Gold Coin Tavern <Vozhdya>
The tavern of the Gold Coin is a remarkably attractive redbrick cottage. Inside, its terracotta tile flooring is covered with thick, warm embroidered carpets. A large, circular firepit is centered in the room, capped by a rack supporting several rotating spits of meat. The walls are decorated with various images of Vozhdya's glorious past, from the Wildling Wars to the coronation of House Vozhd. Mounted highest of all, however, is a portrait depicting the Ascension of Emperor Talus Kahar XI.
Overhead hangs a large, three-tiered iron-and-copper candelabrum, swaying gently. The atmosphere is one of familiarity, as various persons - mostly soldiers - play games at the large ebon tables. Perhaps a dozen of these populate the room. The second story of the cottage is dedicated to small sleeping quarters for guests. A door to the kitchen is visible, as is a large biinwood bar stocked with copious amounts of booze.
Althea Weaver sits at her favorite table with her favorite drink, a mug of watered, mulled wine. She watches the fire as if in meditation, sipping her drink carefully. Occassionally she looks up at the sound of laughter from other tables or taps her feet to a song sung nearby.
Yain Zahir steps into the tavern, hands stuffed into opposite sleeves. He bows his head with a warm smile to a patron who greets him humbly in passing, and does so again with anyone else whom he passes on his way to the counter, where he smiles at Uvan as he said, "Light bless, good Master Waterstone. I will have some of your stew and apple ale, if you would be so kind."
As Althea further relaxes, she reaches up and takes her cap from her head, allowing her red hair to cascade down her back. She ignores the whistles from nearby Blades, but laughs when a serving girl deftly weaves around their advances, never allowing a hand to touch her. Firelight plays on her features, giving dance to her green eyes.
As the cook hands over a mug of homebrewn apple ale, he makes an apologetic motion with his hand. "Terribly sorry, Brother Yain, but the stew is only just on the fire, and will be a moment." The priest responds to that with a dismissive nod and smile. "That is quite alright, Master Waterstone. Your stew is well worth to be waited fro. I will be at a table when it is ready to serve." That said, he takes the mug and turns from the bar with a parting nod, glancing about before, again with a smile, heading for the table of Althea.
Althea leans her elbows on the table and looks over templed fingertips at the candle dripping wax on the wood. Her mug nestled between her arms, the sweet steam from the wine fills her nostrils.
Yain Zahir stops his quiet approach a foot or so away from the chair across Althea's, holding his mug with one hand while resting the other on the backrest of the chair before him. "Mistress Weaver?" he asks politely, if pointedly enough to shake her out of her revery. "Would you kindly allow me to sit with you while I wait for Master Waterstone's superb stew?"
"They say a House War is looming," a young woman states, "Zahir against Mikin. Then Kahar against both to defend the realm. I only hope that the Imperial House saves us from such madness."
At the sound of her name, Althea's eyes focus and her head turns toward a voice. She seems taken aback at the appearance of the Priest and blinks several times. "Pardon, Sir?" she says, sitting more upright. Seeing Yain close by, his hand on a chair, his words begin to register as well as his vocation. Her eyes grow guarded and her hands wrap themselves around the mog, but she nods. "Good eve, please feel free to sit down. Is there something I can do for you?"
"Nothing besides allowing me to sit, which you did," Yain replies amiably as he draws the chair back and moves to settle down, placing the mug of simple ale in front of himself. "But allow me to ask: Is there anything I might do for you?"
Althea tilts her head to the side, yet continues to grip the mug in her hands. "Anything you can do for /me/?" she asks, her voice a mixture of incredulity as well as curiosity. She shrugs. "I tailor, I travel. I cannot think of what you might mean." She takes a sip from her mug. "Unless...you also are well travelled, aren't you Sir?"
"Please," Yain says with a slight lifting of his hand. "Call me Brother Yain." Putting the hand back on the table again, close to his mug, he nods shortly and replies with a warm, if slightly thin smile, "I received my training with the Orders and was a Scourge for several years before taking the robes of office. Yes, you could say I am well-travelled."
