- It is the Third hour by the Shadow on Idleforge, the 17th day of Stormclaw in the year 624...
Arrow's Watch <Apple Village>
- Moving past the base of Arrow's Watch, one enters the ruins themselves and thus the outer-ring of the one daunting Watchtower: the eight columns that once supported a sturdy rooftop, which has since weakened, and some walls between, little of which remains today. Ornate lettering and symbols were once inscribed into the pitted stone, and so carefully was the craft completed that many of the ancient messages and lore are still readable to the keen of eye. The remains of stairs wind upwards to a mysterious destination. Those who dare to walk them now risk the peril of tumbling down.
- Stepping through the gaping maw between one of the many columns, one can see a broken iron hinge or two, suggesting that doors may have once shielded the interior from view where walls had not been erected. Faded colours of stone smoothed by centuries of pacing feet welcome you inside with cool serenity.
- At the very centre of the ruins, a tribute to perhaps the founding Emperor stands with his right hand clenched around a now invisible sword to point it skyward, though remaining a venerable figure all the same. Behind this statue, one can find a more recent edition: The Shrine of the Horsemaster.
Clear skies, a light breeze, and a soft chill in the air. It is the Third hour by the Shadow on Idleforge, the 17th day of Stormclaw in the year 624, and atop Apple Hill, around the ancient ruins of Arrow's Watch, Spring - as they say - has sprung.
Peaceful days are often considered wishful thinking; and yet here, within what remains of the once daunting Watchtower, tranquillity is what can be found. Indeed, there is little in the way of sound other that the gently hiss of swaying grass, the occasional chirp of an overhead bird, or the rustle of branches upon lone trees that call the hilltop around the ruins home. On this peaceful day, Arrow's Watch is inhabited by little more than spirits and memories of the past, and the serenity granted by the day that the Light has provided for now.
Spirits, memories, and one Horsemaster stood in front of an ancient statue of an equally ancient Emperor, evidently deep in personal thought as he regards the old monument, the paragon of the Light's Justice content to just watch as he waits upon sacred ground.
From behind a broken pillar steps Althea Weaver, a cloak draped about her shoulders, its hood down revealing a cascade of red and gold hair, gently wavy locks falling to her shoulder blades. She walks hands clasped before her and a warm smile on her face. Seeing the Prince of the Blood she stops, green eyes dancing with delight, and bows slowly, deeply, to one knee, hands outstretched, palms outward, fingertips a hair’s breadth from the weather worn earth. She straightens with equal reverence, hand to her heart. “Thank you for coming, Your Highness,” she says. “You do honour to me for answering my call.”
"Well, Apple Village is only a short distance away..." The warm words of the Horsemaster find Althea before his ice-blue gaze does; though the latter is not far behind as Serath finally looks upon his friend, shifting gaze from Emperor of Old to close friend, his expression showing the same form of reverence for her than he has for the ancient Emperor, though different in many ways. Removing his hands from the hilts of the two longswords that sleep in their scabbards upon adjacent hips, Serath proceeds to fold them against his chest before turning his body to face Althea fully, the edges of his royal blue cloak drifting against his bronze boots, and the greaves that attach to them. "...and even if it were not, I would have answered your call all the same. However, the Light dictated for me to remain near to Apple Town for a few days, helping out as I could, which I have been doing, and so..." he smiles at her bow, evidently deciding not to state that she doesn't need to be so formal with him, before finishing with: "...I have been. It's good to see you again, my friend."
“And I, you,” Althea replies with a smile and a soft blink. Skirts quietly swishing against the winter grass, she turns and looks to the North. “Tis a beautiful place they chose for your final rest,” she says a touch of irony in her voice. “I’ve spent nearly all my life in the East Country and I never tire of watching the seasons change.” The wind catches her hair and lifts it away from her face. She stands hugging herself, arms crossed beneath her breasts. “Spring will be here soon and the grass will green.”
Standing against the gray sky she resembles one of the ancient pillars, strong and fragile at once. “When I was taking my journeykin travels I would ride up to hills such as this in late spring to see the green grass and grain move in the wind. It reminded me of the juncture of the great rivers, roiling and windswept.” She inclines her head, then turns to begin pacing the ridge.
