Warm Shining Tavern
Like the great blazing torch towers that illuminate the four corners of this township, the Warm Shining Tavern does all it can to keep shadows at bay, with oil lanterns and torch-bearing stanchions as well as a fat-bellied fireplace of brown and gray quarried stone.
The tavern has no shadowy corners in which to lurk, by design. It is all about basking in some sort of glow and steering clear of the darkness. However, this does make for a sometimes overly warm environment - in the winter, this is fine, but during the height of summer, formal clothes and soldier's armor don't tend to be comfortable here.
A C-shaped bar made of polished biinwood dominates one end of the tavern. The rest is filled with round tables encircled by chairs.
Katrin is sitting by the fire, watching the flames silently, a small frown on her lips. The flames dance over her face gently, making her look mysterious, and very alone.
Varal sits stiffly at the bar, a mug of ale in his hand and a bowl of stew in front of him. An unhappy look is across his face, and he looks at the very least uneasy, if not uncomfortable or in pain.
Katrin shifts a little bit, seeming to come out of whatever daze she was in, blinking slowly. She waves down a barmaid, "May I please have a cup of tea." she says, her voice soft, yet still carrying well.
Varal blinks at the sound of a voice, and looks over his shoulder. His gaze passes over Katrin and most of the other patrons before he shakes his head. Grimacing, he takes another sip of ale. "Shadow souled wench," he mutters angrily.
Katrin looks around the room, her face actually paling as she sees Varal, dropping her eyes to the ground, shivering slightly. She wraps her hands around the cup when it arrives, trying to use that to warm up the chill that seems to have settled on her spine.
Varal murmurs under his breath as he drinks some more of the ale, and the beverage seems to be disappearing rather quickly. He spoons several mouthfuls of stew into his mouth, his foul mood showing no signs of lifting anytime soon.
Katrin takes a sip of her tea, almost spitting it back out the moment it enters her mouth. "Ew, the herbs must have gone bad." she mutters, shaking her head. "They should know to check the ingredients before serving."
Fionnlagh pushes open the door of the tavern, and slips inside with a little less than his usual quiet, most easily attributed to the clink of the chain mail which covers most of his body. Close at his side is a massive white wolf, though the warlike equipping is contrasted with a relatively cheerful mien.
Varal sits at the bar, ale in hand, though half drunk, and a bowl of halfeaten stew. He sits stiffly in his chair, his face unhappy and somewhere between uneasy and in pain. He takes another sip, shaking his head. "Damn voice sounds bloody familiar," he hisses under his breath. "Must be from, grrrr..."
Katrin sets the tea cup down as she sees Fionnlagh, rising to her feet, moving in that direction, "Master Fionnlagh," she says politely, bowing before the man. She smiles a little bit, "Snowshadow," she greets the wolf, patting the head gently.
The wolf nuzzles against Katrin's palm as she pats it, and its master smiles warmly at Katrin. "Well, well. Good evening. I thought I'd find you if I checked around town." A pause, and then he offers. "I was headed up north to try to hunt down a thief...wanted to check on you first. I don't suppose you have any need to go as far north as the Aerie."
Varal slowly sips at what little remains of his ale, peering towards Fionnlagh as the door opens and a quick draft of cold spreads across the Tavern. He frowns a moment until recognition dawns, and he offers the Forester a polite nod, as well as his companion, though he doesn't seem to know Katrin.
Katrin thinks, before shaking her head, "No, I'm fine staying here in Light's Reach." she says with a small smile. She pats the wolf again, smiling a little bit, "I saw Likan today." she offers. "He's back, even if it's just for a little bit."
Fionnlagh stands somewhat near the door, fully armored in chain mail and iron helmet, with a massive white wolf at his side. The wolf is rather happily nuzzling Katrin's hand as she stands before the forester. A warm smile dawns still further, Varal's nod briefly returned. "I'm glad to hear it....glad to hear it indeed. Perhaps you will not worry so much now."
The door opens again in another burst of cold wind to allow the entrance of Contessa Zahir. Tomassa strides into the room with her usual confident gait, left hand idly resting upon the hilt of her rapier. She is given pause for a moment to look over the room, but then she moves toward a corner table that will allow her to see the front door.
Another cold breeze enters the Tavern when the door opens, Varal's eyes widen a moment as he spots Tomassa, and then they narrow dangerously. Murder flashes across his face for a moment, but slowly turns to a polite mask. Watching the Contessa make her way towards her table, he offers her a polite nod, as well.
