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.

Blue and grey among the snowflake motif-- The petite figure of Fastheld's tax mistress glides through the threshold of the great hall, slippered steps muffled on the vast stone expanse. One could almost shiver despite the radiating heat from hearth and bodies alike. Marveling at the "snow"-dusted displays and glittering tapestries that hang from overhead, Rowena feels for a moment as though she's stepped into a winter landscape. She would blend well amongst the displays this night. A self-conscious glance flits to the silvery lace that glistens beneath her blue-clad bust and she touches her fingertips to her downy nape to ensure that the pendant remains in place. Only when self-assured does the Mikin emerge more fully from the final step and into the growing level of noise coming from the great hall.

Arturo Lomasa makes is way into the great hall, standing tall and proud as he nods greeting to the guards at the door. His attire isn't likely to surprise anyone who's seen him before, as he wears once again his favorite violet silk and green velvet. He glances down to the smaller figure of Anys on his arm, offering her a warm smile. "I'm so glad you agreed to come with me, Anys. I should hate to have come alone. Do you think I'll manage to talk you into dancing with me this evening?"

Fashionably late, but just as much as everyone else, comes the Imperial Surrector, not seeming in any big hurry. Then again, he does live in the tower nearby. A hand is on his pocket in a casual manner, the other mussing his hair. Seeing Anys in front of him, he gives a playful poke to the girl's shoulder as he passes, grinning at her and her uncle as he moves further into the room.

Well. No pants. Gabriella might not even be recognized as she makes her way into the Great Hall, her fingers gathering up the red silk of her ballgown. She comes alone, but she does so bravely! "Well," the Seamel noblewoman announces, standing on the steps with her hands on her hips. "This is... nice."

Anys Lomasa grins a bit shyly at her uncle and shakes her head. "I can't dance very well," she insists. She shoots Duhnen an entirely un-ladylike expression before turning her attention back to Arturo. "You can teach me, maybe," she allows, "as long as no one is watching."

"Well, well, well.. Look who's here?" Sahna's contralto sounds from nearby, as she deftly plucks a goblet of wine from a passing server's tray. "Duhnen, Arturo... Gabriella, Anys. So good to see you all here."

Dradin waggles his eyebrows at the serving wench, who smiles nervously and turns away with a disgusted look on her face. The Dagger mutters to himself and resumes his surveillance glumly.

Dirk follows in the train of high blood, scratching at the side of his neck, light armor covered with Nillu livery. It's a fair account of his legacy with the family, and as such, he hopes it might be enough to get past the guards without the expected greeting of immediate removal.

Arturo Lomasa glances at Duhnen with a nod as he comes past, but is distracted by Anys' response, offering her a warmly affectionate grin. "I'd be delighted, princess. It would be an honor to dance with you." He looks up again at the familiar contralto, offering Sahna a blink...and a lift of eyebrows. "My goodness,'re a vision of winter grace, tonight, truly." Let's see, whose next mentioned. Ah yes, his cousin. He turns a smile to Gabriella, chuckling easily. "And Gabriella in a fine dress as well...a rare treat this eve."

Duhnen, meanwhile, vanishes into the steadily growing crowd, most likely finding something to eat. A sweet smile and a textbook curtsey is given to Arturo, her head dipping briefly. "Cousin," she offers with an extended hand. "Anys! I did not expect to see you here." Sahna, of course, is mostly ignored... violet eyes glance in that direction before flicking back to her family members. "How I have missed you all."

Rowena exchanges steps with the jester as she interrupts her steady glide towards the arrivals in efforts to dodge his antics. Duck under an arm here, pivot 'round a foot there...she was home free from the buffoon, but casts him a somewhat bashful smile over her shoulder as fuel for the young man to run on so that he may elsewhere torment. Upon facing forward again, she catches a glimpse of her previous dance partner over the tops of shorter heads. Before she catches up to her peers, however, her continuous appraisal of the decor spies the lonely painting that hangs so quietly over the blazing hearth. There's a pause, her eyes squinting, and she averts her path to approach it.

