Lightholder Tavern <Palace District>

It is said - primarily by the proprietor, a jovial merchant-classer named Solas Creek - that all roads in Fastheld lead to the Lightholder Tavern. On any given night, it's not hard to see why he might justify such a claim.
The pub, which started centuries ago as a small refreshment wagon for laborers building Fastheld Keep atop Caryas Hill, sees boisterous crowds filling its rafters with laughter and pipe smoke at all hours of the day and night as travelers make their way through the realm.
About three dozen tables are arranged among the polished wooden columns on which hang the wrought-iron lanterns that help give the tavern its name. Solas or one of his assistants can usually be found working behind a wide C-shaped counter, serving mugs of keg-tapped ale to thirsty patrons who stand at the bar.
The floor is strewn with amber rushes, except in a circle of about twenty feet in diameter, where the stone fireplace and chimney rise toward the ceiling.
There is a large crowd gathered here.

Rubbing the chill from her gloveless hands as she arrives in the doorway, Rowena Mikin welcomes the rush of warmth to her face with a smile. Her steps guide her straight towards the fire while furred cloak sheds itself to lay over her arm. A guardsmen watches her from the door but does not shadow her every move. With a silent demeanor, she takes a seat without much glance to the others, mind focusing elsewhere for the timebeing.

The dog at Hartnek's feet bumps against his leg and whimpers softly. The Blademaster sighs, drops a bread crust on the floor, then goes back to eating his stew.

Solas Creek refills the mug of a waiting merchant.

After seating herself as close to the flames as she can get, Rowena pulls a leather-bound book of sorts from her satchel and a tiny vial of ink with quill. Knowing full well that a tavern is a strange place to be doing her work but not letting the social oddity phase her, she pushes a handful of hair over her shoulder and flips through the delicate pages to her newest entry. With hurried dip of the quill, she begins to scribble down last thoughts before they become overrun with desire for food.

Lips mumbling the notes she writes, Rowena finishes the last sentence with an elaborate swirl and dot of the ink. Her breath puffs out with a tirumphant nod and glance about. While her left hand tucks the book away, her right lifts to hail a barmaid.

A barmaid reroutes herself toward Rowena. "Yes, m'lady?"

"I'd like a simple tumbler of water and loaf for the road, please." Rowena orders, then looks to her guard at the door. "Two small loaves." Nimble fingers scoop through her coin purse and produce a suitable ammount.

The barmaid nods, moving off to fill Rowena's order. She walks past Solas Creek, who talks with a merchant at the counter.

Rowena Mikin is seated near the large fireplace, her satchel dumped on the floor beside her. Her guard remains at the door.

Markus Kahar makes his way into the Tavern behind Duke Alieron.

Solas Creek works behind the counter, talking with a merchant while cleaning a mug with a cloth.

Hartnek Lomasa sits at a corner table, slipping occasional bread crusts to the mangy dog at his feet between slurping venison stew.

Alieron Mikin steps into the tavern, followed by Markus Kahar. He gazes across the crowds, attempting to spot who is near. His head turns toward the fireplace, and he recognizes his sister near it. He gestures to Markus, "My sister is over there, lets sit there." He points at the table she is at, and walks through the crowd.

Neerly speaks softly to himself "Don't know what they where off about. Seems a nice enough place to me. Good business for a bard perhaps."

Markus Kahar peers for a moment, "... sister? Oh!" The Duke straightens himself out, tugs at the corners of his garments and neatly dusts his beard. After all, it *is* the Lady Rowena Mikin. "Yes, lets." He gestures to a bar-wench for service.

Waiting for her small order, Rowena rests her chin in her palms with a listless gaze into the dashing flames. The leaf-shaped pendant twirls from its dangling position 'round her slender neck in the shift, the flashing light from the hearth catching the various angles in play. Her dark lashes slowly gravitate together. So tired... The barmaid returns with two loaves of bread and a tumbler of water, placing them on the table in front of Rowena.

The soft thump of the arriving food and drink jolts Rowena's head upright, eyes blinking awake with a smile and nod of thanks. She takes one of the loaves with her back to the door and stands...

Alieron Mikin glances over momentarily at Markus with a look though does not make it obvious, and strides toward the table with Rowena along with Markus. He taps her on the back, "Sister..."

Solas Creek takes some gold Kahar Imperials from a departing customer, then drops them into a bronze lockbox.