“Did I ever tell you I was born in Aegisport? I still remember the sound of the waves against to piers during storms, the creaking beams, and the sharp strike of rain against the water. I miss it --.” She chuckles to herself. “My father was a fisher and my mother a weaver’s prentice. She never got a chance to finish after she married my father, but she would mend nets while my brothers and sister and I played on the riverbank.”
She looks down, as if remembering, then turns again to look at the vista below. Another wind lifts her cloak into the air. “I think that’s why I bought that boat of mine last week. I told myself I was looking for new trade routes but I think I really just wanted to be near the water again. Have you heard the tale of my mishap?”
Serath shakes his head a little, causing the light from the sun to refract upon the Helm of the Horsemaster at different angles as the flawless and venerable bronze catches it. He takes a step or two closer to his head, the scale mail of his tassets rustling a little as he moves, each one sparkling as if forged of starlight. "I can't say I have, Althea." he admits in reference to her last question, "News of the Realm is a rare thing in Apple Town. The courier that delivered your letter was a rare occurrence enough to have a good number of the local Tavern patrons talking about it, after all. They seemed somewhat bemused that the realm actually hires people to deliver paper to them. I doubt that Couriers are a new thing for them, but Apple Village is almost timeless in its nature. It has a charm to it..."
He sighs a little, drawing a halt a short distance away from his reflective companion. "...just as you do. Though, no, you never really did mention Aegisport all that much, except for the occasional reference. Stoic Rangers have no real home, after all, and so prompt little call for others to reveal their own." He smiles at that, offering the in-joke.
Althea turns toward Serath and smiles in recognition to his reference. "Indeed my own thoughts of a home long gone are only recent. I left there when I was barely 4 years old and went to live with the Finethreads near East Leg," she replies. "Last week, I toured the Vohzd habor and I bought a keelboat, a pretty little thing actually. His Grace accompanied on one of my first voyages to show me the trade routes he knew. We were travelling back home on the Fastheld when a stray current took the steering from my hands.
She stops looking vistaward again, remembering. "We crashed into the bridge pilings and the boat snapped to pieces. I remember the sound and shudder, then I was in the water, the Duke nearby, sinking fast." She chuckles again. "He wore armour for a boat trip," she says shaking her head. "All that weight -" She breaks off and turns toward Serath, her green river eyes wistful, yet warm. She steps toward him, closing the distance between them, places a hand on his chest, and then presses her lips to his. Hinting of a passion long restrained, she lingers a moment.
Though Serath is not taken by surprised by Althea's advance upon him, and the kiss that follows, it would seem that he does very little to prevent it either; reciprocation is involved, until the Horsemaster - the Prince of the Blood of Fastheld - moves his head back a little, ending the link of Althea's lips upon his own. In doing so he remains silent for a few moments, his own ice blue eyes looking into Althea's very own river green gaze, an expression of serenity and affection for his friend resting upon his features. "Althea..." he whispers, allowing his words to trail off into silence before finally smiling, his words ringing of a normal tone now, "...Markus is an idiot, you should know that by now. He makes no verbal reference to the embrace that just occurred, opting not to taint it with words.
Long she looks into his eyes before speaking once more. "It is said you are an Avatar of Light," she says slowly. "A man dedicated to Truth not matter how stark or beautiful it may be. I believe this to be true having seen your quality as we roamed the North Country in search for Jessa and Alana." She pauses eyes tracing each curve of his face like a gentle caress. "I would give you two Truths today to take or shed." She places a gentle hand to his cheek. "The first you guess, I'm sure. I love you Serath Kahar and would give my life to you if you asked. I have loved you since that clear night together watching the Light dance in the North. I loved you even as my heart broke knowing we could not be together when you reappeared in your full power. I love you now in a place where all remember those who have gone before with honour and grace."
A tear begins to form in her eye, and a flush touches her cheeks. "But this other Truth, one I've hidden from you, is one I now give you freely to take even though it might sunder you from me. Because I love you." She bites her upper lip and tries to smile. Senses overwhelmed, she steps away, arms hugging herself once more.