"Well, it's a ball, after all." Sahna replies almost serenely. "The last one I went to, I seem to recall you started out as my date... Dressed as a bull in violet. Still, you look fine tonight yourself, Arturo." Her gaze focuses over on Dirk, green eyes briefly dancing with a silent, impish amusement as the miner shows up in livery. "I don't have an escort tonight, so I've brought one of my guardsmen along rather than one of those useless lady's maids.” She adds, reaching up to unclasp her cape at the throat. "..Just in case Gabriella's brought her crossbow to entertain us all." Clearly, she's not above sniping at snubbing Seamel.

Anys Lomasa hovers close to Arturo as she smiles in greeting to each person he acknowledges. Gabriella warrants a wider smile, though Anys has lost some of the unreserved excitement of her youth. "Cousin Gabby," she greets her. "How are you? I haven't seen you in forever."

With all the purity of white around the Great Hall from the decorations made in honor of the Winter Ball, the Guards of the Imperial Tribune - clad as they are in crimson armor that looks disturbingly like a shade of blood - have a habit of standing out a little from the crowd of otherwise elegantly dressed Nobles. Of course, such visibility can only be a good thing from the perspective of security, for established enforcers of the Imperial Law would make even the toughest of criminals think twice before attempting anything... underhanded.

So if Crimson Armor makes one stand out, that combined with a vicious looking Greatsword that just happens to glow with a dusty-blue aura all of it's own can only be worse. Or better, depending on your point of view.

Thus it is that such a Guard strides into the Great Hall upon the speed of a measured pace worthy of a seasoned combat veteran. With black cloak flowing in his wake, broad shoulders hefting the weight of the weapon upon his back without complaint, and a wolf-like glance that speaks volumes of the persona behind them, a rare event has indeed occurred upon his night: The Justiciar of the Imperial Tribune has arrived.

Dirk circles around the dancers, instead of bullying through them, politeness and what services as intelligent forethought leading him to his present course; the long one. Still, he doesn't seem to mind, studying the room as if caught in the Light, his normal squint replaced by wide-eyed glee. Until he spots Sahna, crossing the last short distance to her side, averting his eyes from the others currently around. Quick check of his equipment, yep, everything is in place and nothing hanging out. He's, at the least, respectable enough to stand silently and watch from a more secure position. One hand reaches for a passing glass of wine even as eyebrows raise in response to Sahna's comment.

"I haven't any place to fit a crossbow, Sahna," Gabriella offers back in a low voice. "I'm afraid my bodice is full." That violet gaze flicks up and down the Tax Assessor's frame. "I should have thought to ask to use the room in yours, no? Anyways, daggers always better for events such as this. Crossbows do little in close proximity. You ought to know that, all-wise woman you are." A sip of the wine is taken before the woman's attention returns to her cousin. "I'm wonderful, Anys. Busy, but wonderful. Enough of that, though. How are you? Any new adventures you haven't told me about?"

And again, from the crowd, emerges the Surrector. Though, somewhere in the throng, he managed to locate a small glass of blue wine, of which he swirls around in the glass. His attention seems mostly focused on the decorations about the room. When he's not ensuring that he doesn't step on anyone, that is.

Sahna's return smile to Gabriella is almost openly vicious. "How true, how true... I'm so glad you recognize the difference in our wits." She finishes removing her cloak and drops it in Dirk's arms, and although the movement is graceful, the proverbial sleeves are being rolled up. "Anyhow, if it won't fit in your bodice, there are always your shoes." The woman adds airily, before spotting the Justiciar. Her eyes narrow suddenly, gaze riveted suspiciously to the new arrival for a silent moment.

Dradin strides casually over to the food table and idly spears a piece of bread with a dagger, bobbing respectfully to important people as he passes through and moves back to an out of the way spot.

"Indeed I did...." Arturo offers in reply to Sahna, chuckling lightly. "Though don't tell the fashion gossips that these are, in point of fact, the same silks from that ball. I've been far too busy to have something new made." He winces as Sahna and Gabby start sniping at each other, coughing slightly at Gabby's reference to the fullness of her own bodice. Sahna's shift of gaze draws his own look to the Justiciar, along with a blink of surprise, and a slight downturn of lips. The man's visage isn't the sort one is inclined to equate with fun and merriment.