Markus Kahar clears his throat, watching the lady Mikin with worry. He smiles, "... do we disturb you, Rowena?"

For the nonce, Neerly folds his long legs under a chair by the door and begins humming a rambling tune while trying to find a suitable word to rhyme with Kahar, "hmmmm, mmm star, far, mar, bar, Rar..."

Once Rowena's heart calms from the startlement, she shall reply...Staring between her brother and Duke Kahar now with the loaf mashed in her frightened grasp, the healer gives a tiny nod. "A..aye." Her facial muscles relax from petrified to calmed. "I was on my way out, to ride back home..." Her eyes shift over their shoulders to the shadow of her guard. "Excuse me for one moment." Stepping around them and leaving them to watch over her cloak and satchel, she gives the guard the loaf.

Alieron Mikin frowns slightly, "I am very sorry I disturbed you sister." He moves toward her, extending his arms as to hug her, "What troubles you? I feel better now, and secure. As should you."

Markus Kahar arches a brow between the two, wondering as to what exactly would cause the scions of House Mikin such alarm. "What exactly would cause the scions of House Mikin such alarm? Surely, lady Mikin, whatever the offense... you have punished your bread enough? Let us be merciful?"

Hartnek Lomasa finishes his stew, sets the bowl on the floor so the pub dog can have at it. Then he gets to his feet and starts walking toward the fireplace.

Rowena escapes the hug with an ellusive sidestep and shakes her head at Alieron's concern. "It is nothing." She weaves her way back to the door. With a smile and murmuring of soft words, she hands the loaf to her guard who gives a nod in turn and takes a generous bite. Satisfied, Rowena pivots around as gracefully as she can in the boots and makes her return with slower step.

Alieron Mikin turns quickly toward Rowena, as he steps toward her, away from Markus Kahar now to meet her perhaps half way. He takes her arm, firmly, and pulls her to a side table. He whispers in a rather serious voice, "I demand to know what is wrong, now." He looks at her gravely.

Markus Kahar clears his throat, "Perhaps... this is a bad time for non-famlial-types to be loitering about. If you'll indulge me, I shall call on you later tonight, and we can all have a relaxing chat around the fire. I, however, should leave you two to speak."

Like a child repremanded before her playmates, Rowena frowns blatantly back as she is swept away to another table, almost stumbling in the process. Arm entrapped by her brother's stronger grip, she lifts her chin in protest and squares her shoulders. "Must there be a scene made here? I am simply weary from travel and wish nothing but to allow my feet to take brief respite. Your sudden arrival startled me, is all." Narrowing her eyes to burn into his with that air of sibling fire, she awaits release.

Markus Kahar nods, "Then, I shall make my leave. See you soon, Light-willing!"

Alieron Mikin releases, slowly, but with pause. He looks around quickly, realizing it is true they were making a scene. He says in a low voice, "My apologies, sister, but you startled me as well. I worry for you sometimes."

Hartnek Lomasa nods to Alieron as he passes. "Lord Chancellor. Lady Rowena." And then he continues toward the door.

Hoping for her brother's sake that the burning sensation in her cheeks is not visible to the others, Rowena sniffs and rubs at her forearm. "I do not need the worry..." She glances to Hartnek with a nod, then back to Al with a hiss. "At least keep it saved for the privacy of Light's Reach." With that, she turns and strides to her abandoned cloak and pack with a hawk-like stare to any seated nearby. Was anything missing?

Neerly nods to the Hartnek Lomasa as he nears the door, "Blademaster, good day to you."

Hartnek Lomasa stops, studying Neerly for a moment. "Have we met?" He scratches his chin. "I don't think we've met. I am sure I'd remember if we'd met. But you seem mostly harmless. *Are* you mostly harmless? You don't mean to cause trouble, do you?"

"Oh dear no," Neerly says, "I never cause trouble Blademaster, I meerly follow it about from here to there. And no, we haven't met. I am Neerly, a bard of little consequence but great promise."

Alieron Mikin glances over as well, following his sister over toward the fireplace. He looks over, maintaining his dignity, but realizing he broke his dignity in his outburst with his sister. He sighs, gazing over at one of the barmaids, "Bring me some wine, make it quick." He is in an ill mood, as he gazes back toward his sister. "What news have you that I may need to hear, sister?"

