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 Female x Male  Fantasy The Secret of the Five (epicurean x zulma)

Discussion in 'Roleplay Execution' started by Zulma, Apr 7, 2019.

  1. Zulma

    Zulma Wild Member Member

    Messages:
    71
    Local Time:
    12:23 PM
    Her leather boots barely made a sound yet she strode with haste and determination through the hallways. Behind her, a trail of mud led back all the way to the entrance. It was barely mid-afternoon, but it looked like dusk outside. The rain caught her off-guard. She should have been able to smell it in the air or in the shift of the winds but she was too focus on her task to care about the weather. She pushed one door after another followed by a servant who was trying to dab her soaked cape with a clothe since she had set foot in the castle.

    "I'm fine." grunted the raven hair woman, trying to shoo the maid away but the poor dear had her orders directly from Lady Clara of Olya and she knew better than to let Lium prevent her from doing her job.

    As she passed into the great hall, the late twenties noblewoman stumbled upon her mother and younger sister, Enya. While Lium was dark in her features with a strong profile just like her father, Enya inherited the gentle and blonde beauty of her mother. For that matter, even Theodor, Lium's twin, had inherited his mother's sunny hair. If a family had ever embodied their clan's crest, it was the Olya, while Theodor was the dove, Lium was the raven. And to be honest, she liked it that way.

    "Lium!" The expression of disgust and disappointment on the woman's face made no doubt as to her opinion of her daughter's appearance. "You look like a peasant." The maid accompanying Lium slowly stepped back and left the room.

    In response, green eyes flickered with annoyance. She didn't care that she didn't look like a proper noble dressed to the T with a fancy doublet, jewelry and silks. Her lean build was framed by a brown leather gabardine which made her silhouette even more boyish than it actually was, although it was currently hidden under a drenched cloak which stopped at her hips. Her pants and boots were soiled and despite her hood, now draped around her neck, her black curls were soaked and flat, sticking to her forehead. If she had her way, she would be wearing a simple leather vest on her outings with her favorite fur, the pelt of a black wolf she had killed herself and had had mounted as a capelet. But after many arguments with her parents, she had understood that if she wanted to keep her freedom and ability to go off in the mountains, hunting by herself, she had to wear at least a gabardine for protection.

    "Where's father?" Lium asked although she knew the answer. In his bedroom. For several months now, her family had been trying to hide the truth to the other 4 Houses: her father, despite his young age, was starting to lose his health...and head. He had still been able to maintain a facade in front of the others during their monthly reunion but it was taking a toll on him. And after each reunion, he had to take to his bed for several days. Lium had always headbutted with her father (and mother, and actually everyone in her family), but she hated seeing him in this state where he seemed lost or unable to recognize people.

    "Lium, wait. He is not-" shouted Lady Clara behind her, but the young noblewoman didn't listen. She was used to her mother trying to lecture her on her place. She was not the heir, she was the second child, even though Theodor was her twin. Her father needed rest. Blah blah blah. She went up the stairs two-by-two to her father's room, or rather the bedroom next to his room which had been turned into some kind of study to suit his needs. She barely knocked before barging in.

    "Father I need to talk to you." Her voice betrayed a sense of urgency but then again, she was often fired up when she talked with her father and everything was always very important. She had stepped well into the room before she realized that there wasn't one but two people there. Her father wasn't alone. She froze. She immediately recognized the eldest of the Ameril House, Sir Emran. Although she didn't mind making a scene in front of her family or the servants, it was another story in front of a guest, especially an honored guest such as the heir of one of the Five Houses. She had her pride. She raised her chin and try to catch her breath, although her flushed cheeks and heaving chest betrayed that she'd just been running. She squared her shoulders then bowed politely, noticing at that point the puddle which was slowly forming at her feet now that she had stopped her race across the castle.

    "Lium?" the husky voice of her father sounded surprised as his brown eyes moved from his guest to the new comer. With salt and pepper hair and beard, at 5 feet 7, Lord Thaddeus was barely taller than his daughter. But what he lacked in height, he had compensated in thickness.

    "Father. Sir Emran of Ameril." she greeted them both politely, her emerald gaze flickering as she tried to guess why Emran would be here. She was certain that he was Yundalon, the imperial city.
     
  2. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    553
    Local Time:
    7:23 PM
    They came up from Dury, the cloud raised by their horses dusting the olive groves to the sides of the road. Lake Malena came into view, glittering in the morning sun. Whenever he had travelled before, Emran of Ameril had been happy to see the lake, knowing that it was just a day to Sadirney, another to pleasant Olya and yet another half-day to his ancestral castle – in short, seeing Lake Malena meant being home. This late summer day, however, Emran was just gratified, nothing more. He wasn’t thinking about the pleasant hills of Dhalvour, rising bit by bit in the distance. His eyes and his mind were on the mountains beyond, the mighty snow-covered peaks of Valré, where a man he had trusted and admired had been lost.

