The Bronze Hall of the Horsemen

The ancestral home of the Imperial Horsemen, this ancient Hall is long and wide, filled with shadows and half lights; mighty pillars upholding its lofty roof. But here and there bright sunbeams or elegant moonbeams fall in glimmering shafts from the eastern windows, high under the deep eaves. Through the louver in the roof, above the thin wisps of the smoke issuing from the flames of the torches that hold sentry upon the pillars, the sky presents itself in pale shades of blue, variant in tone depending on the time of day.
As vision adjusts to the low light of the Hall, one might perceive that the floor is paved with stones of many elegant hues; branching runes and ornate floral etchings intertwined beneath your feet. The pillars are richly carved, gleaming brightly with reddish-gold and silver, holding upon them beautifully flowing sunburst motifs, entwined with stars and botanical designs. The legendary shields and weapons of Horselords long passed rest upon these pillars; at once both solemn and proud and they stand guard over the Hall, and all that walk within it.
Maintaining an appearance of being thatched in bronze, the hall is at once both regal and majestic; caressed in recurrent horse motifs of many highly stylized forms that accentuate the sinewy strength of the animal upon which the Horsemen are so dependent. The finials on the roof cut dramatic silhouettes, while the raised dais of the Horsemaster and the two Horselords rests at the far end of the hall. Great doors, etched with flowing decorations that graphically commemorate the events of riders of the past, ensure that this place of honor and deed never fall victim to attack.

Outside the guest chamber, a woman clad in a fluttering, blue gown is relying on the strength of the wooden door to hold her upright. Her face, buried in her folded arms, is hidden from view by a tumbled mane of brunette curls. Her knees are folded to support the arms. Only the walls and vaulted ceilings may tell of how long she'd been there, for the guards in the hall shan't speak of her state.

Zareef peeps his head from beneath Rowena's hem, sniffling in the direction of the footsteps. When his mistress does not stir, he slips the rest of the way out and noses at her dangling fingertips. Still, he fails at rousing her. Chittering softly, the mongoose crawls back into the satchel that's partially hidden from view at her left side.

Orell Mikin looks around, noticing Zareef and then heads to Rowena, his clear blue eyes shrouded with grey as he looks at his sister.

As the sound of footsteps grow nearer, Rowena lifts her head just enough to look over her sleeve at the intruder. Her eyes are rubbed raw, face haunted with shadows of exhaustion. For a long time, she says nothing, but then finds the energy to move and slowly unfolds from her crouch. "Why have you come here?"

Orell Mikin shakes his head slightly, "I just planned to seek an audience with his Majesty." as he witnesses how badly Rowena has taken it.

"Does he expect you?" Rowena questions further, voice low and soft. She presses her palms into the floor and shoves to her feet slowly. To hell with posture. "If so, I'm coming with you."

"If you're certain..." Rowena murmurs and gathers her hair in her hands to arrange it best she can. Her trembling fingers move next to smooth the front of her gown. "The forester should not wake for some time. Let us be swift." But swiftness is not in her step this night. Having lost the single meal she attempted to eat earlier in the day, the Duchess is running on empty. With a walk befitting the elderly, she moves a few steps forward, eyes glazed with a rather dreamlike cloud. No, Rowena had not adjusted well to the news at all.

Throne Room

The high ceilings of this gray stone chamber are supported by rows of massive columns along an aisle that features a purple carpet that extends from the arched entrance to the Emperor's throne room and ends at the first step of the dais that holds the gleaming majesty of the Imperial throne - a chair of gold, armrests encrusted in jewels, back and seat cushioned with stuffed pillows covered with crimson velvet.
Torches flicker in stanchions attached to the columns. The fluttering wings and twitter of birds can occasionally be heard in the shadows overhead, where the fowl have nested after coming into the estate through one of the balconies or the courtyard.
The seal of Fastheld - a crown within a dark, unbroken circle - is on the tapestry that hangs behind and above the throne of Talus Kahar.

Talus Kahar sits upon the throne. A steady breeze blows, making soft whistling noises while passing over the gaps of the window slits high overhead. Pale, diffuse moonlight glows through those gaps as Talus Kahar peruses a scroll before handing it back to one of his aides. The herald near the door inclines his head to Orell, saying, "Lord Trademaster, good evening." He also bows his head to the healer. "M'lady." His gaze returns to the Trademaster and says, "I presume you are here regarding the Cha..." He coughs. "Er, your brother?"

Orell Mikin steps into the throne room, his hands tucked into his cloak, his deep blue eyes shining behind dark rings that speak of the sleepless night he spent yesterday. He nods towards the herald, replying plainly "Yes."

"Approach," the Emperor calls from the throne. His voice echoes amidst the columns and shadows where the Imperial Guards move with measured paces, keeping a watchful eye on the chamber. In the rafters, black-winged ravens shriek and caw at Talus Kahar's summons and loft through the gaps in the stone, disappearing into the windy night.