Althea's eyes widen slightly as the priest unweaves his tale. "A Scourge," she says, with a nod. "I see...yes...then you would have travelled quite a bit." She turns back to staring into the candle flame. "I am searching for my Guildkin, missing now nearly three months. Two women, mother and daughter. They are known as Jessa and Alana Finethread. I think they travel together, but I cannot be sure." Althea leans back into her chair and sighs. "They were each Mistress of my Guild before resigning abruptly to pursue some project Jessa had been working on." She shakes her head. "THey've not sent word back to the Guild about their whereabouts, and I fear that harm has come to them. Perhaps you have hear of such a pair in your travels?"
Yain Zahir purses his lips lightly, and raises his mug to his lips for a sip of his apple ale, replying only after having put it back down safely. "I am afraid not; in truth, it has been a while since I travelled. I pray you will learn of their whereabouts, Mistress Weaver. There are strange and dark things in the city, things that... But that is not for me to speak about. The Light is hunting these as we speak, and soon safety will return to Fastheld."
A Ranger in the shadows speaks of ill tidings: "There a darkness lurking the wilderness. Though I cannot find it I feel it is there..."
Althea's disappointment is palatable, like the bitter taste of herbs on the tongue. She slumps in her chair slightly as if defeated. "Be at ease, Brother. I only seek what word I can find of my Guildkin. Though as you say, these are dark times and I fear the worst." She gestures to a serving maid who scoops up her mug. "More Althea?" the girl asks. Althea nods with a smile. "Yes, please. Thank you." She turns back to Yain. "The Light hunting Darkness." Her eyes narrow as Althea mulls over the words. "Tis a strange thing for me to conceive. And this city you speak of, do you mean this city, Vodzyha?"
Another maid appraoches the table and puts down a steaming bowl in front of Yain. "Your stew, Brother Yain," she announces brightly, and the priest's face lights with a smile in return. "Thank you. Light bless," he adds, before scooping a spoonful of the stew and, after blowing over it, eating it. "Mhmm, outstanding. What was that you said Mistress Weaver? Oh, if I was refering to Vozhdya? No, not quite. I meant all of Fastheld."
Althea nods, then smiles when her server arrives with another mug of mulled wine. She turns back to Yain. "Tell me Brother Yain," she says. "Is Darkness the Church's only concern?" She blushes. "Please I mean no disrespect, but my knowledge of the Church is, well, likely as vast as your knowledge of double weft cloth." She smiles weakly and shrugs.
"Hmmm?" Yain asks wordless over another spoon of stew, and smiles after swallowing. "Oh, no, of course not. It is something of a lasting concern to me, you will understand. I was raised a Scourge, and the vigilance that has instilled in me shows clearly oftentimes. Such as now. But, no; the darkness is the concern of the Orders. Mother Church herself has a greater concern for the wellbeing of her children. Which reminds me, I will be taking the wedding vows of a particularly sweet young couple tomorrow."
Althea smiles. "How sweet," she says. "Spring must be on it's way, if young love blooms even in winter." She takes a sip of her wine and sighs quietly.
"Yes, it is quite wonderful," Yain agrees with a smile slightly wider than his usual one. "It is the first wedding I oversee since coming here. The first wedding I oversee, in total, as well. I have not been wearing the robes for long."
A noble sniffs haughtily at a nearby table: "There's a thief stealing from saddlebags along the Imperial Thoroughfare on noble land! Unthinkable!"
"Do all Scourges become Brothers after a time?" she asks.
Yain Zahir scoops two more spoons of stew into his mouth, and takes a bite of the bread that came with the bowl. "No," he says after a sip from his ale to clear his mouth, "It is in fact rare that one makes a transition such as I did. But there were... well, matters that prompted me to this decision."
