Sworn by Sword

Sworn by Sword

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A play-by-post epic set in the kingdom of Pandora. Politics and promises take place of the sword and shield. Create your character and make history. Posts are written in 3rd person, long narrative, like a novel.

1,004 readers have visited Sworn by Sword since Ninja Vanish created it.

Introduction

.: Welcome to Pandora :.


.: Welcome to the kingdom of Pandora, a once peaceful realm of many kings and many things. The following is an account of the events that have taken place most recently. More information on specific characters, houses, and cities can be found in:

The "Royal Annex" holds all data regarding characters, houses, cities, NPC's, maps, and more.
It can be found @ http://www.roleplaygateway.com/royal-annex-t64026.html.

The "Storyboard" is where the writers pitch ideas, discuss plots, and organize their stories.
It can be found @ http://www.roleplaygateway.com/storyboard-t64005.html.

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The history follows as such:

In the beginning...


Now, many nations ruled soundly by many powerful houses stand together in the Kingdom of Pandora. Between them all, they have created the standard sets of laws and government that Pandora is to be governed under. In the highest seat of power is King Elliot Brackard V, of Olympus, Home to House Brackard. The Brackard's had held the throne for five generations of kings, the longest succession by a single House in recorded history Brackard is the youngest of his four successors, made obvious by his frequently juvenile behaviors. He was proud, almost too much so, and he commanded the respect of his elders, held the adoration of his people, and and made his city welcome to all. The throne has changed hands, a war has ended, and the kingdom is stagnant, for the moment. His reputation was not earned in the field, but rather in the city itself, constantly throwing lavish festivals and tournaments. Nicknamed the "King of Light", Elliot Brackard ruled the city from atop his throne, adorned in precious gold with gemstones and intricate designs outlining every layer of his garb. For the first time in over a decade, a young and healthy king sat atop the throne.

The end of the most recent war is now in sight. After a drawn out bloody conflict between Houses Montague, Hawke, Huxley, Dunwood, Brandenburg, and Vonnegut, a peace treaty has been drawn up to end the fighting. Begrudgingly, leaders of all houses have been invited to the capital city Olympus to agree upon the terms. Peace is coming to Pandora. After a history littered with conflicts both large and small, the kingdom looks forward to its first decade of civility. The people are happy, and the kingdom is regaining its balance. In commemoration of the latest peace treaty between the houses, King Brackard is hosting a festival in the capital -- "The Festival of Light". There will be parades, tournaments, feasts, and many other celebrations for a week-long event of splendor. The royalty of all Houses across Pandora have been invited to attend, and many have chosen to participate in various events throughout the festival. Much of the population of the kingdom plan to attend as well, threatening to almost triple the size of Olympus over the course of a few days. A royal council meeting between the Lords of the previously warring Houses has been planned for the first night of the events, wherein formal treaties and documents will be drawn up and signed.

Meanwhile, in the Trade Isles to the southeast, word has spread that through dealings with House Montague, Lord Thorne of the Tsunami Syndicate has received an incredible sum of money to design a new fleet for Lord Montague to take home to Calypso. Details of their business partnership has caused many surrounding Houses to feel uneasy. Pirating along the southern coast of Pandora is at its all-time worst. Many consider the waters to be unsailable, but the Olympic Navy has been providing consistent resistance from its position in the West.

Chapter 1 of our story begins three days before the Festival of Light in Olympus...


To be continued...

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PANDORA


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Toggle Rules

.: Book of Laws :.


The goal here, above all else, is to have fun. Sometimes to do this we need to have a fairly strict set of rules so to minimize future disagreements or misunderstandings. The following sets of rules and guidelines are always subject to change if we find that something doesn't work. We will continue to make new additions to this list and refine it as we see fit.

In "Sworn By Sword", we write our stories like a novel. This means writing in third person, long narratives. Obviously, the length of the posts will vary based on the situation. Some of us will be writing more independently until our character's stories weave together. If this is the case and you are very much writing "solo", feel free to write on your own schedule. When writing closely with others, allow them time to post responses, plan together in the OOC threads, and make sure you don't step on any toes. We don't want to move the story forward to the next day if someone hasn't had the chance to post their perspective of the events.

1. Be Respectful. This one goes without saying. This is a collaborative roleplay. No one person is against another person (although our characters may be.) We encourage everyone to help each other's stories both internally and externally. Message each other outside of the threads and plan some interesting plot developments for your characters. Offer advice and critiques (where it is appropriate), and work together as much as possible.

2. Don't be a stranger. If you're going to go out of town or know that you'll soon be swamped by school, work, or some other activity, give us some advanced warning. Perhaps there are people here who you'd trust to carry your character passively as an NPC during your absence, or else you can come up with your own plot device to pardon your character. Sudden, prolonged absences may result in characters being removed or written out of the story.

3. Fearlessly create. The world of Pandora has a long, complicated history. It would be impossible to explain it all in one sitting, so we will mostly be creating this world together. The admins will have final say over what will and will not be included in the roleplay, but it is up to you, the writers, to create the fabric of this world. Help forge the history and layout of the world. You can always create NPC's, cities, events, anything that you feel has a place in the story. Obviously, if it is anything significant, we can discuss it in the OOC threads, but don't feel restricted to just what you know. Play a part in creating this world as much as you'd like!

4. Everybody dies. No character in this roleplay is invincible. Everyone is capable of dying if the situation presents itself. Undoubtedly, your character will get injured at some point, or perhaps be murdered. These things happen. Obviously you have control over how and when some of these things happen, but don't be the first one charging into battle on a horse wearing bright colors if you haven't come to terms with the fact that you may be slain, taken hostage, or injured.

5. Nobody's perfect. Everyone has flaws. Don't pretend you don't and don't pretend your character doesn't. When creating your character, take into account their function in this world. What is their status? Who were their parents? What do they strive to become? What do they fear becoming? What are they afraid of? Who do they hate? Love? Serve? The more of these things you can decide on, the more interesting your character will be. Much of this roleplay will revolve around your actions and your reaction to the actions of others. Know your character in and out and understand how they would adapt to the unfolding events of Pandora.

6. Plan ahead. If you create your character knowing that you plan on trying to usurp the throne of Pandora and become King, let us know. It won't be as easy as that, of course, but it isn't an unreasonable pursuit. Obviously, we all have plans for our characters and our characters all have hopes and dreams. Not all of these will be easily achieved. Some won't be achieved at all. But be vocal about your ideas and plans and you'll have a better chance of having them happen. There is an OOC storyboarding thread where we can discuss and debate the course of the story as it goes on. Be active in voicing your ideas and opinions!

7. In the world of Pandora, your name and title mean everything. Your status dictates how people think of you, what freedoms you are allowed, and where your place is. Like real life, most people strive to improve their status through a variety of means. Be vigilant in this while you roleplay. Perhaps it is important to your character to move up in the world... or maybe they are happy right where they are. Regardless, be aware of who is a higher status or lower status than you so that you know how you are expected to act.

8. Be mature. It is only natural that we have a wide range of ages and personal backgrounds and beliefs amongst us. Regardless, this roleplay may very well venture into adult themes. There may be profanity, blood and gore, sexual situations, and other vulgar or lude musings, but we must above all keep it tasteful. There is an obvious line between acceptable and unacceptable. We'll be defining this as we write.

9. Know the story. We will have many different plots happening in many different areas of the world. Even though not all of the stories will have everything to do with one another, there are events that will have ripple effects. Be aware of what is happening so that you don't miss anything. If you ever have a question or doubt, ask before you write. We don't want someone using an NPC in one castle when the person is actually in prison on the other side of the kingdom. So do your fact checking.

10. Don't rush. This story progresses second by second, day by day. Don't jump ahead a month later or even a week. Stay aware of how fast the story is progressing and make sure you aren't skipping ahead too fast or falling behind too far. Each post doesn't have to span the length of a day, but if it does cover a significant amount of time... you'll have to sit out until the rest of the posts catch up. Work on moment-to-moment posts and really take time to develop your character.

.: Character Creation :.


This is the character template we will be using for the roleplay. Go ahead and follow the instructions below:

For "Character Name" include:

-- First and last name (and middle one if you have it). If you have a nickname, include that as your middle name.
i.e. Rhobis "Longbrow" Farley

For "Synopsis" include:

-- Some up your character in one sentence. Include your title/profession and place of origin somewhere. Keep it simple and creative.
i.e. "A man from Lanchester with nowhere to go." or "A bastard blacksmith from Laruzia."

For the "Avatar" include:

-- The 100x100 avatar of whatever celebrity you would choose to portray your character. Check the cast of characters in the OOC threads to make sure your avatar is available and not already taken.

For "Description" include:

-- The details of your character. Age, gender, height, weight, skin color, eye color, hair color and type, body build, and other distinguishing features like tattoos, scars, birthmarks, etc. Also list your character's title and allegiance. Have they sworn to serve anyone? Are they some merchant's apprentice or student? Some characters may have no allegiance, like a bandit or pirate, but most have sworn allegiance to a King or royal house of some kind. Your title is dictated by your profession more often than not. The title "Ser" means that you are at least a Knight. A "Master" is a mentor or tutor in some doctrine like medicine, melee or ranged combat, cooking, blacksmithing, etc. A "Lord" has a vast estate and alot of wealth as well as a small personal army and staff of servants to attend them. Other titles could include "Captain" of a ship, any military rank in the Royal Guard or other army in the realm, "Prince", "Princess", "King", "Queen", etc. People without titles have not attained any specific rank or measure of nobility yet... but it doesn't mean that they can't in the future.

For "Personality" include:

-- How your character acts, what others perceptions of you are, your fears, desires, strengths, weaknesses, etc.

For "Equipment" include:

-- Your weapon's of choice, and any items or objects you possess that are important to you. This could include a special horse or gifted piece of jewelry you own. You can also include clothing, property, or anything else you would like.

For "History" include:

-- Your family lineage, where you come from, where you live now and everything in between. Were any of your close friends or family of any imporance throughout history? This can be summarized of course, but what important events happened in the course of your life? Detail your family, friends, and other important relationships as well.

.: NPC's :.


NPC's play an important role in this game. There will undoubtedly be several non-player written characters that play large roles in your characters' lives. Perhaps you have a squire or attendant of some kind that you feature in your posts often enough to write a short bio following the same format as above. Post them just as you would a normal character and know that they will not be used by other writers in their posts unless given consent by you.

Taking place in...

Pandora our primary setting

The kingdom of Pandora and its capital city Olympus.

The Story So Far... Write a Post » as written by 7 authors

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DRAIKEN HAWKE



"Quickly, Alistair. They're raising the gate already."

Draiken glanced anxiously out the window at the parade of troops arriving through Lanchester's stone gates as his squire, Alistair, fumbled clumsily with the brooch on his cape. The material, blackened silk with a silvery green outline, draped hideously across Draiken's left arm. In the courtyard below, his father led a small host of men through gates in a large ornate wagon. He studied them as they slowed to a stop. Lord Hawke's attendants aided Lady Hollister off her horse as Dorian, eager to be off his, jogged through the regiment towards the blacksmith's quarters. In his grip he held a longsword -- a rapier by the looks of it.

"Looks like our golden prince brought home a new toy." Draiken observed, grinning to himself.

The squire, meanwhile, had given up. "The damned things stuck..." Alistair grunted, dropping the hem of the cloak to the floor. Draiken waved him away and attended to it himself.

"Grab my sword and crown from the bed," he commanded. "We'll try and catch them in the commons." The procession had moved from the courtyard towards the town commons now. Draiken assumed his father would want to tour the city on his way back to the castle. They had been gone two weeks paying a visit to Lady Hollister's father in Kensington. He took half the damn military with him as well. The Hawkes were still at war. An unsigned peace treaty meant very little, regardless of what promises had been made. Draiken had stayed behind to watch over Lanchester in their absence, but he was certainly relieved to have them home safe.The two shuffled down the spiraled steps of the eastern tower, Draiken fidgeting with his brooch, Alistair trailing close behind. When they reached the bottom of the steps, the party had already been received. Various people helped unpack horses and behind the march towards the stables while others mixed with citizens and other royals. Lord Elias Hawke was not hard to find, but as Draiken approached he did not recognize the man in front of him. It was not as he remembered his father. One of his aides helped the Lord remove his helm, and the seriousness of his condition was plain for all to see. His eyes were sunken and dark. His skin a pale, moist cover to a very sick man. Ser Avery and Ser Holland supported him from either side taking an arm each and began leading him towards the Commander's tower. Draiken pushed his way through the crowd of people and slid in beside his father. Ser Avery fell in beside the both of them as Draiken took his spot under his father's arm.  He glanced back at the knight. "What has happened to him?"

The man in chain shook his head solemnly. "We're not sure, my Lord. He took ill over the last pass. Could be from the chill... but..." The knight paused to help hold open the door to the tower. Draiken and Ser Holland dragged Lord Hawke to the nearest chair and thrust him into it. Draiken rounded on Ser Avery.

"Speak." Draiken's patience was at its limit.

Ser Avery had trouble finding the words. He spoke softly. "It all strikes me as queer, m'lord. His Grace was fine when we left Kensington. It had to have happened on the road. But he hasn't spoken since we crossed the Kyranese River. He's got a deep fever..." Attendants arrived from all sides with a basin of water, a steamed towel, and an elixir of sagebristle for the fever. Draiken stepped back to make room for them. Alistair took his place, helping Elias out of his cloak. One of the aides approached Draiken and began leading him from the scene.

“You must go find Lady Hollister and inform her of his condition. Master Dorian as well. He cannot ride to the festival tomorrow like this. And the hunt in the morning... it wouldn't be wise.” She turned back to Elias as some of the attendants began tending to him. The woman was right though. Where were Lady Hollister and Dorian at a time like this? Didn't they care that his father was dying? He doubted it, but it still seemed odd that they were so quick to leave him upon arriving. The thought troubled Draiken a bit too much and he began to walk back towards the Commons.

“M'lord?” Ser Avery muttered in confusion. Draiken rounded on him fiercely pointing a finger square in his face.

“Stop calling me 'Lord',” he glanced towards his father, now being carried up the stairs by four attendants. “He isn't dead yet.” Draiken pivoted on his foot and left the speechless knight behind. “Make certain he isn't when I get back.” Alistair followed him close behind and the two disappeared into the city. It had begun to rain now – the beginning showers of what was promised to be a long and rough winter. Draiken drew the hood of his cloak over his head and made his way into the street. Dusk was approaching and the armory already had lights in its windows. He recalled seeing Dorian rush into it when they dismounted and thought he would pay him a visit first. Citizens of Lanchester rushed on all sides of the street to pack up their horses and wares before they became soaked. Torches were being lit along the walls of the gates, and a church bell began to toll above the cathedral as the streets cleared. By the ninth ring, Draiken was at the blacksmith's door. He gave it a soft rap with his knuckles and cupped his hands to breathe warmth into them. The rain was stronger now, the gentle din of water on cobblestone echoing from wall to wall. The door was pulled open in front of him, revealing the face of the resident blacksmith, Ser Duncan Lambert.

“Aye. 'Bout time you showed up.” Duncan turned his back on Draiken and lumbered across the room towards one of the workbenches. Dorian and two of his friends lounged in the corner near a few of the other workers, regailing them with tales from the journey to Kensington. His focus was on them when the metal hilt of a sword was thrust into his hands. “Your father had me see into hardening the hilt a bit more, but it'll do. We also have a new breast plate for you to try on.” Draiken sighed to himself as he remembered what Duncan was talking about. Lord Hawke had made plans for himself, Dorian, and Draiken to go hunting the day after their return from Kensington. He had requisitioned new gear for the trip. That had all slipped Draiken's mind the second he saw his father, however.

“Duncan, Elias is ill. He's in the Lord Commander's tower now, but he... doesn't look good.” Draiken turned the sword around and extended it to the blacksmith. “This looks wonderful, but I doubt we'll be going on the trip after all.” Duncan snorted a harsh laugh and took the sword back begrudgingly.

“Whatever you say, Lord Prince. Lot of work for nothing, if you ask me.” The blacksmith tossed the blade back on the bench and made his way out of the room past Dorian and his fellows. By now they had noticed him. Dorian's eyes locked onto him as he pushed his way past his comrades.

“Aren't you going to welcome me home?” Dorian asked, smugly.

Draiken was drawn over to the workbench. “This isn't your home.” As he took the blade into his hands, he was immediately impressed by how beautifully it was weighted. The entire length of the blade was unmarked, save for the small Hawke insignia near the top of the hilt. It had to be a few inches longer than his other blade, but much finer craftwork. He remembered the nuisance of a step-brother behind him and turned to face Dorian. “Or do you hope to become Lord when my father dies?” The mention of Lord Hawke barely phased the golden haired man. A boy more like. At least in character. Dorian let out a calculated laugh of genuine amusement.

“Your father is fine. Only exhausted from the trip. I'm sure you wouldn't understand, having guarded the pillows and featherbeds here in Lanchester.” He laughed again, this time at his own joke.

“My duty was here. Did you happen to find yours out there on the road?” The quip was too much for Dorian. His cheeks flashed red and his hand jumped to the hilt of his sword.

“I'd watch that tongue before my blade finds it, Pretty Bird.” Draiken hadn't grown accustom to that nickname yet. A new one forged by Dorian and his half-wit entourage. In a week it would be something just as bad. Draiken couldn't help but crack a smile at that. Dorian's temper flared further as the sword began coming out of its hilt. His entourage collected around him as they began to take interest in this all too familiar feud unfolding in the armory.