Tomassa Zahir stops. Right by Varal's table. She very slowly smiles at him, one corner of her mouth curving more than the other. "I do hope that you are not too terribly injured," the woman offers as she gives him a slight, polite bow.
Katrin steps back, nodding politely to Tomassa, keeping her eyes lowered. She also nods politely to Varal, though her cheeks whiten at the sight of him.
"I'll survive," Varal answers Tomassa with an icy smile. "A little stiff, a little sore, but a day or two I'll be back up to speed." Katrin's change in color is missed by Varal as the Contessa takes all of his attention. "I trust that you are doing well, M'Lady?"
Tomassa Zahir gives Katrin but a cursory glance as the young woman lowers her eyes in deference, but then she pays the peasant no more attention. She quickly grins at Varal when she hears his words, but she says nothing about his 'stiffness' despite the highly amused glitter in her eyes. "I'm very well," she says while attempting to keep a chuckle out of her voice. "And I am glad that I have done you no *ahem* lasting injury."
Katrin keeps her eyes lowered, returning to her seat, fiddling with her cup, though she doesn't drink from it, obviously thinking hard about something.
Varal blinks at Tomassa a moment, then mouths what he just said. His face darkens as he blushes heavily. "Not in that way, M'Lady." He curtails any further speech by quickly shoving another spoonful of stew into his mouth, doing his best to put his best face forward. "Though I would truly like to cross swords with you on a practice field someday. No dirty tricks, though, on either side."
"Give me time enough to fetch my own sword and I'll gladly meet you. Any day that you wish," Tomassa says without hesitation. "Though that may take a few days as I will remain here in Light's Reach on business for a while longer." Without waiting for an invitation, she seats herself at Varal's table, still greatly amused at his unintended words and, even more so, at his blush.
As Katrin moves to sit down, the forester glances around between the different people present, then moves to join her at her table, seating himself beside her with no particular preamble other than the clinking of the chain mail that cloaks his figure. A massive white wolf over three feet tall at the shoulders mimics its master's movements, curling up beside his chair when he sits. The forester leans to murmur something quiet to Katrin.
Varal sits across from Tomassa, a mostly drunken mug of ale and a nearly empty bowl of soup in front of him. Katrin speaks with Fionnlagh, who has brought his wolf along. Varal nods to Tomassa. "Though perhaps with practice swords, no need to spill blood. Judging by our stubbornness, one of us would be dead before we gave up. Better to simply beat one another into submission." He grins, "Though perhaps a wager would be in order."
Milo enters the Tavern, stamping snow from his boots. He glances idly around the room, skipping from Fionnlagh, resting for a brief eye widening moment on the wolf, going to Varal and Tomassa, a smile gracing his iron features. The Warmaster's hand snakes toward his sword when he sees who is sitting with the Forester, but it instead grips the edge of his cloak, as he heads to the bar.
If Katrin paled when she saw Varal, the woman looks close to fainting as she sees Milo Stone, Warmaster to Duke Markus Kahar, stride into the Tavern. She takes a breath, shivering a little bit in fright.
Tomassa Zahir studies Varal with a new weight in her gaze after his mention of a wager. There's something very wary in her posture now as if she's had trouble with wagers in the past. Or perhaps it is something else. "What sort of wager?" she curiously asks the Mikin guardsman as she curls one fist atop the table.
Varal shrugs, "Nothing significant, Contessa. I am not a rich man." He half-smirks at the woman before him. "But I'm open to reason. Just something to make the bout a little more interesting."
Fionnlagh's response to the near-fainting Katrin is to take her arm with a gentle hand, moving to rise....with her if she doesn't fight the movement. "Come...we should get you looked at by a healer. I think you've caught something in this cold, wet weather." His voice doesn't carry much, but any ears near enough to hear would recognize the tone of stern but not harsh command used to move a vassal to obedience. The wolf, naturally, is on its feat the moment Fionnlagh moves, ready to depart if he chooses.
Milo nods to Tomassa and Varal as he passes. "M'lord. Contessa." He slides past fionnlagh, with a quizzical glance at Katrin, and steps up to the bar, retrieving a pint of something black and thick.