Althea smiles. "From Scourge to Brother," she comments. "It must have been a strong calling whatever has brought you here." She chuckles as she watches a group of Blades shove each other good naturedly out the door and into the night, each wavering and shouting bawdy songs at the top of their lungs.
Yain Zahir shares the direction of the glance, but seems to be looking onto something else entirely. "Yes," he says quietly. "It was a strong feeling that brought me here." The moment passes, and he returns his spoon to the stew to continue eating.
The gold that usually sparkles in Althea's eyes fades into a pale ring around each iris. "Surely drunken men are no indication of Shadow," she says. She rolls the mug between her hands, careful not to spill the contents on the table.
"Hmm?" Shaken out of content eating, the head priest over Vozhdya looks up. "Oh!" he says then, blinking swifty, and eventually laughing freely. "Oh, Light's goodness! No, of course not. Mother Church holds hard work as one of her prime tenets, but there is nothing wrong in revelling afterwards."
Althea chuckles. "Good, good," she replies. "Because I think the Emperor would be quite put out if his men were all Lessened for imbibing and chasing women." She smiles, then sadness takes her as if a cold blanket were thrown over her shoulders. She shivers. "Forgive me," she says quietly. "The thought of the Lessening is quite disturbing. To suffer so --" Her voice trails off.
A merchant sitting at the bar says something about the Mikins offering a bounty for a slanderous poster of news.
Yain Zahir stops his eating, and puts his spoon down carefully. Then he tugs a napkin from his robe and dabs at his mouth, before folding and returning it. Eventually he looks Althea in the eye, and speaks. "A loosened bull, roaring in rage, frothing with it, trampling and crushing the helpless underneath him and maiming them with his horn, must be put down. A wild horse, unable to be tamed, bucking under every rider, smashing stablehands' chests and cracking their heads with its hooves, must be put down. What now if that frenzy was not open, but hidden in the bull's heart, in the horse's heart, slumbering and waiting only for a moment to spring to life, and you knew it? Were you to let them live, you would put all around them to danger. No. That is a risk too high to take. Action must be taken, and swiftly, or the price would be terrible."
Althea's eyes narrow, the priest's words falling hard upon her, and yet she holds his gaze steadily. "Frenzy, yes," she says, choosing her words carefully. "Instinct gone unchecked, this I can understand. But we have different hearts than beasts. We have ones that know compassion as well as grief, kindness as well as rage, fear as well as courage and strength." She gestures to the candle. "Fire burns flesh, takes forests to their roots, and yet it also gives light, warmth and good food to eat. It is our own choices that brings destruction or creation into this world, not merely the passions of the moment, unchecked and misunderstood."
A courier deep in his cups at a nearby table mutters about peasants vanishing without a trace in Hedgehem. "No great loss " he grunts "but Edgel always had the best gossip."
Yain Zahir follows the gesture to the candle, and nods. "Yes," he says, and his voice is very calm. "Fire burns everything in its wake. And like fire burns away all material things, so does the Shadow burn away all the human qualities you list. Not at once; slowly. Over the years. It rots away the heart, feeding its black power upon it, until it has grown itself a shell, no more, of something that was a man once; a man maybe like the one I am to marry to his betrothed tomorrow, young, in love, and a hard worker. None of that remains when the Shadow has festered for too long. To let anyone live through this unstoppable decay of their inner light... /that/ is suffering. That is torture. That is what my brothers and sistrs in the Orders face every day anew, and what I faced, too. It is not for the faint of heart."
"Then there is no redemption except destruction?" she asks, then takes a last sip of her wine. "Then yes, I would agree your burden is heavy, and it is well you have your sisters and brothers to support you." She sets a coin on the table. "I must return home now, Brother, for the hour is late. Good eve." She smiles and stands, placing her cap on her head once more, and drawing her cloak over her shoulders. "May your journeys be light and easy, Brother Yain."
"Light bless you, my child," Yain says from his seat, making a small gesture with his hand to accompany his words. "I preay you learn of the fate of your guildkin."