“Careful there,” Draiken warned, his hand held in front of him. “You threaten to draw a sword against me in my own castle. Draw that blade and I promise it'll be the last thing you ever touch.” A few of Dorian's mates found that one funny. They all looked to him to see what kind of reaction was in store, but Dorian held his ground. It wasn't fear that held his tongue, it was something else. That made Draiken nervous. His step-brother was always quick to make a fool of himself, but something was off. Dorian slowly rested his blade back in his sheath.

“To hell with this," Dorain said submittingly. "We don't need two Hawkes dying today.” His entourage was pleased with his back-handed rebuttal and guffawed all the way out of the room, led by their own boy Prince, Dorian of Kensington. Draiken saw them off with unease. With the likes of them in the castle, he never truly felt at home. These were not the people Draiken hoped to lead one day. They were cowards, manipulators, and fools. Dorian rarely made a good point about anything.

But in that moment he was right. Tonight... a Hawke would fly from Lanchester.

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#, as written by Avella
LADY MORGANA RENWALD


The three days it took for Lady Renwald’s coach to reach the outlying districts of Olympus was anything but enjoyable. The first day had been marvelous. With the weather clear and dry it seemed they would make the capitol in excellent time. But on the second day a steady, cold rain began falling early and continued throughout the rest of the journey. The Kings Road became a quagmire in places and, if it had not been for a troop of the Kings Men patrolling the road, she might still be stuck in the mud halfway between the village of Downbrook and the tiny hamlet of Torr. The rain, the road and the simply awful accommodations along the way were enough to test anyone’s patience. The inns she so often favored when traveling were suddenly filled to capacity as people from all parts of the Kingdom were headed to Olympus for the “Festival of Light” celebrations. She could not imagine how crowed the city would be. She counted herself lucky to have a place to stay as her Aunt and Uncle lived in the city and managed a well kept household. There would be warm beds and hot baths all around. Even the girls would have a room to share on the third floor. She smiled as she watched the two girls sleeping next to each other on the seat opposite hers. They had been in her service now for, how long? Two years? Isabella and Bernadette. Inseparable, like sisters. They had been a great comfort to her after the death of her husband only six months ago. Lady Renwald shifted her gaze out the coach window. The rain had stopped and the sky, filled with grey broken clouds, held the promise of an early winter. The smell of the rain and mud felt, somehow, holy as the coach slowed to pass through yet another mud hole. Shivering, she pulled her light wool cloak tighter around her shoulders.

“Festival of Lights.” The words themselves seemed a mockery of her mood. She bowed her head and stared at her gloved hands as the coach rocked its way over a rut. The pang in her heart that she had come to embrace as an old friend, rose up and she closed her eyes. Lord Robert; how unnaturally pale and skeletal he looked at the end. She drove the vision from her mind. She did not wish to remember him like that. She wanted to remember him as he was on their wedding night. The strength of his arms as he held her; controlled her. His hair, long and unbraided hung about her face like a dark curtain of safety. The smell of him. The feel of him. She opened her eyes. The girls were stirring. They would arrive at her uncle’s home well before sunset. This was good for it would give her three full days, before the festivities began, to discuss her financial situation with her uncle, make some business inquires and, perhaps, find some answers. Once the festivities started no business would be conducted. The city would become one great riot of music, plays, jousts, tournaments and balls. Despite her malaise, she felt it would be good to be in the capitol again. Almost a year since her last visit. Almost a year since she last felt the urge to laugh. To let herself be herself.


MICHAEL RUSH


An early morning fog shrouded the far meadows as Michael Rush helped the Lady Renwald and the two girls into the coach. He then supervised the loading of the last trunks and made a final check of the knots on the brass bars along the roofline. The four mares were securely harnessed and eager to be off. Nodding to the driver and his coachman he ran his eyes along the roof.

“Mind those trunks. If even one of 'em gets loose an falls off it’ll be 'yer hide what gets burned when 'ya gets back.” He grinned. The two men laughed and tipped their caps.

“Aye captain.” They said in unison.

He chuckled as he checked the passenger doors and, before closing and latching them, bowed his head to Lady Renwald.

“Safe trip Milady 'an don’t worry ‘bout a thing. Everything is in order and I’ll be a keep’n a close eye on things.”

He winked at the two girls who blushed and covered their mouths. The Lady nodded solemnly and thanked him. He closed and latched the door then banged twice on the side with the palm of his hand. The driver yelled, snapped the reins and the coach lurched forward. He watched until it disappeared around a bend heading for the King’s Road about a mile away. Leaning over he rubbed his leg. His old war wound was throbbing. Glancing up at the early morning sky he shook his head.

“Rain 'fer sure on the marrow.” He muttered. “Rain 'fer sure.”

Gray haired, fifty-six year old Michael Rush had been overseer of House Renwald for Lord Robert’s father before it was passed on to Lord Robert ten years earlier. The family, whose allegiance had always been to Olympus, had been horse breeders for generations, but Lord Robert took it one step further by buying up the finest stock he could find. His many trips abroad, even those that took him through warring kingdoms, may have placed him in danger at times, but also afforded him opportunities to find strong stock in both stallions and mares. In a few short years after taking over House Renwald, Lord Robert had propelled the reputation of his House to new heights and had even gained the eye of the King. When peace, if that was what they wished to call a mere truce these days, was established. Lord Robert doubled his efforts to find the perfect stock. It was this last trip to Axiom that brought him, not only an exquisite stallion from a desert land across the seas, but an illness that proved to be his last. As Michael walked back to the main house, he glanced back down the road to where the coach had disappeared. He frowned. His gray eyes held a worried look. Lord Robert’s bride of only three years had taken his death very hard.

It was rare for an entire House to feel a sense of happiness run through it the way House Renwald did after the marriage of this Lord and Lady. But House Renwald did exactly that. Everything seemed blessed and the entire Household, from stable boys to scullery maids, smiled and curtsied or bowed when the couple passed. A sense of contentment settled over the House as chores were carried out with purpose and meaning. As for Michael; it had been years since he had seen young Robert so happy. The future seemed bright; at least for a while. After his death a stifling pall fell over the House. Everything seemed to go bad. Three foals died in succession. The river Senunault flooded after a torrential thunderstorm and an entire crop of grain was lost. The Lady fell into a dark mood and kept herself hidden in her chambers for weeks. There was fear she might harm herself so a watch was placed. Her mother came from Redbridge and stayed a month consoling her. A few of the House Staff traveled to one of the sacred wells, offered gifts to the gods and goddesses, and prayed for her protection. Over the next few months the Lady began to improve. She began to take an interest in the business and the running of the House again. The two girls, Bernadette and Isabella helped perk the Lady up with their antics and youthful vibrancy.

When the invitation came to attend the “Festival of Light” Lady Renwald refused to go. Even the coaxing of her mother could not dissuade her. Then, when a large order for thirty mares, to be delivered to House Hawke of Lanchester, was canceled at the last minuet, she acquiesced. No reason for the sudden cancelation was given, but this unexpected development put a strain on the house finances. A new buyer or buyers would have to be found, and quickly. The Lady agreed to go to the capitol to seek guidance from her uncle, a buyer and perhaps an explanation from House Hawke for this sudden cancelation. After all, contracts had been signed. Agreements and promises made to her late husband. This was now a matter of honor and she was due, at the very least, an explanation if not partial compensation for her investment.

Michael Rush sent a stable boy ahead with orders to have his horse saddled. He had a great deal of ground to cover today and wanted to get an early start. He paused at the door to the house and looked to the road again. He knew what was needed most for House Renwald, something that would set things back on track and bring stability and peace to both the House and its Lady … a husband.

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Mason "Longshot" Ostermark




It had been a few weeks since Mason Ostermark had received a letter from no less than General Frederik Locke, esteemed leader of the Pandora Ranger corps himself, requesting that Mason attend the Festival of light in Olympus . He passed through the lush, green countryside on his small ranger-horse, Kicker, viewing the lively landscape. Autumn had nearly arrived in Pandora, and eventually, all of this green land would wither and die just before early winter, so Mason took in as much of the beautiful sight as he could. The chilly Northern wind that carried the autumn weather blew back Mason's Hood and opened his forest green cloak, he casually pulled the cowl back down over his face, then grabbed both sides of his cloak and gathered them about himself.
Kicker neighed softly and looked towards the north as he continued to walk along the grass.
"Shhh, we'll be fine", Mason soothed his companion, and then let his own cowled gaze travel across the rolling landscape. Kicker had probably caught the scent of a pack of wolves. Wolves tend to frequent the tundra and snowy woods near Kensington, and they would move south as the temperature dropped. Mason heard a blood-chilling howl that was uncomfortably close, he looked back to the north again and saw a silhouette upon a hill, and soon there were several on both sides of it.
Kicker neighed again, though a bit quieter and turned his head so that his right eye rested on Mason. What now?, his horses gaze seemed to ask.
Mason stroked his companion's mane gently.
"We'll worry about them later". He whispered to his animal friend.
The last thing you wanted to do was run from a pack of wolves. but Mason didn't think the wolves would gain on them for awhile. Just to be safe, he unhooked his longbow from it's shoulder strap, and rested it on his saddle, then slid an arrow from its quiver on his left shoulder and rested it on top of the bow then made sure his Long-blade was within reach from the side of the saddle he had strapped it to for the journey. Every so often, Mason would hear a howl, but other than that, he and Kicker traveled on without incident for several hours. Beginning to tire as the sun set, and not seeing or hearing any sign of the wolf pack, Mason decided to make camp at a small gathering of trees he was coming up on, and noticed a small stream about 100 yards from the group of trees. He dismounted has he entered the shady area then took the saddle and the gear attached to to it off of kicker, along with the reigns and sat them down on the ground. Immediately, kicker set off for the stream as an unconcerned Mason laid his head on the saddle as a pillow and wrapped up in his cloak, knowing that the intelligent Ranger horse would come back after he had drank his fill.
Soon, Mason drifted off to sleep.

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ALEXIO KADMIZZARE



The morning sun lazily peaked over the western horizon of the sea as gray clouds shielded its otherwise golden welcome. Alexio took the fresh salty air into his lungs before inhaling the tobacco fumes from his pipe. From his position up top an old warehouse balcony, he watched his hired dockworkers load stockpiles of special goods onto the Vishanti. To Alexio, she was the rarest jewel in all of Pandora. No sail master around these parts owned a Brigantine with ruby colored sails and timber cut from the rarest oak from all parts of the world. From the beautiful coasts of Olympus and the blistering cold waters in Kenginston, to the unforgiving heat along the eastern sea sides of Laruzia and Axiom: the Vishanti had seen it all. She had been stolen and reclaimed. Broken and rebuilt. No courtesan or barmaid, noblewoman or queen could rival his love for her. In many of his sloshed nights, he would sneak out to the Vishanti at whatever harbor their business brought them to and confessed secret truths. He spoke to the bare breasted figurehead like a religious man would to a saintly idol. At times even conversed as though she were alive. The Vishanti knew more about him than any living thing. As odd as it may seem, she was the only one he could trust in such a frivolous world.

Alexio's thoughts were interrupted by clumsy thuds along the warehouse's wooden stairwell, a chorus of labored breaths echoing behind every step. He didn't need to turn to see that it was his longtime associate and owner of this rigid establishment, Granahn Phelps.

"I trust everything is in order?" Alexio said as a cloud of smoke snaked from his lips.

Much to his discomfort, Phelps finally reached the balcony. Beads of sweat streamed along his round face as the thinning blondish mane on top of his head cast a dripping sheen of sweat and grime. Alexio smiled with a courteous nod and patiently waited until the man recovered himself. The cool sea air seemed to have cleared his senses for his wheezing and puffing faded in mere seconds.

"What devil provoked me to lease a three story warehouse with such a narrow stairwell. I've not been up here in months!" Granahn snorted as Alexio continued to smoke his pipe.
"It is a shame. Such a view should be appreciated more often."

Granahn looked out into the crescent land mass that hugged all of the harboring ships of Port Summit. Rows and rows of different colored sails fluttered mildly in the soft wind as flags of various insignias danced between them. Looking east, past the sailors and sea merchants that swarmed the harbor, the port city revealed itself like a series of jagged teeth, filing out to the great cliffs in the distance. To the west, the islands of The Trader's Isles sat around sparkling clear water with lush foliage that combed behind their white sandy shores. Indeed, the southern end of Pandora could very well be mistaken for a paradise if not for the blunderers that terrorized these parts on a frequent basis. If not the bands of dangerous pirates, surely the Tsunami Syndicate was enough to keep any foreigner from journeying here unprepared. Yet despite any preconceived notions the rest of Pandora may have about Port Summit and the Trader's Isles, the people that live here will say that it is in fact a paradise -- It just so happens to be infested with thieves, killers and rapist.

Alexio turned to Granahn, still entranced by the scenery. "Is our arrangement up to par?"

The rotund gentleman immediately snapped out of his trance. "Yes, yes. 14 Halberds, 20 broadswords, 3 crates of arrows, 10 finely crafted long bows, 20 full pieces of heavy armor, 2 barrels of pepper, 2 barrels of spice-"

"I know what I'm taking from you," Alexio grinned as he slapped Granahn's shoulder, "The question is, whether the coin and those old scraps of papers equally satisfy your appetite."

"Those old scraps of paper are Laruzian Tomes!" Granahn corrected, "Any piece of information on Laruzia, let alone a documented account of their history is considered gold to curious eyes. And believe me, I know a fool or two who are curious enough."

"Indeed," Alexio said as he dumped the ash from his pipe, "We are living in a time where information is diamond."

"Which is why I'm surprised you didn't consider a more lucrative profiteer for such a rare item." Granahn said, a tone of suspicion layering under his gruff voice.

"Why, haven't you heard? Phelps Co. is the only establishment around these parts that could ready such a hefty inventory on a day's notice. Amazing how one could do so with what limited stock I've seen in his warehouse. It is almost as if things magically appear by command." Alexio smiled.

Granahn felt the sting of his implications but refrained from lashing out. Phelps Co. indeed was one of Port Summit's greatest suppliers and with good reason: Most of the items in his catalog were stolen. Close ties with the more prominent thieves guilds in Port Summit, granted him eyes and ears on everything and everyone, with equally enough hands to spirit away whatever loot to sell for his own business. Though he may look it, Granahn was no fool; Working by a grand design that not even the Tsunami Syndicate was aware of. A carefully discreet operation was paramount for a thriving business and his livelihood. Unfortunately for Granahn, Alexio had known about his schemes long before they conducted business with each other. You see, while he had close ties with the thieves guild, Alexio had even closer bonds, for it was he who helped fund and supply them since their inception. If anything went wrong on Granahn's part, Alexio could inform the Syndicate of his unique business etiquette and shatter his ties with the guild in the process. However, Alexio never really intended to rat the man out, for a dead Phelps is a useless one. The plausible idea that Alexio could drop the ball on him was enough to keep Phelps in place. This advantage gave Alexio the sweeter end of the bargain, but to maintain their partnership, he made sure to pay Phelps handsomely, lest the plump man's frustrations force a dramatic altercation. The balancing act, as Alexio always called it, was a way for him to win a little bit more without you either realizing it or unable to do anything about it.

"Bringing weapons to the King's capital where peace is at mind and treaties are to be signed. Bravo." Phelps joked as a means to quickly change the subject.

"Peace," Alexio said the word with much contempt, "Such a word is bad business for men like us. You and I both know how fickle peace can be, as do many in the North, or I would not have a bold inventory for such things. The Northerners can't hold still for long. One House will eventually seek to undermine another, and thus this impetuous cycle will continue."

"Regardless my friend," Granahn said as he extended his hand, his thin lips forming a gaudy smile, "enjoy the comforts of a fake peace for me at the Festival of Light. I'm sure the women will be plentiful."

A boyish smirk surfaced Alexio's face as he shook his hand. "I'll do what I can."

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LADY MORGANA RENWALD


Arriving in the eastern quarter of the capitol city of Olympus, the coach wound its way through the narrow, cobbled streets, past the many stores, taverns and workshops. As predicted, the streets were crammed with carts, citizens, soldiers and foreigners. The girls sat wide-eyed as the coach pushed and prodded its way through the narrow streets. Finally out of the business district they came to the well established residential area of the Eastern quarter. Here one found the houses of wealthy merchant families and guild leaders. Her uncle’s house sat in a quiet corner next to one of the few greenlands within the city walls. The house was large but not ostentatious. A stable at the rear and a carriage house would provide ample room for the horses and sleeping accommodations for the driver and groom. The Castle Proper, the tournament grounds, and fair grounds were close to a mile away at the center of the city. Morgana could travel there by horseback or by light carriage, but walking would be out of the question for a woman of her sanding, besides, with all the cutpurses and pickpockets out, she would not get fifty yards without loosing something.

As the coach approached the house she could see her Aunt and several of her staff standing on the broad steps waiting to greet her. The coach pulled up. The groom jumped down, opened the door and helped Morgana out. The staff curtsied or bowed accordingly and her Aunt greeted her with her usual warmth. As the coach was unloaded she and her aunt climbed the stairs with the two girls close behind. Once inside the house her Aunt turned and embraced her again. This time her embrace was warmer and lingered a moment before she stood back and looked her niece up and down. Uncle Thomas was nowhere to be seen and Morgana surmised he was still conducting business.

“You are looking well, my dear,” her aunt stated. Her green eyes sparkled with genuine affection.

Margaret Henry was a tall woman in her late fifties. Her hair, done up in a thick braid, was gray but her face showed little sign of age and her complexion still held a youthful appearance that mirrored Morgana’s mother. The eldest of the three Isilian sisters, she married young and moved to the capitol city some thirty five years earlier. Well know for her skill as a seamstress and dress maker she managed a small tailor shop in the busy eastern quarter. Her four children, all boys, had moved on with their lives, having joined the army or were off running businesses of their own. Margaret ran a tight household and, since her children had long since moved out, kept only a small but loyal staff. Like all the Isilian households she treated her servants well, despite the grumbling of her husband. Smiling warmly she gave her niece another embrace. Then, holding Morgana by the shoulders, her eyes grew sorrowful.

