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Bramblestone Approach (Bramblestone)


From the mists of the Hedgehem Moors rises the forboding vine-choked promontory known historically as Bramblestone to the Zahirs. But to all who dwell outside of the territory of the House of Vipers, the gray stone castle crouched atop that green-carpeted hill is known as Craven Rock, for it was an estate of Goram Zahir - the advisor who betrayed Emperor Talus Kahar I during the first Wildling War and allowed the slaughter of many soldiers in the Emperor's Blades.
A squat, stone barn is perched at the base of the castle wall, providing quarters for the servants assigned to the keep.

A road twists west toward the moors.



Tomassa Zahir saunters out of the new smithy that rests outside of Bramblestone Keep, a fat, tame wildcat padding along at her heels.

Zurhael Zahir is standing by Wanderhoof, who munches contentedly on foliage. The Harbormaster's back is turned away from the keep, his arms folded, overseeing the task of two henchmen which looks to be burying a very person-like object.

Tomassa Zahir stops short at the sight of those two men, right hand falling to the hilt of her sword. "Stop!" the woman barks in her husky, authoritative contralto. "What is going on here?"

Zurhael Zahir turns, eyeing Tomassa for a moment before his eyes widen. "Ah! My dear cousin, I'm terribly sorry." He barks at the two minions, who both appear to be illegitimate children of brothel girls from the Old City. One is stooped over with pallid skin and wide eyes, very toadish in appearance. The other is taller than Zurhael, head completely bald, and rather muscular. Both of them are clad in shabby clothing and armor, and have tarnished weapons. "Stop it, both of you. We have a guest." He turns to nod formally to Tomassa. "I do apologize. We... found this fellow on the road, and Grot," he gestures to the toad-man, "insisted we give him a proper burial."

Barit Smithy arrives from the Smithy at a run after hearing orders starting to be barked. A bit late, maybe, but he is fully armored in chainmail and is wielding a rather large axe is his hands. Approaching Tomassa, he looks at her. "What be the trouble, M'lady?"

Tomassa Zahir strides forward with a deepening scowl upon her features, grip tightening upon her sword. "Stand back," she snaps to Zurhael's lackeys. "Show this man to me. Who is he?" Where did you find him?" Without much of a pause, she bellows, "HARWEL! COME FORTH!" Her yell causes some commotion within the Keep as the guardsmen at the portcullis scramble to a more attentive state. Further within, there is a clatter of armor and weapons as more men prepare themselves for possible trouble. "Hello, Zurhael," she snidely says, mouth curving. "Trust you to visit and bring a gift of carrion."


Later...


Parlor (Bramblestone)


A curved pocket of stone, little more than a large alcove with thickly cushioned couches and chairs, this parlor is separated from the receiving hall by a narrow doorway.
A ceramic pot-bellied fireplace hunches in the center of the chamber, with a stovepipe leading up toward the ceiling and a shaft that extends out toward the battlements.


Tomassa Zahir is tucked back in the corner on one of the couches, boots up on the upholstery. She's got one hand on her fat, dozing wildcat and seems about half-asleep herself.

Grinn Harwel steps lightly into the parlor, his halberd resting upon his shoulder as he brings a fist to his mouth and coughs. He pauses, clearly seeing the woman is relaxed, and frowns. "Milady, the guildmaster seeks audience."

Tomassa Zahir sits up just a little more, blinking. "What, Grinn?" she asks a split-second before his words sink in. "Ah. Well, come in, both of you. Have a seat." The Contessa stifles a lazy yawn.

Jacib enters as bidden, the cat that he refers to as his following. The guildmaster looks around and after a moment or two selects a chair facing Tomassa's couch. There he sits, his cat regarding the room insolently before curling up on the ground not far from Jacib.

Grinn Harwel leaves the menacing weapon rest against the doorway. He starts across the room, steel boots clanking upon the floor, and a hand upon his knife's pommel. A polite half-bow is spared the reclining woman before he too takes a chair across from her.