Tomassa Zahir glances across the room to the movement, gaze falling upon Katrin and Fionnlagh again. She seems rather impressed by the fact that the man has a wolf for a pet. As she looks past them to Milo with a little, thoughtful frown, it seems as if she's trying to remember something. Giving her head a bit of a shake, she looks back to the man in Mikin livery. "Perhaps, if you do not wish to risk your coin, you might wish to wager a... favor?"
"I'm fine," Katrin gasps, her hand pressed against her heart. "Air," she whispers, standing rapidly, barely remembering to grab her cape before almost running out the door.
"Within reason, M'Lady," Varal answers carefully. "I will not betray the Mikin family, nor the Emperor, nor the Church." He smiles, "Not to say that you'd desire such a favor, Contessa. But, being reasonable, civilized people, I'm sure we can come to an agreeement." He leans back in the chair, the proverbial ball back in the woman's court.
Fionnlagh restrains Katrin from running, but does move her out rather quickly, keeping her close by his side, his face displaying concern for the vassal's health and safety. The white wolf, for its part, seems quite as impressed with itself as Tomassa is with it, head held high as it glides out into the snow with its master.
Tomassa Zahir nods and extends her hand across the table, uncurling it from its first to do so. "Very well. I win, you owe me a future favor. You win, I owe you a future favor. Is that agreeable?" she asks Varal with a lifting of one imperious eyebrow.
Varal shrugs, "Aye. A 'favor' it is, M'Lady." He reaches his hand across the table, firmly grasping her hand and offering it a quick shake. "May I buy the Contessa something to eat or drink?" he asks politely.
Tomassa Zahir clasps Varal's hand in a grip that's almost challenging, but she releases him quickly enough after the shake and waves her fingers. "Nay, I can fend for myself. Tis I that should pay for your own meal after the wound that I dealt to you," she says with a faint grin. "Barkeep! Food and drink!"
"Biggest wound is my pride, Contessa," Varal responds darkly, but truthfully. "The pain there is temporary, though it was well hit. And it would not be my place to accept your charity." He turns towards the barkeep himself. "More ale, and some bread," he shouts.
"Ah, I see," the woman says, knowingly. "Wounded pride is often the most sore of injuries. However, it is usually a lesson well-learned." She ever-so-faintly smiles as she digs into her soup and her fresh bread. "I trust that now you look upon armed women in a slightly more respectful light?"
"Not so much as I won't expose myself to such a tactic again," Varal answers with a smirk. "A woman's place is not with a sword, though you proved that you fight like a tavern brawler, Contessa. I can't help but wonder where you learned such. I pity the man who was your husband."
Tomassa Zahir laughs around a mouthful of bread before chewing it more and swallowing it. "I pitied him, too," she admits. "And could barely stand the sight of him. I was quite relieved when he died." Pausing, she tilts her head and honestly asks, "Is that a terrible thing to admit? That I felt relief rather than grief?"
Varal slowly chews on his bread and shrugs. "I've spent more time with a sword than a lady, Contessa. If you chose him for love, then your feelings are wrong. If you were forced upon him, and he treated you poorly, then I see no wrong." He grins lopsidedly. "Though somehow I feel that more likely you treated him poorly."
Tomassa Zahir absently gestures with her dagger before using it to saw off more of the fresh bread. "I did *not* choose him for love, you can be assured of -that-, my good man," she snorts. "It was an arranged marriage of the worst sort. Light knows why my father thought to saddle me with a..." She shudders in distaste at the memory, "Puny, whiny scholar of a man. I avoided him as much as possible after the binding." The Contessa's confession is matter-of-fact and not at all embarrassed. "There has never been a worse pairing in all the history of Fastheld."
Varal laughs, "Sounds like you merely want a man who's your equal, Contessa. He should have strapped you until you were obedient the first night." He takes a sip of his ale, shoving another piece of bread in his mouth. He chews and swallows before speaking again. "But there is nothing wrong with a lack of regret after an unhappy marriage, though one shouldn't marry unless it will work. That's my belief, at least."
Tomassa Zahir almost chokes on a bite of soup at Varal's suggestion for her wedding night. "My husband had not the will nor the courage to attempt such a thing as you suggest," she scoffs, giving the Mikin a narrow-eyed look. "And those of noble blood do not often get to -choose- their pairings, sirrah. Or have you not noted that there is such a thing as dowries and politics?"