“Allow me express our heartfelt sorrow at your loss. There was no better man living than Lord Robert and he will be mourned for quite some time by those who called him friend.” It was a sincere statement and Morgana nodded solemnly.

They watched as the coachman and several of the household staff began hauling trunks and luggage up the staircase to the second floor. Margaret continued.

“We are very happy you have decided to come and enjoy yourself. Our house is yours for as long as you like. And of course, the girls as well.”

Morgana began to speak but her aunt cut her off. “I am quite sure after such a tiresome journey that you and the girls would appreciate a hot bath and perhaps, afterwards, a bit of late dinner? I expect Thomas will be home soon and he is looking forward to speaking with you regarding your needs.”

Morgana nodded and motioned for the girls to follow her upstairs. The house was very old but solidly built with a heavy stone foundation and wood and plaster over a hardwood frame. The rooms were of ample size. Large enough to move about in but small enough to hold the heat from the fireplaces. Morgana’s room was at the back of the house and was the second largest bedroom. Heavy tapestries hung on the walls and thick carpets covered every inch of floor. There were several leaded windows that looked out over the stables and small garden. A heavy beamed ceiling and stone fireplace gave one the feeling of safety and warmth. This was the room she always stayed in each time she visited the capitol. It was familiar, warm and comfortable with a large four-poster, canopied bed. She and Robert had slept in that bed on their last visit. She ran her hand over the thick bed covers. He was there; lying beneath the covers waiting for her. He was always there. A thud brought her out of her musings. The girls were opening trunks and hanging her clothes in one of the two large oak wardrobes. Morgana smiled.

“Come, come.” She held out her hand. “Leave that for later. Let’s go look at your room shall we?”

The stairs to the third floor were narrow and steep. Morgana had to lift the hem of her gown in order to climb up. Once there they found a long hallway that ran the entire length of the house. There were a number of small rooms along each side. This is where the servants slept and spent what little time off they had. The room the girls would share was right off the stairs. Slightly larger than the others it had two small beds and a small dresser between them. There were no windows. Both girls smiled tightly. Back at House Renwald they were spoiled. Each had their own room with a comfortable bed and large windows that let in plenty of light and air. This room seemed like a prison. But as servant quarters went; it was rather nice. The fact that it was indoors and had a shared bath was a testament to the kindly way her aunt treated her staff. Most households provided only the bare minimum for their staffs. Servants were expected to sleep in tiny cramped rooms in attics that were freezing in winter, and blazing hot in summer. The girls were lucky.

“This will do nicely,” Morgana said. The girls nodded and curtsied but said nothing. They knew their Lady was right. Besides, it was only for a week. The narrow stairs creaked and the coachmen’s head appeared to announce the girls’ luggage was on its way up. Morgana thanked him then turned to the girls placing a hand on each of their shoulders.

“Once you are settled I want you to bathe quickly then finish unpacking my luggage. After that you will find your way to the kitchens, eat what is provided for you then return to your rooms. We have a busy day tomorrow and I need you both to be fresh. And remember, we are guests in this house and you will act accordingly; as fine young ladies, understand?”

The girls nodded and curtsied. Morgana started down the narrow stairs but stopped and, looking back at the girls, pointed a finger in their direction. “And no running!”



THOMAS HENRY

Thomas Henry was master of his house and master of his business. A large man he stood over six feet tall with broad shoulders and a thick mane of brown hair that was graying at the temples. He cast an imposing figure over all his business dealings and, although he was not yet titled, he had given financial advice to a number of minor lords and personal loans to no less than six Ministers of the Court. Above all; he was a Royalist. A firm believer in the right of rule. He knew, one day he would have his title of “Lord” and thus assure, for his sons and their children a secure future under the Crown. There would be few opportunities like the one he was now presented with to establish that legacy for himself and his children.

Three years ago he had advised young Lord Robert of House Renwald against marrying a commoner. True she was a rare beauty and intelligent, but; she was not noble born. Lord Robert, however, was in love and love sometimes blinded young men to their duty. Lord Robert’s death, although a tragedy, promised to provide a means of attaining Thomas Henry his title; if he was careful and planed well. He wished no ill will towards the girl. Fact was, he felt kindly towards her, but business was business and in such dealings as this there was no room for sentiment. No room at all.

Upon receiving the news of Lord Robert’s death, Thomas immediately set into motion the means to achieve his goal. He sent several trusted aides to search out any information regarding the estranged older brother of Lord Robert. Very little was known of this mysterious brother who had vanished years ago. It was supposed he ran off to seek his own fame and fortune through adventure but, he was never heard from again. His father would not speak his name and forbade anyone else doing the same. William Renwald became a “non person”; a ghost. Now, however, if he still lived, he stood as heir to House Renwald. Thomas Henry prayed this brother had met his fate and was indeed a ghost. But he had to be certain so inquires had to be made. In the meantime there were other means at his disposal. The details of Lord Roberts’s death were not well known outside the family. A hail young lord who had a reputation as a strong, healthy man. A man who had been a soldier, a huntsman and world traveler. For such a man to have died from a mysterious lingering illness was indeed strange. And there were the rumors. Rumors could be a potent weapon in the right hands. Rumors that Lord Robert’s childless young wife dabbled in the dark arts. Had knowledge of herbs and poisons and had several illicit affairs with Ministers of the Court could cast enough suspicion on her for the Crown to strip her of all titles and lands and, if this information reached the King through Thomas Henry; well … The Renwald estates were rich and fertile and would add handsomely to the King’s holdings. But if the girl were to marry again, even another Lord then Thomas Henry’s dream of a title would be nothing more that that; a dream. He must see she remained a widow, by whatever means necessary.

The sun was just setting as Thomas Henry locked the door to his lending and accounting business. A stable hand stood in the street holding the reins of his horse. The streets were crowded and the city would swell to twice its normal population over the next few days but Thomas Henry smiled to himself. If his luck held, by years end he would be Lord Thomas Henry. Tossing the stable hand a Crown Penny, he set off for home. He was looking forward to a fine late dinner with his beloved wife and his favorite niece.

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LADY MORGANA RENWALD


An hour later, having bathed and changed, with the girl’s help, into a fresh maiden’s gown, Morgana descended the stairs to the first floor. Her hair, now brushed and held back by an ornate silver clasp, hung down her back almost to her waist. Her elegant fingers bore the two rings she cherished most; her wedding band and the signet ring that had been on her husbands hand when he was alive. The girls were finishing upstairs and would retire to their rooms. Night had fallen and the household staff set about lighting candles and stoking fireplaces to chase the chill from the house. From the kitchens came the sound of preparations for the serving of dinner and the aroma of roasting potatoes and fresh bread. Turning left she started down the wood paneled hallway leading to the great room where dinner was traditionally served. The trappings of the house bore the mark of the proud family history of Thomas Henry. Portraits of his linage hung along the walls along with tapestries depicting his families rise to wealth. The furniture, however, was of a style long since gone from fashion. Heavy oaks and simple pine were now being replaced by richly polished mahogany and ash and other hardwoods that kept their value well past their usefulness. Morgana never considered such things when she had walked these halls before. Now, however, she saw a house steeped in tradition, leaving little room for the modern. She wondered if these considerations were now a part of her gained from listening to her husband’s progressive ideals and his acceptance of change.

“Change is inevitable,” he would say to her. “The new must be accepted and the old revered. For each bears with it the responsibility of our children’s future.”

Morgana stopped short. Her hand rose to her heart at the thought. She had wanted children, desperately. She wanted nothing more than to give her husband healthy sons to follow him and keep the name of House Renwald alive forever. But Robert always said there would be plenty of time. She was still young enough to bear children safely but he was always away for so long. She closed her eyes and struggled to catch her breath. She felt a hand touch her arm.

“My dear? Are you all right?” Her aunt’s voice whispered.

Morgana opened her eyes and nodded. “Yes. I am fine. Just a bit tired from the journey.”

Her aunt nodded but the look of concern did not leave her face. She took Morgana’s arm.

“Come then,” she said smiling broadly. “We will have a fine dinner and talk about the coming festivities. I have a surprise for you later that I think will help turn many heads when you attend the Royal Ball.”

Her voice held that same youthful excitement Morgana’s mother often showed when anticipating a party or celebration. It was infectious and Morgana found herself smiling as they entered the great room.

Tomas Henry was standing at the far end of the room scolding a servant when the two women entered. Turning, his face immediately changed from a scowl to one of genuine pleasure. Had it been so long the he forgot just how strikingly beautiful his niece was? He moved his great frame towards her his arms open in greeting.

“My dear girl,” he bellowed jovially. “You are indeed a sight for sore eyes. We are most pleased to have you in our house again. Come, lets all sit at this end of the table as there will only be the three of us this evening.”

Taking Morgana’s arm in his large hands he escorted her to a chair to the left of his own ornate, throne like chair at the head of the long, heavy dinning table. On the wall behind him hung a large portrait of himself depicted as a hunter. He was standing with his booted foot on the body of a slain elk. A look of royal pleasure and pride on his face. The dead elk’s tongue lolled from its mouth like a red smear. Morgana had seen the portrait many times before but somehow, this time, it seemed slightly vulgar.

Once seated, Thomas clapped his hands and servants appeared carrying the first of many courses. A soup course consisting of leek and potatoes was followed by a course each of fish, venison, cooked and uncooked greens, fruit, cheese and finally fresh baked pastries. Morgana ate sparingly while her uncle regaled on his recent business conquests and his ever growing influence with the Court. For her part Morgana nodded politely in the right places and injected a question or two to feign interest. As a guest it would have been considered extremely rude to bring up her own business concerns during dinner. There would be time for that when they retired to the study. Only then would the conversation turn to more serious matters. The evening dragged on and just when she thought it would never end, her uncle stood and offered her his arm. His face held a beguiling smile and his eyes wandered over her body making her feel slightly uncomfortable. Margaret seemed not to notice as she spoke to a servant.

“My dear girl,” her uncle breathed. “Let us adjourn to the study where we can talk of things more pressing.”

Nodding to his wife he led Morgana down an adjacent hallway to his study.

For the next hour Morgana and her uncle talked about subjects pertinent to the running of her estates and business. She told him of the cancelation of the order by House Hawke and the resulting financial burden. For his part her uncle promised to write Lord Hawke seeking an audience at his earliest convenience to discuss the matter. He also offered to accompany her to such a meeting to act as her council and witness. He would look into finding another buyer for the horses in question first thing in the morning. Perhaps even the Royal Stables would be interested. He asked her probing questions regarding the running of the estates; how many servants, the value of the breeding stock, if she had any investments of her own and if so where and how much? He asked permission for one of his agents to view the accounts of the estate. And if was possible for him to obtain a copy of Lord Robert’s last Will and Testament. Morgana agreed to all of this. She trusted her uncle because her husband had trusted him and because there was no one else she could turn to.

For her part she too asked questions of an intelligent nature. Were there any outside investments she could look into to bring additional capitol to the estate? If she were to sell part of her holdings, who might be a competent buyer? Was there any validity in investing in the shipping trade as her husband had often expressed an interest in such an investment? At the end of the conversation they both enjoyed another glass of fine wine and exchanged pleasantries. Returning to her room she undressed, with the help of Bernadette as Isabella was already asleep. Upon retiring Morgana felt a sense of accomplishment and a new hopefulness she had not felt in many months. Finally, much of her worry would be swept away for she now had a strong ally in the person of her Uncle. As shadows from the low burning fireplace danced across the ceiling, Lady Morgana Isilian Renwald fell into a deep and restful sleep.



THOMAS HENERY


Sitting back in his chair, Thomas Henry wove his thick fingers together and furrowed his brow. The girl had learned much from her husband was more intelligent than he anticipated and thus more a danger to his family. Standing, he strode to the heavy bookcase and poured himself another glass of wine. He now understood that it would not be enough to just strip her of her lands and titles. She had to be utterly destroyed. Tomorrow he would follow through with his promise to write to Lord Hawke but he would also send letters to the King’s Inquisitor, through a third party, asking questions and seeking to open a full investigation into the premature death of Lord Robert Renwald and naming his widow as a primary suspect in his murder.

In the meantime the search for information regarding the missing older brother of Lord Robert would continue, but that was a secondary matter. He knew nothing would be done during the next week, but by the end of the Festival of Light celebrations, it was highly possible that the esteemed Lady Renwald may not be returning to her estates and could very well be taken to the dungeons of the Castle to be questioned about her involvement in a number of crimes against the Crown. Thomas Henry sneered as he downed the last of his wine. He would see that woman either hanged for murder or burned as a witch. Either way he would request permission to be a witness to her naked torture.

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Ser Jenson Silvercrest


Drip, drip, drip

A knight looked up as a soft drizzle began to fall around his shoulders. "Bloody hell... Rain too? This day is just getting better all the bloody time," the gruff voice griped from atop his chestnut mare. Reluctantly, the knight in the scarf and tan cloak pulled the hood up around his head. Jenson Silvercrest was just returning from the two week journey as well, near the end of the parade. Jenson was not a man who enjoyed the spotlight, nor liked to feel important and special. He was just another armed guard to Elias Hawke, his lord, and as such would protect the man with all of his might, thereby it was his duty to be close enough to defend him. Yet how was one to defend their lord against an unknown ailment? Perhaps that a factor in Jenson's recent foul mood. The rain was merely exacerbating facts.

Jenson's mare sauntered forward towards the ill Elias, and he watched as two of his comrades hefted his lord off of the horse and aided him into the castle. Seeing Elias in such a weak shape made Jenson feel helpless. Be it a sword, arrow, or axe, Jenson could defend against, but not sickness. Not this. If only Jenson had been more observent. Maybe if they all were just an ounce more observent, their Lord would not be in such a shape and could walk into his castle upon his own power. This irritated Jenson to no end.

Jenson then caught sight of Elias' son, Draiken, but quickly tore his eyes off of him. If Jenson felt awful about his Lord, no telling what the boy was going through. With a huff and a jerk of the reins, Jenson guided his mare away from the parade and towards the city. Probably to find some cheap swill to fill his wineskin up with. It had been a long, dry two weeks, and some alcohol sounded damn good right then. It was just as well too. He didn't wish to see Elias' in this shape. Who would? It was that man who gave Jenson a second chance. It was Elias who let him become a knight in his service.

It took no time for Jenson and his mare to find the Inn where he often drank. He frequented the place often enough, that it would come to little surprise that it's location was burned into his mind. True, it had been over two weeks since he last visited, but a lion does not forget it's favorite watering hole. It was close to the armory and blacksmith, to provide convenience for travelers who needed their equipment mended perhaps. Jenson was not a man to question street layouts or architecture of Lanchester. He was not born there, he was born in Axiom, in a dusty and roguish district. He was a warrior, not a builder. Jenson exited the Inn with a brand new wineskin bursting with his drink just in time to hear the ninth tole of the church bell. His eyes lazily drifted toward the bell tower, now just a shadow in the rapidly falling dusk. The man sighed and made his way to his horse, but not before catching sight of Draiken slipping into the armory. Curiosity halted the knight's progress. Opting to see what business the son of Elias had with the smith, Jenson left Berry in the Inn's stable and crossed the street into the armory.

As he walked through the doors, a familar voice assaulted his ears.

“Aren't you going to welcome me home?”

Dorian, Elias' step-son. Far be it to judge the boy, it was not his place. However, Jenson could not help but grit his teeth a little bit at the boy's remark. It had to be the tone in which is was said. So nonchalant. So... Snobbish. Jenson could not stand snobbery. Uptight people with a stick up their ass always tended to rub Jenson the wrong way. It was one thing being honorable and proud. It was an entirely different thing to being cocky. Something Jenson knew a little bit too much about. His childhood was not spectacularly flawless after all.

Jenson listened to the back and forth between Draiken and Dorian, both too far into their game of quips to notice Jenson standing beside the door. He was not about to interfere, especially if both were children of Lord Elias. He thought he'd just watch it play out and enjoy the show. After the words were thrown and threats were issued (none of which Jenson particularly believed in. It was one thing to talk, and it was another to back it up.) Dorian and his buddies made to leave. As Dorian passed by Jenson, the knight brushed a hard shoulder against the boy's, muttering an offhanded apology as he stepped into the room fully. He did not enjoy the way the boy insinuated that a Hawke was going to die tonight.

Once Dorian was out of earshot, Jenson finally spoke up, "That boy's a real bastard, yeah? Too bad he's protected by Lord Elias and Lady Hollister," Jenson said, bluntly. The man had no fear about repercussions. He was reckless like that, often saying what's on his mind before processing it. Even then, he hardly processed it. Continuing to speak, Jenson remarked on Draiken's new blade, "That's a fine sword there, Pretty Bird," He said with a playful smile. It was more of a jab to Dorian's inability to come up with a decent nickname than anything.

With a shrug, he made his way to the seat Dorian and his cronies had vacated sitting heavily and withdrawing his wineskin. He took a drink of the stiff drought. The burn was just right, melting away the rain's chill from his bones. He held out the skin to Draiken and asked, "Care for a swallow? It'll set your innards ablaze, but you got enough of 'em, yeah?" Jenson said, remarking on the boy's guts.