"Bard, eh?" The Blademaster's eyes narrow. "Well, see that you stay out of trouble. And perhaps consider a career of actual value, like a guardian in the Emperor's Blades. Service to the throne, protection of the realm. These are paramount." He crosses his arms. "Don't see much use in singing for a *living*."

A courier deep in his cups at a nearby table mutters about peasants vanishing without a trace in Hedgehem. "No great loss " he grunts "but Edgel always had the best gossip."

"Ah Blademaster," Neerly says, "one may think so, it's true. But how will the peasants stay happy without song. Unhappy peasants make trouble no? And how will the values of the nobles pass from man to man without tales of the legendary deads of their ancestors? You may pierce only one man at a time with a blade, but a song can pierce all who hear it no?"

"Nothing of importance comes to mind, save for that which is discussed between the ill and I." Rowena replies. Patient confidentiality? Peering through her belongings and deciding that all is in place, she gives a cautious glance to the dog then sits again in her chair. "And have you news for my ears?"

Hartnek Lomasa ahs and nods to Neerly. "Well, I think you might have a point, at that. Still, if you come into trouble, I will have no choice but to crack your skull and dump you in the Emperor's own dungeon." He waggles a finger at the bard. "So, have a care." He winks, then steps out into the crossroads.

"I will," Neerly says, "and you Blademaster, travel well."

Alieron Mikin shakes his head, "None other than that Zahir statue in our backyard. I am not sure if I should have it removed or have it chipped apart." He glances back at the doorway, spotting that the Blademaster is leaving, his eyes returning to Rowena's. He nods toward the barmaid as she brings his wine, taking it, and returning the coin. He takes a slow sip of it, taking a seat as he leans back to relax slightly yet still in dignified poise.

Solas Creek wanders over toward the door, peering at Neerly. "Roight. You plan to linger 'ere all day or you actually spendin' some coin? Don't care much for loiterers."

"Ah, the Tavern Master. Good day Master. I meant no offense, but having come in on the tails of people higher than my brow, I thought it best to wait a turn. I would love some wine yes? Then perhaps we can talk shop...

"It is merely a rock on which birds take roost and drop." Rowena replies cooly and gulps back a portion of her water before pinching off some of the bread. "Do not let it anger you. Within a year's time, it will be tarnished and weathered without covering to protect it. Any seeds that the birds may drop shall sprout and perhaps vine creep slowly up. For those who cannot read, it might even symbolize the might of the Mikin resisting the spite of the Zahir." She smiles weakly and nibbles at the bread.

The proprietor scowls a little at Neerly, but ultimately shrugs and gestures at the counter. "Sit. I'll see you get your wine."

Neerly moves to an empty spot at the counter.

Alieron Mikin shakes his heads, sipping his wine, "I do not want to let it stay there for a year's time. I do not want it to stay there for even a week's time. I want it down. It is preposterous. You know, just by rumor, every person knows what that dreaded statue symbolizes. It is disgusting to accuse my brother of something he did not do. I want it down." He slams his fist on the table.

Solas Creek walks behind the counter. He turns toward a shelf packed with carafes. Finds one full of blue wine, which he pours into a mug that's not absolutely filthy. In fact, it's rather clean. He slides the mug across the counter to Neerly. "Shop, ya said?"

"Yes, shop good Master." Neerly leans his tall frame on the counter. "It is well known that your establishment is the finest and best know inside the Aegis yes? And yet I find a significant lack in, one only mind you, but significant all the same.

Rowena's hands drop the bread in order to keep her tumbler from spilling on the jarred surface. Her eyes close with a heavy sigh and she peels off her right hand from the drink to place it over Alieron's fist. "It is a disgrace that an accident of fate can draw such loathing and retalliation from the Zahir family. I felt his pain when his son was trampled; it was a horrid thing. But if the placement of that statue prevents further bloodfeud from occuring, then" Her final few words are spoken with a firm tone, eyes opening to stare intently at his face.

"Oh, izzat roight?" Solas inquires. "And what might this jewel o' the realm be lackin' in your keen eyes?"

Neerly broadens into a comfortable grin "A voice, Master Solas. Your tavern has food and wine, a warm fire and much heart, but it has no voice. What you need Master Solas, is a bard here and there, now and then, to give your place a voice."

Alieron Mikin sighs deeply, looking down, then looking into his sister's eyes. "You do not understand, Rowena. We cannot allow this to remain on our lands, it is a tarnish upon our name, upon our House. It is a terrible symbol, and to allow it would be to show weakness." He sighs deeply, "Such is the way of politics. If we show a weak face, then others will think they may do with us what they will."