The eyes of a proverbial wolf glance over the heaving swell of those assembled here with cold precision. Ice blue amidst a theme of white, contrasted by the crimson of the irreproachable plate armor cast upon his frame. It's somewhat doubtful that the Justiciar is in attendance for the food and the charming conversations, but here he remains all the same, watching over the Nobility, and the Tribunal Guards, and those Blades drafted to help out with security. Who watches the watchers? Why the Justiciar, of course.

His pace eventually picks up again and his path would seem to be leading him towards the Great Dining Table, for whatever reason, earning him respectful nods from those under his command as he passes by; nods that are returned with equal respect, though his course remains unabated.

Dirk is startled by the sudden weight in his arms, staring down at the cloak, before bringing it to his chest. Nice, safe, respectable thing. If it's the wrong thing, then at least he can say he's holding it for the Assessor. He looks up from the study of the cloak, first to Gabrielle's bodice as she makes mention of it's confining space, then Sahna's. Blink. A very swift adjustment of his eyes, hopefully before someone spots his very brief lack of wisdom, focusing his eyes on an object as dangerous as goggling the pair of noblewomen. A wolf in red fur, armed with one very long and glowing tooth.

The red glow of flames nearly out competes the Shard and Ring's aura as the Royal Healer stands before it, her frame cast into halves of blinding white and shaded silhouette. The upward tilt of her chin is inquisitive, fan of her lashes widening, and mouth shyly smiling in appreciation. There in the center of a harsh and unforgiving terrain tread a figure of bravery, heart undoubtedly steeled with righteous intent. Or so she could imagine by temporarily losing herself in the artwork. A serving wench treads past, offering wine to all she bumps into. When she's moved on, Rowena's right hand has come to hold a filled goblet, unbeknownst yet of course to her thoughts.

Anys Lomasa blinks slightly at the drastic change of topic, but she offers Gabriella a wry grin. "No adventures worth speaking of," she answers, glancing at Arturo. Certainly, even if there were, this wouldn't be the place to reveal them.

Gabriella's attention is lost on this feminine battle, entirely, and her gaze sweeps towards this newest intruder. "Well," the noblewoman states, ignoring Sahna's bites and the general air of disapproval. "It seems there is, among us, a man I have not met! Perhaps I shall introduce myself. Anys? I will return in a moment." With this, the Seamel polishes the glass of wine off in a purely Lomasa fashion and begins to alter her steps in the direction of the Justiciar.

Anys Lomasa smiles good-naturedly and offers a wave to Gabriella as she swishes off. The Grand Dining Table accepts Rowena Mikin's money in exchange for the item which is placed on the counter.

"This ought to be good." Sahna mutters under her breath to Dirk, removing a fan from the lining of her stole and fanning herself with it-- The movement is probably intended to be coquettish. In reality it looks more like she's brandishing it with the intense desire of sticking out someone's eye. She remains where she is, sable eyebrows rising with lively interest.

And it appears that Duhnen has spotted Soravyn as well, having sidestepped an inattentive nobleman who already is well into his cups. "Save some for later, friend," the Surrector advises, patting him on the shoulder. Being that he was near the table anyway, it's only a short walk until he is able to move alongside the Justiciar. "Well. Managed to get away from the Tribunal for the night, have you?" he states conversationally. "All business tonight?"

"Justice never sleeps." Soravyn offers towards the Surrector as the precluding comment, and then Duhnen himself, moves to intercept the Zahir Wolf. It seems that the mantra is one that is spoken often, for the Justiciar doesn't even see to be aware that he's spoken it until... well, he has. Some people say hello. The Tribunal quotes oaths. Regardless, such an oath is accurate all the same, and the relevance brings a light smile upon the veteran’s visage. He doesn't notice the pat on the shoulder though, it seems. Pauldrons being what they are. That ice blue gaze regards Duhnen for a moment in turn, which only serves to pique the Justiciar's curiosity for the moment. "You're thinner than I imagined you to be." he notes. Something about armor... or the lack of... probably.

