West Bluff West of Light's Reach, two torch towers are kept blazing throughout the night at opposite ends of bridges linked to the majestic gray stone keep known as West Bluff. The keep, guardian of the eastern torch towers that help give the township its name, is perched on the edge of a sharply sloping bluff that overlooks the sprawling forest between Light's Reach and the Imperial Thoroughfare. West Bluff, also known as West Twin, was one of two ambitious projects devised by Light's Reach founder Fahral Mikin. In despair over the loss of his youngest son at the Valley of Blades, Fahral ordered twin keeps erected on the bluffs east and west of the town proper, to guard the four torch towers. The first castle, East Twin, was finished before Fahral Mikin died of old age. The second castle, West Twin, would not be completed until eight years later, under the guidance of Fahral's oldest son, Annath. A portcullis leads into the keep proper. And West Bluff Road juts southeast toward the severe, gray buildings of Light's Reach.
Be still, sad heart, and cease repining; Behind the clouds the sun is shining; Thy fate is the common fate of all, Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.
It is the eleventh hour by the Shadow on Idleforge, and it's /wet/. Very wet. A wall of perpetual water that falls with nothing in the air to blow it off course, remaining cold even in the relative warmth of the temperate night. Still, there is a common saying that flows around that the Townships that while some people walk in the rain, others just get wet. Serath does both.
At least, that's how it seems as he stands outside of the Keep of West Bluff, regardless of the vassals who peek at him from windows, wondering if they should try and usher him inside, or leave him be. The reddish-gold of his bronze armor gleams even greater from the moisture of the raindrops that cascade upon it, reflecting the warm hues from the protected flames of the nearby stanchions as he evidently waits for something... or someone. He's not /totally/ exposed to the elements, as the windowsill of an archer's window overhead helps stem some of the rainfall.
Shiningcoat, the Horsemaster's Warhorse, grazes nearby. Horses are oblivious to weather, it seems...
From Neider's saddle, The soft slurping sound produced by hooves in soft mud proceeds the mounted figure of Fael Mikin up the shallow hill leading to West Bluff Keep. He is, somewhat surprisingly, unarmored, though he bears his weapons as always. The Constable rocks gently from side to side as the horse slogs upward allowing the motion of his steed to guide him rather than trying to fight it. "Good Evening, Your Highness", he says to the Horsemaster as he comes up alongside him and directs a respectful salute to the Prince of House Kahar. "What business keeps one such as yourself out in the open on a wet night such as this?" As to himself the Constable seems quite at easy with the weather, not even bothering to pull his cloak tightly around him.
Standing atop the wall in their many posts are the Ducal guard, defying the weather with a stoney glare forward. The rain drops peck at the eyes, jerking a twitch or two from those less tolerant. The visitors below are noted with ease, not finding any suspicious nature about the two. And thus, they continue the stare-down with the spitting sky.
But one of the ghostly-white faces that peek from the keep's windows finally sinks away from view, candlelight fading to leave in its place a blackened void. Moments later, a fair-haired young woman ducks her head to the pounding water and charges her way valiantly across the courtyard to meet those at the gate. Her hair piece flops loose, a white flag sloshing now against her neck. Some huffs and puffs later, she barrels to a halt before the gate and dips her plump frame in respect to the two men. "My apologies." She pants and squints through the rain. "The other girl told me of your presence a touch too late. Come now...come inside the both of ye where it is warm!"
"The most important of all." The vague answer to the Constable's question flows in the wake of a return salute of respect, spoken over the hiss of the rain in a voice that rings of both sorrow and serenity; each bound to a regal yet casual purr of tone. His enduring features mostly free of moisture, Serath follows that answer with a warm smile, and a light shrug. "I doubt I need to elaborate. You can probably gue-"
The Horsemaster stops dead when the young woman dives into the conversational flow, watching her for a few moments in curious thought, before allowing a knowing expression to caress his features, prompting his gaze to move away from her and back towards the lights of the Township below. "You need not apologise; as I told the other girl, I have no desire to go inside just yet. After all, there *could* be Wildlings about, and we wouldn't want that."
