Light's Reach Temple
The solemn shadows of the Church of True Light temple are kept at bay by the soft glow of oil lanterns that flicker and gleam in iron frames attached to the walls of quarried gray stone.
Parishioners enter through an arched doorway from the town of Light's Reach, passing tapestries of yellow, orange and white velvet on their way to the biinwood columns that flank the aisle that leads into the main worship chamber. Within that chamber are twelve pews, six on each side of the aisle.
The aisle ends at an open area for the temple leader to give his condemnations of the Shadow and his praise for the Light.
It is the Eleventh hour by the Shadow on Willowwalk, the 29th day of Stormclaw in the year 624, and the night is cold. Cold and clear, in fact; for while this is Stormclaw, the Light has seen fit to keep the heavens clear of anything that would do justice to that name, allowing only the occasional wisp of cloud the travel the sky, the stars and moon its only companions.
However, though the night is cold and dark, the flickers of the flames that rest within the oil lanterns that rest upon iron frames keep and chill and shadows at bay, casting warm hues of light into every aspect of the quiet and near deserted temple at this hour, offering a soothing alternative to the bitter air beyond. Near deserted it is, for at least one soul inhabits this place of worship at this late hour; a man wearing armor that shines of a reddish-gold deeper than even the flickering flames, sat in a reflective posture within one of the many aisles; not in prayer, it would seem, but in quiet thought. Calm radiates from his presence, while a cloak of royal blue shrouds most of his form. One might notice that the cloak is not flawless, however, for it would seem to bare dark scars of light burn marks upon it's form.
The clear night is a blessing, perhaps even a period of sympathy that the Light shines upon those who suffered loss in the storm. Light's Reach had little damage to show for the turbulent winds and lashing rain, and the keeps suffered even less. The impoverished shanties that lay on the outskirts of the Mikin stronghold were savagely ripped apart, however. Fires had burned through roofs before the rain drowned the flames. Flooding had swept away more than a single soul or crop. Homes were left in ruin, while muddied and beraggled survivors looked hopelessly on.
It was in this time that a sympathetic ear turned to the sobs of her lessers. Only returning to her safe and dry house earlier this day, Rowena had trudged through slop in efforts to aid the located survivors. She'd buried an infant, sat with a stricken grandfather, and held a tiny hand that lifelessly reached from beneath a shack's remains. Her rewards for the heart-wrenching task....she clutches it tenderly in her palms.
Dressed not in the stained clothes of a commoner this night, Rowena steps quietly into the temple. Her elbow whispers against an orange banner that drapes to the floor as she turns in an aisle to view the occupants. Fingers wrapped around the little parcel in her hands, she bows her head in a moment of prayer, and inches forward towards the bronze figure. Zareef rises onto its hind legs and chitters at something.
"I worry for Apple Village." Speaks the Bronze figure once Rowena is close enough to hear his voice without it sounding too loud for this place of Light. His voice is calm, though forlorn at the same time, speaking of a concern that while few other Nobles could relate to, Rowena will no doubt understand all too well. "It has not been a week since I departed from there. Not yet a week since I helped a little girl build a kite and witnessed her smile as it soared in the air. Since I carried an old man's food back to his home for him. Since all of the troubles and darkness of our time seemed to be little more than jaded memories of years long gone." Serath sighs deeply, and then turns from his sitting position to look upon Rowena with a sad smile. "I saw what the storm did here. I pray to the Light that the same did not happen there. That the spirits of the Horsemen who have fallen under my command, and under the command of those who lead them before me, protected them..."
"We have no such spirits here..." Rowena whispers softly, her soulful eyes baring more than her lips would allow in their efforts to smile. "But we do have capable hands to clear the remains." Ashen, she reaches with a hand to grip the back of the pew in front of her, and kneel next to him. She lets the little parcel rest behind her on the seat, and bows her head forward to rest it upon her fingertips. "Perhaps one day we will meet beneath happier circumstances." Rowena murmurs with a hint of hopefulness in her tone. Her hair dips forward, some spilling over her shoulders to cast a curtain around her face.
