Palace Road <Palace District>

A curving ribbon of rough reddish-gray cobblestones leads from the Lightholder Bridge, past a muddy path that angles down toward the gurgling Lightholder River, and up the slope of Caryas Hill in roundabout fashion marking its approach to the highest point in the realm of Fastheld: the majestic keep, wherein dwells Emperor Talus Kahar.

Mullis Seamel thumps his armored fist against his chest as he watches the approach of the Blademaster. He slows his horse to a whinnying stop.

From Henry's saddle, Hartnek Lomasa returns the salute of the approaching Bladesman. "The Light be with you on this fine day, Mullis. How is the training of your nephew proceeding?"

Mullis Seamel sighs, clutching the reins and shaking his head. "I believe his cousin Jafron has taken him to wing. I can scarcely keep track of the lad. What I tell him of women, he ignores. He associates with commoners and peasants. Much potential to him, but he is easily distracted, I fear."

From Henry's saddle, Hartnek Lomasa nods solemnly. "A dangerous thing, the female. A thing of beauty, but a thing of guile in disguise. Hopefully his good sense will prevail." The Blademaster pauses for a few moments then continues. "I have been giving thought to your request to succeed Syke Kahar upon his retirement. I can think of no one better to fulfill his duties. The job is yours."

Mullis Seamel widens his eyes. His mouth falls open. "Blademaster Lomasa, the Light shines and I see, but..." He bows his head and thumps his fist to his armored chest again. Eyes closed, he says, "I am humbled by this great honor." He looks up again, toward Hartnek, smiling all goofily like a child. "Long have I dreamed of leading the defense of our proud Aegis. I will not disappoint you, my lord."

From Henry's saddle, Hartnek Lomasa nods. "I have great faith that you will not. May the Shadow give way to the Light you carry with you."

"Blademaster, when shall I assume the post?" Mullis inquires. "I have affairs I should put in order at Wheathill."

From Henry's saddle, Hartnek Lomasa nods. "Complete your affairs, and assume the post when all is in order." A rare smile breaks through the Blademaster's stone-face. "Would you care to join me at the tavern in the village?"

"It would be an honor, my lord," Mullis replies, jerking on the reins and encouraging the horse to caper counterclockwise so Faraway faces down hill again.

From Henry's saddle, Hartnek Lomasa nods, an makes a click as he drives his knees into Henry's shoulders. The horse begins to walk towards the bridge.

Lightholder Bridge

A 100-yard span of reddish-gray cobblestone and green marble that helps create the arched splendor of the Lightholder Bridge, which unites the Palace Road, Caryas Hill and Fastheld Keep with the Imperial Thoroughfare and the Lightholder Crossroads.
Rising at regular intervals along the bridge are the monolithic sculptures known as the Lightkeepers: Stone warriors in full armor and helm with sword in one hand and glowing lanterns in the other, facing out toward the river.

Faraway clop-clops along the bridge, heading toward the thoroughfare.

Henry clops across the bridge toward the thoroughfare.

Middle of Lightholder Bridge

A 100-yard span of reddish-gray cobblestone and green marble that helps create the arched splendor of the Lightholder Bridge, which unites the Palace Road, Caryas Hill and Fastheld Keep with the Imperial Thoroughfare and the Lightholder Crossroads.
Rising at regular intervals along the bridge are the monolithic sculptures known as the Lightkeepers: Stone warriors in full armor and helm with sword in one hand and glowing lanterns in the other, facing out toward the river.

Faraway swishes his tail and huffs as he approaches the end of the bridge.

Henry bobs his head with a swish of his tail as the end of the bridge nears.

Lightholder Crossroads <Palace District>

A small village has sprouted on the edge of the Lightholder River where the cobblestone roads from Fastheld's other prominent districts intersect, in the shadow of Caryas Hill and the majestic gray silhouette of Fastheld Keep - the seat of power for the entire realm.
Sutlers, traveling performers and other small-time merchants ply their trades along this main crossroads - competing for space with carriages hauling passengers, couriers rushing important communiques from one district to another, and the soldiers of the Emperor's Blades who regularly patrol the area.
On the northwest corner of the intersection, next to the road that twists north toward Lightholder Bridge and the palace, sits a large tavern and inn where weary travelers can refresh themselves.

Faraway clop-clops along the cobblestones toward the stables at the Lightholder Crossroads, near the tavern.

Henry clops towards the stables, his nostrils flaring as the scent of fresh hay comes to him on the breeze.

Mullis Seamel tugs gently on the reins as Faraway reaches the stables. Urged to stop, the horse jerks his neck back and grunts, but relents in proceeding any further. The Bladesman pats the horse comfortingly on the side of the neck, then dismounts.

Mullis Seamel pays a stableboy to have Faraway stabled in Crossroads Stables. The boy leads the horse back into the stables.

From Henry's saddle, Hartnek Lomasa tugs on the reins and lets out a gentle "Whoa, boy" as Henry reaches the stables. Henry seems eager to proceed to the hay regardless of the order, but eventually relents. The Blademaster slides off the saddle to the ground.

Hartnek Lomasa pays a stableboy to have Henry stabled in Crossroads Stables. The boy leads the horse back into the stables.

Mullis Seamel watches to make sure Faraway isn't stabled with some freelander swayback, then begins walking toward the tavern. "Is the Emperor well, my lord?"

Hartnek Lomasa sets off towards the tavern. "He is well." His gaze darts side to side, as if looking for someone or something. He does not seem to find it, and his gaze returns to the tavern.

