Great Hall <Fastheld Keep>

Thick, squared-off stone columns made of one block stacked atop another form a sort of sentry line along this spacious corridor, where newcomers get their first glimpse of the residence of Emperor Talus Kahar and his wife, the Empress Freia Seamel.

Statues of famous nobles of Fastheld have been installed in various alcoves off to the sides of the great hall. The ceiling has been adorned with friezes crafted by the realms finest artisans. The walls boast remarkable paintings and tapestries beyond compare.

In celebration of the Winter Ball, the Great Hall currently features a winter theme to it. Elegant snowflake motifs and flowing tapestries depicting winter landscapes and townships besieged by snowdrifts adorn any available space upon the walls, while hanging weapons and armor have been lightly dusted with flour to grant them a snowy effect befitting of the mood.

One might even notice a central painting of an isolated Ranger clad in Pathfinder Armor tracking Wildlings upon an endless tundra of snow in what appears to be the northern plains of Fastheld taking pride of place above a grand fireplace that serves to heat the entire Hall for the duration of the Ball.

Banners and Flags lavished with the heralds and colours of each Noble House hang proudly from the ceiling above the themed Ball, representing the fact that all Nobles, regardless of past conflicts and alliances, stand here today as equals in celebration of the Winter season. As well as celebrating drink in equal measure, too.

Soldiers of the Imperial Tribune stand watch at the front entrance and at the approach to the staircase, which leads both up and down in the estate. Archways lead to the dining hall and the ballroom.

"Not unless it was a visit in a dream, dear lady," Rowena murmurs to the young teen and nods her approval to the silk gown. "And might I compliment you on your attire. Best stick to your uncle lest a lad spirit you away to the dance floor." She winks, slyly, and then settles her gaze on Arturo's face with a different kind of smile. One that speaks of tiredness; a secret to be passed between friends. "And how is Lady Jahna?" She inquires with an arched brow, catching his hand innocently in hers. "I suspect there's reason for her absence to this affair."

"No need to find cousins to dance with as a last resort," Duhnen grins at Gabriella, taking the wine back from her and handing it off to a passing keep servant. "I'll be glad to do the honor." He begins leading her about the mingling crowd to the area set aside for dances, though as he moves, he picks out Anys, and seems to try to draw her attention to him, if only for a moment.

Prowling offers time to consider information, and information provides some interesting conclusions. It also puts those of a predatory slant on a path that has them link up with other members of the pack; in this case, a Bladesman by the name of Dradin Gale. Padding closer to Blade, Soravyn clenches his right fist and presses it against his left shoulder in a respectful salute to the other officer. "Guardian."

Dirk watches ole' blood and glory stalk off, before finally moving to join all the faces hanging around Rowena. She's not nearly as imposing as the Red Wolf is, at least on first glance.

"Just call her name," Gabriella laughs as she follows her husband's gaze, her hand lingering in his. "I do not think she is angry with anyone, anymore.. it would almost seem as though she is happy. Why does Sahna not care for the Justiciar? He seems to be.. an intelligent man, at least."

Anys Lomasa smiles at Rowena and pulls the edges of her skirt outward to show it off a bit. "Isn't it lovely?" she answers, in a rare show of youthful exuberance for the evening. "Auntie Jahna is expecting very soon," she explains, on behalf of her uncle. "Some of the Nine will be dispatched for us immediately if anything should happen."

Dradin is startled slightly by Soravyn's greeting, and hastily composes himself and stands rigidly, returning the salute. "M'lord Justicar, sir!"

Duhnen chuckles quietly to Gabriella, eyes keeping on Anys. "That's a good thing, though. I'm glad she's happy. Light knows she deserves it." Upon finally catching the girl's attention, the Surrector crosses his eyes and sticks his tongue out at her in retaliation for the previous face. With a laugh, he turns to look forward again. "I wouldn't say she doesn't like him. I wouldn't really know one way or the other, Gabby."

Tormun Seamel strides unheralded into the hall, his vivid blue eyes taking in the decor with slightly less interest than the patrician coterie conversing throughout the room. With a quick check of his clothing, he takes a deep breath and moves into the hall.

Gabriella nods her head at this information, though she seems to consider it further. "Oh well...” she breathes before turning her attention fully on the Surrector, drawing his hand around her waist, placing it in a (proper) position for a simple dance.”Faye is happy to stay with the children," she informs, diving into domestic conversation. "Katya wanted to come, but I explained she had a little while. How are things at the Palace? Is the Emperor not coming?"