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Draiken Hawke




Draiken took a long swig from the flask and wiped his mouth with the back of his gloved hand. The drink went down smoothly, a reminder of just how cold he really was. The knight, Jenson Silvercrest, sat rested against the workbench where Dorian had been, the smallest hint of a smile playing against his lips. Draiken handed the wineflask back to him and removed his gloves, folding them into his back pocket. Ser Silvercrest was one of his father's private guard, but from what Draiken had seen, only in title. The knight hailed from Axiom, the desert city to the south-east. His past was as mysterious as he was, something he had never heard the knight speak very openly about. Something set him apart from the other twelve knights he had sworn an oath with, however. He had certainly paid his dues, fighting bravely in the 10 year war for the Hawkes, but he was not a typical soldier. He didn't seem to have the same drive to achieve honor in the line of duty, or to be a war legend. If he did, he didn't do it selfishly. It was almost as if he had something repent for. He was a man of few words, but not afraid to speak his mind in the toughest of times.

Even having barely spoken to the knight before, these qualities were clear. Jenson was a puzzle. But for some reason, Draiken found him to be more honest than the rest. Not through his actions, or his words... but from the lack of them. The knight grinned before taking another swallow of his flask, his smile almost a reflection of what Draiken was thinking. The prince took a seat on the workbench opposite the knight and regarded him carefully.

"You know, Dorian wasn't always like that," Draiken said, looking back towards the door. "Something tells me that it had something to do with his father dying. As if a part of him died too." His gaze dropped to the floor. "I wonder if I'll feel the same."

The knight's smile disappeared at this. "So, it's true then? Elias is truly ill?"

Draiken nodded, letting out a deep sigh. "I've never seen him like this before."

"You should be with him then..." Jenson said, standing to leave. "He'd want that."

Draiken shook his head. "I'm to go inform the others of his condition."

Something in the knight's eyes hinted that Jenson was coming to terms with his own fears in that moment. For a knight, having nothing to protect made you a knight without a purpose. It was hard to say if his transformation from mercenary of the desert to knight of the realm was fully complete, but he had sworn an oath -- an oath to a man who would be dead soon.

'But I am that new purpose...' Draiken thought to himself. It was true. By day's end he could be Lord of Lanchester. The thought made him sick. Other than his sister, Elias was the only person he considered true family. His distant cousins and uncles played their roles in other courts across the kingdom. Elias was it. And his poor sister. He wondered if she had heard the news yet. He would have to pay her a visit as well. Already, Draiken felt the pressures of lordship hang over his head. It was up to him to calm his father's people, his soldiers, his family. When the castle crumbled, he would have to pick up the pieces. He would have to fight and defend, make allegiances and enemies, and win the people of Lanchester. He would have to do it all.

The sound of Jenson's voice, shook Draiken out of his stupor. "When I lived in Axiom, I served a man who survived worse things than this. In that city, you never saw death coming unless you were the one dealing it. And the man next to you was just as likely to kill you as he was to--"

"--Poison you?" Draiken hadn't meant for himself to say that. The knight hadn't either. The thought hung in the air in silence.

"Don't give up on your father just yet, m'lord." Jenson replied, crossing to the door. He casually shrugged his cloak around his shoulders. In that instant, Draiken realized his sincere admiration for the man. Being called Lord didn't bother him so much. He would remember this moment... and this man.

Draiken watched his stride, both confident and relaxed. "Who was it that you served," he called out after him, "in Axiom?"

The knight opened the door, inviting a bitter draft to escape into the room. "Myself."

Ser Silvercrest disappeared into the rain.



Sophie Hawke




Lord Hawke's chambers were colder than she ever remembered. Regardless of the reinforced stone and multi-paned windows, the chill that she felt was unlike any she had ever known. Attendants milled aimelessy around the room as the in-house alchemist and herbologist Janos Huxley sat on the edge of Lord Hawke's bed. Elias' pale chest was exposed to the cold air as Janos examined his heartbeat with his medical instrument. His breaths were shallow and weak, a slight wheeze with every movement. The mood in the room was solemn as only the sound of the storm outside hung heavily in the room. The herbologist motioned two of the attendants forward with a flick of his fingers. He took the buds of his stethoscope out of his ears and slid the frame down around his neck while taking a step back to ponder the situation.

In attendance were the Lord Commander of the Royal Guard, Darius Halycon, the Lord's personal attendant, Bruce Byron, and many other of Elias' closest subjects... including his daughter, Sophia. But none said a word. They only kept their heads bowed in respect. Janos approached Ser Halycon and put a hand on his arm, bringing him aside.

"We need to give him rest now. I will retreat to my study and make do with what I have, but his condition is inescapable at the present moment. I fear giving him anything for his malady until the fever breaks."

The Lord Commander nodded gravely. "I understand. We appreciate you being able to get here so quickly."

He opened the door, cuing many of the spectators in the room to make their exit. One-by-one they filed out of the large wooden door. The Lord Commander was the last to leave, apart from Sophia. He took one last look at his sick Lord in the bed. Elias silently nodded his thanks to Darius, and the knight closed the door behind him. Sophia drew her father's blanket up around his shoulders and neck knowing that the lack of people in the room would only make the chamber's colder. He withdrew into a fit of suppressed coughs and she reached behind her to grab his goblet of water. She held it to his purple lips as she poured some into his mouth.

"Oh, father," she began, "what have they done to you?" She brought the damp rag from his bedside table to his brow, its water blending with the cold sweat upon his cheeks. He had never looked so weak to her.

"Who is 'they', my love?" It was the first time she had heard him speak since he got back.

She looked at him warmly, pushing his hair back. "The Gods."

"This sickness has no divine purpose, child. It was earned." He turned his head and collapsed into a fit of coughs, each one harsher than the last.

"You don't deserve this..." she said sadly. The thought drove her to her feet. She faced away from him, struggling to hold back tears. "No death is earned."

"Tell that to the men who have given their lives to keep our heads from being cut off."

The bluntness of his words reminded her that it was only his body dying. He was still the same resolute father he had been. Even the weak could be strong it seemed. "Your brother will need you now more than ever. I hope you know that." The thought had crossed her mind several times already. They were both young. They hadn't prepared for this to happen so soon. And what were they to do? Take advice from Lady Hollister? Her influence in the court was not unnoticed, but she was soon to become a twice-widowed woman. Would she entrust the fate of Lanchester to them that easily?

She reached down and took her father's hand in her own. "I'll look after him. For the both of us." Sophie parted with a smile. She wanted ever so much to stay the night watching over him, but a part of her knew it would make no difference. “Sleep well, father.” With that, she slipped through the wooden door into the stone corridor, careful to shut it softly behind her. It was her brother's voice that scared her.

"I hope you didn't lock the door," he said, sliding his dampened hood down from over his head. The night had not been kind to him either, she could tell. If she didn't know him so well, she might have mistaken the rain around his cheeks for tears. "How is he?" Her brother asked, quietly.

"Stubborn." She couldn't quite find the words to describe him when asked to. "You should let him rest. Morning will be here soon."

Draiken nodded in agreement. They both knew the likeliness that they could both be orphans by night's end. "And yourself? I didn't see you out there when they arrived."

"I was in the middle of my lesson with Madame Collins. Lady Hollister informed me of--”

“You saw her?” Draiken said, interrupting Sophie entirely.

“Wh-- Yes. She told me what had happened."

Draiken folded his arms. “I haven't been able to find her tonight. She apparently wasn't here at the chambers, not in the council room, throne room, the tailor's or the pavillion...”

Sophie put an arm on her brother's shoulder. “She's probably just distraught. She travelled all that way with him, after all.”

“That still does nothing to temper my suspicions.” He pushed past her towards the other end of the corridor. “Thank you for staying by him tonight. See that you get some rest. You've earned it.” He began his ascent towards his chamber atop the tower and left Sophie to herself. Her words echoed in the empty corridor.

“Nothing is earned.”

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LADY MORGANA RENWALD


The sun was at mid-morning when Morgana finally awoke feeling refreshed and alert. She stretched her arms over her head and arched her back to help motivate her circulation. She luxuriated under the fine bed linens for a few moments before throwing off the covers and rising. The fire had long died and the room held a slight chill. Reaching back she pulled the top cover off the bed and wrapped her body in its warmth. Moving to the window she looked out over the small flower garden below. Most of the flowers had finished their blooms after a few chill nights stopped their growth. One of the staff was moving through the garden collecting seeds for next springs plantings. Morgana smiled and thought of her own garden reminding herself that the same activity would have to be carried out before the first hard frost. There would also be hay to harvest soon and perhaps an Elk or Boar hunt into the deep forest before the first snow. Glancing up she saw the sky was clear with the promise of a warm day. There was still plenty of time before the first frost and even more before the first snows whitened the meadows of Neace. There was a soft knock at the door. Not taking her eyes away from the garden below, she answered:

“Come.”

The door opened and Bernadette and Isabella entered. They paused at the door and curtsied.

“Good Morning Milady,” they both said in unison sounding like one person with two voices. “We hope you slept well?”

Running her hand through her tangled hair, Morgana turned and smiled.

“I slept very well thank you. And what of yourselves? I trust the beds were not too hard?”

The girls did not answer directly but mumbled something incoherent. Morgana rose and went to the bed.

“Well come in and do close the door,” she commanded as she removed her covering and returned it to its original place.

The girls scampered from the door to one of the large wardrobes and began pulling out the Lady’s day clothes. There was some debate before it was decided Morgana would wear a plain white chemise under a forest-green gown with gold embroidery on the sleeves. After fifteen minutes of tugging and tying she was finally ready. Gathering her hair up into a twist the girls helped fastened it atop her head with a number of clips and hair pins. A few wayward wisps of hair hung along her neck and face, having escaped the clutches of the pins.

There was another knock at the door and Bernadette ran to answer. Opening the door she immediately dropped into a deep curtsy and bowed her head. Morgana’s aunt patted Bernadette on the head and entered the room.

“Ah, there you are,” she said smiling broadly at Morgana. “I trust you slept well?”

Morgana nodded.

“Excellent,” her aunt continued. “Excellent.” She turned her attention to the girls.

“Now, you two young ladies run along to the kitchens. There are fresh quail’s eggs and buttered toast waiting for you. Run along I wish to speak with your Mistress in private.”

The girls glanced at Morgana who nodded her permission. The girls left and quietly closed the door behind them. Their giggles could be heard receding down the hallway.

Margaret moved to the only chair in the room and sat down heavily. She was silent for a moment or two as if trying to find a starting place. She glanced to the window.

“A clear sky usually means a fair day, weather wise,” she mused before turning back to her niece. “I trust your meeting with Thomas went well? He was up quite early and off to his office. Said he had quite a few letters to write on your behalf. He is very please you have come to him for advice and assistance. I have not seen him this excited about helping someone in quite a while. He is usually very stoic where business is concerned. Not that I pry mind you. I have no real interest in all the goings on at Court. Which reminds me,” She stood and motioned for Morgana to follow her. “First, we will have some breakfast and then I will take you to my shop, which is not far, and give you your surprise. I think you will be very pleased.”



THOMAS HENRY


A gaunt young boy no older then twelve or thirteen stood quietly by the door while Thomas Henry finished addressing and sealing the letter he had just finished writing. The letter read:


To High Inquisitor Roland Von Pontius
Inquisitor to His Royal Majesty Elliot Brackard, V
Kingdom of Pandora, City of Olympus

My Lord Inquisitor:

A matter of some concern has been brought to my attention through third parties who wish, at this time, to remain unnamed. Should their testimony be required at a future date they have agreed to come forward at that time; if needed. This matter I am addressing concerns the recent death of Lord Robert Renwald of Redbridge, County of Neace. Lord Renwald served His Majesty with unquestioned loyalty and faithfulness as did his father before him. Lord Robert’s death was reportedly caused by a currently unknown aliment which invaded his body sometime after his return from a business excursion to Axiom. There is reason to suggest that this was not the case. Information gathered from those closest to Lord Robert indicates that he may have been murdered.

Although no suspect has been officially identified there is reason to believe that his wife of three years, Lady Morgana Isilian Renwald may have had a hand in his demise. Although we have no proof as yet we are told that she dabbles in the dark arts, has been witnessed making and using potions of a particularly dangerous nature and taking part in lewd pagan rites.

Add to this information the fact that after three years of marriage she had not produced an heir to Lord Robert and, upon his death, inherited all his lands, titles and possessions.

Considering the information gathered thus far, we hereby petition your office to begin a full investigation regarding the aforementioned subject. Should you require any assistance in this matter please know that I am, as always, at your service.

Sincerely,

Thomas Henry,
Chartered Financier,
Advisor to the Court.



Handing the letter to the boy he gave strict instructions as to its delivery and told him that upon his return he would receive a silver piece for his work. The boy grinned, bowed deeply and set off for the Castle. The wheels were now in motion. He then turned his attention to a second letter which would aid in keeping him in the Lady Renwald’s trust. A minor inconvenience but one from which he could divorce himself from should the need arise.


To His Lordship, Elias Hawke
Lord of House Hawke
City of Lanchester

My Lord:

As agent to Her Ladyship Morgana Isilian Renwald of House Renwald, I write to you on a matter of some honor to Her Ladyship. It seems that a contract was agreed upon between House Renwald and House Hawke for the delivery of thirty (30) high quality and battle trained mares to House Hawke. A question has arisen regarding your sudden cancelation of said order only weeks prior to delivery. House Renwald has expended great time and monies in the breeding and training of these animals and Lady Renwald is anxious to have this misunderstanding corrected. To that end she requests a meeting with your Lordship at your earliest convenience so as to discuss the matter before us.

Lady Renwald is currently in the capitol to attend the Festival of Light and wishes to inform you that she is available to discuss this matter upon your arrival in Olympus. In the meantime she wishes your Lordship good health and safe journey.

Please avail the use of this Falcon for a return reply.

Respectfully,

Thomas Henry,
Chartered Financier,
Advisor to House Renwald.



Sealing the letter he sent it with an aide to prepare a Falcon for delivery. When the time came for any meeting between the two Houses he could easily beg absence thus leaving the girl on her own to face the stern reproach of Lord Elias Hawke, which would bring further embarrassment upon her reputation. Thomas Henry found himself in a jovial mood after the mornings work and, leaving his desk, walked the short distance to a nearby tavern for an early afternoon ale.

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Lord Philomere Dunn


It had been an early autumn. The leaves of Bora had never turned so quickly, or so vividly. From his position on the balcony the city was Philomere's staircase, littered with gold and crimson amidst the green that still clung to the houses. The southern stretch was always warmer, but there had been chilling winds as of late. The river was still heavy with blossoms and lavender, but soon the dittany would turn and the persimmons would stubbornly give up their fruits. The sun was rising and the town gently stirring. He turned from this picture of peace to the men who were already crowding his parlor. It was getting too late in the season to keep it open to the balcony, a chill could be killing. To warm his spirits, it was his dear wife who spoke first.

"Do you really believe the king is interested in butter, Phil? I know he's a lover of luxury, but I think he's fond enough of the wine, and I'm not sure we can afford such lavish gifts..."

She had a point. That woman always had a point. The income as of late was lacking, and this season's wine was too young to count on, so the crates upon crates Philomere was having loaded onto carts seemed extravagant even for established gentry. There was no way his wife would let him shrug it off, she was far too inquisitive for a woman, and he rued the day they had decided that she may speak freely within the house.

"I think it's an investment. We're expected to bring wine with us, I'd have us all hanged myself if we didn't. But this is a festival of peace, I think we should show that House Dunn has wealth and potential"
"You want to put on airs, don't you?"
"I just think we've done better in peace than in war. We should remind everyone of our bounties, get new blood into the veins, you know, seed some interest. Besides, this summer's butter is the finest I've ever had, and I'm far too fond of butter as it is! Best be rid of it."

Lorelei lovingly rolled her eyes.
"I still think investing in a solid port would do more for us than King's favors, he's not going to care about us until the wine's run out."
"Well my apologies if I'm trying to get him a bit more vested--"
"--With food and wine?"
Philomere gave her a stern look, before turning to the servants still sorting bottles of wine and wheels of cheese. A servant approached with a look of great dismay.

"My Lord, the wine has, turned, it must be corked!"
Philomere looked as though he had seen his own ghost. He spoke with a tone of despair.
"Bring it to me, show me..."

The servant brought forth a wine, it was good wine too, one of the quick harvests, much too young to be so dark, almost orange, but it was clear. It had its own golden appeal except for the wicked looking bubbles which appeared throughout it, like it was some witch's brew. He swirled and sniffed and peered at it like a man observing a wet horse, and finally sipped. His demeanor changed...

"This batch got mixed some time along... Must have been trying a new blend, I've never seen such fine bubbles, they are usually so coarse and rank." He contemplated the glass for a while, and Lorelei took a quiet sip, with a similarly perplexed look.

Philomere made a bright smile, lighting up his blood-hound face.
"I think it would be quite appropriate to christen a new wine in honor of the festival, no? Tie down the corks, boys, I imagine these will be violent elixirs to deal with, but showy, and I think quite popular..."

By midday the coach, part of an elaborate train of gift-carts was departing from Bora. Markham, heir presumptive of the House of Dunn lounged across one seat, while his aunt and uncle sat quite rigidly across from him. Lorelei was reading the scribbles on a scrap of paper torn from a holy book.

Philomere, observing this, sighed.
"We have to keep Aya away from the monks, she's a burden to them, destroying their books."
"I think she's just lonely, I don't think she's well, her poetry is getting more erratic."
"I don't think it was ever poetry." Philomere snorted, thankful that the trip from Bora to Olympus was short, flat, and clear.
"You'd think she'd have more decency, I'm sure she thinks the sun and stars shine only for her. Strutting around in wedding gowns and dancing."

Markham butted in running his hands through his hair and smelling it as he spoke.
"I don't understand why we don't just lock her up. Might be a good reason to rebuild that bell tower like we keep promising, always have someone to ring it every hour in between shuffling around in a sheet or scribbling down ramblings."

Lorelei shook her head and put away the paper, looking out the window for her last glimpse of Bora, trying to ignore the fact that she was an accessory, an entertainment, of the same value as cheeses, butter, wine, and bread, on her way to the feast.