    At first, it had been hoped at Yndalon, where his journey had started long weeks before, that the Marshal had been captured by the rebels and brigands roaming the Valré Pass and its many nooks and crannies. By now, it was clear he must be dead. The organized rebellion, it was said, had been crushed, but the Dhalvour Valley was still plagued by nightly raids. Only well-armed groups of many heads could travel the Pass. That was one of the reasons Emran was returning home: To help his friends and relations on the Dhalvour Diet restore order to the pass. He was also to write to the court with news. Rumors of treason to the Marshal Duke Marlico circulated – that his household knights had suddenly fled from his side, that the ambush in which he had vanished had been arranged between traitors in his camp and the rebels. Emran grimaced as they passed Lake Malena. He doubted he would learn much. In Dhalvour, the saying went that the Valré Mountains gave up no secret they wished to keep. But of course, Emran had learned from an early age that the people of Dhalvour could keep secrets too, and with the blessing of Goddess Myatha, would always do so. His home region had not seen serious trouble in living memory, however, and that made it more disquieting now. Yet, he was confident that the Grand Secret the five noble families of Dhalvour kept, the one he had been initiated into just four years earlier, could not be touched by these troubles. If he was confident of it, the young knight asked himself, why did he want to bite his lip every time he thought of the Secret? He had two men-at-arms with him, a squire to serve him and a servant to watch the horses – there was not only the travelling palfreys, but also two pack animals and his destrier, the war-horse meant for battle and jousting that Emran would not have burdened with a rider on such a long journey.

    *

    The next two days were different – rainy and muddy. At least, the Dhalvour Diet had long invested in having drainage ditches dug next to the roads, and so, Emran and his entourage made good headway even in the heavy rain. When Olya Castle came into view, wisps of fog mixing with the smoke from its chimneys, Emran realized for the first time how tired he was. Not only the long journey had drained him; it had also been the stay at court. He hadn’t liked the unending company, the stilted style in which folk dealt with each other, the way the high-spirited attitude of good nobility had turned into a nasty game of besting, upstaging each other at just about everything.

    But still, he had to visit his relatives, the Lord of Olya and his family. He knew them all, of course. He had played with the children, had received gifts at the Midsummer Festival from Lord Thaddeus and his wife.

    At the castle, there was a strange mood. The Lady Clara seemed to want to keep him from paying his respects to Thaddeus, and young Lady Enya, whom Emran greeted warmly (they had always had fun at gatherings as children, being of roughly the same age), was on her mother’s side. However, his visit had to be announced to him and from what Emran gathered, he insisted.

    Thus he was sitting across from Lord Thaddeus in a window niche. Emran had been at court for two years, ever since his knighting. He remembered his neighbor and distant uncle as a man of vigor, remembered how he had dominated the friendly jousts even against much younger knights, including Emran himself. As a youth, uncle Thaddeus had reaped many wins in tournaments all over the empire, defeating the greatest jousters of his time.

    Now, however, most of what he said was repetition or vague, empty talk. He asked Emran questions, but seemed to forget who exactly he was, where exactly he had come from half of the time. Emran was appalled; maybe if the head of the House of Olya was in such bad health, it was not such a surprise that the Valré mountains were in chaos still? But his wife, heir and other children were hale. Why were they unable to do it? Emran suppressed a grimace – he was blindly speculating, never a good thing to do. He had to talk to his own parents. His father was a good deal younger than Thaddeus of Olya, still in his prime, his mother and aunt were capable warriors, and his younger siblings were old enough to be useful as well. His house was filled with strong young folk, there was no reason why the mountains should not find peace.

    Emran was about to try and find something Thaddeus and himself could speak about even in the Lord’s reduced state when Lady Lium stepped in. He turned towards her, relieved – because he did no longer have to handle Thaddeus alone. Maybe her presence would brighten the light of his mind, too.

    “Lady Lium! Greetings, cousin; I have returned from court and came to pay your father and your house my respects,” Emran explained his presence, rising to greet her with a smile. He cast a quick glance at her disorderly appearance. She must have come from outside; he himself had had his long travelling cloak taken away, revealing the simple clothes he wore, dusty from his travels. He supposed they were both not at their highest state of repair. “But we were simply talking of wine, the vintage to come – why don’t you join us?” he asked with a cheeriness that was half feigned, gesturing at the place next to his own in the window niche.
     
