Mastery (Vozhd Keep)

Dark silk banners hang from the ceiling, rippling slowly in the cold breeze that circulates through the cavernous hall. The ceiling of the mastery is lofty and steeped. The apex of the arch is composed of distorted glass - the portion facing the rising sun being a large decorative plate depicting a white rose against a resplendent burgundy corona. The remainder of the banners drape down the walls of the room, offsetting pale marble statues with a purplish hue.
An enormous fireplace dominates the front of the room near the entrance, while the back is dedicated to the master's throne. Centered on a tiered dais a cubit higher then the surrounding floor, the throne of Vozhdya is composed entirely of white marble. Crafted directly in to the flooring itself, its decorated with gold filigree and precious gems.
Flanking the throne on either side are two unique statues: one, an exact replica of a wolfhound, curled and sleeping, and the other, a bear - also in repose - with its head resting on its paws. Closer inspection reveals that the hound is made entirely of silver and the bear of amber. Situated in a half-circle before the dais are five fine half-thrones, similar to the royal seat but lesser in stature and ornament. A large table is situated in the center of the room, covered with various map-scrolls.

The Mastery is a flurry of activity, filled with numerous people - mostly family - in assorted positions of disarray. Some men are robed in armor; others look fresh from the wilds of the forest. Little time is given for formality when the Duke of the House calls an emergency conclave. There seems to be nearly twenty or so people of mixed genders already seated, with a few more shuffling in.

The Patriarch of the house himself is clothed in his formalwear, seated, grim and cold, on his great marble throne. His eyes dart around slowly, fingers steepled as he awaits the arrival of his close family.

Entering the Vozhd Mastery Adaer pulls open his cloak and removes his cowl. The Baron walks in, unescorted, down toward his Uncle nodding a greeting to him, "Your Grace."

Paranka sweeps into the room, hair in charming disarray, flushed and scowling a touch. "Mark, I'm going to /murder/ the stablehands..." She stops short, realizing there are guests and not wanting to repeat the scene with the Prince from her first day.

Captain Lotan Elkhorn steps in calmly from the foyer, arms folded as he takes a look about the crowded foyer. With a light sigh, the archer moves off to find himself somewhere to rest so as to better hear what's going on.

As the room slowly filters in, Markus calls out to the Guards. His voice is hoarse with worry, only a slight greeting given to his sister, "Seal the doors. Not a man is to leave, and not a soul may enter without permission!" With a slow groan, the great steel doors are bolted closed.

Markus now bangs his fist down on the arm of his throne: "ORDER! Silence, everyone! We have narry the time to dally or chat - we are now faced with a most grim threat; one that has forced me to call this meeting. This is a Fate-Maker, to use the ancient tongue."

In a timely fashion Adaer finds his front-row seat he has made sure to reserve. He then sits down and takes but a moment to scan the room before looking up at his Uncle, to hear this new information. A treat, huh?

Paranka jumps at the Duke's outburst, a hand flying to rest flat against her abdomen. Well... apparently this is serious. She hadn't quite been in the mindset for business when she was summoned, well... beyond the murdering of stablehands, anyhow... but she adapts quickly. The change in the set of her shoulders and light in her eyes, from frazzled lady-of-the-manor to Machiavelli's Mistress, happens in the bat of an eyelash. She takes a nearby seat, sitting with the perfect posture of cerulean blue blood.

Lotan can just sit there and keep silent, just merely being a Captain, after all. He watches the Duke, a bit concerned as he listens.

Markus Kahar doesn't seem to be wasting time. His eyes are ringed with black circles of exhaustion. "The Imperial Household has reason to quarry against its vassals and kin once again. Approximately three days ago, we were to deliver the Boyaress, Althea Weaver, to Fastheld Keep for investigation by the Surrector, on behalf of shadowtaint. As you may or may not be aware, the Boyaress saved my life, and is a close friend and ally of our family. On the day that she was to away, she was kidnapped by a sinister force. This is the second time that the Vozhd have, for one reason or another, failed the Emperor. While we have tried to make our amends - by making peace or assisting his coffers, or any other of the myriad of ignored services we perform, we are again at lost favor. Proof of this - Althea's baseless accusation was the latest in what has been a string of insults against our kith. First the Lomasa outburst, now this. The times have not been kind to us kin."