Tomassa Zahir absently reaches over to stroke a hand down her sleeping wildcat's back. "Aye, Carver?" the woman prompts with a friendly smile as she looks to him. "Have you found everything to your liking?"

"'f course," Jacib replies, a half-smile tugging at a corner of his mouth in return. "Th' accomodations y' 've provided me 're much better th'n what I'm used to--slept better last night th'n I have in a while. Th' weather could be better for th' wood, though."

Grinn Harwel sets his helmet upon his lap and shakes his matted hair loose. Otherwise he remains still, quiet as well, focus shifting from carpenter to constable.

Tomassa Zahir cants her eyes to Grinn Harwel every now and again as she sits there, hand lazily petting her cat. She laughs, giving her head a shake. "I fear I can do nothing about the weather, Guildmaster, but I am glad that you slept well." She continues to lazily pet her fat wildcat and it purrs as it half-dozes. "You are very welcome here. As you can see, you are sorely needed. This old Keep could use a new look."

"I hope y' 'll pardon my saying so, m'lady," the carpenter comments, his smile growing slightly, "but yes, 't does."

Grinn Harwel lays a hand upon the armrest while tilting up just a bit to draw his cloak out of a bunch and drape it over the chair's back. "Pardons, but I wondered if maybe y' could slap together a footlocker for me while yer here, carpenter."

Tomassa Zahir quickly adds, "For all the men, if ye've time. I'm sure they're as tired of having nowhere to put their things as I am. Even my cousin Thayndor could use some help."

Malice licks its paw. Cat licks its paw.

Jacib thinks a moment or two. "'t's doable, but I'd have t' take a few more trips t' th' Market District."

Tomassa Zahir languidly smiles while looking toward Grinn. "Perhaps we could help you with that, Guildmaster. If you could provide a list?"

Grinn Harwel leans back into his seat, nodding toward the noblewoman.

"Y' don't need t' do that," Jacib replies. "'t's actually more convenient for me t' go myself. Y' know 'f th' architecture competition in Vozhdya? I won it, so there'll probably be things I'll need t' do there." He shrugs. "Though 'f y' have 'n extra horse, 'n extra wagon, 'n someone t' ride th' former, I'd be glad for th' help."

Grinn Harwel meets Tomassa's eyes for an instant, lips pursing in a silent kiss.

The Contessa exhales as she shakes her head, fingers lightly rubbing the wildcat's tufted ears. "Nay, I fear that we do not have a wagon. If we did, I would gladly send someone to accompany you. Tis a shame that we do not have one. It is something that I should acquire, I suppose, especially with a smithy just outside the Keep now." She casts a glance toward the Sheriff and a bit of color rises into her cheeks.

"I've a horse would be good at pulling wagons," Harwel states, pretending not to notice the flush in Tomassa's cheeks. "It is little compensation for the kingly beast my Lady has gifted me, but I offer it to you. Would make a fine work horse."

Jacib comments, "I'd be able t' y' make a wagon, 'f y' had some steel lying about." He glances at Grinn and shakes his head. "I've got a horse myself," he replies. "I was wondering about 'n extra horse 'nd rider that could help me carry some extra supplies."

Tomassa Zahir looks back to Grinn with a thoughtful expression upon her face. "Does Barit have any steel at his forge? I assume that he might, since he gifted me with a steel longsword..."

"Not you, ya blood-..." Harwel stops mid-insult, "I was offerin' the animal to Lady Zahir, not you, Guildmaster." He rises from the seat and drapes his mantle across his broad shoulders. "I'll 'ave a look-see. How much is needed?"

Jacib raises a hand in a somewhat placating gesture. "Sorry, sorry... How much steel? not really all that much 't all."

Tomassa Zahir hides a smile at Grinn's choked insult, looking down to her pet wildcat in amusement. "I thank you, Sheriff, for the horse. Perhaps your friend the Smithy might be able to make use of it as well," she suggests. "I'm sure that he has some steel, Guildmaster, if not, we could procure some, I am sure."