  3. Zulma

    Zulma Wild Member Member

    Messages:
    71
    Local Time:
    12:23 PM
    Emran always had such a warm and proper demeanor. Lium could never tell if he was genuine or putting on an act because of his social status. She couldn't help but smirk a little, as the young Lord invited her to sit in the manner of a host, while she was in her own home. She knew he meant no disrespect and only to invite her to join the men, but she still found the situation quite ironic.
    She hesitated though. She wanted...or rather, she needed to speak to her father, but alone. She was about to politely refuse the invitation when Thaddeus spoke.

    "That's a great idea. Join us Lium." echoed her father.
    Now that surprised the young woman. Usually when her father was having a discussion with one of the Heads or Heirs of the Five Families, he would never invite her. Since birth, it had been made clear to her that although she was Theodor's equal in age, He was the Heir, not her. She often wondered how different her life would have been if she had been the first born twin.
    Lium cast a side glance at her father, a hint of worry in her green eyes. Sometimes Thaddeus had good days and sometimes Thaddeus had bad days. She had been hoping that if Emran had been invited into her father's study, it meant her father was in shape to receive company. But now that she watched her father stare into the fire, she wasn't so sure...which meant that now, Emran of Ameril knew the state of her father. She disliked the thought very much. The House of Ameril, along with the Houses of Sehran and Ennan had a leading role among the Five and she had always felt that her father needed to work harder in order to have the voice of his house heard during council. As she wasn't allowed at council, this was only her opinion based on what she witnessed during interactions outside of the secret meeting.

    The young woman shook her shoulders, sending more droplets down the floor.
    "Thank you." she replied calmly.
    A servant came into the room and this time, Lium removed her soaked cloaked and accepted the small clothe to dry to her hair. She briskly patted her raven locks and dried her face and neck.
    Before joining the two men, she removed her belt at which a small hunting sword hung and unbuckled her brigandine. If hers was designed to still be comfortable on horseback, with the front and back panels able to fan out, it was very inconvenient to wear while seating in an armchair.
    "What a storm." she commented to try fill up the silence which had settled in the room, disturbed only by the cracking of the wood in the fireplace.
    With the right side open, she easily passed the leather over her head with a sigh of relief. The servant took her weapon and armor away while Lium rolled her shoulders with delight. Her brigandine was nowhere as heavy as metal armor, but after wearing it all day, she started feeling the weight on her shoulders and back. Her white shirt wasn't so white anymore and between the rain and her sweat, it was sticking to her frame.

    From the corner of her eye, she cast a quick glance at Enram who was still politely standing to greet her. Although he was only a couple of inches taller than Thaddeus, the light made his limbs look strangely long. Now that she was looking at him, she noticed that although he was dry and the fabric was finer, his own clothes weren't in much better shape than hers. He'd come straight from court. Then her eyes flickered slightly as she wondered, why was he back? Did something happen? Doubt and worry started filing her mind as she remembered why she was coming to see her father in the first place.

    She went to sit next to Emran with a polite nod as she passed in front of him.
    "Speaking about wine?" she questioned, picking up where Emran finished.
    "Yes, that and your brother." nodded her father.
    This time Lium's expression froze and she cast a dark look at her father.
    "Father..." she started.
    "Did you find anything?" Thaddeus asked his daughter.
    "I...I was out hunting Father." she lied. "I am sure he is just playing around with his friends, drinking and catching wenches." she added without kindness. "He's been gone for a mere three days. He'll be back soon I'm sure." she tried to reassure her Father while in truth, she wasn't so sure. What she just discovered worried her beyond words, but the last thing she needed was an Ameril meddling into her family's business!
    "Right, right...hmmmm...three days..." Thaddeus seemed lost in his thoughts, once again looking at the dancing flames in the hearth.

    "Sir Emran. How was court?" she asked the young Lord. She wasn't one to make small talk but anything to have the dark blond man think about something else than her sick father or missing brother. She didn't know really what to tell him. Emran was much closer to her sister, Enya. They were the same age and Lium was pretty certain that her baby sister had a crush on the solar young man. She even remember her mother speaking of a potential match between Emran and Enya but Lium didn't know if any step had been taken to make that idea a reality.
    "Did you enjoy your stay in Yundalon? Is it as vast and rich as tales say?" she asked. She'd never been to the imperial city and although she was very found of the mountains, the idea of an immense city full of wonders was quite attractive.
    "You wanted to talk to me!" Thaddeus interrupted her as if suddenly he remembered that his daughter wished to speak to him. He was now staring at Lium in a way which made her uncomfortable.
    "Nothing of importance Father. We can speak later." she almost cooed, hoping he wouldn't press the subject.
    "So Lord Emran you were going to tell me all about Yundalon." she pressed a smile which was a little too forced and betrayed some uneasiness. "I have to admit that I am surprised to see you. I thought you were due to come back for the Winter Solstice." her curiosity was real as to why he was coming home so soon.
     