"Perhaps." Serath offers, his smile warming a little now as he watches his friend, "Though even in times such as these, you always seem to make things look just a little brighter." That spoken, the Horsemaster leans back upon the bench he shares with Rowena, adopting a less reflective posture now; the Helm of the Horsemaster, it should be noted, rests upon the opposite side of him. One might also notice that the two scabbards that flank his hips seem to be lacking the weapons that they often play host to. "I'm sorry I took so long to make it back here."
"I'm sure you had your reasons." Rowena replies honestly, giving reassurance. When her meditative thoughts are complete, she lifts her head from the bow, and sinks back into the seat with a fluidly controlled motion. Her hands smooth over the azure velvet, almost taking comfort in the softness as she turns to look at him. "You seem to be missing some parts." She muses, glancing down briefly to his armored self. "I haven't seen you without the finished attire for quite some time." Chin tilting to ask the question, she swings her feet beneath the pew, catching her toes on the floor to hold them in place.
"Well, my steel longsword," Serath notes softly, gesturing to the scabbard that rests upon his left hip, "is now in the possession of Emperor Talus Kahar the first. The other," he now gestures to the other scabbard with a light motion of a bronze gauntleted hand, "is now a resident of Vozhdya Square." The Horsemaster sighs; but the sigh is warm, hinting only slightly of the forlorn mood that gripped him a few minutes ago. Such is friendship. "I think the Shadow tried to claim me again."
Rowena's eyes resemble jade platters for a moment as he speaks of the second sword's fate, envisioning how that could have come about, then shrink slowly back to normal size. Her expression morphs from that of an enchanted child into the wizened gaze of one who may do the story telling. "Well it shall learn that such a man as yourself is not easy prey, but rather the hunter." Creases pleat her cheeks as her smile becomes more genuine, heart momentarily lifted from its dour resting place. "For a man who rises from the dead is not as easily defeated as the rest of us. Even in a footrace." Uncertain as to why the memory chose to resurface now, Rowena does her best to keep a sober enough expression.
The forlorn expression that Serath once held is but a mere memory now; lost to the calm that the Light brings in a temple such as this, and engulfed by the warm that remains true between friends. Without a word, he proceeds to remove the royal blue cloak that cascades over the bronze of his armor. This done, the Horsemaster holds it up so that Rowena can see one of the larger marks that taint the tattered surface of this weather worn item; a scorch mark. "In hindsight, riding out in the storm that brought so much destruction to so many people was perhaps not the best idea. Yet the Shadow scorned me once more the night before, and my vengeance towards it was so great that the rain and thunder seemed almost trivial."
He lowers the cloak, folding it up in his lap. "In my fury, I rode through Vozhdya in that storm and thrust my blade into the ground to warn the Shadow that I was hunting it on that night. No sooner had I done so than lightning struck the hilt of the blade. /Lightning/ Rowena; of all the places in Vozhdya, of all the times it could have struck, it chose /that/ time and /that/ longsword to strike against. A weapon that had been with me for seven years. A weapon that has slain Wildlings, and was aided me in the recovery of the Ancestral Guardian." He sighs deeply, looking ahead now upon one of the shrines to the Light that decorate the Temple.
"Yet, though I was closest to the sword when the lightning struck, having only just turned away from it, that mark is all there is to show. It /scares/ me to say this Rowena, and few things in this life do, but I do feel that it was the Shadow itself lashing out at me on that night. That lightning cpuld have struck at any time, but instead struck as soon as I had turned from the pitched weapon. It could have struck buildings that were higher, or the Keep atop the hill, but instead, of all the points it could have hit, it hit that longsword. Yet, though it scares me, my faith in the Light can only grow... what else could it have been that protected me from such wrath than that?"
Scared? Looking upon Serath with a mixture of worry and awe, Rowena hesitantly lifts a hand and places it against his arm. Her nails tap faintly against the cool of the metal, eyes slowly averting to examine the scorched cloak. Her remaining hand (right) traces the burns in silence, breathing slowed considerably in concentration. After a long minute or two of contemplation, she retracts her hand from the cloak and presses a gaze into his own. In the presence of the Temple's sanctuary, serenity washes over her features. Looking to him now as she would a patient, eyes clear as pools, brow as smooth as silk, she radiates warmth. "But it still failed to strike you down...just as the shadow grows stronger, more bold, so does the Light expand its power. We all fear, Serath...but there is nothing more we can do."