"'Tis my pleasure to serve my Lady's needs," Grinn Harwel says, offering a parting bow. He takes his halberd in hand and leaves.

Malice purrs softly. Cat stares impassively at its surroundings.

Jacib reclines in his chair. His cat jumps up onto his lap, staring at the carpenter with an almost menacing intensity. Jacib strokes the cat's head, eliciting a soft purr. "I've gotten t' thinking th't this cat owns me more th'n I own it," the guildmaster muses.

Tomassa Zahir warmly chuckles. "I know the feeling," the woman muses as she glances to her own pet. "They are a comfort, aren't they?" she says about the cats. "You have done excellent work so far, Guildmaster. I am quite impressed."

"A comfort 't times," Jacib agrees with a wry smile. "'n annoyance 't others." He nods as he says this, and then continues. "Thank y' for your compliments, m'lady, 'nd there's no need for formality. Jacib'll work for me."

The woman's smile turns into a grin. "Very well, Jacib. Do you have a family? I didn't think to ask if there were people who would miss you while you were here."

Jacib nods. "My parents live in Wedgecrest, though I haven't seen them for a while. Six 'r eight months, maybe." He pauses a moment or two and continues. "I'm engaged, too--t' a leatherworker who works out 'f Hawk's Aerie 's well."

"Your work must keep you very busy, if you have not been able to visit Wedgecrest for over six months," Tomassa states. There's a twinkle in her eyes as she adds, "I trust that you make it to Hawk's Aerie a little more often?"

"Well, since I live there..." Jacib grins. "Yes, I make it t' Hawk's Aerie quite a bit more often th'n Wedgecrest."

Grinn Harwel returns presently, making his way to the chair he had previously occupied. "Barit's got a bit of extra steel lyin' about," the sellsword announces before seating himself. "You just tell 'im yer intentions an' he'll give you what yer need."

Tomassa Zahir's wildcat snorts in its sleep, ears twitching as the Contessa teases the tufts there just to bug the feline. "Ah! I'd hoped. Can you add a wagon to our list then, Jacib?" While Grinn was away, it seems that the Contessa began calling the Guildmaster by his first name.

Barit Smithy arrives in from outside, wearing his usual tunic, trousers, and boots, except with no weapon and a matte black forging apron with a wide pocket across the front. His arms and face are covered with sweat and soot, and he looks around the parlor.

"That I can, m'lady," Jacib replies with a nod. "But 'f I want t' get anything done tomorrow, I should be heading off t' sleep now." He rises to his feet. "Good night t' y' all." With that, he turns for the door and moves for it.

Grinn Harwel crosses his legs, reaching to scrape the crusted dirt and mud from his boots. "Sleep well, lad. There's much work for you it seems." He looks up to see Smithy, a crooked smile spreading. "There's the dirty sumbitch now. Barit, see to it th' Guildmaster's got steel for Lady Tomassa's wagon tomorrow, will ya?"

Malice rolls over on its back, stretching. Cat bats at a flying insect with a paw.

Barit Smithy sighs. "Just brought it with me," He opens his forging apron, fishing into the pocket and pulling out a brick of steel out of it. "Also made you your dagger."

Tomassa Zahir grins at her lackeys and the poor, tired smith, eyes twinkling. "Thank you, Grinn... and Barit," she says. "And you, Jacib. Sleep well and good crafting on the morrow. Don't forget your cat!"

"Hold onto 't, would y'?" Jacib says to Barit as he passes. To the Contessa, he says, "'f I could tell him where t' go, I would." He flashes a knowing smile as he passes out into the receiving hall.

A few minutes later, of his own accord, Jacib's cat also leaves the room.

Grinn Harwel rises to meet Barit, cloak fluttering behind him, and claps the blacksmith soundly on the back. "You're a good lad, y' are." A handful of coins are thrust into Barit's hand. "I won't hear nary a word, you take this an' get yerself an ale or somethin'."

Tomassa Zahir eases back into the couch now that the Guildmaster has gone, looking more at ease and less like she's holding an audience. The woman's coppery eyes watch the remaining two men in fond amusement.