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Sophie Rafiki


The morning sun’s rays poked through the slits in the window shutters bringing light to the dark musky tavern. Some mugs were still lying on the tables, none with a drop left in them. The party-goers from the night before where still spread out around the room. Most of the large number of people where past out at their tables or found a particular spot on the floor, a couple were still at the bar sipping at cups of coffee. Ashton, a young waitress that helps out at the tavern, left at midnight so she could get some rest before the next day. At the age of fifteen Ashton works at Rafiki’s place to help out her family. Her father left her mother after her brother was born. He is three years younger than Ashton and is currently going to school. Her mother just gave birth to another boy, this time the father didn’t even stick around for a week. Rafiki met Ashton only a few weeks ago trying to pickpocket her. At first she was harsh on the girl using her attempt at pickpocketing as blackmail in order to get her to work for her at the tavern, but on Ashton’s second day of work Rafiki offered her a job as a waitress. She never told Ashton’s mother about her thieving ways, in fact Rafiki pretty much forgot about it. Ever since then Ashton has been working at the tavern from noon to midnight in order to help out her family. Rafiki’s other helping hand, Cade, went to bed upstairs an hour ago. Rafiki doesn’t know much about the guy but that was part of their agreement. He used to be a regular there about a year ago. He would usually walk in around midnight, buy a single shot, and sit in the corner only buying another two throughout the night. When dawn came around he would stir himself and head out the door without a word. After about two weeks of this Rafiki offered him a bed in one of the guest rooms upstairs, he refused. He told her he didn’t have the money to stay anywhere and asked if he could just sit in the corner every night, he even promised to buy a fourth drink for her troubles. Rafiki told him that was nonsense and said he could work as an extra hand around the tavern and she would let him use a bed as his pay. So Rafiki was by herself when it came sunrise. Not that it was a problem, for over a year she worked in the tavern by herself. It was good work, most of it repairing stuff. She refused to hire anyone, said she could take care of herself. Cade and Ashton are the only people she ever hired. Besides she figured it was more like helping than hiring them.

The shutters were flung open and light poured into the tavern. ”Alright everybody! Git yerselves up and leave, I’m closin’ shop fer the mornin’! Yer welcome to stay but you’ve got to pay fer a room, let’s go!”

A chorus of disgruntled voices met Rafiki’s ears.
”Ahh c’mon lady!”
”We don’t have any more money!”
”Yeah! I’m broke!”
”Can I stay? Please?”

”I said OUT you no good weasels! All of yeh!” Rafiki stood at the door holding it wide open motioning them to leave. ”I open up at one. Go to the bank and git more money, then we will talk.”

Once Rafiki shooed everybody out she locked the door and closed all the windows again, fastening each lock. She set herself busy cleaning up the tavern picking up all the mugs and setting them aside. She picked up the fallen chairs and set the tables straight. Rafiki fetched a cleaning rag and wiped each table down, thinking about what she found out the previous night. Every Thursday night one of her regular suppliers stops by with a cart carrying ten barrels of three different types of wines. She pays him an agreed upon amount they settled the week before then she places the next order and they set a price. This time was different. He came by like usual but he only gave her five barrels while requesting the same payment as before. ”I am sorry Rafiki, it’s just that with the Festival of Light upon us we’ve had an unusually large request from the Royalty. The problem is we can only provide about half of the order. On top of that Lord Dunn of Bora is bringing a large percent of his wine with him while only selling a portion of the rest at a higher rate. I need the money Rafiki, once this order for the Royalty pays out I can pay you back, you have my word!” Rafiki had considered it for a short time then finally replied ”Alright, I’ve known you long enough Jerry, besides I know where I can find you if you try and slip out o’ this deal.” His face perked up immediately at her response. ”But, I want fifteen barrels next time for the price of nine. Yer putting me in a bind by making this request so I believe mine is a reasonable one?” She paid the money and Cade lifted the barrels down to the cellar. Jerry rode on to his next delivery, no doubt readying up his sob story.

After she finished the tables and swept the floor, Rafiki moved on to the mugs from the previous night. Today Rafiki needed to talk to a different supplier that would have exactly what she wants. Problem is she has exactly what he wants. She went upstairs to change into street clothes. Rafiki threw on a plain green tunic tucked into a pair of leather leggings, grabbed a deep gray scarf for her neck and slipped into a pair of worn leather boots. Before she left, Rafiki grabbed a pair of gloves and slid her twin daggers in their sheaths at the small of her back, then headed out the back door strolling down the street towards the ports.

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MORGANA RENWALD



Morgana and her aunt talked quietly over a breakfast of smoked salmon, quail eggs and fresh bread dipped in wine. They spoke of daily life on the Estates. The rising cost of dry goods. The difficulty of finding good servants and the upcoming festivities. Margaret was planning a small dinner party towards the end of the festival for about a dozen close friends, and she insisted Morgana attend. For the first time since her husband’s death Morgana was actually looking forward to the upcoming week. It had been far too long since she had attended any public functions and the jousts were always a particular favorite of hers. The pageantry. Grand parades with colorful banners. Knights in armor. Mighty horses thundering along the pitch. The clash of metal on metal and the roar of the crowd. Now that her uncle had taken an active role in securing her interests she felt she could relax and enjoy herself. Margaret too, was looking forward to the events. The thrill of ritual combat must run in the blood of the Isilian women as Margaret became animated describing past events. Rising from her chair she mimicked a knight in armor fighting an opponent on foot. Holding the hem of her gown and exposing a bit more leg than was proper, Margaret swung her imaginary sword cutting and slashing the air and forcing her opponent back. Morgana laughed aloud at her aunt’s antics but quickly cupped her had over her mouth.

“You are permitted to laugh my dear,” her aunt scolded. Sitting down next to her niece she took a more serious tone.

“Your time of mourning is over my dear.” Reaching out she placed an aging hand atop Morgana’s. “You have done your duty and now it is time for you to rejoin the living. No one questions your love for Robert, but you must consider what he would ask of you. Would he want you to hide yourself away from the world? You are still young, beautiful, charming and witty. There are many lords who would vie for your attentions.” She leaned closer, her green eyes focused intently on Morgana’s.

“Robert is dead,” she stated. “He is not coming back and he is not judging you. I believe he would want you to celebrate his memory and his love of life by living yours as he would have lived his, do you not agree?”

Morgana nodded. Her aunt was right; Robert was dead and she would carry his memory in her heart for as long as she lived and no one or no thing could take that from her.

“Your words are wise Aunt Margaret and I will endeavor to live as Robert would have wished me to.”

“Excellent,” Margaret whispered. “Excellent. Now let us away to my shop and I will give you your surprise.”

Morgana called for Bernadette and Isabella who were waiting nearby just off the kitchen. The four women set off for Margaret’s tailor shop which was only a few city streets away. The day was warming and there was a palatable excitement in the air as they walked through the growing crowds. The narrow, cobbled streets were lined on both sides with two and three story buildings of wood, plaster and stone. Some had balconies from which hung colorful banners. Some had open windows where the residents leaned out watching the crowd or calling to friends on the street below. The Eastern quarter was vibrant with color, sound and smells. Street performers, jugglers and musicians vied with vendors shouting for the attention of the populace. Children ran among the crowd laughing and shoving. More than once did Margaret remind the girls to hold tight to their purses for many of the children were in the employ of the thieves’ guilds. The aroma of spiced food and cook fires mingled with the smell of horses and farm animals as carts and wagons, ladened with goods and supplies for the upcoming festival, struggled toward the city center

At one point the crowd parted to allow a knight in full armor, astride a magnificent black stallion, to pass. Behind him came his squire leading a donkey-cart loaded with weapons, armor and jousting lances. Bernadette and Isabella stood transfixed as the knight passed slowly by, seemingly unaware of the crowds around him. The two girls gawked until he vanished around a bend and then broke into a fit of giggles. They passed an open-door tavern from which spilled the sound of music and the laughter of women. The two young handmaidens attempted to peer inside the darkened entrance until Morgana took them by the ear and guided them away. A short time later they arrived at Margaret’s shop. A plain but well kept storefront with large leaded windows, a single recessed door over which hung a hand painted shingle depicting a sewing kit, needle, and cloth and the word “TAILOR” in red script printed above. Several body-forms stood in the window. One wore a plain maiden’s gown and the other a man’s tunic and doublet. Bolts of cloth of various colors spilled out around the base of the forms and samples of embroidery lay neatly arranged to the side. Margaret removed a key from her pouch and opened the door. Inside, the shop was spacious and quiet. Bins of cloth ran along one wall from floor to ceiling. Two worktables stood in the center of the room and at the rear were several dressing rooms. Another, smaller room held a large comfortable chair and small table with bits of unfinished embroidery strewn across it.

Margaret set about lighting candles and soon the shop took on a warm, comfortable air. The noise from the street was barely noticeable as Margaret unlocked a set of double doors at the rear of the shop. Opening the doors she invited them into a brightly lit room flooded with natural light from two large widows near the ceiling at the rear of the building. This was the fitting room. The room was tastefully decorated with ornate rugs, dark wood tea tables and richly upholstered chairs and, something rarely seen outside a nobleman’s house; two full length standing mirrors. A silver tea service sat on a sideboard next to a large vase of fresh cut flowers. A single, barred door of solid oak led to a back alley. The door was for discrete customers who could come and go as they pleased thus avoiding the busy main thoroughfare. In the center of this room stood a body-form that was completely covered in a clean white linen sheet and looking for all the world like a tall headless ghost. Margaret stood next to the body-form and invited Morgana to come stand before it. The girls settled into the plush chairs and watched intently.

“This, my dear,” Margaret began, “is my gift to you for the Festival of Light. But,” she added, “this is only part of your surprise. The second part I will show you when we return home. Now, if you are ready?”

Morgana smiled broadly and glanced at the girls who were leaning forward, sitting on the edge of their chairs, their faces rapt with curiosity. With a flourish Margaret lifted the sheet and grinned as both the girls and Morgana let out audible gasps. The girls left their chairs to join Morgana who was examining the gown in stunned silence.

The floor-length gown was unlike anything they had ever seen. Exquisite in its quality of craftsmanship, style and detail and constructed from the finest fabric available the gown was dyed a deep, rich wine color. A rounded neckline, edged in gold, swept low, allowing the slightest hint of cleavage. Narrowing at the waist the gown was held in place by a heavy cloth girdle that hung loosely about the hips. The front of the girdle, embroidered with threads of gold, yellow, blue and green, depicted horses from the Renwald Coat of Arms, and hung down the front to well below the knees. The gowns long sleeves were separate and slipped over the arms like gloves. They were then attached at the shoulder with small ribbons. Each sleeve ended in a point at the knuckles and was held in place by a loop over the middle finger. The hem was also embroidered in gold thread with a three foot train trailing behind. Matching slippers completed the ensemble. Morgana stared dumbstruck and worried aloud that the gown might be seen as competing with the queen’s own wardrobe.

“That may be,” Margaret laughed. “But if the Queen wishes such a gown I will be happy to make it and be even happier to charge her exorbitantly for it.”

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying on the gown and making minor adjustments. Bernadette made tea and Isabella served it with helpful hints from Margaret, who, like her sister, Morgana’s mother, was well versed in proper etiquette. As the sun dipped behind the buildings and the light in the room faded, Margaret carefully wrapped the gown in fine linen. And, after extinguishing the candles and locking up, the party started for home and an early supper.

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Lord Philomere Dunn


The path to Olympus was the major artery of Pandora's southland. The region was quite dry, had no major rivers, and was surrounded on three sides by some of the most treacherously pirate-filled waters in the world. The overland route, therefore, was the result of many years of investments by Kings, Lords, merchants, and even poor farmers, who saw it as good luck to build a shrine or re-tile a bit of the road on wedding days. Its many offshoots to the stately manors of minor lords and small farming villages that tended to the great swathe of dry, fertile plains, stretched out daintily along the curved hillsides. The main road, however, was quite stark. It cut through the hills instead of gliding along them, and was dotted at regular intervals with small, plain inns where a fresh horse and a clean well could be had.

The trip was a beautiful one, as Bora's colorful flowers and lush fields melted away into golden waves of wheat, crisscrossed with black ribbons where the earth had been scorched with woodpulp and manure. Smaller fields of alfalfa or clover rested like green patches on a vast amber quilt.

"I detest this trip." Said Markham, squirming in his seat in House Dunn's carriage, designated only be two crossed polearms and the family crest.
"Shut up, Markham" retorted Philomere, and the carriage returned to silence.

Philomere had, a few months ago, appointed a new head vintner of the Boran Monastery. Though the Order of the Austere was quite autonomous, House Dunn had acquired, among other things, control over the monastary's vineyards and cellars, and appointment followed. Hayden Winzer had been given the position, despite being far, far younger than any vintner before him. His appointment came a few months after the death of the last vintner, a stoic, pious man who made no waves and produced no truly fine wines. Hayden was, though inexperienced, devastatingly likable, with a demeanor and vigor that inspired both Philomere and his wife, and won him the position despite his shortcomings.

Hayden had been sent ahead a few weeks ago along with Lurick, the head of the Boran Men-at-Arms, to manage the first wave of cargo from Bora as well as to settle a lodging dispute. House Dunn had, historically, stayed in a small crescent of land in the shadow of the Royal Palace where houses of Dunn standing, meaning those considered unflinchingly loyal to House Brackard, built large apartments. The land was quite swampy, and took years of construction and sinking of stones before it could be paved over, and its location near the city center was ideal for visiting royals. It seemed, however, that all the apartments were spoken for, and Philomere could call no favors nor work no diplomacy to secure the place House Dunn had resided in for its entire history.

Markham was beginning to speak up again, the bratty boy was too much like his father, too quick-witted, too active, too handsome, and too cosmopolitan for country life, and he, like his father, would ruin the family name. Finally Philomere spoke.

"You know, Markham, our train is slowing us down, and we'll have to stop at the night, take your money and buy a few horses along the path and ride into the city if you're so anxious."

Markham didn't even reply, preferring to swing himself up and out of the still-moving carriage, shocking Philomere and leaving Lorelei mildly amused. She spoke.

"He really is his father's son..." to which Philomere replied.
"Bastard in name bastard in nature..."

Lurick Marlin


The city was bustling and all alight. The nights here had been warmer and more temperate than Bora, where an early chill had been blowing through. A few broken rainstorms went unnoticed under the many awnings and balconies and warm roofs. Lurick, being technically on the path to knighthood, had traveled before, but Olympus still amazed him. What did not impress him was the company. The men he had traveled with were incompetent, but thankfully a local merchant, keen to break into the wine business, had helped smooth out the affairs. Hayden, the pretty little beardless chap House Dunn had sent with him was dressed in silks and off playing sommelier to the higher houses, who often delighted in having new and exciting wines and cheese and fruit presented to them by a bright-eyed servant.

Lurick, however, had a far more stressful time. His original intention of entering the archery competitions now seemed a foolish dream, with all his extra time spent securing storage facilities and living quarters for his patron House and their unending stream of gifts. Despite being shafted for proper housing, and being a dying house, Dunn was putting on its best and to all the world would seem the most prosperous, garish house in the world. Their loyalty to the King would be their downfall, it seemed. Lurick had, since his appointment, been pushing for the city of Bora to swear new allegiance to House Montague, thus securing a freer, more advanced port and perhaps revitalizing the dying region.

But fat Phil never had any interest in real change. He would have to make due, however, as the closest place Lurick could find with enough space for the bulbous man, his pithy wife, and their hoards of things was an old fletcher's warehouse turned inn just for the festival. It was closer to the wall than the palace, and located in the heart of a particularly vibrant merchantmen district, so it actually proved better for hawking high end wines to the ladies in waiting who would shop their for their mistresses, or knights looking for the world famous brothel just an alley over. It was city life, and Lurick figured House Dunn was not meant to live it, but had been told as he left that Markham would inevitably arrive early, upon asking his Lord how he knew this, he gave a witty albeit tired aphorism that always accompanied any mention of his nephew.

For now though, Lurick was concerned with keeping the cellars clean of thieves and keeping track of Hayden, who would often vanish for days at a time only to return overburdened with gold and silks and even furniture. The boy would prove useful.

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Draiken Hawke



Draiken woke to find his own breath frosting in front of him. His windows were pierced by golden sunlight breaking through the rainclouds of the previous night. The aesthetic was both beautiful and annoying. It was far too early for such a horribly bright event. Swinging his legs around to the edge of his bed, Draiken sat with the palms of his feet pressed squarely on the frigid stone slabs. He ran both his hands over his face and back through his hair finding that his cheeks, nose, brow, and hair were all equally chilly. The light had not quite passed his bureau as it normally did in the morning, and for a second he wondered what time it was – and what had woken him up. He was answered by the cacophonous sound of something metal dropping in the hallway.

“You may enter, Alistair,” Draiken called from his bed. The squire poked his head through the chamber door sheepishly, carefully balancing a tray of food with a large pitcher and washcloth. Draiken helped clear the bedside table for the tray and then proceeded into the hall with just a sheet wrapped around his waist. Sure enough, some lost silverware and an overturned tray containing the remnants of a tart littered the floor. He scooped up the tart and gathered the pieces of cutlery before retreating back inside the room. “Pity that,” he said, eyeing the tart. “Looks like it would've been delicious.” The breakfast treat did not appear to be salvageable. The top was caked with small splinters of stone and dust and most of the frosting still remained attached to the corridor floor.

“Apologies, sire. With these balancing skills I can safely say I was born to squire, not clown.”

Draiken chuckled as he pulled an undershirt over his head. “What time is it?”

“An hour past daybreak, I believe. The hunting party is already starting to gather.” He watched as Draiken pulled his leather tunic on, fastening it from the waist up. A silk cape was slung over his left shoulder, hanging only a couple feet from the ground.

