the sleepless nights and paranoia it will bring."
Rowena leans her shoulders back in the chair, ignoring Zareef's rolling around her lap. "Aye, if not twice-fold the worry he has wrought upon our house." She chuckles half-heartedly, glancing to the side at Serath's smile. "Ah, listen to my words...I should not dwell on such feelings of revenge. It won't help with attempts to pacify other matters." As Rowena chides her own rant, the mongoose shakes out his fur and takes hold of her sleeve in his jaws, tugging once to remind her that yes he's still here, and yes, she can continue to pet him. Opposite his wishes, Rowena frowns and plucks him off her lap by the scruff and sets him down upon her feet.
"Other matters?" The Horsemaster inquires, sparing a moment to watch Zareef's reaction to being cast out in the proverbial cold, before glancing back upon the Lady Mikin, his expression melting into a more neutral look. "Beyond Horselord Warlan's abysmal portrayal of what should have been an easy win for him, and your brother's paranoid madness, I know not of what else could be bothering you."
"The rift between houses Zahir and Mikin remain. Some of us are contemplating how reparations may be paid for the deed that long ago sparked this petty feud." Rowena answers without difficulty, hand lifting to tuck back a strand of her hair. "My brother, Orell, was accused of murdering Lord Zolor's son...his only heir. 'Twas exaggeration, of course, but it led to the most recent events of question." Pausing for a moment to recall the history of the mutual hate, she pretends to examine the nibbled tuft of lace on her wrist. "Before the statue was built, my family offered other things. Money, apologies, sympathies...the Zahir would have none of it, says Alieron. They chose not to duel, which cancels out the wish for blood payment." Her brows furrow with hint of sadness, tone softening. "Duke Markus revealed the remaining form of payment to me when we discussed these things." She shakes her head decisively. "And I will not hear of such barbaric ritual. We are therefore left as we started...empty in offerings, should we find a place to meet with the Zahir in council."
"Duke Markus's is not the wisest council to seek, however." Serath lightly muses, with good justification behind his words, but chooses not to go down that path for now all the same, keeping on topic. He again rubs at the stubble upon his cheeks with a free hand, the other remaining upon the arm of his seat as he contemplates. "Nor was your brother in his right mind by allowing a Vassal to turn away Zahir nobility without qualm. His only saving grace in that whole affair was the treatment of Lady Tomassa, for all that that was worth. But the situation has been made dire still by his actions all the same; had I not acted when I did, it would be far worse now. It would seem that some mediation will be required to bring a solution to this issue once and for all, without falling into petty squabbles as is usually the case. Perhaps if both yourself, and someone of equal sanity from House Zahir were to meet, some agreement could be reached, and that the terms of that agreement could be laid out."
"Me?" Rowena questions, arching a brow to his reasoning, looking to him with a great sense of doubt. "If such conference were to take place in that fashion, it would need to be arranged in secret. Alieron has already been disgruntled by my act of independence in this current situation, and for me to take the lead in more global matters would...." Trailing off, she shakes the thought clear from her mind. "I would be wise to move my things to West Bluff if I had any further hope of wandering the halls in peace, should he be left out of discussion. His position places him already in such a loftier place to handle matters of politics than I. I'd hate to tread over that mark."
"Your brother has already shown his aptitude for diplomatic relations with the Zahir, and they were not very impressive to say the least." Serath softly notes, his voice hinting at a touch of sadness at the thought of such blind bias. "If his outburst to Duke Markus was anything to go by, then any discuss that would involve him and a Zahir in the same room would not bode well for House Mikin. Though I mean him no disrespect by saying this, his blind paranoia towards House Zahir will do neither you nor him any good. Nor could such meetings be secret, however. Therefore, if it was not you attending, then it would have to be another Mikin that you trust, but not Alieron. He is too much of a threat to himself, and will only cause more damage to this situation."