Solas Creek uh-huhs at Neerly. "Last bard choked on a pheasant bone while singin' 'Nillu Strikes the Lode.' Mind ye, 'e never really earned 'is keep. Got a cat what sings better. By the shadow, I wager that mongrel dog yonder could outwarble 'im. Still. A bard, eh?"

Rowena begs to differ, says the stubborn clench in her jaw. Not releasing his fist, she smirks and keeps her voice low. "I understand that if we do let it stand, that is a symbol of peace. We remain sane and let the other house fume childishly as it will, rather than join in the banter. I understand that if we tear down that statue, the words Duke Aiden spoke unto me the day he arrived to warn us shall bear threat upon all in our keep. If the Zahir cannot have a chunk of the earth risen, they will have blood or treachory spilled in payment. For how many generations are you willing to let this hatred between houses remain? How many of the defenses we need to keep watch against wildlings shall we waste in pitting against the Zahir? Hm?" Very carefully, she lets him go and bends to retrieve her bread from the floor, only to find it in the slobbery jowels of the dog.

Neerly nods "Yes, a bard Master. And not a simple singer, a bard. This tavern needs a voice out in the wider world as well. I travel a great bit, Master Solas, and trade words with folk high born and low, and those folk travel, often right past your door Master Solas yes? Any bard can sing, well most that is, but a True Bard connects things Master. Connects your door to the other districts, connects peoples thoughts of fine food and wine with your table yes?"

Solas Creek strokes his chin with beefy fingers as he considers Neerly's words. "You make a roight compellin' argument." His brow knits. "Yer name? Didn't catch it."

Alieron Mikin frowns, shaking his head, "Sister, do you not see it? They will always be in feud with us, for that is their way. They will hate us regardless of what we do. It is their way. There has been a feud, and the feud will remain. We risk more by appearing weak, we risk more by appearing to give in to their demands. They corner us in this way, do you not see it? If it were not the death of his son, it will be something else that will keep this feud going, and then on. They wish to embarrass us, and I will not have it. I may not tear the statue down, but I will find a way to fix this." He nods

"Neerly, good Master, I am called Neerly by friend and foe alike."

Solas Creek nods to the bard. "Roight. Well, Master Neerly, I'm willin' to give ye the chance to prove yerself. But mind the pheasant bones. Don't seem to mix with singin'." He extends a hand to Neerly, grinning.

"Very well." Rowena replies without emotion this time, listening to the moistened smack-crunch of the dog's happy meal at her expense. Her arms fold neatly over her chest where the cool of the necklace presses into her arm. "Although feigned weakness can be a greater defense. They may underestimate our forces...or as you say, some who do not know us truly may assume we are pathetic. But I'd rather let those petty wenches and street mongers gossip than create more of a scene. If you intend to 'fix' it as you will, I suggest an audience first with his Majesty."

Neerly's smile broadens again as he takes the Tavernkeeps hand "Will do good Master Solas, will do. We will bring each other good I think. "

Alieron Mikin nods, "I believe I will speak to His Majesty before I take action. He may have some wisdom to say in the matter." He sighs, looking off into the flames of the fireplace, he sips his wine. He turns silent, lost in thought suddenly.

Solas Creek nods to Neerly. "Well, ye pay for what ye eat and drink. Ye keep yer tips from the crowds."

Neerly agrees "Fair enough, Master Keep, keep your stocks up."

Rowena also falls quiet. There were other matters that Alieron had yet to inquire of the Emperor, were there not? She casts her eyes aside to glare at the watery gaze of the chop-licking pooch. Filthy mongrel, says the glare, but the pup is not swayed from his vigilant watch from her heels. With a mild snort, the woman turns her head and finishes the water.

Solas Creek chuckles and nods. "Anythin' else on yer mind, Master Neerly?"

"Yes, there is" Neerly winks, "I owe you for this wine I believe?"

"Think nothin' of it," the proprietor chides, smiling wryly. "It's just watered-down grape squeezins. I'll charge ye for *real* wine, next time." And then he's off to grab an empty mug for refilling.

Alieron Mikin continues staring into the fires, sipping his wine at a slow pace, though almost finished with it. His gaze turns up to Rowena once again, "I will speak to the Emperor tonight, when the court is less busy." He sips his wine, "I am sure his share of wisdom will help this situation."

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