"I have a suspicion, Guardian." The Justiciar notes as he draws up alongside his comrade-in-arms. Different armor they may both have, but they remain Blades both, and thus his dry tones hold nothing but respect for his fellow officer as he quietly converses with Dradin. "A suspicion deeply routed in instincts, and I need to see if you hold the same suspicions. This is a Noble's Ball." He pauses for a moment, and then gestures towards the main swell of those assembled. "Do you notice any black sheep among the flock?"

"Blademaster Hartnek Lomasa," proclaims the herald next to the door as, indeed, the gruff and burly red-haired commander of the Emperor's Blades strides into the great hall. Hartnek turns to scowl grumpily at the small man in the black satin coat who announced his arrival. When the herald bows and scrapes, smiling sheepishly, Hartnek just grunts, shakes his head and then resumes his march across the hall. As Sahna predicted: Full ceremonial armor.

"It seems to me that nobody even dances at these things anymore." Sahna muses to Dirk, coming to a halt nearby as she notices Rowena otherwise engaged. "Why, I..." Whatever the thought was, it's lost at the announcement and her face lights up with wicked, wicked glee as she turns to look at the bladesmaster of the realm. In an aside to Dirk, she murmurs, "I think I'm going to enjoy this ball. Grab a goblet of wine for yourself and another for me, won't you?"

Anys Lomasa grins despite herself at Duhnen's silly face. She manages to restrain herself from replying in kind, at least, and turns back toward Rowena.

"Yes, Duchess." Dirk said at her musing about the lack of dancing, no disagreement offered. Not like he can claim many balls under his belt. At her second command, he nods. "Yes, Duchess. Right away." Off he goes in search of one of those marvelous servants and their tray of goods.

The metaphor is lost on Dradin. "I don' see any sheep, M'lord." The Justiciar taps Dradin on the shoulder. Gestures towards a Freelander wearing black ringmail armor. Looks back at Dradin.

Dradin blinks. Then it sinks in. "Oooooh. Right, right." He scratches his chin. "Shoul' I escort 'im off the premises, M'lord?"

Hartnek stops at the grand dining table, where he acquires a goblet of red wine and a lamb shank, which he proceeds to gnaw upon while quietly surveying the assembled luminaries at this year's winter gala.

"It *is* a Noble Ball." The Zahir Wolf purrs, folding his arms against his chest. "And the only armor we should be seeing here is Imperial Plate. You should do what you feel is best."

"I'm unsure if his Majesty will attend," Duhnen replies to Gabriella, a hand resting lightly on her waist, before he begins the dance with her. "I'm glad Faye has taken so well to the children. She seems so much healthier now than she was just a short while ago. And I can just imagine Katya here, also. She's be off trying to talk to everyone about everything." He lowers his voice and adds something, so only he and she can hear.

A sudden flush comes to Gabriella's cheeks, and her eyes, so recently drawn to the feared Lomasa patriarch, fly back to her husband's face. "I cannot help that I am pious, Duhnen," she murmurs in reply, her feet following the dance easily enough. Her voice drops as well, and she stretches a bit on her toes.

Tormun Seamel moves through the hall slowly, nodding and smiling at nobles as he passes, moving toward the serving table, where he acquires a goblet and takes a sip before surveying the crowd over the edge of the cup. Why, it'd be positively rude not to greet the bladesmaster while she waits for her wine, after all.

Sahna glides in that direction, schooling her expression into something less.. Impish. Neutrality. "Good eve to you, Bladesmaster Lomasa." She declares, amusedly. "I'm surprised you decided to come after all.. I must confess I had you pegged as someone who wouldn't stomach these grand functions."

Hartnek shrugs, sparing a brief glance for Sahna before turning his attention to the dancing Surrector and his wife.

"Heard they had lamb. Can't resist lamb." Another bite from the shank, washed down with wine, and then the Blademaster adds: "Besides, I'm getting my chair adjusted."

"Well, I'm certain she'll give thanks for peace and solitude while her husband is out, at least." Rowena whispers to Anys after Arturo gets otherwise distracted from their company. Good smells from the dining table could tempt even the strongest of hearts. Nose wrinkling in good-humored mischief at her secret taunt to her friend's turned back, she glances around to count the heads of new arrivals. Her eyes linger over the brazenly-armored Justiciar for several moments, memory seeking for a name. "I've seen him a few times before, I do believe, crossing in the Tribunal courtyard." Glancing back to Anys for clarification, she adds "The Hall of Healing has been opened at last. Already I've spent much time there to keep things in order."

Duhnen grins widely at that, tilting his head at his wife. "Fair enough. Though it'd still be amusing, I must say." He glances over towards the entrance to the room as the herald calls off, though he doesn't cease dancing. "Well, Hartnek is here," he says to her.