Rowena, on the contrary, says nothing. Her throat is clenched too tightly to allow for words right now, but her eyes express all that need be told at this time. Examining the floor at her feet, she awaits invitation to step forward. But it does not look like she may be standing for long...

The carpet begins to blur in her vision, expanding to swallow her...bury her...NO. The Duchess' eyes squeeze together tightly, smothering the hallucination. She slowly releases the breath she'd been holding.

Orell Mikin moves forward with steady steps as he hears the summon, his gaze ignoring the Imperial Guards within the chamber, as he bows deeply towards the Emperor to whom he has sworn his service once he reaches the usual place he stands, "Your Majesty" he offers in greeting.

"Trademaster," the Emperor says somberly as he looks on Orell with weary eyes that look more gray than blue in the pale light. "Be heard."

"Before I start, your Majesty, I wish to repeat that my pledge to the Throne and Crown of Fastheld does not change, and I serve as I do before. I have made a trip down to Light's Reach to reassure the citizens and I am certain that they are no longer restless." Orell looks up towards his Emperor with a steady gaze, his clear blue eyes unwavering, "Next, with your Majesty's permission, I will like to plead for my brother's freedom." He waits for permission to do so.

Rowena remains near the herald while her brother speaks, head still bowed in concentration to gather her own thoughts. Just days before she stood tall as a symbol of strength and comfort in her realm. She is but a pale shadow now, face aged with premature weariness so common in the company of death. A vacant stare bores into her signet ring. Would the Lady of the Flame now stand alone?

Talus Kahar shakes his head. "Freedom is not an option, Duke Mikin. More than fifty people are dead or injured. I have had my hand forced to end the arrangement to discern the target of the Wildlings' incursions, which will no doubt continue and lead to further deaths. No. You cannot plead for his freedom. You may plead for whether he languishes in a dungeon or dies swiftly. Nothing more."

Orell Mikin bows his head towards the Emperor, his voice tightens, "Your Majesty, my report is that the lives were lost when the Irregulars rushed into the township of Light's Reach. Doubtless, my brother, in his misguided act, should bear most of the responsibilities, but when Zahir guards rush into Light's Reach, bloodshed is truly inevitable." and he bows again, a full one at the waist this time, "Your Majesty, I beg you to consider Alieron's long years of service as your Chancellor and our father before that. If he be given freedom, he can go into retirement, away from authority or any vestiges of power, into his keep. And that will lend itself to peace and stability throughout the realm and prevent any factional fighting while the Wildlings run loose within the Aegis."

The men's voices turn to a dull buzz in Rowena's ears, her senses more tuned to the sparkle of peaceful moonlight and rhythmic beating of wings from overhead. In nature's way, not all was lost. A twitch of a smile passes over her lips in the comfort of that. Would the families of those fifty men be as comforted? Her sleeve is lifted to absently rub at her raw eyes and she takes note of a smear of crimson over the cuff. It seems a bit of Fionnlagh had accompanied her here...

Talus Kahar tilts his head, narrowing his eyes at Orell Mikin. "You believe my decision is solely based on the *bloodshed* caused by his mad rantings? He was my *Chancellor*. The second most powerful person in the realm. He too swore an oath to me. To this realm. And he *betrayed* it. That's *treason*, Trademaster. The excuses you offer for his *freedom* are the only reasons the man isn't dead as we speak. Most traitors are summarily executed without allowing their kin to beg for their lives. What message does it send if the Emperor spares a traitorous Chancellor even the most elementary of punishments for such a crime?"

Orell Mikin nods towards the Emperor, his blue eyes graying as he knows the cause is lost, "I have no doubt he is blinded by the righteous rage, he did not even discuss it with me. An act of rashness, Your Majesty, that I have little choice but to plea on the grounds of. I will plead for his life." He looks in confusion at his sister, who stands beside him unspeaking, "Sister, are you alright?"

A deep breath draws Rowena back into the gravity of these few minutes they spend in the Emperor's presence. Would a few minutes be enough to judge her own plea for a life that is decades in the making?

Lifting her chin even as her shoulders wilt, Rowena gazes down the length of the carpet, past the concerned face of her brother, and to the solemn eyes of His Majesty. Surely the decision brought him as much anguish. "I...still draw breath into my lungs. Considering the circumstances, Orell, for that I am grateful. This is not the first time Alieron's decisions have nearly slain those dear to him." That said, she wills her wobbly legs forward in a slow march down the aisle.

"Duchess," the Emperor says as she approaches. "I know this burdens you more than most, under the circumstances. My brother is quite fond of you. It pains me to see this situation straining relations between us." He settles back into the throne, lacing his fingers together and setting his elbows on the armrests. "Be heard."