Dirk adjust his grip on the cloak, nodding at Sahna's statement, ruthlessly controlling his smile. "Or bad. What was all -that- about?" As the smile finally breaks out, he does his best to direct it elsewhere, to... Arturo. Hey Arturo!

"Ah, Duhnen," Gabriella murmurs with a rather... mischievous smile, her feet finding her beside the Justiciar at last. The name is said to no one but herself, although her eyes do glance towards her husband. Well, if you can't beat 'em... the Seamel noblewoman brings herself to step into her proper place, beside the Surrector, and dips into a deep, polite curtsey. "May I ask, Duhnen, who this charming fellow is? I don't think we've ever been introduced. I meant to ply his name out of him as well as the promise of a dance.."

Sahna turns the choking laugh into a polite cough into her fan, and then snaps it shut and tucks it away again, with some measure of distaste for the object. "Oh, the business with Gabriella? That's rather mild for us." She mumbles to Dirk, then follows Duhnen's example in a less eager manner, temporarily abandoning her 'guard' to Arturo's clutches. "Justicar Zahir, I don't think we've met. I'm Sahna Nillu, the Assessor." Her tone is reserved and formal, one animal of prey sizing up a potentially dangerous other. "It was kind of your office to assist the blades with the security for tonight's event."

"The winter falls a second time," Rowena murmurs to the painting while her right hand migrates of its own accord to her lips. The chill of the goblet rests patiently on her lower lip, waiting for her to take notice. "Has your mistress of rain forewarned you?" The buzz of the crowd around slowly filters back into her senses as she breaks her upward stare to blink in puzzlement to the tranquil blue that tremors in the cup. She casts a suspicious glance about before narrowing her eyes at the sneaky wine. Very well...a tentative sip is taken and she reorients herself to the room, searching once more for Arturo's violet frame.

"Thinner," Duhnen muses, the received comment bringing a smile to his face. "And you're taller than I had imagined, as well." Gabriella catches his attention as she arrives at their side, and as the Seamel looks to his wife, his eyes widen noticeably, apparently a bit surprised by something about the situation. "Ah...Gabriella," he finally speaks. "This is the Imperial Justicar, Soravyn Zahir." He nods to the crimson plated man in turn. "And this is my wife, Gabriella Seamel."

Arturo Lomasa looks intrigued as everyone seems to gravitate towards the new arrival. But for himself, the smile of Dirk is returned with a polite nod, before he notices another figure, and leans to direct Anys' attention. "There's Rowena over there... shall we go and greet her? It's been quite some time since we've spoken with her."

Anys Lomasa, in contrast, hasn't the least desire to greet the imposing-looking Imperial Justicar. Rowena, on the other hand, would be fine. She nods quickly at Arturo, leading the way with her arm linked in his.

The Justiciar considers Gabriella as she states her intentions, quirking a brow in a questioning manner before adopting a somewhat serene expression about him. "I would, of course, be delighted to oblige." he states, after Duhnen introduces the Lady Seamel, his voice all pragmatism and subtle harmony. "However, I'd like to keep the number of fatalities low tonight, and dancing would most likely not serve to meet those ends. I can but ask your forgiveness." For a number of moments in the wake of that statement, it seems that Soravyn is serious, too. Yet, the flash of a feral smirk may quickly diffuse such assumptions. And so, finally, his gaze falls upon Sahna, as decency demands...

...and that smirk promptly fades as he looks upon the wildcat before him. The Wolf has seen a Cougar. "Kindness had nothing to do with it." he notes without pride nor regret upon his statement. "I don't trust the Palace Blades." Honest pragmatism at it's finest.

"How could one not extend forgiveness to a man such as you, Justiciar," Gabriella answers with a light laugh before her eyes shift in the direction of her husband. "Good eve, Duhnen," the noble wife greets demurely, extending her hand in the Seamel's direction. "You look... surprised. Were you not expecting me to come? I assure you, the children are abed and sleeping in the best of care. Faye has promised to watch over them."