From Neider's saddle, Fael Mikin's curious gaze shifts cautiously over the horsemaster's features before he smiles faintly and nod his head. Two drops of water form at the top of his forehead and slowly find their way down the lines of his face in a sort of slow motion race to the ground.
He is likewise distracted from Serath's words by the young woman's approach and chuckles softly, shifting his weight backwards in the saddle, "If the Horsemaster stays to protect us from Wildlings then I fear my duty lies beside him.", he shifts his gaze to the servant as he speaks, "The rain holds no displeasure for me."
The woman eyes both Fael and Serath with a bit of uncertainty, perhaps not sharing in the Horsemaster's logic. "If you'd rather join the guard here in keeping watch then I shall not make motion to stop ye." She says with a surrendered wave of her palm. "But if it is the Duchess ye seek, she's sense enough to keep warm inside. With one of 'er instructors, I think." Hesitant to leave the men in the rain, she backpedals a few steps through the gate slowly. "Just don't let 'er catch ye in this pouring. She'll likely have a fit should she be forced to fetch ye herself. Dislikes the rain, she does."
With that, the woman turns in defeat with a deliberate sigh and gathers her sopping skirts in her hand to begin a trot back to home. "Bathed by the sky for nothing..." she mutters at her state and slish-sloshes her way over the grass. The turned head of a guard above swivels back to forward position after he can no longer catch a safe glimpse of her rump.
Serath blinks once or twice as the woman gives her situation report. Then blinks again, watching her head back towards the interior of the Keep. As her words sink in, the Horsemaster can only look up towards Fael with an expression of the deepest curiosity. "Rowena's inside?" he questions, as if he'd been told otherwise, and thus constructed the entire 'getting wet' plot in the hopes of catching her return.
From Neider's saddle, An exaggerated shrug of his unarmored shoulders is Fael Mikin's response to the Horsemasters question. His eyes remain on the departing servant for a moment before he gazes at Horsemaster with a chuckle. "So it would appear", he says as he shifts his weight slightly in the saddle, "I had only heard that she was about and decided to stop in for a visit." Neider shakes his mane in the rein and the Constable reaches down to pat the beast on the neck. "Are you now more inclined to enter, Your Highness", he asks with a wry smile.
"Well..." Serath muses, pausing for a moment to gaze up at the night sky, getting a face full of droplets for his effort, before allowing a light sigh - complete with a defeated smile - to shine through the storm. "It's colder than the Shadow's heart, raining ice daggers as if the heavens are ready to fall." This quoted, (though from where remains unknown) the Horsemaster merely pushes himself up from his leaning position, and then gestures towards the retreating girl with a knowing glance. "Suffice to say, maybe Wildlings don't like the rain after all."
The courtyard is still again after the girl disappears inside, the only signs of life being the quivering puddles and occasional whinny from the stables. Another candle is lit in the keep's empty window and an ambiguous figure moves through.
From Neider's saddle, Fael Mikin nods his head, now suppressing the grin, and he turns his horse about with a gentle tug on the reins and gesture with his knees. "Well, then." he replies in mock seriousness, "Perhaps we should retire to the warmth of the good Duchess' Keep?" He motions for the Horsemaster to proceed him into the keep, then turns his own face upward allowing a cascade of droplets to outline his features before he proceeds forward.
Before Fael can look back down from glancing into the falling rain, it seems that Serath is already way ahead of him...
Receiving Hall The eye-catching centerpiece of this brightly lit receiving hall, beneath a gleaming crystal chandelier, is a large black marble sculpture of a sinuous mongoose with bushy tail and snarling snout in the middle of hurling itself at a vicious-looking bushdragon with flaring rills and slashing claws. Archways lead into the dining hall and ballroom, while double biinwood doors engraved with the letters HM mark the entrance to the keep's mastery. A spiral staircase leads up to the private quarters.