Serath looks back upon Rowena at her words, offering her a little nod of his head in affirmation of what she speaks. He smiles once more, his ice-blue gaze as clear as Rowena's own. "Part of me wonders if it was just a random coincidence; that the sword attracted the lightning because I was out in the storm, in armor... but..." He sighs again, evidently second guessing his own faith, "...the chance of that when the sword was so low to the ground among all the other building, and the timing. I keep thinking that my faith and resolve is strong, Rowena. Stronger than most. So why do I keep questioning that faith?"
"It is in questioning faith that we may grow stronger in it, Serath." Rowena responds, hand drawing away from him to find the wrapped item behind her. "Questions seek answers. Such things rest in our hearts, and in finding them, we confirm what it is we know." She pauses, bringing the little parcel into her lap. The sudden wisdom and peculiarity of her own words scare her for a moment, wondering how she managed to piece the dialogue together. As her fingers take time in unwrapping the object, she shakily adds. "Such a thing came clear to me, yesterday. I wished to run away, wishing I were again a child so I could simply leave this place. Leave and find a place where all is warm and new again. But the more I looked into the people's faces, the more clearer the answer became to me. The faith."
Serath laughs softly at that; not in defiance of such words, but in acceptance of the irony. An Avatar of Light, some people claim, question his faith and seeking and accepting answers from Rowena once again. His gaze falls upon the cloak that rests upon his lap, his right hand tracing the scar of charred cloth that forms the scorch mark. "A very enchanting lady," he warmly states, "Once told me that it's not the questions we ask, but rather the answers we find for them. I believe we were stood near to a waterfall at the time." He smiles at that, the memory returning. Perhaps faith is more than just a belief in the Light after all. "You're right, though. Helping people in Apple Town, bringing hope to them and not fear... that's what faith is."
Rowena's fingers pause in their task as he mentions the other 'enchanting' advice, and she sneaks a curious glance his way, if not mingled with another emotion. Piece by piece, a crudely made rag doll is revealed, and Rowena gently lifts it from the bindings. "I was to bring a bit of such faith here tonight...in place of the little girl that will no longer hold it." She scratches a bit of dirt away from the beaded eyes. "This was a thing of hope for her...a reminder of the wealth that so many of us forget we own. A symbol of life and love..." She hesitates, eyes glazing over with a faraway look that threatens to flood. "Her father now offers that to the Church. So it shine as she once did." She stops there, chin quivering despite her effort to clench it still.
"You should keep it." Serath offers, pausing for a moment to remove the bronze gauntlets from his hands before laying them to rest atop the cloak, proceeding then to place his right hand atop Rowena's left, offering silent support. "You'll do her memory more justice than the Church will." His words are soft and reassuring, though not without sincerity. "Perhaps in time you could give it to another child when they need a glimmer of hope. Let them love it as the girl did. I think... I believe... it would do more good that way."
"I can't..." Rowena whispers, staring at the doll as though it were a thing to be revered. "It would only remind me, and if I placed it into a box, it would go forgotten..." She trails off, leaning in to the supportive hand and blinking away that which threatens to seep from her eyes. "Besides...Alieron's children are too grown. He would ask where it came from, anyway, as would any family. But yet..." She sighs, letting the doll drop limply into her lap, speaking of it no more. "I just pray the shadow continues to fail, Serath. I do not want to march to Arrow's Watch in somber way again. I don't know where you had vanished to for those two years, or why we were convinced of your death so far as to hold a ceremony, but..." She sniffs, teeth clenching to keep herself calm. "I do not want to experience that loss again. Had I known you were alive, I would have sought after you, but I could not find a man proclaimed to be deceased. There was only a little statue to look upon. A thing." She takes the doll in her hand again. "Like this."
"It wasn't my idea..." The words of the Horsemaster are regretful; perhaps the first time he's even been regretful about the events that followed his apparent death at the tip of an arrow, and the fall of a horse. He sighs in a manner dark and pained. A sigh that directs the regret inherent in his words as something to do with Rowena. "It was true that I nearly fell into Shadow then, you know. True that, for a time, there was only darkness. I don't... remember... if they called you in to try and heal me, but I was told afterwards that many believed my wounds too severe. But it was also a time in which Talus had come under threat time and time again by those who I fell to. A time when we had no Spymaster to protect him. So, when I started to fight against the Shadow in illness, and started to recover, plans were made so that once I was on my feet again, I could recover fully away from the public eye. Away from duty and honor. Away from the furious politics that I had to maintain justice upon.