Varal waves a hand. "I am aware, Contessa. My mother took issue with that." He quickly moves on, however, not sticking to the subject of his personal blood. "Nonetheless, a /proper/ marriage must work. Children are what bind more than a simple wedding. Political union is unsuccessful if the couple fights, or is it? How'd your husband's family deal?"
Tomassa Zahir shrugs a shoulder. "His family had land, but little money. They only had one son and needed coin to keep up their estate. So, they bartered him off to my father. His father and mine were distant cousins, so I retained the name of Zahir, thank the light." She relates between hungry bites of bread and soup. "We have a son. Our -only- child." She gives Varal a look.
"A son?" Varal says, taken by surprise. "A child deserves a father, Contessa. Though, there are certain necesary parts of a marriage, I guess." He finishes off his bread, hiding a scowl. "My initial assumptions were baseless and incorrect, please forgive me, M'Lady. How old is your child?" Somehow, he's having troubles visualizing Tomassa a mother.
Tomassa Zahir takes a long drink from her cider and puts the cup down with a slow and thoughtful movement. "Tomas is almost nine years of age," she admits. "I, ah..." She trails off and then purses her lips together to get rid of her discomfiture. "His father and I were not... close. After I found myself with child, I endured him no longer."
Varal looks Tomassa over, frowning. "You must have married young," he decides, speaking softly. "Though you should be more careful, if you plan on raising your son, Contessa. It isn't wise to throw yourself haphazard at young men with blades for simple challenges. You might lose your luck, and it only takes once."
Tomassa Zahir slowly grins across the table at Varal as she chews another bite of fresh bread. "Are you saying that my confidence is misplaced?" she asks, eyes twinkling.
Varal shakes his head. "Nothing of the sort, Contessa. Just that you have more to lose than you may think, and that you may be taking unnecessary and foolhardy risks."
Tomassa Zahir exhales and looks more than a little perturbed at the man's attitude. "Tomas is no babe. He's a very intelligent lad, though he does take to books more than I would like. However, he's also getting a very good education from my men-at-arms and he's quite fond of his nanny. I doubt that I spend any less time with him than my father did with me. He'll be fine. I do not plan on dying at any time in the near future."
"Babe or not, he is only nine," Varal says. "But it not my place to offer advice on child rearing. I know little of the subject." He takes a long sip of his ale, grinning slightly. "But you can't expect him not to show some of his father, now can you?"
Tomassa Zahir grimaces after finishing the last of her cider. "I can only hope and pray that he does -not-," she states. "My greatest fear is that I'll have to try to marry a sissy boy off to some poor girl who will be as unhappy as I was." Her dagger stabs into a wedge of cheese, pinning it to the board. "I'm doing all that I can to insure that the lad is a -man- and not a mouse."
"Not all women want a bushdragon for a husband," Varal replies with slight amusement. "Some might like a 'sissy boy,' for varied reasons. But, with the light's blessing, he'll have your spirit."
Tomassa Zahir slices the cheese into two sections with far more ferocity than necessary. Yanking the blade upward, she points at Varal with it, cheese still clinging to the blade. "He'd better," she hisses. "I would've much preferred a bushdragon than the sniveling weakling I was forced to endure," the woman snaps in bitter irritation. "It was an entirely disgusting situation that I could not escape."
Varal looks at the dagger, but stifles any worry he might have, offering Tomassa a bright smile. "But escape you managed to, with the Light's Will." He reaches out and grabs some of the cheese off the dagger, taking a bite. "You really shouldn't abuse good steel so."
"There are a lot of things that I 'shouldn't' do," Tomassa mildly says as she puts some cheese upon her own plate. "But I do them anyway. Such as, oh, wearing armor and a blade and knowing how to use them? Yet, I never chose to be a Scourge. At least I'm not -that- full of anger." She takes a bite and then curiously looks at Varal. "So. No children. No marriage, either? What kind of wife would -you- not wish to be saddled with, sir?"
"One who didn't know her place," Varal answers simply and honestly, leaning back in his chair. "A wife has her place, and a husband his. They are necessary for a succesful household. Though, I do not fear it overmuch - a wife can be made to understand her place." A wry grin is directed at the Contessa. "Though, there are proper ways to handle women, and it depends on the individual. I would be loath to mistreat my wife, after all, if I ever had one. After all, she is my honor and one does not abuse his honor."