In the receiving hall, a single servant remains, bowing her head to each man in turn before returning to her task of polishing the mongoose statue. Aside from her presence, all is silent. The chandelier glimmers brightly to counteract the dismal evening. Warmth seeps from nearly every room and soft crackling of fire can be heard from somewhere. Peace...At least until the doors leading into the ballroom bump and creak open. A tiny, furred face peeps through to squint at the new arrivals. Stealthily, it darts back inside before the murmured voices from within can escape.
Seconds pass, then the door creaks open again, and this time the whole mongoose emergeswith an addition to his diminutive stature. A leather piece of which looks to be a glove dangles from his mouth. Offering the visitors a chirrup in greeting, the scoundrel streaks past them and up the stairs with his new found prize. Not long after, this act of thievery is discovered with a man's disgruntled 'harumph' and Rowena's strained groan of "Zareef!" Yes, he had exposed their whereabouts. Nipping into the leather with a careless air of bliss, Zareef ignores his lady's summons.
With droplets of water dripping off bronze armor in his wake, and a somewhat damp cloak of royal blue clinging about his form, the Horsemaster of the Imperial Horseman paces into the Receiving Hall with a casual air befitting of someone who's been here more than a few times. With once hand resting upon the hilt of the Lawgiver that sleeps within its scabbard, he stops just short of the Bushdragon sculpture, gives it the same 'they don't look like /that/' glance he always does, and then finds his attention caught by a small and fuzzy bandit. "Well now..." Serath drops down to a crouch as the scoundrel scampers in his direction with the bounty that's just about the same size as him, "I'm being waylaid by bandits. Small, fuzzy, bandits. Crime is afoot!" He pauses and, after removing the legendary Helm of the Horsemaster, tilts his head a little to the left at the Mongoose. "Or... underfoot, at least."
Fael Mikin steps into the Receiving hall a few moments after the Horsemaster. He definitely bears the marks of the rain upon his person, though apart from a casual running of his fingers through his hair, he doesn't appear to pay much heed to the dampness. He likewise takes note of the arrival of the mongoose and a faint grin touches the corners of his lips as he watches the Horsemaster interact with the furry little devil. His eyes twinkle at the memory of past carousing with the small animal before he turns his gaze towards the doorway from which Rowena's voice emanates.
"Are they?" The gate greeter's voice chimes in a huffed tone from above. "I knew they wouldn't la...what's this?" A squeak of protest answers her muffled question. "You fiend!" The mongoose is such accused, and thus makes a narrow evasion from the servant's hands and down the stairs again. A brown blur, he scampers about in search of a new hiding place. He pauses at Serath's feet to show off his quarry, giving the servant time to catch sight of him as she lumbers down the stairs, still wet.
"My apologies are most true, sir." Rowena mumbles from behind the ballroom doors, her palm resting flat against the wood in preparation to thrust it open and hunt a certain pet. "He only displays such antics to those he is fond of...truly." Yet her tone speaks of anything BUT concerned sincerity. Bored to her core with the insturctor's rant on proper posture, she dips her rapier's point towards the floor and butts her shoulder against the door with a ragged sigh, unaware yet of the company that waits just beyond...
"Once he tried to steal my scabbard." Serath notes to Fael as the Master Mongoose of Moonlighting dashes down the stairs and out of sight; glove and all. With a slight heave, the Horsemaster pushes himself back up into a standing position, scalemail tassets chinking in protest of such actions, before taking up a leaning position against the greater marble structure, resting back against its base. "It's twice the size of him, but it was amusing to watch the determination there of trying to steal that. I think he scurried into it later. If you can't steal it..." he shrugs with a smile, finally tucking the helm under one arm, "...sleep in it, I guess."
Fael Mikin nods his head simply as he shifts his gaze back to watch the Mongoose go blazing past, serving girl in hot pursuit. "He is a mischevious rascal", the Constable replies absently, "He and I have spent many an hour tormenting each other." He carefully removes his leather gloves and hangs them in his belt, while never removing his gaze from the unfolding scene, though his lips turn upward in a smile, "I can see him, doing that Your Highness. He's not one to take defeat lightly."