Barit Smithy tucks the steel back into his apron, reaching into his apron for the dagger. "Real sorry, Grinn. Those dragon bones you gave me just weren't up ta' par. Plus I have to use market-brand steel...it didn't come out as well as I had originally planned..."

Barit Smithy quickly changes the subject and looks to Tomassa. "Greetins, M'lady. How'd you like the longsword? Musta spent 10 hours workin' on that thing. It's the first blade out o' the Smithy. Much thanks for the forge. About time I started gettin' to work."

Grinn Harwel accepts the dull blade, frowning at its lack of balance. The soldier kneels and sheathes it in his boot. "Not the purdiest, but it kin still cut a throat, eh?"

Barit Smithy grins at...Grinn. "It's no mankiller dagger, but it's pretty damn close."

"I like the sword quite a lot," the woman admits. "Tis about time that I added one of steel to my collection. I shall save it for fancier occasions and continue to use my old iron piece for everyday hacking." Her eyes continue to twinkle. "I'm glad to put up the forge for you, Smithy. You're a good man and I can always use more activity around here."

"Thanke, M'lady. Any orders you got comin' in for anythin' else, tell me. Quality won't be outstandin', but it'll be pretty decent."

Grinn Harwel jostles the man at his side, nodding up and down. "That he is, that he is. Good lad t' 'ave in a fight, and he kin hammer out a sword to boot."

Tomassa Zahir softly laughs, saying, "I'll do that, Barit. I'll do that. Tis really nice to have you at work out there. I admit that I rather like the extra clanging. If you like, I'll send some guardsmen out front to keep an eye on things, since you are outside the Keep walls."

Barit Smithy shakes his head. "Nah. Hardly doubt it's necessary, M'lady. Enough guards roamin' around out there, already."

Grinn Harwel releases the poor smith after a final pat on the back. "Good lad..." he echoes, arm falling to his side. Reaching to his throat he works the clasp of his cloak free, catching the garment over his arm and tossing it into the chair Jacib had been sitting in.

"I'll be 'eadin into the barracks, if there's nothin' else needed o' me," Barit announces, closing his forging apron.

Tomassa says, "Nothing at all, Smithy. Rest well, if that's where you are going. I'm sure that I'll hear you up and about tomorrow - back at the forge."

"Need somethin' to forge if I'm gonna be in there," Barit explains, nodding slowly. "Don't got a damn thin on the queue."

Grinn Harwel makes no move to follow, merely nodding to his compatriot. "Sleep well. I'm sure we'll come up with somethin' to occupy your time."

Malice purrs softly.

Tomassa Zahir ruffles Malice's ears as she watches the two men speak. "Aye, I'll think of something, worry not. Your forge won't be idle for long. In fact, I'll see about posting some news about it for you in Hedgehem."

Barit Smithy nods. "G'night, then," He turns, ambling off outside.

"Light..." Harwel murmurs thickly, turning to face Tomassa with a decidedly annoyed frown. "Thought they'd bloody well never leave." The soldier saunters around her couch, all the while keeping an eye upon the woman until he stands behind and to the left of her. "You look weary..."

Tomassa Zahir turns her head to glance back at the man with curiousity, one brow quirking. "If I am weary, it is a weariness of the spirit and not the body," she slowly admits. "I fear that I have gotten into the habit of brooding since my ill-fated hunt with that Forester. We never even got to kill anything," the Contessa grumps.

The mercenary grunts as he falls to his knee, elbows propped upon the couch's back. "Worry yourself not about that boy." A fingertip grazes Tomassa's shoulder, and he leans forward, his breath warm against her ear. "You've a man to see to you. An' if hunting is your desire, then it would be my honor to hunt with you."

Tomassa Zahir looks sidelong at Grinn as she swallows, her tongue easing out after to brush some moisture across her smooth lips. "And where would we hunt, Harwel?" the Contessa murmurs. Her voice is hushed since he is so near to her. "Where would you take me?"