Knowing this to be true, Rowena can protest no further. "I suppose that truth leaves little choice." She murmurs thoughtfully. "And if anyone should feel his wrath, I am most fit. He can only bark for so long." Her eyes close to block out the hall's serene distractions. With assistance from the pale lights, she looks to be in a state of eternal sleep. "Perhaps the hardest of the decisions will be to choose an appropriate person from the Zahir line to speak with. I've interacted little with that family, save for an account or two with the Constable, Tomassa. She, at least, seemed to have a sound head upon her shoulders." Breaking the haunting image, she snaps open her eyes, lips twitching into a smile again.
Into the quiet hall of bronze steps Alatar, seeming a little out of place in this martial hall in his old brown robes and his flowing, snowy hair and beard. Though beyond any doubt old, he still walks without aid, upright, on light feet in deerskin mocassins, glancing up the pillars as he passes by them, bound for the dais.
"Zolor Zahir is cunning, and a snake, but in a pit of Nightsliders he would be the least likely to bite without cause, especially if it would benefit in the long run." The Horsemaster states, evidently putting some sincerity behind his words as they spoken upon enduring grace, but not going to far as to portray trust within those words. "If there was one snake that could also eat all the others, Zolor would be it. I doubt that you will find any Zahir in this land with the nerve enough to challenge any decree he make. Lady Tomassa, however, may make arrangements that do not sit well with her house, which would not do you well. However, she may not, but the choice is yours." That said, Serath allows his gaze to drift, falling quietly upon an intruder to the hall; yet as who said intruder is becomes all too apparent, Serath raises a hand to signal that all is well to those who also look, allowing a soft smile to caress his visage. "Well now, times are strange indeed."
Thinking on his advice, Rowena also allows her eyes to wander, settling upon the elder figure. Seated in Warlan's chair alongside the Horsemaster's, she remains comfortable, knowing this not to be Warlan. Though silent, her gaze examining of the man, she offers an acknowledging nod.
Zareef perks up his dismal pout at Rowena's feet, and points a snuffling nose in the new entry's direction. The mongoose gets to his four feet and leans forward with a backwards glance to Rowena for permission. She pays him no heed, and once more, the trained creature sits.
Alatar's gaze turns from the pillars towards the dais, a smile warming his features. "Ahh, but why call times strange when friends come to visit?" he says, arms open. As he draws closer then, he pulls them back against himself again and bows, first to Rowena as the lady, then to Serath. "M'lady, m'lord." Then he straightens, and smiles grandfatherly again. "You'll forgive me, but that's as far as my old bones allow me to bend, and I've forgotten proper protocol in all these years among wolves and deer and birds."
The Horsemaster stands as Alatar draws closer; the smile of greeting and friendship that now rests upon his enduring visage remaining perfectly intact as he shakes his head at the old man's words. "My friend," he offers warmly, "You bow before no one." Evidently, here is a person that Serath Kahar, Sovereign Prince of the Blood, has a great deal of respect for. One of the few in Fastheld it would seem. Taking a moment to remove the Helm of the Horsemaster from the seat of the Horselord that stands to the left of the Horsemaster's own, Serath promptly offers it to Alatar, which causes a few glances of curiosity from those Horsemen gathered. Still, sparing a moment to look to Rowena, Serath softly notes: "I won't tell Vanamur if you don't."
Zareef chitters and sticks its tail out.
This provokes a quiet laugh from Rowena's lips and she offers a shrug to Serath as Zareef bristles his tail in a random act of noise. "It is not I you need to worry about." Clearly a jest. She remains seated at Alatar's approach, but welcomes him with a smile all the same. "I suspect your time living amongst the creatures had fronted you with both fierce and gentle creature alike, just as one may find in society's court life. I can assure you that I am far more lenient than many a beast in the wood."
Alatar laughs good-naturedly as he climbs the dais, nodding a thanks at Serath as he moves to sit. "Ahh, m'lady, if only that were true of more people," he says as he settles onto the seat. "But I find that you can even make agreements with the bog apes, about which paths are safe to go, and which territories mustn't be approached, and they are more honest and less greedy in these things than men. But thank you."
"This is to say nothing of Wildlings, the Zahir of the wild." Serath muses with a smile, speaking to Rowena for a moment before regarding the old Hunter. "Or so it is said. The Light knows they've had dealings throughout history... but I digress. What tidings bring comrades who were wilderness bound back to Bronze Halls, my friend?"