Orell Mikin quiets as he sees the Emperor turning his attention to Rowena, his gaze turning towards her in concern, she does not seem herself at all, waiting for her to speak.

Rowena nods her head, dropping her eyes immediately when she comes to the proper distance. Her reply is delayed on a bed of silence while her tongue fights free of paralysis. "Be heard." She repeats the order given unto her. "It is strange how such words were not three days past spoken to me by the one who for I now kneel to defend." A brief pause while she steals a glance to Orell. "I am sorry that in that mastery I was not heard. For even as I spoke at his request for advice, his zealty for the light blinded his ears."

Oren Nillu does indeed pass, raising a hand for the herald to be silent. "No need to interrupt," he whispers, stepping further into the throne room and offering the Emperor as deep a bow as his obese form can allow him. He heeds his own advice and does not speak yet, simply taking a silent place near the gathering.

"You have done no wrong in this," the Emperor tells Rowena, his brow creasing. "But, indeed, your brother has done a grievous wrong, violating his oath to the crown and to the realm. I would rather not be weighing the fate of someone in whom all of us had invested much trust and affection. But he has violated my trust, and the affections of his kin apparently paled in comparison to his desire to stir up a civil insurrection. I cannot allow that to go unpunished." He looks now toward Orell. "I will announce my decision on the morrow." His chin lifts and he says, by way of closing, "Keep in the light."

Orell Mikin takes a step back, bowing towards Talus, "Yes, your Majesty." as he stands by the side, just off the central aisle, to wait for his sister, and support her emotionally by being beside her.

Oren Nillu watches the exchange between the Alieron's family and the Emperor in perfect silence, still as a statue, hands resting at his sides. There is only perhaps a barely a tinge of sadness in his eyes, but he allows no such emotion to be displayed more openly than by way of a very slight creasing of his brow.

Rowena's heart sinks at the dismissal and visibly so, for the weight of it drops her to one knee. "Your Excellency, I cannot defend his actions, for they severely contradict what I *told* him to do." Her hushed whisper falters for a moment, eyes glistening yet again with searing moisture. "However I shall never sleep, knowing what filth he rots amongst in the bowels of the dungeon. Yet how can I beg for a merciful death if it brings death all the same?" Frozen in place, she watches Talus from beneath the protective fan of her lashes. A quaking hand lifts to swipe in vain at the drop that caresses over her cheek. "Therefore I trust the decision to be made in your hands, but request that if he is to die, I be permitted a final say with him."

"He is allowed visitors until tomorrow night," Talus replies. He then nods to Orell. "You are both welcome to stay in the Chancellor's suite tonight, if you wish."

Orell Mikin nods towards Talus, "Thank you, your Majesty." as he backs towards the exit, once he is sure Rowena is going too.

Oren Nillu offers Orell a quick nod by way of farewell should the man look in his direction, but says nothing.

Shaking her head, Rowena sways to her feet though not as straight as she was before. The tightness in her chest grows, bringing with it a dull throb from her old wounds of Alieron's last fouled order. Breathing shallowly, she placates her facial features long enough to smooth the troubled lines away in favor of eerie serenity. "I am still needed at the Bronze Hall. My forester will be lucky if his battered ribs do not collapse in his slumber, and his wolf will hardly live to hunt again. Thank you." The tone sounded dead in her own ears as she turns to walk numbly away. "It is a shame..." she notes in parting remark "That you were forced to cancel your bargain. I had hoped that no longer would I battle the Wildling toxin."

Talus Kahar nods. "It is a shame, indeed. All of this." He then turns toward Oren and says, "Lord Chamberlain. I trust you are well, all things considered."

Orell Mikin replies to Oren with a nod, as he steps up quickly to offer support to Rowena who's swaying. He sighs at Rowena, as he steps near her, "Fionnlagh was badly injured? Ester is behaving strangely today too."

Oren Nillu now moves to face Talus Kahar directly. "I am well, Your Majesty. These have been trying days and very demanding indeed, but I am well. I offered my own chambers to our guests last night so they would not be crowded into a single room and have been tending to Father Mikin. He was badly injured, as I am sure you already know."

Talus Kahar nods. "So I have heard. Does he improve at all?"

Refusing the offered aid with a small step to the side, Rowena focuses intently on the archway that holds her escape. Her vision swims again, a flushed heat rising to consume her throat while the archway suddenly seems to grow farther away, just as Orell's voice does. Her corset begins to feel like the squeeze of a night slider, taunting her frailty. Oh dear.

She tries to quicken her step in fear of stumbling in the throne room's sights. Tears of desperation fall anew. "I...I know, he..." she pants and extends a hand to grab at the doorway for intangible support. Would her eldest brother fall by the sword? To Rowena's dismay, the air does not catch her, and thus her fists catch only the cruel rebound of the floor. At least in the inky black of unconsciousness there is bliss.

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