The servant girl pauses in her polishing task as Serath's wet armor sends a streak over her finished portion. She politely holds her tongue, but a shoulder slump is enough to signal she wasn't the most pleased. Sense warns her from 'tsk'ing the Horsemaster. And indeed, Zareef is not one to accept defeat, much like his mistress. His agile frame weaves easily between the less graceful feet of the maid and a constant string of chitters and grunts makes known his displeasure.
The Duchess tunes her instructor's irritating voice from her mind now as she hefts the rest of the door open to fetch Zareef...And suddenly, it's as though an iron rod had been thrust up the length of her spine. Rowena lifts her chin in startled stare, body rigid with weapon in hand. And less than ladylike attire on her person. Very much aware of the latter, she cannot help but to blush and lifts a hand to her face. "Of course I am to expect the unexpected visitors without prior warning. How ill-prepared of me." She announces to the friends that add to her hall's décor in attempts to recover from her surprise. Her eyes land predominantly upon Serath, lips curling with the faintest of smiles. "For such is not new."
"He went /that/ way." The Horsemaster offers in a return greeting to his friend; forsaking the leaning posture in order to stand fully upright again, a warm smile caressing his features. It might be lucky for the servant girl that holds her tongue to note that Serath did, at least, have the curtosy to ensure that he didn't step in any wet grass on his way into the Keep. Thus, droplets of water are at least all she has to worry about. "With a glove, no less." he adds, playfully.
Already upright, Fael bows slightly at the waist in greeting to the newly arrived Duchess, though he's astute enough to realize that she likely barely notices him. As he comes upright once again, his expression bears the faintest markings of concealed curiosity and amusement as his dark eyes shift back and forth between the Horsemaster and Duchess. The Mongoose and his antics are momentarily forgotten by the Constable. "Good evening, Your Grace", he says softly.
"Ah, so he's returned to the scene of thievery." Rowena murmurs and leaves the doorway in a long-legged stride towards the four-legged convict. "And good evening to you, Constable." A brief pause and narrowed eye scans Fael's way. "You're quite wet. I suspect there are dry linens in the guest quarters lest you wish to catch fever." Then, they are left to take the offer or decline.
The maid throws her hands up in exasperation and bumbles out of Rowena's way towards the staircase. She pointedly throws a glance to Fael and Serath. "Might I fetch ye tea now to warm your bones?"
"Zareef" Rowena's voice warns in her advance, but before the creature can zip away again, she scoops her left hand down and gathers him by the scruff. Holding him aloft now to put her nose to his, she arches a brow and whispers "Well done". Zareef is graced with a kiss upon his trembling whiskers before being offered to the man that emerges from the ballroom. Her instructor is perhaps middle age, dressed in finery he's lucky to afford. "Here now is your glove." She states and allows the man to take it from the mongoose's mouth himself. "I believe that ends our session.""
The bronze-gauntleted hand that's raised to the maid remains indictive of Serath's decline of the offer of tea, the Horsemaster instead more occupied with the exhange between the Duchess and the Instructor (Mongoose and all) for the moment, watching on with an amused smile. He looks poised to put the fear of Kahar into said man if he should invoke a certain tone of boredrom from Rowena again.
A curt shake of his head is Fael's response, "Thank you for the kind offer, Your Grace", he says with a faint bow of his head, "Though I will be out in the rain again soon enough that there is little point in getting dry in the intervening moments." He tilts his head slightly to the side has he watches the interaction between the Duchess and her trainer, though his own expression betrays only curiosity and perhaps a touch of disdain for the fencer. He then turns his gaze towards the servant girl, "No thank you, miss", he says softly and politely to her, with a bob of his head.
"Good eve then to ye both. I'm to retire." The maid announces and casts Rowena a wink from behind their backs on her way out the door. It's received with a terse dip of Row's brow.