  4. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    553
    Local Time:
    7:23 PM
    The exchange between Lord Thaddeus and his daughter was awkward; Emran had had enough experience with such things at court to tell there was tension in the air. He kept his silence politely, wishing not to cause a disagreeable situation. Something was going on between Lady Lium and her father, but it most likely didn’t concern him, so it would have been wrong to pry, as ominous as the idea of the heir of Olya being missing seemed to be.

    Emran hid his amusement that Lady Lium would still call the Imperial City ‘Yundalon’. He had done so himself when he had arrived there, but the word, these days, sounded more like ‘Yndalon’ and indeed was written that way – so one who said ‘Yundalon’ irrevocably marked themselves as someone from the West, and the courtiers, even the burghers of the Imperial City thought themselves the only cultured folk in the whole Empire. Perhaps he could convert his amusement into a lighter atmosphere? Lady Lium was very uneasy.

    “The Imperial City,” he smiled, “ah, where to start. Its size is hard to imagine. Do you know the feeling standing in a field of wheat or a forest, and being unable to make out where it ends? That is how Yndalon is. It lies on hills and in a plain and it goes on and on. Once it occurs that there is no more room inside the walls, they pull the city walls and build them anew – but now, most of the city consists of suburbs, which can be both completely unruly and very beautiful. The Palace is almost a city in itself, easily the size of Ameril Town.”
    Emran’s smile became slightly dreamy as he recalled the wondrous sights. “At feasts, there are fountains of wine; the palace is full of the strangest folk you can think of – I saw Outer Plainsmen, small and wiry, who will start a conversation with anyone. There were women from Igherland across the Sea of Ghennin, where only women make politics. It was hard to even get them to speak to me. I spoke to the Duke of Ba’ah in the South, who insisted that one day, we will all be overrun by the Ferla, on whose border he rules, on account of their ever-growing number. And the Palace as a building, well… if you wish me to describe that, cousin, we shall have to set aside a day or two.”

    He sighed as his thoughts turned to the goings-on inside the Palace. “Yet… I should not wish to return to Yndalon. A castle, here in Dhalvour, is a place where we are concerned with what goes on in the lands belonging to its lord. The Court is hardly ever concerned with anything beyond the city, and folk there busy themselves with their own advancement, enrichment or the gaining of favor with those in high places… I'm glad that I could return earlier. I am to see if I can be of use to my house in quelling the banditry that, as I've heard, still goes on in the mountains, and I've also been asked to write to Yndalon with news.”
     
  5. Zulma

    Zulma Wild Member Member

    Messages:
    71
    Local Time:
    12:23 PM
    When Emran replied, Lium noticed how he pronounced Yndalon and not Yundalon when he spoke of the capital and its wonders. It wasn't just how he pronounced the Imperial City name, but also his accentuation here and there that made her realize he had taken on a little bit of the Eastern accent during his stay away from Dhalvour. But he had been gracious and not corrected her, so she wasn't going to point out his accent either. A tiny smirk passed her lips still, Emran had grown some it seemed. She remembered a brasher young man the last time she'd seen him, almost a year prior, now it seemed that the heir of the Ameril knew how to held himself like a man and not a boy. On the other hand, she had always been biased when it came to any noble younger than herself and Emran and her sister Enya were no exception to the rule. They would always be younger than she, so she would always assumed that they knew less than her...which in the case of the tall noble sitting next to her wasn't true as he was an heir and she wasn't!

    She nodded when he spoke of fields and forests, those were her elements and with each word, she painted a vision of Yndalon. It was rich, vast and fearless, yet it had walls. "You met some Igherland warriors?!" There was genuine curiosity and interest in her voice. She listened then chuckled with him as he spoke of describing the palace itself. The capital seemed to be quite a sight and her cousin's account definitely made her wish that one day she would visit it herself. So it came to her surprise when Emran admitted his wish not to go back to Yndalon. She nodded in approval. Dhalvour's families were tight and caring for one another. Sometimes a little too much for her own taste as she disliked how they seemed to mingle in each other's affairs. But Emran was right: here, people cared.
    "I see." she simply answered.