Alistair handed a goblet of milk to Draiken as the prince cinched his belt shut over his tunic. “Tell me,” he began, taking a sip, “what sense is there in going hunting the day of our trip to Olympus? We should be preparing to leave.”

The squire shrugged. “Perhaps it'll serve as a good distraction from the trip... and your father.”

“Any news on that front?”

Alistair simply shook his head. It was true though. A distraction would be good. Draiken hadn't fully grasped the severity of these events, after all. With Elias stuck to his bed, it would be up to him to represent House Hawke in Olympus. He would have to attend the banquet in his father's place, sit in on the council, sign the treaty, speak for thousands and thousands of citizens, his familys, his father's knights. He already felt out of place. To have so much responsibility thrust onto one's shoulders over the course of one day was overwhelming. He hoped it would get easier as the days went on.

“Right then,” Draiken said solemnly. “I suppose you should ready my things while I make a few visits. I'll meet you in the courtyard within the hour.” He took his last bite of eggs and downed the rest of his goblet in one gulp. Alistair collected the tray and dishes and made his exit while Draiken fastened his cloak around his back. He took a moment to study himself in the ornate mirror on his wall. The last year had been rough on him, he could tell. His face showed a ¼ inch of sandy blonde stubble, his eyes slightly darker than he remembered. It sometimes felt as if the last few years of the war had greatly aged him. He didn't feel 23. And the coming week was going to make sure that he never felt 23 again.

As Draiken shut the door of his bedchamber behind him, he took a moment to make a mental list. He surely wanted to pay a visit to his father before the hunt, but also had to check-in with his sister, make sure his trunks were being loaded for the trip to Olympus, and check the tower for his letter. Since he was already near her room, he decided to pay Sophie a visit first. Her room was on the next landing, facing West. She was a talented painter and often made jawdropping renderings of the Sun setting over the treeline. Her room held only a scarce number of her artistic endeavors. Sophie was humble, and easily flattered. In her eyes hanging her own work was like showing-off, so she often gave them out as gifts. In one instance, a travelling Laruzian artisan had offered to take over a dozen off of her hands for a handsome price, but she insisted he take them for free. 'Hang them in the churches,' she had said. Draiken remembered having laughed at that, saying that he faintly recalled Lord Montague saying something similar during the war. However, Draiken found his eyes drawn to these very canvases as he entered her chambers. She often left the door open, forsaking privacy (or heat for that matter). Sophie was holed up at her desk in the corner near a fire. She was pouring over some maps, from the looks of it.

“Morning, Draiken.”

She had a habit of doing that. Sophie the Seer, he used to call her when they were young. If she didn't know everything, she pretended she did. He would tease her saying that she should grow longer bangs to cover her third eye. As intuitive as she was, she was very learned and hardly wrong. If she wed soon, she would make a powerful Queen – the sort of Queen cities yearned for. She would be kind, merciful, decisive, but above all else, kind. In his heart, Draiken hoped to find a woman like her some day. Somebody he could count on. Someone to share the burden.

“Sophie. Up early as well, I see?”

She began rolling up one of the maps on her drawing board, binding it with string and stuffing it into the leather tote next to her. “Had a hard time sleeping, as you can imagine. What with the trip... The Festival... Father...”

“What are these?” he said, gesturing down at the maps.

She had a compass out, making various markings and alterations to different areas of Pandora. “Double-checking Captain Donahue's maps.”

Draiken couldn't help but laugh. “He let's you do that?”

“He makes me. Don't tell Elias though.” She dipped her quill in ink and made a final notation before leaning back and drawing her cloak around her shoulders. “Aren't you supposed to be out murdering some animal? You all better be quick about this hunt, we have to leave Port before nigthfall if we have any hope of making it to Olympus on time. We're already going to be late as it is...”

“I'm on my way. Don't worry. Just checking in. Have you seen our father today?”

She nodded, rolling up another map and stuffing it in the tote. “I have. His fever broke late last night, apparently... which is good. Huxley says that he will be on the mend for the better part of the week. Travelling is still out of the question, of course.”

“The old bird is gonna live after all? That's a relief.”

She turned and saw the sadness in Draiken's eyes. She rose and crossed to him, taking his face in her hands. "It is, Brother. It most certainly is. Now go... they're probably waiting for you." He kissed her on the top of the head and left her to her maps. As Draiken left her chamber, he felt a sense of relief. He decided he would visit his father once he returned from the hunt. His goodbye could wait until then. The faster he concluded this hunt, the faster they could leave for Olympus. Elias would certainly have much to discuss with him about Olympus. It was a straight shot down the tower to the royal commons. Several groups of soldiers and attendants were scattered about, some hauling crates and trunks out to the carriages on the street, others helping others pack and organize gear for the trip. Elias Hawke's chamber lied in one of the corridors behind them, well out of reach. Draiken promised himself to allow enough time to visit him when he returned. The street outside was packed full of carriages. The foot traffic was tremendously dense as even more people moved around packing everything they could. It was hard to seperate those packing to leave from those packing to hunt, but Draiken soon made out the unmistakable Dorian atop his white horse in light chain mail. He had a crossbow slung across his back, as did several of the knights around him. Draiken weaved between horses and man alike towards the hunting party, but bumped into a large man bearing a cloak with the Hawke insignia. He grabbed Draiken by the shoulders, keeping him from falling.

"Whoa there, young Hawke." It was Ser Jenson, of the private guard. He looked tired, and Draiken surmised that the drink he shared with him the previous night may have been the first of many for the knight. "Off to join the hunt, are ya?"

"Indeed. As if I have nothing better to do."

"Your father hopes that you may catch the hide of something rare out there. For King Elliot, that is."

Draiken laughed. "Of course. Rumor has it the King is fond of scarves."

The knight chuckled and continued on his way. "No worries, Hawke. I'll keep a good eye on your father while yer out."

Draiken watched the knight disappear under the arch towards the commons, and turned to continue to the hunt. He saw Alistair jog up from behind one of the horses with Draiken's sword, sheath, and longbow. "What's the word, my friend?"

Alistair helped Draiken fasten his weapons to his back and horse. "You leave as soon as the rest of the knights join us. They are still being briefed." Draiken's longsword was now at his hip. A quiver of arrows was fixed to the horse, and his longbow was slung around his shoulder. Alistair helped give him a boost up onto the saddle. From there he had a better vantage point of the city quarter. Lanchester was quite alive. A light layer of fog remained just above the highest tower of the castle making no sky visible. It would surely rain before nightfall, making the prospect of an ocean voyage to Olympus that less appealing. Dorian spotted Draiken mounted in his horse, and gave his a slight kick in the side. He twisted the reins navigating his horse through the rest and pulled up beside Draiken.

"Glad you could join us," said Dorian. He wore a circlet of leaves and a silken silver cloak over his shoulder. He acted the role of prince more than Draiken did, as if he had earned the title himself.

Draiken turned in his saddle. "Wouldn't miss it for the world," he said sarcastically. "It's not everyday we get to partake in such brotherly pursuits together."

Dorian scoffed at this and kicked his horse back into a trot. Meanwhile, Alistair mounted his own brown mare. He pulled his cloak around his neck and dug some nuts out of his pocket. Leaning forward in his saddle, he reached around to feed some to his horse before popping some into his own mouth. Not much later, a group of six knights exited out of the mouth of the South tower as if in a procession. Several took their horses while one proceeded on foot past Draiken's horse. He recognized him instantly as Aemon Williams, head of Elias' private guard. Most of the men in the hunting party were common knights of Lanchester, with only a few of the private guard speckled throughout. Draiken saw that some of Dorian's friends had chosen to join the party as well. Draiken slightly wished that Ser Jenson had chosen to come, if only on his behalf. The rest of the party was altogether unfamiliar. But if the hunt was just a formality, Draiken would just ride it out and participate as little or as much as he saw fit. One of the guard's voices boomed out above the others.

"Alright. Saddle up, men. We ride to the field." Several others hooted and hollared at this and kicked their horses into a gallop. Draiken and Alistair followed suit behind Dorian and some of the other soldiers. The train of horses wound West through the Merchant Quarter and pavillion, past the royal garden and across the bridge onto the road towards Edgebrook. In total, Draiken saw 16 of them. Himself and Alistair, Dorian and his three friends, 4 men of the private guard at the center, and six soldiers bringing up the front and rear. They wore cloaks of the Watch, with the Hawke insignia emblazoned on the center, a hawk stretching out its wings. They rode in loose formation down the road for a good ten minutes before veering North onto a seperate path. This part of the forest was dense, and only allowed speckled sunlight through. The fog was thicker here, hanging just below the canopy of trees. Mixed sounds of wildlife sang all around them as the forest continued waking up. After a few more minutes of riding, the front of the formation split up and man began dismounting their horses. Draiken followed suit, leading his mare towards a nearby tree. Several of the soldiers tied up their horses and moved towards the center of the clearing. One of the knights donning a cloak of the private guard climbed a small stump near the edge of the circle and spoke to the group. Underneath his helm, Draiken saw that it was Ser Axel Faulk. He often led the hunts in this parts of the forest.

"I think we're all met, gentlemen. We'll be splitting into four groups to tour this grove first. Lord Hawke requested that we bring back the pelt of a dire boar for our tanner to make a gift for the King. We know it makes it home in the caves up on the north ridge often enough. We'll send two groups that way while the other two break West and East." He began circling through the crowd making the groups while Draiken fetched his quiver and gear from his horse. Ser Axel made it to him soon and put him into a group with Alistair, Ser Avery, and two soldiers named Rolf and Barrett. Their group was instructed to head up the left side of the pass towards some of the caves in the cliff face. If they could flush out the boar and use flares to signal their position, then the other groups could flank the animal. Draiken finished fastening his sword and dagger, and made sure his quiver was in place. He was always able to move quicker with a bow in hand as it was less cumbersome. The tree in the grove were thick as carriages. Charred black wood from previous forest fires left the forest with a dusky glow. Thick foliage, ferns and small ponds populated the forest's lower levels while mossy cliffs outlined the grove itself. The groups formed up and made their ways into different parts of the forest. Draiken glanced behind him to see Dorian disappear behind a tree with a few of his cronies and a few knights from the private guard. Other groups made off the same, while two soldiers stayed behind with the horses.

Ser Avery took point as they eased their way onto what appeared to resemble a path. It wound up the side of the cliff where both plant and rocked seemed to grow inwards creating a narrower trail. As they moved on further, they fell under the shadow of the cliff. Draiken could feel the damp air hanging all around them. It was darker here, and both of the soldiers took a moment to light torches. One was handed forward to Ser Avery who took it and continued his climb. "Keep a watch above us," the knight began, "If there are any shadowcats around they'll be stalking us from up there. And if you see thick webs, call them out. We don't want to walk into a spider trap." For a moment, Draiken had forgotten the pleasures of deep forest travel. Boars, shadowcats, spiders. The beasts of the Blackwood. Each were menacing in their own way. Caught unaware, they could kill you easily. Luckily, they all shared one thing in common: they hated fire.

The group proceeded slowly up the side of the pass. All of the sudden, they were almost passing over one another vertically, using the rocks as handholds. Draiken quickly realized that the terrain did not make for a quick retreat should they need it. In front of them was what appeared to be a clearing. The overgrown plants gave way to a craggy sheet of rock that led to the base of the rock summit. The party moved out of the brush and fanned out, surveying what they could of the cliff. Beams of sunlight broke through various points of the canopy above to cast spotlights onto the forest floor. Ser Avery raised a hand and gestured for the group to move in behind him as he sidestepped closer to the cliff. He pointed at his eyes and then over his shoulder towards a small opening buried in a pile of rocks. It was large enough for a grown man to crawl in with his hands and knees, but also just large enough for a boar. Alistair and Rolf flanked to the far side of the lair, weapons drawn. Draiken notched and arrow in his bow and kneeled down in a firing position as Ser Avery crouched and slowly stepped in towards the lair. The group waited for his signal, but the knight was distracted by something off to his right. The brush rustled as something wormed its way through it. Ser Avery reeled around with both sword and torch in front of him. He looked over to Barrett and Draiken and signaled for them to move. The two rounded their way, backs against the cliff, towards where rock met plant. Barrett held up his hand and pulled a wall of sageberries to one side clearing a line of sight for Draiken and his bow. He leaned into the opening just in time to see a spider pull the head off of a shadowcat. The two creatures sat in a pit of bloodstained webbing, the majority of which sloped up the side of the cliff into the darkness. The grass was matted to the ground as both webbing and creature alike weighed it down. The spider, easily coming up to Draiken's shoulders in height, pulled the corpse of the cat under him and began binding it in web with his hind legs. The front legs savored the head of its most recent kill, allowing Draiken to duck down behind the bushes. He waved his arms wildly at Ser Avery, and the knight's eyes grew wide. Draiken and Barrett began to retreat from the wall of ferns when the first red stream of light was fired into the sky. Everyone's head jerked up at the hissing sound of the flare and the deep sound of a horn echoing off the cliffs.

HARRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOO...

As if in response, a second flare went off in the forest. Again from the East. More hissing sounded from over the hedge as Draiken and Barrett scrambled from their spot. The spider quickly retreated up its web at the sound of the horn, cradling the captured shadowcat in its spindly legs. The group made for the forest clearing down at the other side of the cliff where the first flare came from. Draiken jogged ahead to where Ser Avery led their charge. "Whose flares were those?" Draiken asked between breaths. He was in worse shape than he remembered, especially with so much gear weighing him down. The knight grabbed hold of a branch in their path and hacked through it with his sword.

"That's not what I'd be worrying about," the knight said, kicking the branch out of the way.

Alistair, Rolf, and Barrett came sprinting past. "What do you mean?" Draiken asked.

A third flare went off from South of them. They both looked up as it sailed up into the foggy canopy of trees.

Ser Avery took his shield off of his back. "We didn't bring a horn." The knight ran off after the others.

Draiken tossed his bow aside, drew his sword, and followed.

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#, as written by Avella
Bernadette


Dearest Ma:

There is so much to say that I simply cannot fit it all in this short letter. The city of Olympus is beyond imagining. So many people and so many things to see. I am sure one could spend their entire life here and not see everything. Her Ladyship says we will go to the City Center tomorrow to see some of the places where the festival will be taking place. Oh, Ma; I am so very glad to be in service to House Renwald. Everyone here is well mannered. The Lady’s Aunt is very kind to her servants and treats us well. I do not think her husband likes us much, however, for he seems quite rude. Perhaps that is how it is done but I don’t like him. He looks at Her Ladyship in a strange way and his manners are bad.

Her Ladyship has been of good sprits and is laughing again. Remember when we were so worried? I think things will be much brighter now. I have been practicing walking and sitting like her, but it is hard. Perhaps I am just dull witted, but I swear I will never wear a corset. It seems more suited for torture than for anything else.

Today we saw a real knight. He was very handsome in his armor as he rode past us on a great black stallion. Isabella nearly fainted. Such a silly girl. There is much to see and do here and the streets are always crowded.

The Lady’s Aunt made her the most beautiful of gowns. Isabella says that one day we too will be Ladies. I told her how silly that was but she insisted it would be true.

We ate dinner in the kitchens, had roasted venison, wild rice, and buttered potatoes. After dinner we went with the Lady to her aunt’s rooms where her aunt gave her the most beautiful necklace and earrings made of pearls and rubies to go with her new gown. She said they belonged to her mother who handed them down to her and, as she has no daughters of her own, she wanted the Lady to have them. I am sure the Queen will be quite jealous.

It is late now and the candle is burning low. I will end by saying we are fine, healthy, and looking forward to the coming week. Thank you Ma for sending me to House Renwald. I count myself lucky to be in the service of such a fine House.

Be well and do not worry.

Your obedient daughter

Bernadette




Isabella


Ma and Da:

I hate it here. The city smells bad, there are far too many people and my room is too small. There are no windows and worst of all? Bernadette snores.

The Lady is trying hard to be polite and happy but I know better. I may be the youngest but I can see how she is still very sad. Her aunt is a kindly woman and tries hard to bring cheer to her house but her husband is a cruel man and speaks ill to the servants. I am the Lady’s handmaiden and if he tries to be angry to me I will kick him hard even though I will most likely be punished or even sent home. I don’t care. I don’t like him.

I will say that the food is good and the Lady looks to our needs as best she can. Today we saw a real knight. Bernadette went all goony when she saw him. I love her but sometimes she can be such a child.

Tomorrow we are going to the City Center. I will pray for rain so we don’t have to go. I cannot wait to get home to the estates where I can breathe fresh air again. I am doing my best to be a good handmaiden and obey Her Ladyship, but one day I will be a Lady too. Bernadette says I am being silly but I could marry a fine knight like the one we saw, couldn’t I? I mean the lady married a Lord, so why not me too?

Well I have had my bath and Bernadette will be coming back to our room soon. I will end by saying I love you and pray you are well.

I will write again soon.

Your daughter,

Isabella

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Lord Philomere Dunn


The Lord had never had quite such a lovely ride towards Olympus. Perhaps the road was worn smooth from the pilgrims so excited to experience the festival, perhaps it was Lorelei, who was always polite and stimulating conversation, and perhaps it was Markham’s absence that gave him such a cool, rested mind.

But Philomere’s mind was tired of rest. As the light began to dim, and they found themselves in good time, he ordered the train of gifts to settle at the inn for the night early. The arrangements had all been made, the carts were to be loaded into a large barn, locked, braced, guarded, and the men would get their payment and Philomere could take a walk. He needed to move a bit.

He paced, a few times, around the barn, in sight of the men who guarded the place, all too casually. House Dunn was historically a wealthy house. Their palace was lush, their food sumptuous, and their lifestyle high.