"The Duke of Vozhd sank like a rock with all that armor. His body was so heavy when I took hold of his backplate. But when we rose to the surface once more, I was able to drag him to shore." She pauses. "I'd forgotten what it was like to walk on water. It's not like walking on the earth. Water is alive and flows beneath my feet even as I step across it, like a gentle swaying bridge." She turns once more to Serath, expectancy as well as resignation woven in swaying hair and green eyes sparkling gold.
Serath watches Althea intently through her confessions; the expression of the Horsemaster betraying none of his affection for his friend as he does so, nor forsaking any pride he has in witnessing her muster the courage to confess these things, let alone any adverse reaction to that which she proclaims to him. Avatar of the Light. Spirit of the Kahar. Conscience of the Crown. "And thus, my faith is put to the test." he softly whispers, a light and pained sigh resting upon his voice; a sound that doesn't seem to fit the venerable figure of divine fury that Serath seems to have gained a reputation for. Symbol of hope. Prince of the Blood. He abruptly turns from his friend, pacing slowly back over towards the statue of the Emperor, and then looks upon it in silence.
The silence is swiftly slain by the sound of the Horsemaster drawing his longsword; the shrill of metal awakening within its scabbard cutting through the serenity of the ruins, threatening to turn peace into war. Love into hate. However, it would seem that the blade is not meant for Althea, but rather the statue that Serath faces as he places it within the weathered hands of the Emperor of old, replacing the one that was lost in the dictates of history, before taking a step or two back away from the statue having granted the ancient monument it's symbol of power once more.
Hearing the whisper of the sword being released from slumber somewhere behind her, Althea closes her eyes and sinks to her knees, blind to Serath's intent. She has guessed this moment might happen and is prepared. She unbuckles her belt, and drops it to the ground, dagger still held in its sheath. "My life if yours, Serath," she says quietly, looping her hair off her neck, bare white skin exposed, the joints of her backbone like a string of round gems.
"You would reveal your love for me, confess your fears, secure our friendship as being something personal with a kiss, and then ask me to end your life, Althea?" As he looks upon the statue of the Emperor, his reflection dominant upon the perfect shine of the steel blade, the words of Serath Kahar remain warm, yet troubled. His restoration of the statue now complete, the Horsemaster proceeds to remove the Helm that rests upon his head, allowing the breeze to greet his hair with chilled whispers of acceptance.
Compassionate blue eyes again fall upon Althea; their gaze falling down her body slowly to finally look upon the forsaken dagger and belt as they rest sprawled upon the ground, forced to be companions of the rusted weapons of old that remain scattered upon the ground while the steel longsword takes an honoured place in the hand of the Emperor.
"When close friends ask others to cast them into shadow, then I can proclaim these as dark days indeed. Althea..." he whispers her name, looking back upon her flawless features, his right hand now falling upon the hilt of the remaining longsword as he regards her, "...that is not my decision to make."
Althea lifts her head and turns, her eyes darting as she tries to comprehend Serath's words, his decision. Like a windswept veil, red strands cover her face, green eyes rimmed to match her hair. "I do not ask release by your hands, Serath," she says. "But I know the penalties for being such as I am. And you have certain...responsibilities to your brother, to this land. I would not ask you to spare what must be done for the sake of what we share." She closes her eyes, her voice breaking slightly.
"I would not have you /harmed/ for knowing me! Would not have a doubt cast upon your character, your work sidetracked under the pale gaze of a Mikin who searches for shadows where they are not, and cannot see the Taint before him." She opens her eyes once more. "There will come a time when you may well be forced to deny me, Serath." Her voice softens. "To keep your brother safe, his kingdom whole. No weaver is worth his downfall." She pauses. "Should the Surrector finally come for me, I plan to spin such lies as to keep harm from those I love. Know them for the lies they are, then act according to the Law." She whispers. "I beg you."
"I am an Imperial Horsemen, Althea. My faith in the Light is unfaltering. My devotion to my cause, and the protection of my brother, can never be questioned, even when my character is. If you are indeed touched by the shadow, then I shall have no option but to answer your requisition with steel, and soak this holy ground in the blood of my friend." Serath softly states, then swiftly proceeds to draw the longsword that sleeps in the scabbard resting upon his right hip. The flash of reflective black metal gleams against the light cast down by the sun as the obsidian longsword is awoken by its master, eager for combat and blood as it finally called upon. It is a longsword of exceptional quality, befitting of the man that owns it, and the two seem to work together as if old comrades, maintaining an inseparable bond. It would seem for the moment that Serath will grant Althea's request, as much as it pains him to do so, as the longsword is finally swept into a combat posture...