Dradin nods to Soravyn. "Right-o." He moves toward the fellow in the black ringmail armor. "A-hem. 'Scuse me, sir, but this 'ere is Nobles only. I'll 'ave to ask you to leave."

"I noticed," Gabriella mutters under her breath, looking both impressed and displeased. With a slight sigh, she turns her face up towards the Surrector. "I'm terrified for her day to come out, actually," she informs with a slight grin. "If she is anything like her mother.."

Anys Lomasa's gaze follows Rowena's toward the Justicar, who seems to be a hub for the social activity this evening. Then she turns back to Rowena as the healer speaks again. "Oh?" she answers politely. "That must be wonderful for you."

Tormun Seamel picks up Light Wine "...then I hope everyone is wearing some armor and toting shields about," Duhnen finishes for her, teasing good naturedly. "I'm sure she'll he just fine. After all, she's learning good behavior from yours truly."

The Justiciar nods his approval towards Dradin as the Guardian heads off in pursuit of a Black (Ringmail Armored) Sheep, eyes flashing in anticipation as a pack brother stalks the prey. If you can't fight them head on, flank them. With that thought in mind, and with events set into motion, Soravyn can only begin to hide a feral smirk of satisfaction as he stalks back into the gathered crowds.

"Everyone needs a little vacation on occasion." Sahna replies, watching the Bladesmaster with the faintest hint of glee, like an urchin who's just swiped a whole jar of sweets. "Even the blades, for that matter.. With most of tonight's work taken care of by the Justicar's honorable ilk, I'm certain it's a welcome break. He's here too, by the way.. I was starting to wonder if the man was real, but he's a fine fellow." No sir, she won't be ignored.

Dirk stops, peering at Dradin. Aw, man, the party is over. "Oh, right... Sorry. Was here with Duchess Nillu, I'm a... guard. Yeah, that is what she told me." He looks down to the two glasses of wine in his hands, managing to stifle his sigh. "Can I go give the drink to her before I leave, please?" Fear him; he is about as ferocious as a sheep too.

"That's exactly what I'm afraid of. She'll woo some poor unsuspecting fellow, and that'll be the end of it all," Gabriella laughs, leaning into her husband a bit. "I must admit, Duhnen... Tavern dances are a bit more fun." There's a pause. "Do you have to speak with the Bladesmaster?"

Saved by circumstance! Hartnek smiles faintly and waggles his half-gnawed lamb shank toward Dradin and Dirk. "Your man seems to be in a spot of bother."

Tormun Seamel watches the conversation near the serving table with interest, though he seems reluctant to jump in at the moment. He continues to stand and sip his wine, occasionally giving a smile to the people promenading by on the dance floor. His gaze is drawn to the Bladesman moving to herd a guest attending above his station.

Dradin squints at the drink glasses. "Well, I don' like denyin' a lady 'er wine. Go 'head."

Inconvenienced by circumstance! Irritation dances across the Assessor's features as she's forced to leave the Bladesmaster alone with only the briefest chance for a return sally. "I hope my gift will be a balm to your heart, Bladesmaster." She replies in an aloof manner before all but stalking towards Dradin, her gaze focused unwaveringly on the Flying Dagger.

"I suppose." Rowena replies distantly. She looks up again, only to find the wolf vanished into the flock. "It keeps me busied, at least." Like a nervous bird, she examines the room a third time. "Tis a shame that the Chancellor has not yet arrived. I seem to remember promising him a dance." Her mouth forms a tilted line of debate and fingers tug once at each of the belling sleeves. "Before I dare step into dance of any sort I believe it'd be wise to have some food to accompany the wine." Offering Anys her hand as an escort, she inquires "Lamb or fish?"

"Not particularly," Duhnen shakes his head to Gabriella, smiling down to her. "Besides, I can see him any day. He's usually busy in the Blades hall, buried under more papers than myself, no doubt." His smile grows into a grin as he adds, "Well, they're certainly a bit different in taverns, yes. We should begin one of those, here. Do you think our fellow guests would approve? I have my trill with me."

"Thank you." Dirk says. "You can have the other one, since you said I can't stay anyway. I wouldn't think of stealing a noble's glass or anything." With that, he continues on his pat-er, would have, if Sahna wasn't coming his way. "Oh, um, I guess I can wait here too. Easier for you to escort me out, right, eheh...”

Anys Lomasa smiles gratefully and takes Rowena's hand, leaving Arturo to his distractedness. "Lamb, I think," she answers.

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