Refraining from smirking at the thought of Zahir parading about in beastile fashion, Rowena keeps in a respectful silence so that the old man may have freedom to speak as he wished. It seems he arrived in a perfect time to lighten her fouling mood. She bends forward with care to keep her neckline from doing the same, so that she may scoop Zareef up in her hands again before he becomes too curious with Alatar, and embarks on a sniffing expedition.
And wouldn't there be much to sniff on the old man! The multitude of scents -- of wood and leaves, of drying bark, of damp morning grass, of mud in rainy winter nights, of the sweat of sun and danger, of a good pipeweed to be enjoyed at the end of the day -- must be to the little creature like tree rings, telling of the years Alatar has spent in the wild as hunter, woodsman, and wandering herbalist. The old man shares a smile with the Horsemaster, and reaches to his belt to produce two pouches. From the one, he stuffs himself a pipe -- a long and spindly thing, chewed and rough --; from the other, two rings; one opal, one amethyst, and a silver necklace. "A friend asked me to return these to you," he says gently, holding the three pieces of jewelry out to Serath. "And asked that I remind you of days spent just as man and woman, traveling together."
The Horsemaster looks upon the offered jewelry for a moment, his smile melting to an expression of neutrality as he does so, the words of the old Hunter bringing a solemn quirk to a dark thin eyebrow. "I see..." he finally offers, reaching over to Alatar's hand, but taking only one item: The Amythyst Ring. "Those days have gone as times dictate, but not forgotten. However, only this ring is mine. I know not why she gave you the other two."
Oh, this is most interesting. Trying not to make it too obvious, Rowena casts a sly glance at the jewelry before looking down to Zareef and combing her fingers through his fur. Her ears remained locked on the conversation by that habit all females suffer from.
The old hunter sucks on his reedy pipe after having lit it with a bit of tinder and a flintstone, and shrugs a little as he puts down the necklace and opal ring on the arm rest of the seat he is sitting in. Propping the hand on his knee, he plucks the pipe from his mouth with the other, gesturing with its mouthpiece as he holds it by the bowl. "Well!" he says. "For remembrance of herself, I wager. I only serve as courier for these; I don't know the motivation behind sending them. But, well! My friend... I think you should take them in any case. Even if you store them out of sight because you do not wish to remember so clearly. But I won't take them back with me. I can't do that to the poor woman. And I gave my word that you should receive all three. Therefore..."
"Therefore I shall take all three." Serath interjects, finishing the comment, "Though I have no understand of why two of them are here with you." He sighs all the same, wondering when this loose end would finally be knotted. "It would seem that Althea has not taken the news of the Ranger she knew being merely a shadow very well."
The same woman Tash Kahar had chased not long ago? Perhaps this was source for his frustration. Mindful of the scolding an open postulation may earn, Rowena holds her tongue with even more keen an ear. Should I leave? She questions herself, the contemplation evident on her expression as she glances at the two men.
"A shadow?" Alatar says, groaning a little as he rises to his feet from the Horselord's seat. Holding his pipe in the one hand, he gently, fatherly, pats Serath on the shoulder with his wrinkled, old, strong hand. "No, m'lord. My lad. I see him, right here. Just as you were who you are then, and only hid it, you are now who you once were, and only deny it. Well! Alatar the Hunter would have never met, much less befriended the Horsemaster, lost brother of the Emperor; but he did meet and befriended Serath Greymist, the ranger. And the ranger greeted him as friend." He takes the hand from the younger man's shoulder, and returns the pipe to his mouth with a slight gesture, the holding up of a palm. "But, well! I know how you mean what you said. And you are right in it, of course you are right. No, she has not taken it well, but leave her with the memories, and the thought that the ranger remembers her. She is still worried about her guildkin, placing her energies there now, as, well, as distraction. It will grow over in her heart."