"Oh, very well then." The fencer hurriedly agrees with a cautious look in Fael and Serath's direction. He clears his throat, snatches the glove from Zareef's teeth and hastily stuffs his hand inside. "Just remember"
"Yes, I shall." Rowena nods sagely and brandishes the glinting blade with an extra flourish of her arm, perhaps exaggerating what she was taught to satisfy the man's aesthetics. He nods his approval and after composing his appearance, glides his way to the door. Rowena holds this picturesque pose until she hears the thud of the entry door.
"That was a most dreadful hour." She tiredly sighs and lets her arm drop, blade tapping against her leg. Turning to face them once more, she lets the tension fade from her features, replaced by a warmer serenity. "I do have rooms open upstairs if either of you wishes to stay. At least until this weather clears."
Released, Zareef winds once around Rowena's ankle, then shuffles over to the gentlemen for closer inspection of their boots.
"If you did that in front of a /real/ opponent," The Horsemaster muses, just loud enough for the Fencer to hear as he glides towards said door, "You be dead by now." Spoken perhaps for Rowena's entertainment, Serath still manages to put in some scathing sincerity behind his words; after all, he's someone who - until only recently - used to dual-wield Longswords, and proved at the recent Tournament that he still knows what he's talking about. Casting a look of disdain in the Fencer's wake, the Horsemaster manages to smile once more all the same, offers a look to the sniffinf Mongoose, and then casts his glance back upon Rowena. Mouthing a silent 'sorry!' in playful apology, he adopts a more formal tone of voice. "As for the room, my Lady Mikin; that would be offer I couldn't hesitate to accept." He looks towards the Fencer again, waits until he's finally gone, then sighs a little; smile still intact "...before I cause more trouble."
Fael Mikin grins faintly, even as he shakes his head to decline the offer. He gives a parting glance towards the departed fencing instructor, then says, "Another gracious offer that I must refuse." he glances towards the Horsemaster and raises his right hand to his chin for just a moment. "I fear that I'm on the Night's Watch tonight, which will start soon enough." Despite his apologetic tone, he doesn't appear particularly displeased by the assignment. "I had just thought to come by and visit with you momentarily."
"And who would think the Prince of the Blood capable of producing trouble?" Rowena innocently teases while sheathing her weapon. "Surely not I." While Zareef moves on to snuffle around Fael, Rowena's soft smile turns to a more serious line, landing upon him. "Then I must not keep you from your duty of course. I hope the nature of the visit was not too dire?"
"I would." Serath admits, his words pained for a moment with a memory of trouble far too recent for it to have been washed away under the regal purr of his voice. "I know the appetite of trouble intimately. It hungers for revenge..." The Horsemaster falls silent at that, looks away from both his companions, and finds his ice-blue gaze falling upon a Mongoose devoid of anything but curiosity. The innocence makes him smile a little. A sorrowful smile; one that speaks of a lie told to himself that such troubles are finally over. It's never over.
"If you need help with anything, Constable..." He finally offers to Fael, drawing himself back to the here and now, "You know where to find me."
"Nothing dire, Your Grace", the Constable responds with a genuine, though shortlived, smile. "I just hadn't spoken with you in quite a while since I moved out, and thought to take the opportunity as it presented itself." As he shifts his gaze towards the obviously troubled Horsemaster his serious expression reasserts control of his features. He watches the Horsemaster silently for a long moment, almost missing the spoken comment. His eyes shift towards Serath's own and he gives a curt nod of his head, "I certainly will, Your Highness. Though I don't expect any trouble, Light's Reach is peaceful enough and most troublemakers have the good sense to stay out of the rain." He emits a wry chuckle at the statement
Distracted by Serath's change in tone, Rowena's eyes drift away from her inquiry to Fael and linger over the other's face for a moment with questioning expression. The Constable's reply returns her attention to himself and the remnants of a smile twitch over her lips. "Well should the opportunity present itself again, do not hestitate to return." She directs to Fael, then stoops to retrieve the curious creature. Her rapier rakes the ground with a most unpleasant noise and she nearly jumps from her skin. Obviously she's not accustomed to its presence at her hip. Mongoose in arms, she inclines her head to each visitor. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to hide this little thief away before he's chance to strike again. Keep safe, Constable."