The graze turns to a caress as Harwel rakes his fingers up the Contessa's shoulders, his eyes affixed heatedly upon hers. "Deep within the wood," he hisses, beginning to knead the muscles around her neck with a soft, circular motion. "Far from prying eyes. Alone."

There is resistance to his touch at first, tension increasing beneath his fingers with a tightening of her muscles. However, his low voice seems to soothe her with its heat and the Contessa gradually begins to melt beneath his strong touch. She is silent for a few moments, but then huskily whispers, "And what would we hunt?"

In response to the tension the man adds more pressure to his massage, hands brushing against her collar bone. No verbal reply is given, merely a gush of hot air as Harwel exhales in Tomassa's ear, leaning ever closer. His tongue snakes out, stroking the lobe wetly in prelude to the gentlest of nibbles.

Tomassa Zahir shudders at that wet touch, her body trembling as a frisson of heat flows up her spine. The woman sucks in a sharp breath through her nostrils as the riot of sensations flooding her form and her hand tightens upon the wildcat at her side. The beast hisses and darts from the couch to hide beneath a chair across the room where it glares at Tomassa. With a hiss of her own, Tomassa tries to jerk from Grinn's grasp, a hand flashing up in an attempt to backhand him.

Lost in the moment, Grinn never sees it coming. He takes the slap clear across the face, head turning with it. His hands tighten painfully around Tomassa's shoulders in that instant of shock, and then the grip is lost completely as he reaches for his reddened cheek.

Tomassa Zahir bolts up from the couch, form now shaking with roiling emotions rather than pleasure. "You forget your place," she tightly states, wiping at her ear before folding her arms beneath her chest. "You forget your place." The Contessa is frowning, but there is also a redness to her cheeks.

Grinn Harwel scrambles to his feet, eyes an impassioned mixture of anger and lust as he glares at her. He lowers his hand, his cheek still burning from the slap, and lays it upon Tomassa's couch. "You be glad I've more virtue than I let on." His voice is a low roar, just hardly contained within the parlor as he strides to the front of the couch and closer to his Lady. "You lure me by the short hairs, then beat me down. Do you truly think me blind? I see that fire in your eyes clear as day!"

Tomassa Zahir retreats a few steps when he advances, arms loosening to fall to her sides where she clasps her hands into fiercely tight fists. Her eyes are ablaze now as well - shining with an equal mixture of the same things within Grinn's gaze. The color in her cheeks is high as she haughtily lifts her chin and clenches her teeth in defiance. "And what of my reputation?" she hisses. "I am a widowed Contessa who does -not- wish to be married again. Do you realize what attention would be brought upon me, if Fastheld was rampant with rumors of the Constable of Hedgehem and her Sheriff? You tempt ruin with your actions!"

Grinn Harwel advances a step for every one Tomassa retreats, fists clenched by his sides. "Then mayhaps I ought resign," he barks, eyes aglow as another step is taken. "I cannot curb my emotion." Yet another step. "My desire." His chest rises and falls, heart fluttering wildly beneath the hauberk while his nostrils flare with each breath.

The Contessa is so distracted by her pursuer that she doesn't note the direction in which she moves. Two quick steps backward bring Tomassa into contact with the heat of the pot-bellied fireplace. A sharp look downward and back reveals her mistake even as she darts two steps forward to escape the burning touch of the metal. From the frying pan and into the fire is how the saying goes... When she turns her eyes back to Grinn, the Lioness' nostrils flare and her eyes flash to find him only inches away from her now.

In his current state of anger and hurt the soldier uses Tomassa's mishap to his advantage, or perhaps simply mistakes the advance as an invitation. In either case he steps into Tomassa, chest beating rapidly against her as his arms shoot out to ensnare her waist, an attempt to keep her pinned. There is no hesitation, no thought given, Grinn merely reacts and with parted lips he leans forward, roughly clamping them over hers should she not manage to break away.

