Throne Room <Fastheld Keep>

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.
There is a large crowd gathered here.

Talus Kahar paces in and out of the torch-lit shadows of the throne room, followed at a distance by his usual coterie of guards. At this early watch of the morning, the chamberlain is nowhere to be seen.

Following clamoring footsteps, the herald of the hall announces the entry of the Duke, along with his over-inflated and usually self-emboldened titles. After this exhausting exercise in arrogance, the Duke himself appears - worn and tired, but please to have arrived. "My Emperor," Markus Kahar calls out, "... do I disturb you?"

Talus Kahar stops, clasping his hands behind his back. He shakes his head, favoring Markus with a faint smile. "No, not at all, Lord Kahar. What brings you before your emperor at this hour?"

Markus Kahar gestures to his manservant, who scurries to his side with a number of papers, "The usual - wealth, power, glory. That and my beloved cousin Alath's impossible schedule. Fancy him an artist, 'cos, because I never could. Never-the-less, his Art Gallery has become something of a rage. It consumes him. I never understood such passions myself, being too busy fending of the Church from burning my nephew to death. That, and trying to seperate lusty Lomasa maidens from the staff of my Ducal guard."

Talus Kahar scratches his chin, frowning. "Yes, well, we should discuss the matter of your nephew. I consider it unlikely that the Church will burn him, Markus, but if he lied in the name of vengeance for cuckolding by Cygony Zahir, then he needs must be punished."

Markus Kahar shrugs his shoulders, all shades of annoyance flushing through his cheeks. "Doubtlessly, however, all three of them - Dianna, Adaer and that Cygony - need a good spanking by their fathers. They've behaved like children with no control over their impulses. However, while you have the side of Justice, I must protect our family. I'll have to get Adaer out of this. As usual, this entire scandal has proved to be most embarrassing and humiliating on my part. And as usual, I will be spending an exorbitant amount of money and all my terribly hard-won favors to convince the Church to give Adaer a very, very quiet slap on the wrist. In my heart of hearts, I empathize with the boy. His wife acted like a prostitute. This is nothing unusual - much of our royalty act like prostitutes, to the point of giving so ancient and honorable a profession a bad name. No, the problem was that they weren't terribly discreet. I feel the shame drove Adaer to do something he wouldn't have done, had his faculties been full and strong."

Talus Kahar knits his brow. "Shame? Righteous *anger* should have driven him to demand satisfaction in a duel. From what I have heard, this was no act of passion, but a calculated effort that would have required no small amount of pre-meditation by Lord Adaer. The Church will not be so easily dissuaded from making an example of him, no matter how noble his blood. His action smacks of cowardice and a level of deception I would expect from the likes of Zahir, and not my own kin."

Markus Kahar arches his other brow, "... it was my understanding that Lord Adaer challenged this Zahir to a duel, and was turned down. If the Church is going to make an example of our nephew, they they're going to damn'd well make an example of that Lomasa and her would-be lover Cygony. I know what you say is right. I know that it would be justice. But he is family, 'cos, and blood is always thicker then water. This is what we do. We stand by family, even when they've done something monumentally stupid. So you cannot expect me to do differently."

"The Church will not act against Lord Zahir or the Lady Lomasa," the Emperor replies, shaking his head. "The best you can do, if you haven't already, is to dismiss Cygony Zahir from your service, demand recompense from his House for the trouble, and make a persuasive presentation to the Church authorities on Lord Adaer's behalf when the time comes. But do not seek to resort to bribery. Enough shame has been heaped upon the good name of my house over this debacle."

Markus Kahar quirks a brow, "... if the Church will not unilaterly punish the truly guilty, then they'll have quarrel from my ends. This is truly the Lomasa's fault. She spread her legs, and she betrayed Adaer to the Church. It's not as if Cygony was forced himself on her. She's a twit... my opinion of her is not high. If they punish only Adaer, instead of Dianna Lomasa and Cygony as well, which would be justified, then this is not true justice 'cos but simply a calculated move to humiliate our family. That's entirely unacceptable to me. Three people, not one, made this the mess it is. All three should be punished."