A smirk grows upon Tomassa's features as she listens and she does her best not to roll her eyes at the mention of a woman and her 'place'. "Ah. And is that why you dislike me so much, sirrah? Because I refuse to even consider that I -have- such a place and because I fancy myself the equal of any man?" she curiously inquires, grinning.
Varal tilts his head to the side. "Women aren't necessarily or inherently unequal. Mistress Weaver excels at her craft, possibly more than any man. I merely feel that it is not a woman's place to bear arms, unless she weds the church. Her duties are elsewhere. And Contessa, if I disliked you so, I would not have talked with you this long. I'm willing to look beyond wounded pride and pain. And I am no 'sirrah.' Call me Varal, Contessa."
"My father had no sons, Varal," Tomassa confesses as she settles back into her seat. "So I became the next best thing. The church... was not for me. I have not the temperament for it and, frankly, I think my father was happier that I did not become a Scourge. However, I am an able steward, a skilled warrior, and I fiercely protect and defend those near and dear to me. Bramblestone has never flourished as well as it does now. I am all that my father could have ever desired in a son, but for the fact that I am not male. He would be very proud of me, were he still alive. What angers me is that I have proved with my -life- that I can do a man's duties, yet I am still treated as someone... lesser."
Varal frowns. "Battle is not a woman's place for she bears children. Therefore, she must be defended. A father is important for a child, but not so much as a mother," he states firmly. "A steward and a defender are perfect positions for a woman as well as a man, but not a soldier. Forced to fight, aye, then fight, but don't go looking for it." He points at her sword. "You are a woman who wears a sword, you are looking for attention, Contessa. You would be hard pressed to deny it."
Tomassa Zahir slams one hand down on the tabletop as her face tightens. "A *man* can wear a sword any place that he damn well pleases and no one takes -him- to task for it!" she points out. "I see no reason that I cannot dress in the same manner. I see no reason why I cannot -live- in the same manner. In case you have forgotten," she seethes. "It takes both man -and- woman to make a child and there will be no more children if all the men are killed. I could be as great as Hartnek Lomasa or Mullis Seamel, but the Blades are as backward in their thinking as you!"
"Killing every last man is difficult. Killing half of all men is very difficult, Contessa. And we are not at a level of danger where everyone must be in arms," he says softly, maintaining his point while trying not to exacerbate issues. "A man was made by the light to fight and defend. While a woman is pregnant, she is weak and nigh defenseless, needing a man to protect here. Aye, your husband probably didn't do such, nor did you need it, but the risk still remains. And a woman is the caretaker of a child more than a man, and you can see it early. Boys fight with sticks, girls make dolls. The Light placed it in us, Contessa. Do you fight the Light?"
There is a scraping noise as Tomassa suddenly stands and her chair slides back and topples over. Her grip upon the pommel of her sword is so fierce that her knuckles are white. "I did not play with dolls," she hisses. "I fought with swords and I -reveled- in it. Do not tell me that the *Light* that openly welcomes women to be Scourges is the same Light of which you speak. It is NOT!" She bellows that last word in rage. "The *Light* is not the one that dictates such things of women, it is MEN! It is the likes of YOU!"
Varal is taken by surprise at Tomassa's explosion, his eyes widening and his hand grasping his longsword for reassurance. "I am a nobody, Contessa. But it is not men who stand in your way. It is society, and that is created by both men and women. Most women agree with me, and the wise truly do not play with swords."
"Then you are as much of a fool as I," Tomassa spits, eyes blazing like polished copper reflecting firelight. "And I pity those women who are content with a lesser lot in life. Let *them* be happy with it, for I shall never be," the woman announces as she kicks her chair further back out of her way. Face set in anger, the Contessa whirls to stalk out of the tavern with livid steps.
Varal watches the Contessa's retreat, shaking his head. "M'Lady, may the Light Shine upon you, but watch your temper. He, and she, who lives on the edge of a sword will cut themself."
"Poor Lady Lomasa! Kidnapped! KIDNAPPED!" A somewhat plump and melodramatic woman proclaims to her equally sympathetic friends "Kidnapped and KILLED! Oooh my stars! That poor poor girl! POOR poor girl!"
Tomassa Zahir hears the exclamation about Lady Lomasa and pauses, looking to the table where Fionnlagh sat earlier. She looks thoughtful as she pauses, but then she growls and continues outward.
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