"Mmph!" is the sound of protest and surprise that escapes Tomassa when Grinn's mouth covers her own. She stiffens in his arms, hands lifting to press and push at his shoulders in a test of strength - both his and her own. The Contessa struggles for the space of no more than three heartbeats... and then her hands ease up from his shoulders to cup his neck and face in their warmth. Hungrily, desperately, urgently, Tomassa meets the sellsword's kiss with raging heat.

Weeks worth of pent emotions, both good and bad, flood from Harwel, the force of it threatening to sweep them both away. He half opens his eyes in surprise at the Lioness' strength, but his desire far outweighs any resistance. And once she grows lax he lifts her clear off her feet with a heave, lips never leaving hers in their insistent, desperate lock. A sound emanates from deep within his chest. A rumbling growl as his tongue batters insistently at her lips, attempting to force entry into the sweet warmth of her mouth.

Tomassa Zahir's mouth parts with a gasp and she sucks in a bit of air before melding her mouth again with Grinn's. The slick velvet of her tongue darts to meet his in a seductive battle for dominance. The Contessa is consumed with desire, her breathing heavy and her pulse frantic. Without thought, she lifts her leather-clad legs and wraps them about Harwel's waist when he pulls her feet from the ground. Violently, she kisses him, plump lips bruising from her own eagerness.

Grinn Harwel pants heavily in that brief instant their mouths are apart. One arm slides down, hooking beneath Tomassa's rump whilst the other continues to draw her in, as though trying to bring her inside himself. His tongue rises to the challenge, thrashing against hers in a frenzied wrestle that turns Harwel's knees to jelly. The man stumbles back a few paces, falling heavily into the couch and bringing a hand up to Tomassa's hair. He finds himself losing this 'battle' for dominance, the woman's almost violent kiss stripping him of what little control he had to begin with. He finds himself enveloped within his own passion, the universe having faded to nothingness around him. There exists only himself, and the woman in his embrace.

Tomassa Zahir falls atop the Grinn on the couch, legs parting to let one slide over the edge of the cushion while her other knee presses beside his opposite hip. As she leans over him, her long braid falls forward over her shoulder to dangle against his hauberk. Some of the violence leaves the woman's kiss, though none of the urgency and desperation lessens. Her mouth softens, eases just a little, and Tomassa's lips lift to allow another gasp of needed air. "This is madness," she hisses against Grinn's lips. "Utter madness."

Grinn Harwel draws his hand across Tomassa's hip, raising it to her throat where a single, thick index finger can trace the scar along her cheek. "If this is madness," he whispers between fluttering kisses, "Then may it take me." He captures the braid in hand and draws it to him, inhaling deeply of its sweetness. "The hour draws late, and no doubt rumor will spread if I remain with you any longer." A regretful smile crosses his lips, and he plants a series of burning kisses along her jaw.

The woman's lips are darkened from the kissing and plump from the earlier pressure of Grinn's mouth. Tomassa moistens them with a swipe of her tongue as she tries to steady her breathing. Easing back very slowly from his burning kisses, the woman ends up gently sitting against his hips. She looks down at Grinn from beneath heavy eyelids, long lashes fringing the molten heat of her gaze. "Aye," she agrees in a soft, hoarse voice. It takes her several more heartbeats to realize that she should move, if he is to get up, but she cannot stop staring down at him in a heated daze.

Grinn Harwel eases himself upward into a sitting position with the woman sat astride his lap. He nuzzles her neck ever so gently, avoiding that heated gaze for fear of what it might bring out. "My Lady needs plan for a hunting foray," he suggests, lightly pressing against her shoulder in his attempt to slip away whilst he still maintains his senses.

Tomassa Zahir bolts from his lap, moving quickly to the other side of the room as if being close to him makes it difficult to breathe. She crosses one arm over her middle and lifts the other hand to rub at the side of her neck. "Goodnight, Sheriff," she murmurs in a thick voice without looking at him.

The mercenary rises in similar fashion, eyes trained on the doorway. "Goodnight, Constable." He starts for the exit quickly, not daring to look back.

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