"Markus, cousin, *one* person brought the Church into it, and one person *lied* to do that," Talus Kahar replies. "The Church will not be an instrument of punishment against adulterers. Were it such an instrument, the Scourges would never sleep for chasing the infidels from mattress to mattress. No, the punishment due Lady Lomasa and Lord Zahir needs must come from other sources." He twists his mouth a little, then says, "Surrector Mikin will be journeying to Vozhdya to commence an independent investigation of this incident. He is of the opinion that Lady Lomasa, not Cygony Zahir, bears the Shadow's Touch."

Markus Kahar rubs his eyes for a moment, "Fantastic. Nothing like this ever happens at Lightholder Crossroads. No, only in Vozhdya are we replete with shadow-touched harlots and charlatons. I wish this entire episode would just go away. Like a bad dream. I will do everything in my power to keep Adaer out of harms way. I would do the same for you, or Alath, or any of our kin. Not to be smart, but there's not exactly many of us in the Realm at the moment. We're all doing our duty as Kahar on the Aegis. Meanwhile I've got nasty little Zahirs spitting insults at me, Lomasas with over-active passions and my nephew who's going to force Vozhdya into a state of interdiction. What would you have me do, Cousin?"

"Cooperate with Gell Mikin's investigation so that he can put a quick end to it," the Emperor says, shrugging. "Speak passionately on Lord Adaer's behalf before the Church, but prepare yourself for the likelihood that he will face sanctions, possibly even excommunication, for his deception."

Markus Kahar shakes his head in disbelief, "I cannot - will not - let that happen. There's not been a Kahar excommunicated in eons. This, while the Zahir are erecting statues everywhere? They'll want a statue of Cygony in the square, to be sure. This is so ridiculous. Was it not Dianna that started all this? That woman's a curse. Cousin, I will do my best to do as you ask. I have some reparte with the Mikins. I will lean on them."

"Trust to Gell Mikin," Talus Kahar says. "The Emperor's Hawk will visit the justice you demand on Lady Lomasa." He turns, walks back toward his throne, climbs the dais and settles into the chair, hands clasping the armrests. "Now ... you had other matters to discuss, I think."

Markus Kahar nods in agreement, "As you see fit cousin. Gell Mikin it is. Light help us. As for the other business, per your request I have had Duke Alath Kahar survey Marble Grove. He's affixed the price at three and a half million imperials, of which I have ready in my treasury. He has the deed, all we need is your blessing on the arrangment, and he'll turn the deed over to me. I'm assume that since it is Imperial Land, I will be paying you, however."

"That seems an adequate price," the Emperor says, nodding. "But before I grant my blessing, tell me again your plans for Marble Grove and its stately forests. I would not see it radically altered, or the mighty woodlands felled in the name of commerce."

Markus Kahar nods, "Mainly I wish to draw on it as a source of usable stone and mortar-mix. Despite its namesake the land is almost entirely untapped, with its rich veins of marble, granite and other useful building materials entirely unused. I want to mine, tap and sell these, since it seems many townships in Fastheld are only going to grow in these peaceful times. All these Keeps being built will require stone. I want that stone to be Marble Grove stone. As for the forests, there will be some lumbering, however it will be controlled. I prefer to send my foresters out alone the Aegis, anyway, as clearing lumber there helps our bladesmen defensively.

After a few moments of silent contemplation, Talus Kahar smiles and says, "Then, for this, you have my blessing, Lord Kahar."

Markus Kahar smiles, genuinely pleased, "I thank you, cousin. I'll send out the heralds with an announcement. Perhaps we'll develop some sort of fishing industry, too, it depends on how much growth there is. I prefer not to expand too quickly, however a deed-in-hand allows me all the time I need. The Imperials, then, I dispatch to you?"

Talus Kahar nods. "Just so."

Markus Kahar says, "Excellent. Is there something else you wished to speak to me about? Anything you'd like brought to my attention?"

"No, I believe we have covered the most pressing issues," the Emperor says. "Watch for the coming of the Emperor's Hawk, cousin. Where he flies, justice follows. Trust in that."

Markus Kahar takes a long breath, "... surely I hope so. I would like our family to maintain its reputation. A failure in this scandal is really a failure on me, of our family name. Most embaressing."

Talus Kahar nods. "It shall pass."

Markus Kahar bows, "Then I shall leave at once. My Emperor, I thank thee for your time."

Talus Kahar inclines his head at Markus. "Keep in the light."

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