...and then promptly lowered, angled around to a vertical position so that the tip of the long blade rests against the ground between his feet; the hilt and pommel of the weapon resting just above his waist, gauntleted hands resting upon the pommel in turn. It is a neutral pose for one of his kind, ringing of Paladin-esque dignity and grace. Imperial Horseman. Avatar of Light. "Yet you are no mere Weaver, Althea, as I keep telling you." He smiles warmly; fire and ice both calmed within his regal features, the wisdom and sadness of a Kahar born into a later time present upon his expression. Torn, but content to let his faith guide him, he continues: "I have never once suspected you of being touched by the shadow, and that is why I have no adverse feelings towards you claiming to. You may have 'walked on water', or you may have believed you were doing so in the confusion of the river, and with the fear of drowning upon you. Regardless, I suspect you saved the life of that idiot cousin of mine, which is more than he deserves. It may have been divine intervention by the Light, for all I know, as I would like to believe. Such things are not unheard of between the Imperial Horsemen... but, I cannot judge you, my friend."
Althea quirks her brow and wipes her eyes, before getting back to her feet. She tosses her head to allow her locks to fall behind her once more. A grim, yet warm smile creases her lips. "Nor would I ask you to be either judge or executioner," she replies. "I simply recognize both your duty as well as your sense of honour, and would have you know that my love will not fade because of what you may be forced to do in the future." She raises a hand, brushing back strands of hair from her eyes. The storm that brewed within them now dissipated, a calmness surrounding her. She looks to the vista once more. "Spring approaches, and new life with it. That is a miracle, yes? And a life preserved is much the same. Taint or gift, I chose to do what I could to save the Duke and I'm glad for it." The wind suddenly stills and her cloak drops silently around her once more.
"If you were anyone else, and if what you said was witnessed by anyone other than yourself, I would kill you where you stand, you know." Serath darkly states; his words are pained, but show no lack of sincerity. He sighs all the same; the chill breeze causing the flicks of hair that cascade over his fringe to sway softly, bringing an air of ominous contentment to this honoured place. "Yet, you are not, and I don't know if you did, indeed, "walk on water", or merely seem to have remembered doing so once you finally managed to calm down. I'm sure you're not the only person in this life to have remembered doing something that you did not when imagination turns travesty into something you can deal with. Regardless, the question now is, what do I do with you?" He smiles a little at that; the warmth of the expression breaking the steel of his dark words. "It would seem that your life is now in my hands; shadow touched or not. House Kahar is not a House that jumps upon the fears of Shadow and takes any small suspicion or consideration as the literal truth, but you seem to believe that you did, what you did, which means..." He sighs a little, but it's a soft sigh all the same, "...I'm now torn."
Althea chuckles and shakes her head. "I did not think to still be alive after speaking my story to you," she replies. "Though I am grateful for even this borrowed time, especially since it carries with it time with you." She steps to the ancient statue and looks up at the visage. "Shall we ride then to the Palace and see if my old friend Gell Mikin is at home? I am willing to take this burden of choice from you and set our course myself." She looks skyward as if her gaze could pierce the skies and allow stars to shine upon them. Finally she turns back to face the Prince, hands clasped before her, wind whipping her loose hair.
"No." The word, though short, is caressed with affection all the same. Serath shakes his head and falls silent, his steely visage playing host to an expression of tenderness, and slight bemusement, as he does so. Quietly, he lifts the longsword back up and, casting a quick glance over Althea once more, deftly angles the blade with the obsidian scabbard it sleeps within, and then proceeds to resheath it within, sending the vengeful weapon back into rest until needs dictate a call for it once more. "You, my charming friend, are going to repent for your sinful thoughts by coming with me to Apple Village and helping the people there as and when they need it. Your redemption for allowing your fears to taint you with ideas of Shadow will be one blessed by the Light by bringing hope and aid as the companion of the Horsemaster of the Imperial Horsemen."