"It is rumored that certain parties within the Imperial council look poorly at our ways and doubt our loyalty. Some claim there is shadow amongst us. You are all aware of the tension of enlargement has caused. While there is no validity to this - we can be fairly certain that, one, the Emperor is not pleased with us. And two, that our luck may have run out. We have no more friends, my family, we have no more secrets to ply in defense. We are being persecuted, relentlessly, and our name is now dragged through the mud anew. The Emperor may privately reprimand us - we are his family - and for this we shall be lucky. Or the Emperor may be pressured by groups outside the throne to make an example of us. Perhaps attempt to confiscate our lands. Take some sovereignty from our House. Even, declare an interdiction in our lands and allow the Scourges to pry into our private business."

Paranka's posture, if such a thing can be managed, gets even straighter, like someone just jabbed her with a pin. Her mouth opens a fraction as though to express her outrage, dark eyes flashing, but she snaps it shut again. She'll have her say when the floor is opened for discussion... in the meantime, she sits quietly, the very picture of passionately outraged dignity.

"This tension, our woes; buy us our favor." Adaer mumbles under his breath as he rubs his shut left eye as if a head-ache ensued immediately. The Baron, hunched over slightly offers no protest or outburst as he no-longer sees the reason for his hell.

Lotan frowns greatly at this, shaking his head slowly as he merely keeps his seat and continues to listen.

The grouping hushes as the Duke speaks, exchanging only quick whispers.

Markus Kahar's voice is short and embittered, filled with a cynicism that speaks of worry and foreboding. "I /fear/ for us, my family. My brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, retainers - old and new. I /fear/ for us because it is at our height that we will attempt to be struck down."

Markus, august in years, pushes a gray curl from his eyes. "... Five hundred and fifty years ago, our collective ancestors sat in this very hall and after endless hours of debate and outrage, made the decision to submit to the Kahar conquerors and bow in vassalage. Now, centuries and centuries later, I wish to call the same Conclave. Each one of you has been invited here because your voices, as a collective part of *our* house, is valued. Tonight, every man and woman who wishes to speak their mind - their idea - on how to handle this situation, may rise and do so."

The Duke leans close now, as if whispering to each Vozhd personally, "... I only offer this caveat: speak thy mind, heart and soul more true than thy life. /These are the times that change the fates of men/. What we say and decide, in this room, may determine the very future of our great House. Let this grave responsibility weigh your souls, so that only the strongest arguments rise to offer voice."

Paranka doesn't need a more direct invitation. "We recover the shadow-tainted woman," she states, unequivocally. "Whatever means, whatever resources, Vozhd must needs put towards that endeavor, let it be done." She stands, tall and dark. "I say do not let our Imperial cousin step o'er our threshold without our clan having a very clear and already-set course to fetching what was stolen from us. We promised her to him? She must be delivered. It is not merely a matter of an Emperor's displeasure, but a Vozhd's honour. What we say, we do."

Lotan keeps quiet, not really having anything to add to the matter, though nods in agreement at Paranka's statement.

"My attempts, Your Grace, come forth with little harvest in my search for allies!" Adaer begins as he stands with the close of his aunts suggestion. "Our struggle for appreciation from our Emperor, our cousin, was pointless! Our high leaps in power and strength have proven our downfall! We have grown too great, too fast, Markus. Our former allies have shrinked away in fear! I say, for the sake of the Vozhd clan we plead for justice, one more time, as we search out this Boyaress." Adaer speaks as if he had not had a friendship with the woman as well, perhaps a way he can deal with hearing himself say such. " Show our humility, Your Grace, we need to, to gain favor."