"I am neither Horsemaster or Ranger, for you speak of them as of two different people." Serath softly protests, shaking his head, "And two different people they are not. I am Serath Kahar; Graymist was but a cover. From Horsemaster to Ranger in death, to where I belong when risen. Yet, through and through, it was I who met you, not a Ranger. Today, I am who I am, only newer." Still, dispite the somber mood, Serath manages a smile all the same, "This is my place. This has always been my place. Althea is -" he catches himself, "Was a friend. Though I often felt she wanted to be more than that, and I to her in turn. But that was a dream that I could not give her, nor did I lead her to that dream by my actions. It was my friendship with her," he seems to say this for Rowena's benefit, to remove any doubt, "That I first learned of her courtship with Tash Kahar, and his actions towards her, and the sadness it brought. Perhaps it was my compassion towards that sadness that caused her to reject him, but if so then I do not believe this to have been an ill twist of fate, but rather one of good fortune for her to keep her safe from that rodent." Resting the back of his head against the back of his seat, the Horsemaster looks to the heavens beyond the windows above, "I can only hope that the Light deems it fit to help her get over the dream of something that could never be."
"Well, no worry there, my young friend," Alatar says with a smile, drawing his robe closer about him with one hand while blowing a puff of smoke into the air. "I'm certain she will. She's as strong-willed a woman as I've ever met. Well!" he adds, in slight exclamation. "In any case. I must scuttle off and about; there are stashes of hides to be pointed out to the tanners, and other such matters that need to be taken care of when I'm among town folk. And if I leave Stumpy at the stables a moment longer he'll eat the hair off their heads and come out round as a marble, and well!" He laughs, "Wouldn't I have to call him Roly-Poly then!"
"It would be merely one more name in your vast dictionary of names for him." Serath lightly muses, his smile now one of genuine warmth, as opposed to the shallow smile that was present upon his regal features only a few moments ago. "Though for now, I bid you farewell. I assume that your visit is an indication that you are now a man of urban lore, instead of wilderness legend?"
Zareef rolls around on the ground.
"No, my lad, and I never will be," Alatar says with a shake of his head as he stops by the step of the elevated dais, one foot already down on the floor as he turns halfway. "I've spent more years than your young life numbers to out in the woods, and though I appreciate a good pipe at a crackling fireplace, with a nice tea or warm ale in hand, my heart belongs forever to the woods. And, well, nature is a formidable woman indeed!" The old man laughs jollily, bowl of his pipe in hand. "She won't let me go until my time to leave has come, and believe you me," he adds with a wink and twinkle in his eyes, "that day is still far off. But I pass by the cities and towns more often these days, and the rumors I hear from all the wandering birds mean I know more of current affairs than I sometimes would like."
The Horsemaster softly nods at that, knowing the temptations that the serenity of the wilds can bring, and the tranquility they can bestow. "Regardless, you are always welcome in the Bronze Hall."
Alatar bends at the waist, a little stiffly, and his face is warm with a smile that spreads his wild white beard wide. "You have my word, lad, I'll make a point of coming here when I am close, and by the Light!" he proclaims, lifting one finger, "if it means beating that triple-damned blind and deaf mule to death over it, so be it!"
"The love you hold for your steed is touching." Serath flatly states, though evidently in good humor as he waves a short farewell to the Hunter. "Be well."
Alatar laughs, and lifts his hand to return the wave before turning away and strolling away through the hall, humming and brumming a tune to himself as he suckles on his pipe.
Chuckling at the man's supposed 'love' for his animal as he leaves, Rowena watches him go. "It seems that embarking on free journeys through the wild builds more character than for some who sit from dawn to dusk in office." She remarks openly, the touch of fond memory bringing a wistful smile to her lips.
"It does at that." Serath affirms, watching Alatar go before looking again upon Rowena, noting her own smile as it provokes a soft one of his own. "Though not always for the best; yet it seems to have worked out well for Alatar. Still, wilderness and the allure of adventure aside, why do I feel that you're about to ask me something?"
Brows arching in synchronized fashion, Rowena turns her head to look at Serath with the faintest of headshakes. "Well, if one feels a hunch, is it not true that they, themselves have similar thoughts in their own head? After your dialogue, I find little that has not been already answered, and what hasn't, well...is probably for the better, as I mustn't meddle in others' affairs." Smiling innocently, she faces forward again and watches Zareef leap off her lap to swat at a small fly.