The Longsword now sleeping soundly, Serath casts his gaze upon his friend once more, taking a step or two towards her, "The Horsemaster also dictates that, by the Light's command, you'll be booked into a comfortable room at the local Tavern where you will rest until whatever delirium you may have adopted from your trip into the river can be cured." His voice becomes suddenly more sincere, dipped in concern for his friend, "Though I am no healer, you could be suffering from the onset of shrieking fever, which is making you remember these things. I would not see such illness cause further hysterics in anyone; especially not you." Teasingly, Serath then proceeds to narrow his eyes at Althea, forcing his tone into one that, though only a pale imitation, is often used with Royal Retribution is required towards unruly Nobles. "Am I clear?"
Althea listens placidly, then chuckles. Her chuckles begin to escape her lips and then she is laughing, hand to her mouth, genuine mirth in her eyes. She coughs, attempting to stem the tide of her body's method of releasing the tension she has held in her body since plucking Markus Kahar from the Fastheld river. She laughs again, then presses her lips together as she bows. "I am your humble prisoner, Your Highness," she says, taking a step closer to Serath. "Your judgement sound and your kindness infinite, I will take what cure you offer me." Now close beside him, she looks into his eyes, the gold ring that encased it now dissipated into a thousand stars on a green sky. Love is a balm that heals all wounds, dispels all grief and though in her heart Althea knows the Prince has found a convenient way to ease his conscience, her love for him will not allow her words to trouble him any longer. "And if you deem me fit to be Your Companion, I shall endeavour to follow your every word that I may tread the path of True Light you set before me."
"You'll find that duty is everything, Althea. The greatest of joys. The deepest of sorrows. You need to remember that." Serath offers the words of solace without explaining their many meanings, allowing Althea to interpret them as she deems fit, though smiles softly once they're spoken, catching her gaze. "For the record, I hope you know how to play "I Spy"."
"Duty to You is no burden, in joy or sorry," Althea replies. "Nor would I call what gifts I set before your feet borne of 'duty.' But call it what you will, I will follow wherever you lead me." A smile brightens her eyes and her cheeks. "I /Spy/, Your Highness?" she repeats, again stifling a laugh. "I only know to avoid the Spymaster Nillu, but none of this other game. How is it played?"
The Horsemaster sighs at Althea's lack of knowledge of the game, folding his arms against his chest in an array of bronze upon silver upon bronze as he regards her... and then decides to teach through example. "I spy," he offers, "for the Light's eye, something starting with an..." Serath considers for a moment and, attempting to not make it obvious what he's looking at, gives the letter of: "...A."
Althea looks taken aback by Serath's words, her gaze sliding left and right, a quizzical look on her face. "You spy?" she asks, then a moment of recognition, followed by a playful grin. She kicks the soil a bit with the toe of her boot, revealing a sharp object in the ground. "An arrow?" She purses her lips to stifle yet another giggle.
Serath shakes his head, his smile and posture remaining flawlessly intact. "Nope."
"No?" she says, disappointment in her voice. "Hmmm..." She paces around the Prince then snaps her fingers. "Armor?"
"No..." Serath states, again shooting down Althea's guess, "But you can see the answer's reflection in it."
Althea steps close to face Serath. "The night grows dark," she says quietly. "I must see this reflection closely." She looks up into those eyes she dreams of nightly, then her gaze falls to his chest where she rests her head. "Althea."
"You're a quick study." The Horsemaster states in approval, meeting her gaze as she draws closer but betraying nothing in the way of friendship, regardless of Althea's advance, though holding her feelings and emotions close. "You're going to need to be, too, for between resting and waiting for people to ask you for help, there isn't much in the village below but apples." He smiles, "And more apples. And cider. And apple pie. Now, dry your tears away for good, Althea. Let's hasten to get you cleaned up, and put these pleas of death and shadow behind you. From wanting death to playing "I Spy" in mere hours. The Light is with me on this day, it seems."
Althea hesitates not wishing the moment to end, then finally eases herself away with a quiet sigh. "Thank Light both Flax and I enjoy apples so much," she says. "My eyes are dry and my heart full, Your Highness. I have passed through shadow and now relish the presence of the light in your eyes. Lead on, My Liege."