    When the nobleman spoke of the true reasons for his return, Lium tensed up a little bit. Her father who had been so quite that she'd forgotten he was here, spoke.
    "We all thought that the Marshal's arrival would put an end to the rebellion. The Duke Marlico even stayed here a couple of nights. Theodore accompanied him on several occasions as his guide." Thaddeus sounded surprisingly as his old self, very different from how he's been in the last hour.
    Lium's fist clenched slightly on her thigh and she looked away from the two men, green eyes flickering with the firelight. She had always been unable to hide her anger when she felt powerless.
    "If only y-" she started.
    "ENOUGH!" Thaddeus's voice echoed against the stone walls, followed by a heavy silence.
    Lium bit her tongue.
    Thaddeus stood up, a cue for both his daughter and his guest to stand up as well.
    "Emran, I am glad you are back here. We welcome any help we can get. I am saddened that we lost the Marshal in such circumstances and that he wasn't able to finish his task."
    Next to the first born of Emran, Lium's body language was betraying how she truly felt.
    "I am tired. Lium escort Lord Ameril down and make sure that he has provision for the rest of his trip home." he ordered his daughter before adding. "And as your brother isn't here, put yourself at his disposition if he needs anything."
    Lium's eyes glowed with a new level of anger, yet she stiffly answered.
    "Yes Father." and waited in the hallway for Emran to give his leave before walking with him down the stairs.

    Lium remained silent, yet several times her mouth opened as if she wanted to say something. Keeping secret was part of her upbringing. In Dhalvour, you would die before you would divulge a secret. As such, it was hard to know who to trust and with what. She had nobody to confide in. She'd always been the lone wolf keeping people at bay, even her own twin brother. And now she needed counsel but she wasn't even sure if she could trust her own father, let alone her cousin whom she barely knew.
    As they reached the last step, she stopped and turned to Emran, raising her face to meet his gaze.
    "Things have changed, cousin." she said in a hushed voice. "The mountains, they are..." she was trying to find her words, to speak in terms that he would understand and not thing that she was a loony like her father. "Something is happening. It's not just the bandits or the rebellion. I know the mountains, I hunt almost everyday. The animals have been changing their paths. Some had even started migrating! It's not even fall yet!!" With each word, she was getting more worked up. She clenched her fist. "I should have been the Duke's guide, not Theo!" She passed her hand in her messy wet locks, trying to calm herself. "You need to be careful, okay?" Her emerald eyes were strangely intense, was that fear?

    The door next to them slammed open, Lady Clara was standing there with a wide smile which was too wide to be fully genuine.
    "Here you are." she said softly. "Lord Emran, please, would you join us for supper before heading back on the roads?" offered the Lady of the House. Behind her, Enya was smiling kindly at the young Lord, with a soft blush on her cheeks.
    Then Lady Clara's eyes widened as she realized the state of her daughter, the fabric of her shirt was wet here and there, leaving little to the imagination where it clang to her skin. "Lium! Go get yourself presentable immediately!" Lium sighed, then with a short nod in Emran's direction took off in another hallway.
    The Mistress of the Olya House offered her arm to Emran as the etiquette required. "So would you do us the honor of dining with us?" she asked.
    Enya pipped in, trying to convinced Emran to stay. "It's still storming outside, but the rain should stop soon enough."
     
  6. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    7:23 PM
    Half of Emran was still thinking about Lium’s words; he had always considered her quick-witted and there could be no doubt she knew the Valré mountains like a peasant knew his field. She seemed very, very distraught. He had no time to respond before Clara and Enya started, as it felt to him, fluttering all over him like birds over a bowl of grain. The Ameril heir cast his cousin a questioning, pondering look. They were not done.

    “I shall be delighted to dine with you, Mesdames,” he replied, more from habit than actual thought. “In fact, I had a mind to ask for your hospitality for the night for myself and my retinue. With brigands on the loose, the weather and the darkness, I should not wish to brave the road.”

    The road between Olya and Ameril went along the edge of the mountains, curving around the first steeper slopes through a wooded valley. The road from Dury was not nearly as exposed to possible ambushes. So, the reason Emran gave for his request were genuine, but he also wished to speak to Lady Lium alone again, to hear out her worries. ‘Ask the frog for news of the pond, and ask the Eagle ‘How fare the clouds’?’ – the line from a poem he’d heard at court came to him. If Lady Lium said something was amiss in the Valré Mountains that went perhaps beyond banditry and rebellion, Emran could not ignore that.

    Emran made sure his squire Hildico (a girl from the House of Ennan, another family in Dhalvour), the two soldiers and the stable-hand had their places to sleep before he went to dress for dinner. He left off most of the finery; it was an ordinary day and he didn’t want to appear to be trying to outshine his hosts.

    Soldiers and servants ate on the long table in Olya Castle’s great hall while Emran and the host family took place on the perpendicular High Table on its elevated podium. He was placed between Enya and Lium, just as he would have wished. The glance their mother cast at the three did not escape his court-trained eye for such things. It was getting time for all three of them to marry; he would not have minded marrying either woman, but he was a little in doubt about Lium’s ability to be the obedient part in their marriage which, from his position as the heir of Ameril, she would certainly have to be. He set the question aside; it was something to discuss with his parents, anyway. Maybe they had designs on one of the other families.