Finding his hands to be idle, Serath places them atop the Helm of the Horsemaster that now rests upon his lap after having been placed there to allow Alatar a place to sit, tracing his fingers over the ornate horse head crest, and looking upon it intently for a few moments. "I just don't wish you to be under the impression that Althea was more than a friend, and that my feelings - or lack of - towards that rodent of a Kahar are fueled by some form of jealousy. I merely witnessed what he did to her after returning from a few months of tracking Wildlings, and in turn witnessed the extent of his corruption of my family name."
"Well, than the impression is wiped clean." Rowena replies, threading her fingers together to fold upon her lap. "As I would suspect any honorable person to be offended by his actions. We may trust, of course, that the light will serve him as he so deserves." Freeing her hands to relieve a tickle at the back of her neck, the healer pulls her cloak's cord around to lay flat.
"My concern is that, rather than turn his desires and charm upon another unsuspecting female once he finds no love from you, he will instead seek Althea again; and this time may gain her. But..." The Horsemaster sighs a little, "We shall see. Either Blade, Light, or Royal Fury will deliver justice upon him soon I hope."
"Well, if she's any sense, she will turn him away." Rowena assures him quickly. "And from the occasions I've spent with her, I'm certain she'd have no trouble in doing so. And as for myself, I shall hasten a request for a blade of my own to guard against future...fiends."
Zareef loses interest in his play and scampers back to explore beneath the chair while chattering his mongoose nonsense to whomever saw fit to listen.
The Master of the Bronze Hall smiles at Rowena's words; smiles for two reasons, be they connected or not. He apparently finds solace in her assurances for one, but the latter note about the blade finds his attention. "If it is a blade you wish, Lady Mikin, then the Imperial Horsemen will be happy to lend one to you."
Rowena's eyes deepen with an earnest smile as she declines the offer politely. "Oh, it is appreciated, but I've need to have one forged for my own use otherwise. I've was negligent in care for the last rapier and it found death beneath layers of rust and poor use a year or so ago. I ceased in my lessons and found no more use for it. However, I'd like to resume when the weather turns. As silly as I both looked and felt in the tunic and hood, it did seem much fun to dart about the yard." Almost laughing at the memory of her clumsy self waddling in padded trousers, she lowers her face into her hands briefly to kill the urge. "I cannot remember what possessed me to believe as a child that I could match my brothers in the sport."
"Strong will and determination, my Lady." Serath notes; both warmly and sincerely, it would seem. "Not to mention personal honor. You deserve more credit than you give yourself. I've seen it for myself: Attempting to climb atop a horse while wounded, and doing so regardless of personal humility. You'd make a fine rider of the Horsemen, if such things were permitted. It is a shame they are not."
Feeling the flesh of her cheeks burn, Rowena toys with the edgings of her cloak with a humbled smile. "Oh no...no. I thank ye for the compliment, but many times my *horse* has lead *me* along the road of his choice. I may balance and persuade him to obey me from time to time, but his will often topples mine. I could never completely control something his size and especially not in battle. Not two months have passed since he lead me straight into the river, in fact." Nodding with emphasis of her point, she deems herself unfit of that ability and stops the idle fidget.
"I would call it less a compliment than the truth, Lady Rowena. Yet, as you say, perhaps I am wrong about your ability with a horse; though, watching Warlan's antics with his own steed only recently, I cannot say that you'd have tough opposition when it comes to said skill." Still, the point noted, Serath waves a dismissive hand, allowing the matter to drop. "Though I would have liked to have seen you ride into a river." Though the matter is dropped, there's still time for a light tease to recover the mood.
"Hah." Rowena says as a statement more than a mirthful laugh. "It was not a comical trip, as you may think, m'lord. The maddened steed wove between trees on unstable ground at such a speed that I cannot describe. I have never felt such pain as the sting that icy waters make against flesh and rocky currents. Nor have I ever been so humiliated. Had Duke Markus and his men not been accompanying me that night, my horse would have wandered lame through the trees before perishing of chill, and my body would have washed up in some faraway land, missing one boot." Oddly enough, a smile crosses her lips and light chuckle emerges. "The notion, of course, was humorous once I had recovered. I transformed in the blink of an eye from soaring bird to floundering fish from the time I left his back and crashed into the waters."