"No, of course not surprised," Duhnen turns to face Gabriella, seemingly having forgotten the Zahir he had just been conversing with, so great is his surprise. "It's...uhm." A drink of wine. "You look lovely. New dress?" He accepts her hand, lifting it to give it a kiss. Dirk sighs as the last familiar face turns to leave, so instead of crowding the Justicar with one more warm body, or following Arturo to a stranger, or joining the collection of blue bloods still flocking around, he settles in for a discipline wait of a true servant. Or rather, he shifts around like a caged bird, trying to watch everything while pretending he is watching nothing.

Rowena's goblet has mysteriously drained itself by the time she spots the advancing Lomasas and so with a sharp look of disdain to its empty depths, thrusts it in the direction of passing servant to be taken away. She needn't be partaking in such things this night. Already a touch of color rises to her cheeks. "Arturo, Anys." She greets to her friend and his little lady in tow. Both her hands extend to receive them each at once, head bowing forward. "How long has it truly been?"

Pure professionalism mingles with the taste of anticipation as Sahna returns tight smile at the fading of the smirk, her gaze bright and sharp. A single sable eyebrow lifts. "Oh? It's a shame the Bladesmaster isn't here, we could have a delightful and lively debate on the subject. I tried to lure him out by putting a pink painting in his office, but he's hard to bait sometimes." Her contralto tone is lilting with a casualness that doesn't reflect at all in her posture. "Nonetheless, I'm pleased that we're having a party at long last. I can understand the comfort of having my back watched by one of my own, although I settled for one guardsman. Are you by any chance one of the Hedgehem Zahirs? I was engaged to one, briefly."

"Perhaps," Gabriella answers, unable to keep the laughter from her eyes as she watches her husband. The gaze drifts towards the Surrector's wine, and then upwards once more. "I hope it isn't so displeasing you feel the need to drink yourself to death," she teases lightly, her fingers remaining with his after the courtly kiss to her hand. "I did not mean to interrupt your conversation. The Justiciar seems to be an... Interesting man."

"There wasn't much conversation to interrupt," Duhnen laughs quietly, glancing to his wine and offering it to her. "I had just wandered over to him, and we merely exchanged pleasantries. Of sort. Can I get you anything? There's lots of food here. And things to drink. If you don't want my wine, that is."

Anys Lomasa smiles at Rowena and accepts her embrace. "It's been quite a while," she agrees. "My ankle works again as it should. Have I seen you since then?"

"Raven Spire." The Zahir replies, speaking of one of the smaller isolated Zahir settlements that exist within southwest Fastheld. His voice is of gravel as the wolf regards the cougar, using a defense of directness against her barrage of questions. There's more than polite conversation going on here, it would seem. He crosses his arms against his chest, the sound of plate scitching against plate punctuating the silence between his words. "And I'm sure that worked out well for you."

His defense established, Soravyn quickly asides to Gabriella, "It's easier than you think." to her last comment towards him, offers a final nod of respect towards Duhnen without word, and then - with a final, measuring glance at Sahna, and a knowing smile of reverence from one predator to another, raises a gauntleted hand in an expession of impending departure. "It was a pleasure, Duchess Nillu. If you'll excuse me." And thus, after stalking between those that flank him upon silent plated paws, the Wolf slinks away to resume prowling around the Great Hall.

"It seems you can rid yourself of the bravest men, Sahna," Gabriella offers with a sweet smile before lifting Duhnen's hand to her lips. The other reaches for his wine glass, swirling it consideringly. "I'm not very hungry, Duhnen, though I thank you. Shall you, at least, indulge me in a dance... or shall I be forced to ask Arturo?"

"Unfortunately not... He just didn't have staying power. Oh, not at all, Justicar Zahir. We'll meet again, naturally. I did have some questions to ask you." Sahna replies lightly, her lips drawing back in a smile that's halfway just baring her teeth--The words have the ring of promise. Finally, she tears her gaze away from the wolf to look at Gabriella, and the energy narrows and hardens into something less than friendly. "Oh, it's still nice to have help, Gabriella. If I ever have trouble, I can just walk around barefoot wearing pants." With a curt turn on her heel, she starts for Rowena, having recently noticed the healer.

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