    Lady Clara seemed intent on keeping discussions light; the family thoroughly questioned Emran on court life, Yndolan, his tourney exploits (he had, at least, not put Dhalvour to shame) and general politics. As soon as discussion turned to Dhalvour, Marshal Duke Marlico or the Mountains, she steered it in another direction. Emran found it a little bit annoying, but it was also worrying. What was really going on with the Olya heir, Thaddeus’s eldest son Theodor?

    There was, after all, not only the welfare of Dhalvour as such to consider. The Society of Myatha would meet soon. Both Olya men were members. If something had happened to Theodor and Thaddeus was slipping into senility, the Olya secrets had to be transferred to someone new soon – and the choice, by ancient law, could only be Lium… Emran stifled a sigh. How naïve it was to think that politics were restricted to the capital.

    He tried to signal Lium a few times that he wished to speak to her alone after dinner, but Emran wasn’t sure she had received the message, because her mother kept intervening. Everyone on this table was tense, it seemed to him. Was it just worry about Theodor? It had to be, he thought as the last course was served…
     
  7. Zulma

    Zulma Wild Member Member

    Messages:
    71
    Local Time:
    12:23 PM
    Lady Clara was quick to offer a room to their guest!
    Her mother's ways annoyed Lium to the highest point. She had to admit that she was impressed by Emran's courtesy and polite manners as he addressed her mother back, especially when she had just interrupted him. Lium was surprised that he was still smiling and answering questions about the Capital. Lium wasn't used to the ways of court and she didn't spot even an ounce of annoyance in the noble's voice.
    Dressed in a simple navy doublet, she almost snorted when her mother fished for compliment for her youngest daughter, mentioning that she was sure that even at Court nobody was as resplendent as Enya. Lium actually felt mortified for her sister, but Enya only blushed heavily and looked down to her plate. While Lium had made no effort on her garbs for dinner, Enya on the other hand was wearing a beautifully embroidered light blue doublet and had adorned her hair with some pearls.
    Lium sighed and shook her head. A motion which didn't escape her mother, Lady Clara cast a dark look to her eldest daughter who shrugged in reply.

    It was obvious that Enya fancied the heir of the Ameril house and she tried with a refreshing awkwardness to converse with him when her mother wasn't monopolizing the discussion. As youngsters they had been friends, being of the same age, but over the years, her feelings for him had matured into a definite crush.
    While Enya was having butterflies in her stomach, Lium was clenching her jaws. She didn't mind her sister's infatuation, but knew that there were much more pressing matters than flirting. Bandits were coming and going as if they owned the roads. The Marshal had been killed before the rebellion had been tamed. And the mountains were whispering of chaos and death. Although that last part wasn't something she could share with anyone or they would all think that she was afflicted by the same ailment as her father.

    She tried to observe her father's face by leaning forward now and then but as usual she couldn't tell what he was thinking nor if his mind was with the assembly. He looked like he was having a good time and quite entertained by their guest.
    "Oh my years in the tournaments have long passed but I remember the jousting. Nobody forgets it. It's in the blood! It gets the pulse racing like nothing else!" he exclaimed with a laugh.
    Lium gulped down her soup but didn't touch her meat. She felt impatience laced with anxiety creeping through her and without noticing, she was silently tapping her foot under the table, vibrating her leg in the process. She couldn't decide if she had told too much to Emran. Maybe she should have stayed quiet. But who else could she talk to? Nobody here wanted to hear what she had to say. Either they didn't care or they were too afraid.

    With the last course came the musicians and Lium welcomed the performance which forced her mother to silence. The harpist was playing with feather fingers and some of the commoners started clapping at the joyful songs.
    Lium bit her lips, then decided herself. Using the cover of the music, she leaned slightly towards her neighbor and spoke in a hushed voice.
    "I am sorry if I spooked you. I have this habit of making a fool of myself and speaking out of turn." she said with a pressed smile which didn't reach her eyes. "Tell me what are they saying in the capital about the Marshal's death?" she paused, briefly looking at him before questioning further. "Did you know the man well?"
    She spotted her mother's tilt of the head and stopped, trying to figure out how she could have a private discussion with Emran.

    "Time to dance!!!" exclaimed Lady Clara with a clap when yet another tune started. She stood up, her husband's hand in hers, inviting by that gesture, her guest and offspring to join.
     
  8. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Emran was quite unhappy to be forced to dance instead of talking to Lium, but he could ill refuse the lady of the house’s rather forceful invitation. The atmosphere in this household upset him. Everybody was hiding something, especially the lady herself. Nobody wanted to speak about the Olya heir’s absence – except Lady Lium, who seemed as eager as he was to talk to him alone. Emran barely noticed Enya’s flirtation.