A voice from the crowd calls out and its speaker stands; it is an older man - perhaps younger than Markus - identifiable as Baron Igorus Vozhd: "And what of an Imperial punishment? What if they strip Eastwatch from us; Marble Grove? It will impoverish our house!"

Markus Kahar tilts his head towards Igorus, re-iterating the question towards the group, "Indeed. Kahar Vassalage has been amiable, we have given them centuries of loyal service; our blood is mingled with theirs. Have we not served them in war? What of a punishment - what if our enemies in the Great Houses pressure Talus to make, of us, an example?"

Paranka's rebuke cracks out like a whip. "There /will/ be no Imperial Punishment, for we -will- not fail." The rebuke is wisely directed towards the original questioner in the crowd, not His Grace, her brother. "The shadow-tainted woman will be found, and in the meantime, all measures will be taken to impress upon our Cousin the love and fealty of House Vozhd so entirely that he will not be able to speak its name without warming."

There is a muffled knocking upon the door leading to Out.

"There could not have been a worse time for this," calls Lotan from his spot, rising to his rather looming height, noble or not. "A great deal of the Guard is being called to the wall and, while before, we would have been able to do this quickly, all of our best are now called away. Relying solely on recapturing her, especially with aide of the Shadow, with lack of our trackers and guards, is nothing to count upon. Another way must be thought, incase it cannot be done."

Adaer Kahar bends over grabbing at his head in a head-ache spasm. "Damn Kahar Curse!" The Baron looks up at his Uncle and says, "Excuse me, Your Grace." At that Adaer bolts toward the door in all the grace and dignity he can work up.

Markus Kahar looks towards the door at the sound of the knock, "That must be Mirabelle Vozhd - enter, girl!" he calls out, and the guards swing the door open. His eyes focus on Adaer's headache-eruption, head shaking slightly in silent pity, before nodding a greeting to Mirabelle. The room is full of family members and loyal retainers. Markus looks back towards Lotan, the house Archer-Captain, who has brought up the fact that the House Vozhd may lack the manpower to recover Althea. "Indeed - a true fact. It is a question of defense of the House or defense of the Realm. It is the Emperor's orders - light forbid if we cannot recover the girl! This is a curse! What hand do we play to the Emperor then, if she cannot be returned?"

Mirabelle is nearly knocked over as her brother dashes past her, and she manages to catch herself on the doorframe as he rushes out. She flushes slightly, and recovers, sinking into a quick curtsey. Rising, she looks around the room at the gathered kin. She steps further into the room.

Paranka shakes her head. "We have time, brother mine, as long as we are making sincere and /visible/ efforts to recover her... It may not be much time, and Light willing we can extend it through courting our Cousin's favour during this visit... But in that time we looks at /all/ the avenues. Scouts?" She casts and apologetic glance back at Lotan. "All well and good, but if she was taken by means shadow then mustn’t she be tracked, and recovered, by means arcane? Or even sunkissed? We find those who are willing to lend us their talents in this endeavor... they may not be our friends, but all men have their price. And we learn what it is that our Emperor Cousin lately desires... Through one who has his confidence... and while we set our one hand to recovering the shadow-woman, the other will work to gain the Emperor an additional prize... so we may deliver what we promised with interest."

"And all of them are in the Church," points out Lotan to Paranka, continuing, "...which the Duke has specified he does not want meddling with the House."

Mirabelle stands to the side of an old crone of an aunt. She leans down and whispers something to the elderly woman, who whispers something back. Their quiet conversation goes on for a few minutes, although they are careful to keep their voices low enough so as not to disturb anyone. There is a half murmured, "I don't know if I should..." and a "Well, go ahead dear..." The crone pats the maiden's hand with her gnarly one. Mirabelle straightens, and asks, "What is this other thing that the Emperor wants, Aunt?"

Markus Kahar nods towards Mirabelle, "A question we'd all like to know. He who knows what the Emperor desires has the strength to resolve this dispute. The Captain is correct - the Church is something that we must love as an entity but fear as a force. Never in my life have I seen a Priesthood so partisan; so aligned in House politics. It can be witnessed by both myself and the Captain that Laeria sympathizes with the House Mikin."