"At the same time, such a position would allow me to listen for rumours that could lead to greater threats against my brother. It let me hunt Wildlings and keep them at bay from within. I /had/ died, in a manner of speaking, but it was watching you... knowing that you may never really know... watching your tears... that was the real torment of the Shadow. I missed you, even though you were so close by."
Rowena inhales deeply, her eyes frozen ahead while her mind tumbles elsewhere. "I did try once..." She murmurs softly as though it were a secret. "But I could not save you, as I was later told. Seeing you lay there, faded...the boy I once knew to be as fearless as the sun was bright, there laid beneath my hands as cold and still as stone."
Her voice breaks, and she lifts a hand to smudge away the tear, nearly snagging her sleeve on an earring in the process. "I felt but a novice, then. I was asked to leave...by my family, by yours. I could hardly hold steady the cloths. I didn't sleep for days. I hid in my chambers, would not let the servants even enter. Then one day, a courier did arrive, bearing the news that you had passed..." She grips the doll angrily, the fury in her eyes all but burning the pew in front of them. "I had failed, it read to my ears. Not long after that, would I look upon the dead faces of my parents, as we failed to protect them, too." She breathes again, and with trembling fingers, she folds the doll back into its tomb.
"I hardly spoke to anyone after that. I was a shell for nearly a year, watching Alieron's children grow and watching myself age as I occupied my time in healing. I slept more in the town than my own home. Perhaps if I could heal enough souls, those I had lost would return...that was my wish." Another pause follows, and she turns her head to look him in the eye again, fury gone. "And then, not long after I had my own flirtation with death did you reappear in the Duke's mastery...I thought I had befallen the shrieking fever in a matter of hours and was hallucinating."
"Rowena." Serath whispers, finding himself unable to say anything more... instead, finding himself unable to do anything else, he slips an arm around Rowena's shoulders and pulls her into a warm hug, finally securing a closeness that has been lost for over two years, and reforging it anew. "I'm sorry." he offers.
Traveled back in time to an age where this would be acceptable, Rowena hooks her left hand over his right shoulder, face burrowed into the rather unrelenting sheen of his breastplate. She makes no verbal reply yet, shoulders shaking beneath the weight of his arm. Here, in the presence of the Light, sheltered from the cold, Rowena Mikin releases her stifling hold over her emotions, and lets it slip away. As families miles from the temple howled with mourning in unison, she permitted her own gasp and little sob to escape. But it was not in mourning, not completely. For in the midst of all that had twisted wrongly in Fastheld, something right had resurfaced. After a few minutes of employing the bronze as an awkward pillow, she mumbles through a sniff "I'm sorry if it rusts." Yes...she found a place to insert a bit of comic relief, if not for herself, then for him as well.
"I'm sorry it's not soft." Serath offers in soft answer, smiling down a little at Rowena as she manages to quip. "Besides, we have more of these than we do riders to wear them. It's all good." Though many would look upon this scene with question, and draw their own conclusion and rumors as to its nature, Serath seems in no way eager to end such an embrace, and makes little attempt to do so either. People may mourn, Nobles may plot, the Shadow may seek the innocent, the Light may guide her faithful to her cause, but here in this Temple, a little moment of serenity has been found.
A strangled-sounding laugh blurts from Rowena's throat at his words, but it silences as suddenly as it arose. She inhales slowly, carrying in the smell of the outdoors, and lets the breath seep from her lungs as gradually as it pleases. Eyes closed to block the exit of anymore straggling tears, she rests there, unconcerned with the proximity, nor the questioning glance that angles their way as an old woman creeps into the temple. Shaking her head, the woman wanders towards the front on arthritic legs.
"Thank you..." Rowena murmurs, vision blurred by her own hair now as opposed to the salty tears which have abandoned her eyes in favor of the bronze. "I'd been so lonely."
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