    He joined in a perfunctory dance, one of the simple round dances preferred in Dhalvour. He followed the steps mindlessly, smiled politely and did his best to get it over quickly. He exchanged glances with Lady Lium and they tacitly agreed.

    When the dance ended, he sat in one of the side niches of Olya’s hall, waving for a cup of wine. There was not too much pretense in his exhaustion; he could feel the long travels in his bones despite his young age. As he saw Lium approach, he smiled broadly – for the benefit of the general group more than hers. He didn’t want to attract Lady Clara’s attention. If she thought they were just chatting, she might not interfere with their discussion.

    “I think we have dodged the shepherd for now. What you said before the meal was worrying,” he admitted, “and I would much like to hear what you have to say in full.”

    It seemed to him like Lium needed very much to speak about it, but she was clearly also having difficulty with it. So he decided to add something: “To answer your question of a moment ago – when I left, the imperial court was in chaos. Wild accusations flew, there was talk of treason. Do you anything more about what happened exactly?”
     
  9. Zulma

    Zulma Wild Member Member

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    Lium liked dancing as much as her sister but tonight her heart wasn't in it. She stood on the dancefloor like everyone else so that her mother would be appeased and her guest wouldn't be slighted if she stayed at the table. Not that she thought Emran would care one way or another if she danced.

    A glass of wine in her own hand, she was quick to join the man once he sat down. He looked tired behind his wide smile, which actually took her off guard and she tried to smile back, not really thinking that he was pretending in order to get peace from her mother. She couldn't help a chuckle at his comment though. Indeed her mother was keeping close watch on everything in the castle. A little too close to Lium's taste.

    When the heir of Ameril spoke of treason, her eyes flickered and she gazed at her wine. She didn't answer immediately, weighting her words, deciding on what information to share and what to keep. She might not have been part of the secret council but she knew how any doubt cast on her family (or anyone for that matter) could be very detrimental for everyone. If her worst fears were come to pass, then the Five families needed to be as united as possible.

    "I do not know who betrayed who." she replied in a dark hushed tone. This was the truth, or rather a partial truth. "I am not one to make accusation without proof...and I wasn't there." she clenched her fist against her thigh. Her parents and brother had been there, but she had been sent on a 'mission' which turned out to be a red herring. It was obvious that people wanted her out of the way.
    She took a long gulp of the burgundy wine.
    "Some of the problems we were having was that it looked like the rebels weren't organized. That the rebellion was made of separate factions which acted on their own without concern or care for the others. Then I intercepted a messenger." she grinned, pride hinting in her emerald irises. "I can be pretty handy with a crossbow." she cleared her throat. "Anyway, we were able to get some very valuable information and even the location of some of the leaders." Her face darkened again, she hesitated. "It was valuable intel and yet, the Marshal seemed...unhappy at first. He kept saying that it was unreliable information...and of course, as the messenger had been killed during the questioning, he couldn't elaborate further." She sighed.

    "Then, weeks later, I stumbled upon a wounded defector. He was scared." she shook her head then corrected herself. "No he was terrified." She looked at Emran, raising a hand as if to prevent him from speaking. "I know what you are going to say, of course he was scared if he was betraying his comrades. But let me tell you, I've seen men dying and this guy...it was..." she shook her head again as if she was trying to wrap her mind around the pure terror she read in the man's eyes. She finished her glass at once. "In any case, he spoke to me. Everything he said matched the messenger. Of course he died before I could bring him back for questioning and when I spoke to my father and brother, they got angry at me. The Marshal was very silent, then he decided that we should strike the following day! We'd been hunting them for months! Not acting when we should have and now, he wanted us to go without any proper preparation!!" As she spoke her tone became louder and she had to remind herself of where she was. She took a deep breath to calm herself. "So of course the mission was a failure. The Marshal was killed and my brother was wounded." She stopped, realizing that she had been monopolizing the conversation and that Emran was probably angry at her portrayal of the Marshal.

    "I'm sure you have questions and you'd rather be talking with my brother." she grunted.
     
  10. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    The torrent of Lium’s words and emotions was quite a handful for Emran’s exhausted mind, but it didn’t fail to impress him. He felt he was listening to something that wasn’t quite directed at him; she was clearly venting her frustration and sorrow, not just informing him. He wondered what it meant that the older woman would confide in him this way and had to conclude that nobody else would listen to her.

    “No,” he replied bluntly. “You are the first and only person to speak frankly with me. What you say is disturbing, but it is real information, as muddled and unclear as the situation is.”

    The thought that Marshal Duke Marlico had acted so erratically was indeed deeply disturbing. The man Emran had admired at court had invented his own sort of strategic thinking, based on thorough scouting of enemy and terrain, on deliberately taken decisions, not on spur-of-the-moment attacks into the most chaotic of situations. It was hard to believe for Marlico to have made such a mistake, but it was even harder to doubt his fellow Dhalvourian.