Markus continues: "How can we trust the Holy Mother, when even she picks sides? The /last/ thing I desire is to see an interdiction in our lands. I believe that Paranka is right - humility seems the best road, and we must appease the Emperor with - as she says - interest. But whatever that 'interest' is, cannot jeopardize our sovereignty. How is it that we are even under this suspicion? Is this not unjust? Have we not done much in his service? For the Empire? What more can we possibly do?"

Paranka's eyes track back and forth across empty space, the sign of a racing mind. "There must be someone in his household... Someone low enough to escape notice, like a chambermaid, yet high enough to have access to His Most Imperial Quarters. Likewise the wine-pourers, banquet servers... there are scores of people every day who hear our Cousin's unguarded thoughts..." She looks up at her brother. "Were we asking something treasonous--state secrets, espionage of other houses, private 'dirt' as it were, I have no doubt even the most lowly servant would refuse us. But... Consider the simple mind of the common man... Will the wine pourer not understand that this noble house is out of favor, that we only wish to give our Cousin a perfect gift and win back his love? Will he not be flattered and inflated with pride by the fact that he... /he/ is being asked a boon by the emissary of a Duke? Surely there are many that with such flattery and... appropriate monetary compensation... would learn for us what our cousin most desires."

Lotan just sits back with a light sigh, currently having nothing more to say.

Mirabelle says smoothly, playing with the strap of her fan, "Of course the Holy Mother sides with her own house... it is only natural that she should care for her kin. Still, what other hope do we have of finding the weaver?... as for this idea of servants, it is not a bad one. Who among us visits often enough to know the servants of his house? "

Markus Kahar nods in affirmation, "... it is as good a plan as any we have now. We need one that will not arouse unjust or undue suspicion. As Paranka states, our efforts are not out of treachery but desperation." Markus spies the group, until his eyes settle again on the young Vozhd Baroness, not sixteen years of age.

"Mirabelle. You're young, clever, I remember you having a fondness for words - are you up to the task? Can you integrate yourself into the Imperial household?"

Mirabelle winds the strap of her fan around her thumb, her brows lifting in surprise at being singled out. She lifts her gaze towards the elder Duke, and replies, "Certainly I can try, Uncle, although I know not through what pretext I could show up uninvited at the Palace." She pauses for a moment and muses, "Perhaps I could ask to come visit to see the artwork of the Palace. I have longed to see it, in any case."

Paranka looks at Mirabelle, a long and considering gaze. "I've no doubt our niece is most capable, brother," she states, with a satisfied nod. "Howe'er, she is of our blood, and will automatically have a more difficult time gaining the trust of the Imperial Court. That is not to say that she should not make the attempt," she turns back to the Duke. "We musn't let /any/ field lay fallow, any advantage go untapped. To recruit common men who will be part of the Emperor’s scenery, those who hear the unguarded mind, brother, we should use an emissary we can disavow should we need to do so... Someone who is not necessarily associated with our family as a go between."

Mirabelle muses, "I will write to His Highness our cousin, the Prince of the Blood. He gave me quite a fright the other night, and may perhaps be disposed to feeling more kindly towards me. Perhaps I can secure an invitation through him?"

Markus Kahar raises a hand, "Nay! It would be unwise to attempt to manipulate Serath. He has a friendly disposition towards us, currently, and would see right through it as he saw through Arturo's. If you must deal with Serath, I advise honesty in all things. I narry think that you need an invitation to view the galleries. You are of noble blood."

The group is quiet. Only anxiety fills the room now.

Markus Kahar nods in affirmation. "Indeed. I will give you a sum and any assistance you feel you may need. In the mean time, we must - one and all - prepare for the Emperor's visit. Lotan - speak to our men on the Aegis. Paranka, I'll need you here. Everyone else... let us hope that the Emperor cares for his family as much as we seem to care for him. Pray that this is but a ripple in an otherwise placid stream. Unless there are any objections, I consider this Conclave closed."

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