"Had Duke Markus and his men not been accompanying you that night," The Horsemaster repeats in a mirthful matter-of-factly tone, quirking an eyebrow, "I fail to see what difference would have been made. From the sound of things, they weren't much help. Yet, in hindsight... no, I probably would not have liked to see that. At the very least, I would not have enjoyed seeing you nearly freeze. I do wonder why you keep such a horse though, if it is less a mount than a weapon of destruction." There's some degree of irony in his words; for what is a horse to a Horseman, if not his deadliest weapon?
Zareef rolls around on the ground.
"Well, it would be like abandoning a child." Rowena explains with a small sigh, gesturing her hands limply in the air. "He's not very thick, but larger than some. His coat is beautiful, but speed leaves something to be desired. Umbrus has a gentle heart, but furious stomach, and it is that organ which is responsible for so many of his escapades. Besides...now that he has only one ear, and a few marks to scorn his hide, I can't think of many who would fancy him for anything else but a fine steak, and that is simply too wretched a thought to think. I suppose I've grown attached to the animal, as much as he tests my temper."
"Then I find my question answered in a manner befitting of this very Hall." If not his deadliest weapon, a Horse can be a riders greatest companion, especially in battle; a thought mirrored in Rowena's words, and the slight nod of acknowledgement of them from the Horsemaster himself. Still, after a few moments of quiet, Serath changes the subject a little: "So what will you do now?"
Glancing away with half a nod as if to think of an answer, Rowena furrows her brows then looks back to him with a quizzical expression. "What shall I do about what? It seems we've covered a great many topics, this night." The faint sound of crunching from beneath Rowena's chair signals that Zareef has finally caught that pesky bug he sought after earlier.
"About your brother." Serath softly states in elaboration, finally laying the Helm of the Horsemaster to rest upon the map that lays spread before him, then looking back upon Rowena. "You stated yourself that his temper towards you was not what one might currently call serene. When he receives news of that rodent, and of the topic of the Zahir, it will likely not get much better."
"Oh." Rowena responds softly, a swift glance of question from her eyes to the floor indicating that she is concerned about the animal's meal, but her thoughts remain focused. "Well..." Folding her arms over her chest, she ponders this for a moment, and lets her gaze drift into the vacancy of space. "I do have the option of hiding myself in the home of my other brother, but such a thing is childish. I will simply reveal the news to him and bear whatever tempest shall follow with patience. While my fury may pale in the strength of his own, I can endure most of his rants without a flinch."
Serath allows a light sigh of relief at that; this being the person who turned Alieron into a muttering wreak not long ago, which must speak something of the Horsemaster's own wrath. A wrath that you wouldn't think to exist considering the man sat here, now. Still, those two long swords that sleep at either side of his hips aren't just there for show, nor is his title. "Then I would seem that I need not worry about you once you leave. Though I probably will anyhow. Still, should you need a place of refuge, the Bronze Hall will welcome you."
"I thank you for the offer," Rowena murmurs, resting her hands lightly on the armrests of the chair, "But I hope it won't be needed. In fact I trust that it won't be needed. As flustered as he is bound to become, Alieron hasn't laid a hand on me in the past, and I see no likelihood of him doing so now. The difference in our ages perhaps leads him to take on a more fatherly role, but he still can crumple beneath the weight of a woman's tear." Confident in that, she smiles smugly as though perhaps having used such a trick before.
"I don't doubt it." Serath admits, his tone speaking of warm amusement at such a claim. "Still, the hour is late, and though I'm sure that I don't need to offer you the cliché warning of this being a dangerous time of night and such, it would honor this Hall if you would stay safe within it until morning."
"So long as my guards have a place to lodge as well." Rowena smiles, accepting the offer. "For I never ride alone." Standing, she takes a step away from the chair and clucks for Zareef to join her. The mongoose scurries out from his hiding place, winding around her feet a few times before settling down to follow her wherever she is led.
Return to Season 2 (2004)