But their palace was maintained entirely by the monastery, their food was procured by local families, and their lifestyle was sparse and quiet when unobserved. Now, in the eyes of so many people, House Dunn had to swathe itself in the richness and gentility of nobility, but what was left but rags?

There had been talk that House Dunn was running out of funds, the wine was running out since the last war left them drained. The peasants were ascendant, the old barriers were crumbling. Even these rumors, however, were a façade. As Philomere paced around the carts full of goods, from herbs to silks to horses to candles to bottle after bottle of wine, he was pacing around everything that mattered, everything that he had.

What had he done to deserve this? Odius, wonderful, astounding, perfect, horrible, disgusting Odius was supposed to be Lord. He was supposed to marry a girl, Lord over the dying land, and leave Philomere alone.

But now Philomere, who once acted the part of forgettable spare, was now acting the part of rightful heir. Lorelei was with him on his ruse, she was the only one he could trust. His guards were farmers, called off, hoping to be home before harvest, untrained. They were not held by loyalty. They had no vested interest besides tradition and pay. Philomere had run out of the latter. There would be thefts, but this was to be expected. There was his problem, he feared nothing more than foreigners making off with his goods, but so long as it goes back to Bora, where he made his home…

Years ago he was asked to run away from it all. He remembered the question, a question so singularly rare in a person’s life. So foolish was he that he let fear of disownment keep him from fleeing, like a man too afraid of darkness to walk into the sun!

He wrung his hands. They would reach the city tomorrow, at this pace, and the sun set behind him, and he observed his long, diminishing shadow…

The Bastard Apparent Markham Dunn


It was wonderful to choose life again, and not sit in silence with the fat man. To Markham, life was lived on horseback, it was lived fighting and gnashing and loving and roaring about the world. Phil acted like life was just something that happened, something that we had to wait out until a bittersweet end. What an awful concept. What was there to worry about?

Markham had taken one of the horses and galloped off, when the horse, having half of Markham’s vitality, wore itself out, and Markham had it traded away at the next inn, only to be galloping violently onward on a more aggressive, wilder stallion. Lord it was wonderful, no more expectation, save the pains of the horse and the wonderment of those peasants looking out across the road to see a figure dashing across the horizon.

That was what Markham saw himself as, the magnificent lone rider along the horizon, untouchable, almost divine in his freedom.

This was living!

Hayden Winzer


Hayden had never been used to living life so late into the night, so early into the morning. There was no time to sleep in Olympus. He was new to his position as it was, but this was more pressure than he could stand.

Admittedly, he’d never been so excited or enthralled by a lifestyle. Most men would die for it. Hayden was quite the salesmen. His wit was talented, enormous, with a cavalcade of tricks to fall back on when pesky pursuants fell on him.

It was still exhausting work. Lurick was never happy to see him until he’d explained how much money he’d secured from the homes of lords and ladies and knights and merchants. Lurick was never really happy with anything, and spent most of his time going over paperwork or pulling back a bowstring over and over again without any arrow or target in sight.

But Hayden was actually busy doing things. Every morning before the sun came up he was packing the gifts, preparing a demonstration, and hiking, all alone, through the enormous city to whatever visiting noble wanted to be smiled at and have their ego lovingly massaged. It was starting to feel inauthentic. How surprised could he honestly be about a wonderful wine pairing or just how pleasantly low a certain price was or just how many gifts he was willing to give? The Abbot had given him strict lists and orders and they hadn’t failed yet. People really were quite predictable. The Abbot said it was Hayden’s “demeanor” that made them all act so simplistically. Hard to know what that even meant.

As the light leaked away from his windowsill in the warehouse he was being kept, along with the other prized possession of House Dunn, he quietly went over the next day, certain that the Knights he was meant to serve tomorrow would not be quite as interested in his gifts as others. Why was it he was acting as the face of the House while the actual Lord and Lady were yet to arrive? How much faith did they have in him to give him such a position? It was so difficult to gauge the thoughts of those in power… except, perhaps Aya, and how much power did she have really?

The Abbot Emmet Warden


“My lord, where would you like to take your grapes and cheese?” asked the young monk, arms folded.

“On the balcony, I think, and please, take down a note for me…” said the Abbot of Bora’s famed monastery, relishing his few moments now in power of something outside the walls of the Order of the Austere.

“What would you have me write, sir?”

“Oh yes, write, we will right something indeed.” The Abbot cleared his throat.

“Upon the death of our noble Lord of the House, Philomere Dunn, upon the order of Lady Lorelei of House Dunn, the title of Lord of the House will be bestowed upon the husband of Aya Dunn, whosoever that may be, and in the interim control of Bora and all the properties associated with House Dunn will be overseen by the Order of the Austere, as per the Belltower treaty.”

“My lord, what of Markham?”

“Yes we should cover that shouldn’t we? Unless the bastard Markham can consolidate his claim to the throne through knighthood or marriage, there are no other heirs to the House of Dunn.”

“Right my lord, what should I do with this notice, put it away with the will?”

“Are you kidding? Get it transcribed and post it throughout the town!”

“Sir, Lord Philomere is not dead.”

“But he is gone, and we can use this to right what has gone so horribly wrong with this city.”

Aya Dunn


Frogs may bellow louder than bulls, but they cannot drag the plough in the field nor turn the wheel of the winepress, and of their skins you cannot make shoes.

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Ashton

The sun was well into midday by the time Ashton stirred awake. Her mother was long gone by this time of day, off to one of her many jobs trying to support her three children. She has been taking the jobs that most people wouldn’t degrade themselves in order just to get a small handful of pocket change. She takes any job she can, working during the nights and in the mornings. Ashton’s family is nowhere near nobility. They had to sell their house after selling most of their belongings a few months ago, keeping most of it to pay for food and necessities, but a small portion was spent on the small one room apartment they currently rent. Ashton works from noon until midnight at Rafiki’s Place, spending her mornings catching up on sleep and taking care of her youngest brother, Sebastian, while her mother and twelve year old brother, James, are gone. James works down by the docks unloading and loading shipments for his contribution to the family funds. He always gets up early in the morning and returns around evening time to take care of Sebastian during the night.

Ashton swung her feet over the side of the bed and slowly stood up and began gathering her clothes together. Suddenly she realized she slept too late. She grabbed her shoes and ran out the door, heading to Rafiki’s Place.

Cade

“Good so little Rafiki has left the shop.” Cade slapped on his thick leather armor and donned a tunic over the top. He began to dig out his sword from under his bed but thought better of it, planning on being a little more discreet than a broad sword strapped to his back would allow. Cade grabbed his bag and headed out the back door.

Rafiki

Down by the docks sailors and passengers alike crowded the streets bustling around loading and unloading the mammoth ships that were resting in the huge docks waiting to be pampered after its long and hard journey. While passengers were gathering their items, whether grabbing a few carryon possessions or organizing groups of workers to begin unloading their huge stock of whatever they think that they are going to sell in the coming festival, the sailors were busy carrying out orders from the captains of the ship. The salty air and crowded atmosphere made Rafiki feel a bit on edge. She had never gone out to sea and the whole idea made her uncomfortable. In comparison, the crowd gave of a sense of excitement and wonder. Most of the passengers had never been to Olympus and the sheer size of the ports set into the west coast was multiple times larger than the ones further east. Rafiki couldn’t help but wonder at the amount of ships. Most of the ports were occupied and even still ships were still arriving, some far on the horizon, others setting anchor waiting for a spot to open so they too can unload.

As Rafiki traveled closer to the shore, the crowd thickened with sailors searching about for a drink, passengers wandering around trying to figure out where to go get a bed, and servants dashing about carrying boxes after boxes of merchandise. A few knights passed by in their usual stuck up manner, creating a big ruckus about how important they are and how everyone should move so they can go and do important stuff. To Rafiki, it seemed like it was all just a charade, a ruse for them to finally feel important and lord it over everyone else.

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Lady Morgana Renwald



Morgana awoke from a fitful sleep well before dawn. Tattered remnants of troubling dreams lingered in her mind like thin gray clouds after a summer storm. The fire had been stoked and the crackle of flames broke the silence of the house. Shadow dancers performed on the ceiling or sprang from hidden alcoves to spin across the room only to vanish against the walls. A movement caught her eye. Bernadette sat sleeping in the chair near the fireplace a blanket thrown over her. Morgana frowned. Why was the girl not in her room? Was it she who stoked the fire? Questions that would have to wait, she was simply too tired. She closed her eyes and drifted off again.

*******

There were horses, hundreds of horses. They moved in unison across the broad rolling hills of clover and purple flax. Like a flock of birds they wheeled and twisted, always moving away from her. She rode after them on a horse unlike any she had ever ridden. A war horse; a stallion. Black as pitch his muscles thundered under her carrying her against the tide of wind and sky. A thousand horses now all moving as one and always away from her. On they rode, horse and rider in pursuit of the unattainable herd. It wheeled and bolted for a rise of hills that lifted higher than the surrounding lands. Morgana knew what lay beyond that rise; a sheer cliff that dropped a thousand feet to the river below. She cried out and urged the stallion on. But still they failed to narrow the gap. She screamed and reached out as the herd rolled over the rise and disappeared.

*******

Someone was shaking her awake. Bernadette sat on the edge of the bed a look of concern on her face.

“Milady! Milady! You are dreaming again and crying out.”

Morgana opened her eyes. A strange feeling of dread fell across her heart.

“A dream? Only a dream?”

“Yes Milady. This is the third time tonight. I heard you scream earlier and came down to check on you. It was I who stoked the fire. Is there anything I can get you? Some tea perhaps?”

Morgana shook her head no. The dreams clung to her like the smell of a smoky fire. She lay back bewildered at their meaning, particularly the last one. So many horses gone willingly to their deaths. What could it mean?

She slept again. This time there were no dreams.


Thomas Henry


In his sleep he heard a scream from the other side of the house and stirred in his bed. Sitting up he listened carefully, the way one does when they are unsure if what they heard was real or part of their own dreams. Hearing nothing more he lay down again, but his mind was awake. So much to be done. The seeds had been planted. Now it was a matter of waiting.

In the morning he would go to the West docks and shop for wine to restock his cellar. That would take most of the day considering how long it would take to get through the growing throngs. He lay back running lists through his head. His wife was planning a dinner party at the end of the festival and there were supplies to set in. Additional staff would have to be hired. Perhaps he could use Morgana’s two young snipes. That would save him a pretty penny.

His wife shifted in her sleep. Still a few hours until dawn. Thomas rolled onto his side and closed his eyes. A few more hours sleep would help.

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Markham Dunn


Oh what sweet a liquor is youth! How intoxicating its reflexes and sensations! Galloping down the road, thundering from atop a horse just as happy as Markham to be free to run again. Even now as he moved it seemed the horse ran in place while the earth undulated around him, the hills rising and falling as he rushed down the smooth straight road. He laughed at any bandit or highwayman in waiting that night, thinking they could catch him in the night when the stars and moon gave him such vigor and rage!

He'd ridden all night. It was invigorating, and he felt no sympathy for the beast as it began to slow. He beat it, demanding it bear him with all the vitality its youth granted. In the eery dawn while the sun just awakens Markham was just beneath the walls of Olympus.

Oh the liquor of youth, how it mounts and peaks throughout the night, and how bitter the days beyond.

The horse gave out just within the gates, agility and tact on the empty night road fell to awkwardness in the broad avenue before him, with a violent shrug and kick Markham found himself against a wall, the moon and starlight all crashing in on him at once in a great fury.

He awoke to the sound of footsteps and a glare from the sunlight, as well as a sharp pain in his side. He reached instinctively for his moneypurse, untouched, Luck favored him, it seemed. Pulling himself up, leaning against the wall he couldn't see the damned horse anywhere, and the fatigue of a night spent riding was rushing in against him. He brushed the long blond locks of hair from his face, and brushed off his now filthy cloak. His doublet sullied, his face a mess... he did not recall crashing quite so violently.

Pain like no other pierced his side again, like a fresh stab by a spear! He began to limp forward, hoping to follow this grand avenue to the heart of the city, where the pathways grew narrow and webbed and the company grew a little fairer and more willing. He was headed to meet Lurick, but a stop by the brothel might distract from a night's sore, at very least Markham deserved a drink. He began to walk to the tune of the city coming awake, towards the end of the road where a great fountain marked the former limit of the city.

Lady Lorelei Dunn


The night had been as quiet as the day before. Now the morning's serenity echoed it. She watched Philomere begin to organize the train of goods, handing the men plates of egg and toast, a fresh draft and a stern thank you. The soldiers liked Philomere, it was easy to like him, he did not have the pretension of other nobles. Of course, Lorelei knew the other motives behind Philomere's actions, however contained, however numerous.

He was too good to her. With all that had happened, he had saved her. It was only right that she follow his lead and remain quiet. Quiet until the grave.

It was not always so restrictive. Only in the presence of others did her husband become so strict, so concerned. They often spent nights laughing, lounging about in the reading room and guessing what fact or history occurred on what page in what book of the Monastery's vast library. It was a pleasant game, and she having such a keen memory, one easily won. Even when they both lost, the page always had something interesting to divulge. Sometimes apropos, sometimes ironic, almost always irrelevant and delightful.

But he'd been so stressed lately. She knew how he was. She knew how long they'd been keeping up this charade. She knew why he hated Markham, why he hated Aya, why he was always filled with so much hate now. Festivals were about celebration... and Philomere knew nothing if not celebration... but so many years he never felt anything to celebrate.

She had an early breakfast of some things they had brought with them. A bit of sausage, some toast, quince paste. Philomere had the same, but ate quickly before shuffling her into the carriage. She joked that if he didn't speak to her she might forget how to speak, but he didn't even reply. Not even a mild ribbing. She turned her eye to the window. The ground was still wet with dew, this trip, though short, would prove excruciating.

In the silence she placed a hand on her stomach, and Philomere grew sickly and white, and turned to look out the window breathing as though he was sinking beneath water.

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Michael Rush


Lady Renwald had been gone nearly a week now. The Festival of Light marking the Autumnal Equinox and the beginning of the harvest would start in two days time. After the Lady’s coach had disappeared around the bend leading to the King’s Road, Michael had saddled his horse and headed out to the Senunault Estate which lay on the banks of the river bearing the same name. This was the farming estate and hub of House Renwald. Here the vast majority of foodstuffs and grains were grown and raised for both staff and stock. As he had predicted, the day following the Lady’s departure had rained. Michael spent the next three days at the Senunault Estate going over the estimates for harvest and costs. Despite the floods of six months earlier, the crops were doing better than expected. Wheat, barley, oats and corn were all heavy with fruit. The orchards were already being harvested and promised an excellent return. The greatest threat now was an early frost but it did not seem likely as the following days proved to be clear and warm.

The dread that had permeated House Renwald following the death of Lord Robert was dissipating and a new focus took its place. The staff seemed more relaxed and worked with purpose. The Equinox would be celebrated in the old ways. The anticipation of feasts, dancing, bonfires and a Boar hunt buoyed the spirits of everyone. Michael was pleased with the predictions. There would be enough food to see House Renwald through the winter and perhaps a bit extra to sell at market. That would certainly help defray some of the additional costs entailed due to the cancelation of House Hawke’s order. Thirty extra mares to feed meant the real possibility of sending some of the younger staff members’ home to their families for the winter. Unless a buyer was found, but that prospect grew more unlikely with each passing day. Michael put all that aside and focused his attention on the coming harvest and Equinox celebration. He had two more estates to inspect but decided to wait until after the celebrations here were over.

Friday afternoon was warm and dry and, with the inspection of the new levies along the river over, Michael rode alone at a leisurely pace north along the riverbank to the broad rolling hills of clover and sweet grass that bordered the dense Northern forest. A feeling of contentment washed over him as he guided his horse along a rise overlooking the lands and river to the south. He was overseer of one of the richest land holdings in the kingdom. A member of a House known far and wide for its breeding of excellent horses. Few men could boast of such a thing. He was trusted and respected and even fewer men could make that claim. A kindly breeze washed the ridge pushing the tall grasses into rippling waves that undulated across the gently rolling hills. Michael smiled. Perhaps he would travel to the capital after the harvest was in and the estates secured for the winter. It had been years since he last saw the walls of Olympus. He would have time and money and there would be plenty of lodging available once the throngs were gone … and there would be women, flush with an after festival glow, but still craving entertainment. Yes, he would definitely make the effort to visit Olympus after harvest. Goddess knew he earned it.

Jerking the reins, Michael spun his horse to head back to the estate, but pulled up short. Behind him, the sun, now low in the west, bathed the forest edge with a warm coppery glow and there, standing where the forest and the grasslands met, stood the most magnificent Stag Michael had ever seen. Tall, broad of chest the beast held its head high as if appreciating the coming sunset. A noble rack of antlers branched out like the limbs of a great leafless tree. Were Michael a more religious man he would swear he was looking at Herne the Hunter himself come down to view his domain and bless the coming harvest. Nonetheless Michael took this as a good omen. He gave a respectful nod to the Stag before swinging his horse around and starting down the ridge. Behind him the great stag watched as man and horse dipped from view. He snorted once then turned and vanished into the deepening gloom of the forest.

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Ashton

(Fri)


Something was wrong.

Ashton got to Rafiki’s Place a few hours after noon. When she arrived, there was no sign of Rafiki. Normally she closes from about sunrise to noon or one o’clock and then opens up again until sunrise the next day. It approached nighttime and she still hasn’t shown up. Ashton had tried to go talk to Cade, he was normally up in his room, to see if he knew anything but he seemed to be gone as well. Only having worked there for a few months, Ashton didn’t have a key and was beside herself with grief. Not too many customers tend to show up before dinner time but there was a few that did. Ashton, not knowing what to do otherwise, turned them away. As night went on nor Rafiki, or Cade, never showed up. Ashton left at midnight so she could return to watching her youngest brother.