"It gladdens me to hear that, rather than the rumors afoot at Wheathill Keep these last weeks during my leave," the Bladesman replies, his armored footsteps thumping on the ground as the duo approaches the tavern. "It is said that he fainted during a counsel with Lord Marin of Cropkeep."

Hartnek Lomasa nods, "The Light still shines upon him."

Mullis Seamel peers curiously at the Blademaster, but presses no further on the topic as he steps into the tavern.

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.

Mullis Seamel makes his way through the crowd to a corner table inhabited by a couple of vassals, young men who appear weary from working the fields. The Bladesman just scowls at them and crosses his arms. The firelight reflects off the steel of his Imperial sword and armor. The vassals need no further encouragement, evacuating the table and seeking the comfort of the bar counter.

Hartnek Lomasa nods. "You still have that winning look, Mullis." He slides into one of the chairs at the now vacant table.

Mullis Seamel grins, settling into his own chair. It creaks under his bulk, but holds. "I shall put that stare to use against any Wildlings who dare to seek a breach in the Aegis, have no fear of that."

Hartnek Lomasa nods. "Of that I have no doubt." Another rare grin breaks through.

A server arrives with the usual beverages for the familiar Emperor's Bladesmen, and then moves off to handle another drink order.

"This assignment, Blademaster, it is one I accept as an honor," Mullis says, becoming rather sober about it all. "And, make no mistake, I have long dreamed this day would come. But I ask your favor: Keep an eye on Johan. I am like as not to ever have a son, and truth be told he is more a younger brother in manner, but the Aegis is a distant place to him. It is large, extensive, and from it I will rarely return. I cannot be there to nudge him along." He frowns. "Were something to happen to him, I would not be capable of forgiving myself."

Hartnek Lomasa nods. "I will care for him, and do my best to guide him down the path of Light. Young lads often need discipline to stay on that path."

"That is the truth of it," the Bladesman replies, lifting his ale mug in salute to the Blademaster. "To Fastheld and His Majesty."

Hartnek Lomasa raises his own mug. "And to the Light that binds them." He takes a long swig from the mug.

Mullis Seamel drinks from his mug. And keeps drinking. And keeps drinking. Rivulets of amber ale trickle and plink off his armor. The mug drained, Mullis thumps the cup on the table and smacks his lips together. "I shall enjoy it while I can. I have heard the ale on the Aegis is barely fit to scourge wounds."

Hartnek Lomasa takes another long swig from his mug, and sets it down. "I'll see if I can't get Solas there to send a barrel or two from time to time." He sets the mug down and leans back slightly in the chair.

Mullis Seamel shakes his head. "I would not have you do that, my lord Blademaster." The Bladesman waggles a finger. "The men under my command on the Aegis must keep their wits about them. Let them drink into oblivion on leave, away from the wall. But I would rather they stay alert on the battlements of the Aegis. Too many comforts of home will make them complacent."

Hartnek Lomasa nods. "You speak the truth. One day we may go beyond the walls to tame the Wildlings, until then we shall teach those who seek to spread their filth into our fair lands will die."

"In my sight, no good can come from ranging beyond the Aegis," Mullis opines. "But I admit, I have long held much curiosity about the Shadow lands."

Hartnek Lomasa nods. "The temptation of the unknown. Through my eyes I seek to temper it, and teach it to respect the Emperor as it should."

"Indeed," the Bladesman agrees. He then scratches his chin. "The men, do they know? On the Aegis? That I come?"

Hartnek Lomasa nods. "I dispatched a courier with the orders, with instructions to pass it through the ranks. They will be prepared for your arrival."

The tavern doors swing open and in walks an armored Bladesman. He cradles his helm in one hand as he marches noisily toward the barkeep and requests a stiff drink of ale.

"Thank you, my lord," Mullis replies. "And is it Syke Kahar's intent to remain upon the wall until relieved?"

Hartnek Lomasa nods. "I have ordered him to do so, and to turn the command of the wall to you upon your arrival."

Jafron Seamel eases himself into a stool, keeping the helm balanced on one armored knee. He removes both gauntlets and gulps his frothy ale down in three large swallows.

Mullis Seamel smiles broadly. "Most excellent. I shall endeavor not to keep him waiting too long. Have you any idea what he plans, after retiring? He has long been upon the Aegis. Such a position, he is sure to be rewarded for his service."

Hartnek Lomasa nods. "I plan to discuss his wishes upon his return." The Blademaster takes up his mug and finishes the ale.

Jafron Seamel lays a pair of coins on the table and wipes his face with the back of a hand. The soldier gathers his equipment and slips out of the stool before noticing his fellow Blades.

"I wish him the best," Mullis says, and then his brow furrows. "I shall need to send a courier to fetch my belongings from Fastheld Keep, before I make for the wall. And, of course, I would hardly want to depart on this new endeavor without first feasting with my comrades and my kin at Wheatkill Keep. I would be honored if you could attend, my lord."

Hartnek Lomasa nods. "Your request honors me, Mullis. I shall look forward to it."

Jafron Seamel starts to approach the pair but thinks better of it. He turns and heads for the exit.

Mullis Seamel grins, then stands, shoving his chair back. "Blademaster, I look forward to it as well. I will send word from Wheathill when the feast is scheduled." He thumps his fist to his chest. "The Light shine on you, my lord."

Hartnek Lomasa returns the salute. "May the Light shine on you."

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