Ashton

(Sat)


Ashton woke up early due to Sebastian crying his head off. She hopped out of bed and set to work with Sebastian. As she coaxed her youngest brother back to sleep she reflected on what had happened the previous day. Rafiki being gone wasn’t too difficult to rationalize, she was the owner after all she could close whenever she felt the inclination. Cade was a different story. So far as Ashton could tell, Cade never left the tavern. He was always very polite to Ashton, even though a bit gruff in nature, and very stern with disorderly customers. His job was to literally throw out the aggressive customers and be imposing to the more sensible ones. He always kept more to himself though. He didn’t talk too much and stayed out of the way until he was needed. It was very strange for him to not be found in his room.

Her mother returned back to the house a little after noon taking over Sebastian so Ashton could go to work. She wasn’t quite sure what to expect when she arrived at Rafiki’s Place. Cade was in the back loading up a new shipment of wine barrels and Rafiki was behind the bar serving customers like normal.

For a second Ashton stood in the doorway wondering if yesterday was just a dream. Everything was going on as normal and nothing seemed out of place.

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Lady Lorelei Dunn


The road widened and grew crowded. The early morning calm was quickly extinguished, and a ruckus was billowing out as the way was flooded with pilgrims to the city. It was obviously making Philomere even more nervous, as every new face that passed was another person who could try and derail their endeavor, another person who might have casually overturned a cart or somehow turned sour all that Philomere had worked for. Of course, Lorelei knew that Philomere had been nervous long before this trek. Even when she saw the light leave his eyes when he saw a golden wine had turned bubbling and orange like some witch's brew, he was long since overcome with horror. The moment the bubbling stuff touched his lips she figured he'd collapse from the burden.

He'd asked, on this last stretch, for the men at arms to wield their polearms and to have bows visible, as a further deterrent to those avaricious souls whose greed proves fleeting under threat of violence. Those too lazy to be properly greedy.

He was so talented at holding it back. He looked sickly at worst, nervous at best. Where was the complexity he knew him for? She traced her fingers against the window a few times. She didn't like looking out the window. What if a passing girl, one of rare beauty and prestige, were to look inside and see a plain woman staring back at her? Power and beauty were for some reason entwined. It was a matter of possession, ruthless possession. Lorelei felt faint. There was a trembling beneath her skin as her face went numb.

She flexed her back a bit. Philomere had a rib out, a constant pain, a perpetual gadfly at his side that was caused by a scuffle in his youth with a local boy. How could the past fade away unremembered if a wrong move could start a sword into your side?

She wanted a distraction, she'd learned long ago that there was no reason to really think so much about her husband. She knew the deal they'd made all those years ago, she knew her place, and there was no reason to try to overreach her place.

Suddenly it struck her, she still had Aya's poetry. She pulled out the delicate strip of paper from her small purse, examining the small flowers on the vines of the page's elaborate trim. This had been torn, neatly, but ruthlessly, from a page of one of the Order of the Austere's old stories. It read, in delicate, clean miniscule:

"One born into power has all the fierceness and history of his ancestry and past to contend with, and all the wealth as well. One claiming power must fight obscurity, to which all things must fade. But one must st-"

She remembered how it ended, she had such a keen memory.

"But one must start up from obscurity like an acorn grows to oak, so let no man say obscurity bested all men" Admittedly, it was only a minor page of the thing, but it was rude of Aya to tear it out.

She turned over the page, and reread its chilling contents.

Our lamb, escaped
Fiercest of his kind.
The wolf, abandoned
Calmest of his pack.
If only they should find each other!
Kindred Souls. They could be lost
together!
Where is the kinship
of broken bird
and hungering cat?
Who both lack so much.
One a friend, the other food
They have each other.
and so with man?

Markham Dunn


Markham had hit a stride somewhere past the last street performer. Perhaps it was the delirium that followed each step, or limp, rather. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, but Markham figured it was but a lull in that glorious inebriation of youth... but with each sharp pain after each awkward step, a real brew felt like a sweet relief, and Lurick was in no hurry to see him.

From the Great Fountain he'd wandered almost aimlessly. He'd no desire to show up so beaten up and not drunk. It simply wasn't a proper story. The smell of salt and a few more sharp steps found him before a perfectly respectable place to get drunk so early in the morning.

Markham limped through the door. The place was quiet, but noticeably more populated than he'd ever expect a bar in Bora at this time. He half sat, half collapsed at the bar, before saying, through a sort of grimace of pain and to no one in particular,

"Can I get something... strong, fortified?" He brushed the disheveled blond locks out of his face, wiping the sleep from his eyes.

The woman behind the bar, with her back turned to him, replied with, "You wait just one minute, I've got the thing for you."

Markham smiled, it sort of hurt to smile, but no use putting healthy teeth to waste, that was what his maid always said, though she was a violent one, too fond of teeth. He leaned against the bar, feigning a debonair attitude despite being quite grimy and disheveled.

"How's business been with the festival? I imagine a woman skilled in the ways of wine and spirits does well with the sailors who come in to get their fix?" He tried to remember that he was in a place where his position meant something, not in Bora where everyone saw him as "the Bastard." Admittedly, he was acting ridiculous for someone covered in dirt and scrapes.

With a moment of pause Rafiki answered, "It's been surprisingly wonderful. Plenty of customers from the sea ships and not too many problems from 'em. We even have a larger amount of wine provided by the generous House of Bora in anticipation of the Festival." She poured his wine with a flourish demonstrating a skill for dexterity and slide the mug across the counter.

Markham lifted an eyebrow. Did he come this far to drink wines he'd been living and loving with his entire life? He slept near Boran wines, they were delightful, complex, fragrant. They were made to enhance and round off a night. They granted an ethereally loveliness to the air.

This was not a Boran wine. All the better, really. The wines Markham had sampled from the cellars were all famed for their flavor, their body, their bouquet. This wine before him had a considerably higher alcohol content. In Bora, wine was not a means to a happy, drunken end, but something to be savored. He didn't want to savor, he was done savoring, and he wanted something bracing. Admittedly, it was for less than philosophical reasons, he needed to be numb, he admired the lofty, heavy pour and took the lips to his nose.

Try as he might, he could not resist his upbringing to twirl and sniff the wine before sipping it. It was too refined a process. The wine was good, a little piquant, but good. It was not, however, Boran.

"So does your supplier tell you this wine is from Bora, or do you just market it that way?" He said, with the playful bite he liked to season his words with, lest they taste or sound bitter. He tapped his fingers on the glass before taking a great gulp of it, scanning the barmaid for a moment.

She leaned over the counter wiping at one of her mugs, "Keep your voice low, and I'll not restrict you tonight. A riot would not be easily forgiven." Sweeping her eyes across the bar without hardly moving her head, Rafiki continued in a soft, luring voice, "Normally I'd balk at anyone challenging my integrity and claiming my wine is false, but I can tell you know wines rather well just by watching you. Besides you happen to be right. My usual supplier has a lack of the extra barrels that he finds he has too many of, and I find I need at a slightly lower price. Lord Bora is apparently bringing piles of his to the event and its effecting all the taverns. So, I improvised. Most folk that come here don't care who made the wine as long as they pass out on the floor after a few drinks. So they are happy, my wallet is happy, and so is my reputation." She took a once over of Markham, noticing his disheveled appearance, and became defensive. "Where did someone like you learn about wines?" Her grip on the mug tightened. "A list of taverns, drunken parents, or are you trying to put on a show and ruin me? Are you working for Peirce?" She glared at him trying to judge his intentions.

Markham raised his obviously over-active eyebrow and smirked. "I don't know anyone named Pierce, and... really, 'someone like me' I never..." Markham paused a moment, and started to laugh. He didn't exactly look high born at the moment, did he? It's not like anyone would know him.

He leaned forward, and said, with a voice fluttering with sarcasm, "I'm actually a member of the royal guard, scoping out false wine merchants, had you persisted I would have had to arrest you."

With a wink Markham swirled the rest of the wine into his mouth, letting the flavor linger a moment before putting it back down to be refilled.

"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone." he said, with the same pained laugh he couldn't seem to stop.

"Ahh, yes, you better keep that trap shut." With a short pause Rafiki smiled as an after thought. "You get too rowdy though and I might start the riot myself." She picked up the bottle and twirled it from hand to hand, swiftly she pulled the cork and poured a full glass then set the bottle, with a slam, on the counter. "Here, pour the rest of your drinks for yourself Mister Guard Sir, and make sure to pay your tab by morning." She stalked away as though she was upset.

Perhaps the wine was working already, for there Markham was, laughing against the pain.

Hayden Winzer


From the rigidity and soreness of early morning Hayden had been beating his cleverest wit against nothing and nothing and nothing. These people were ruled by nothing. Nothing but money, he supposed. He'd been selling and selling and selling every bit of wine every scrap of cheese, and it was exhausting. He hardly remembered sleeping, he'd been up so early. Now, nearing noon, he meandered back from his last satisfied count to manage the bright stall Lurick had set up just before the warehouse that would be the Inn for House Dunn and their servants. It had three awnings fanned out from the wall of the building, shading the stall and its crates like a tabernacle to wine.

Racks were laid out with the corks displayed, marked with colorful wax. The table was set with scraps of stale bread sweetened and softened with richer wines. Small bowls were set out to sip the aerated alcohol, already three men were standing in attendance, Lurick sat quietly in the window above keeping a watchful eye, and as Hayden approached, his golden eyes met Luricks and the disdain flowed freely.

He dropped the chest of gold he'd acquired, as well as the slips detailing orders of future wines and (as Hayden had been careful to emphasize) the other foods that Lady Lorelei had meticulously planned out. He remembered that, shortly after the session with her husband, she gave him a list of how the wineland that would be transformed. Apparently the farmers had died or been hurt in the war, and their lands would be put to better use. A little what, plenty of grazing land, peas and roots. It was a vast list, and, although Hayden did not necessarily have the goods to hawk, he found sponsors for the programs however, through much effort. He had no idea why, after such consistently successful work, he was being forced to sell to commoners.

Admittedly, this being near the heart of the city, there were knights and ladies in waiting to pass, both of whom Hayden was not against dealing with. But Lord Philomere had promised him he was... of such... something or other, that he'd not know the company of commoners for much longer.

It was strange to have such a fuss made over him so frequently. Who knew that a boy from a farm in Bora could live like a Prince in Olympus? If only Lurick would let him rest a moment.

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Thomas Henry
(early morning, Sat.)


Thomas woke at dawn, dressed and ate a hasty breakfast. He wanted to get an early start as the city would soon be crowded beyond capacity. It would take him several hours to travel from the Eastern Quarter to the West Docks considering the throngs that would be filling the streets. He chided himself for waiting until the last minute to procure the necessary stocks for his wife’s upcoming party. His mission today was to purchase a number of cases of fine wine for the cellars; a task he was rather fond of as most wine merchants had tastings available and perhaps a bit of bread or cheese. He was imagining the smooth palate of a fine red as he waited for his horse to be brought around. The morning air still held a slight chill but a clear sky bode well for a warm afternoon. It took the groom longer than Thomas had expected and when his horse finally arrived at the front of the house, he cuffed the man soundly.

Thomas Henry rode a powerful barrel-chested, bay stallion taken from the Renwald stables themselves. A well trained, spirited animal that held Thomas’s large frame well, but was still easy to maneuver. That would play an important part as he wound his way through the masses that would plug the thoroughfares and streets. He considered taking some of the less traveled side streets but that would add another hour at least to his journey. No, he might as well stick with the direct route. For the first half-hour or so his progress through the city went well, but at mid-morning the streets became nearly impassable. Hordes of festival goers had arrived clogging the streets with their carts, wagons and horses. Street performers and food vendors were out in force and street urchins and pickpockets swam through the crowds like hungry sharks. The city Guard was nearly tripled to help keep order and already there had been numerous scuffles and arrests. Thomas could not imagine what the next week would be like. Glancing north, towards the Castle and Citadel, atop the central hills, he could see the huge multi-colored banners representing all the noble houses, being erected. The air was charged with anticipation and excitement as the throngs shuffled along like a living, writhing creature.

It took nearly three hours to reach the western docks. Even though the crowds thinned out considerably here there still seemed to be more folk about than usual. Stewards and servants of the upper class houses milled about looking for choice meats or brews to purchase for their masters. Everyone was planning some dinner or social event over the next week. The harbor and docks were jammed with barges and ships of all sizes, some unloading while other waited a turn to dock. Shipments coming overland entered through the west gate leading directly to the warehouses, taverns and inns that populated the merchant quarter. Thomas dismounted and led his horse along the rows of merchant stalls and vendors. He nodded to one or two people he recognized either as associates or clients, but his focus was on the task at hand. He paused several times to sample a wine or a bit of food. There were cheeses and salted meats, nuts and early harvest corn, grains for baking and feed for horses, honey and barrels of mead.

Near one of the larger warehouses someone had set up several stalls protected by awnings. Thomas was drawn to it by the fact there were already several other patrons he recognized sampling the wares. A fine display of goods, colorful labels and bowls of wine soaked breads. He tied off his horse and began working his way along the stalls tasting several wines and nodding at their richness and body. Overall, these were the best he had tasted yet this morning and as it was nearing noon he wanted to finish his business then perhaps stop at a nearby tavern for an afternoon drink before plunging back into the fray of the inner city and making his way home.

“Fine Bora Wines” the sign read.

Thomas looked about for someone to take his order. He had gold to spend and five cases of this wine would be well suited for his cellars.

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Hayden Winzer


As the morning picked up the wine stall was becoming a popular attraction. Hayden had insistantly asked Lurick for one or two men to stand outside with spears looking serious to ward off casual diners who figured a scrap of bread and cheese with wine was a nice free lunch. Thankfully there were men of taste who arrived and, often knowing first hand the quality of Boran wines, stopped to see the wares.

Hayden, golden eyed and bright was holding out a wooden board to which a list of items and names were categorized. The men, uncertain thawed and melted at Hayden's insistence and ended up signing the sheet before sliding small bags of silver and gold to be weighed on the scale Hayden kept prepared. A particularly distinguished man approached but Hayden saw Lurick approach him, apparently from nowhere.

Lurick called Hayden a nevetes, but Lurick was the one who always seemed to appear instantaneously and without warning.

Lurick Marlin


He had been watching the stall from his position in the second story window when he realized that Hayden might need some help. Annoying as the pretty boy was he sold marvelously, and might need help. He descended the stairs and pulled on a charming, albeit garish, crimson vest. He was supposed to look nice as a representative of House Dunn, but with the House's color, rust, being so unflattering, they had settled for a uniform even uglier. Either way, it looked fine beneath a plain cloak and felt appropriate for a seller of wines.

Stepping out of the warehouse silently he saw Hayden getting yet another pair of nobles interested in the "new direction" Bora was taking. Lurick knew little about the process, and loathed that bright-skinned Hayden knew more about it than he did. It was, however, putting money in the coffers, more than mere wine would suggest.

Lurick approached a gentleman of middle age who seemed interested in the products he provided, and out broke the Boran hospitality which swept away any grimness Lurick would have liked to muse on.

"Good morning sir, is there a wine you're interested in or are you here to taste? If you'd like to sample what we have here I can get you a glass or you can come inside where we have numerous cheeses for you. There is a spicy, fragrant red wine I feel you must have to try, come in and I'll give you a glass or two of it. There is a cheese that has cried out for that very wines smooth finish since the day it was made. Cried out I say like a child for its mother."

Despite the warmth of his voice, Lurick's hands gestured only softly to the inside of the warehouse, where candles burned to brighten the place up and countless wine bottles stood witness to a tray overburdened with cheese, preaching that greatest of wine-sellers traditions "sell on cheese"

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Pandora by Ninja Vanish

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Character Portrait: Draiken Hawke
Character Portrait: Alexio Kadmizzare
Character Portrait: Sophie Rafiki
Character Portrait: Lord Philomere Dunn
Character Portrait: Julius Murphy

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Character Portrait: Julius Murphy
Julius Murphy

Prince of Stal, Rightful heir to House Murphy

Character Portrait: Lord Philomere Dunn
Lord Philomere Dunn

The aging lord of wine country

Character Portrait: Sophie Rafiki
Sophie Rafiki

Rough tavern owner

Character Portrait: Alexio Kadmizzare
Alexio Kadmizzare

A Wild Card from The Trader's Isles

Character Portrait: Draiken Hawke
Draiken Hawke

The rightful heir of Lanchester.

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Character Portrait: Lord Philomere Dunn
Lord Philomere Dunn

The aging lord of wine country

Character Portrait: Alexio Kadmizzare
Alexio Kadmizzare

A Wild Card from The Trader's Isles

Character Portrait: Draiken Hawke
Draiken Hawke

The rightful heir of Lanchester.

Character Portrait: Sophie Rafiki
Sophie Rafiki

Rough tavern owner

Character Portrait: Julius Murphy
Julius Murphy

Prince of Stal, Rightful heir to House Murphy

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Character Portrait: Lord Philomere Dunn
Lord Philomere Dunn

The aging lord of wine country

Character Portrait: Sophie Rafiki
Sophie Rafiki

Rough tavern owner

Character Portrait: Alexio Kadmizzare
Alexio Kadmizzare

A Wild Card from The Trader's Isles

Character Portrait: Draiken Hawke
Draiken Hawke

The rightful heir of Lanchester.

Character Portrait: Julius Murphy
Julius Murphy

Prince of Stal, Rightful heir to House Murphy


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Pandora

Pandora by Ninja Vanish

The kingdom of Pandora and its capital city Olympus.

Pandora

The kingdom of Pandora and its capital city Olympus.

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