    “So it is possible that Marlico was abandoned because his warriors had lost faith in him; from what you tell me, Lady Lium, the most likely possibility seems to be another, however,” Emran opined, thinking aloud in the manner he had learned in court debates – not least, he remembered with a slight shudder, from Marlico’s example, whose discourse on politics and strategy had always been insightful. “Duke Marlico must have blundered.

    Emran rubbed his chin. He felt quite out of his depth, but he had no choice but to do his best. At least, life at court had taught him many things not learned in his knightly training. “What was your brother’s role in all this? He is… out of sight at the moment in some form. He can’t have left with the Marshal, or the assumption would be that he got lost in battle, I assume?”
     
  11. Zulma

    Zulma Wild Member Member

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    Lium let out a sigh of relief which she hadn't even realized she was holding up. It was the first time in many months that anyone was actually taking her seriously, and none other than the heir of the Ameril himself. She kept nodding as the man spoke.
    Hearing him say that the Duke was to blame for what happened felt strangely refreshing, although she pressed her lips together. She wasn't too sure if what happened was indeed a mistake. Some facts simply didn't add up. It felt too...clean for the demise of the Marshal to have been the result of a simple error.

    Emran was quick though to lead the discussion in the direction of her brother. And while moments earlier she had been a mine of information, her mouth now stayed shut for long seconds. She was once again thinking and weighting her words. One thing she knew: she didn't want to lie to her potential ally. Another thing she knew: she didn't want him to become an enemy.

    "Actually...Theo went with the Marshal." she started. She knew it would surprised the young Lord. "But he came back hours later. Alone and wounded. He's the one who gave the alarm but when the rest of us arrived where they were ambushed..." she tried to take a sip of her wine but her glass was empty. "It was a butchery, a massacre...and no sign of the Marshal but his helmet and horse."
    She looked at Emran, wondering what he was thinking. She didn't elaborate on the fact that she hadn't been allowed to see her brother since he came back but that she'd caught a glimpse of him through a cracked open door and to this day, she still didn't understand how he could have gotten wounded in that fashion when dressed in full armor...

    "Theo's been missing for three days. He is...known to go on drinking binge when he is angry or bored...or both." she sighed. Twins were known to have a special bond, a mutual understanding that when beyond those of brother and sister, but between Lium and Theodor, their relationships had always been chaotic and stormy to say the least. There was one truth though in the myth about twins and it was that Lium had always felt when his brother was nearby and this time, despite having roamed all the taverns and inns of the surrounding, she couldn't 'feel' him. But that was a gut instinct that she couldn't really explain to anyone.

    "I think that he felt humiliated to have left his comrades to die and the Marshal to be captured." she cast a glance to the side. Her mother was staring at them and she could tell that she didn't seem pleased. Next to her, Enya looked forlorn. Lium lowered her voice and spoke faster. "Five days ago, a package was delivered here. Inside was a finger with the ring of the Duke. There has been no demand for a ransom or anything. We don't even know if he's dead. Would you dance with me?"
    The last question had been hushed in the same tone as her previous confidences which was particularly odd. Her lips curled in an inviting smile and with a slight nod of the head she discretely indicated her mother who was coming in their direction. Dancing might provide them with a few more minutes of private discussion. Her hand extended towards him, she waited, feeling actually uneasy about. She'd rather be having a chat on horseback while riding in the mountain than in the parents' feast hall.
     
  12. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Lady Lium’s hopes were dashed; her mother called another group dance instead of a partner one. Emran doubted it was by accident. In any case, Lium and he managed little more than to promise that they would speak again at the meeting of the Myatha Society. It would be held at Ameril, Emran’s home, just a week later. By then, Emran thought darkly as he went to bed, they would know if Lium’s brother was on a drinking binge through the towns of Dhalvour, or if something else had happened. But in truth, Emran was already sure it was no drinking binge, no temporal escape from his own failure. Suicide came to mind; it was an offence to the Gods, but it was not entirely unheard of for dishonored warriors to kill themselves. He would not mention it to the Olya family, of course – nor the other possibilities, vague and dark as they were. The Marshal’s severed finger… what did that mean?

    Emran knew he wouldn’t be able to figure it out with what he knew, but all night, the facts he did know recurred in his dreams like torturing goblins. He left Olya Castle in a subdued mood, even though he was looking forward to meeting his parents and siblings after his long absence. In all, there were too many conflicting thoughts in his mind as he rode along the road with his small entourage, the mountains always to their right. The gentle, rolling hills around Yndalon could not compete with the magnificence and majesty of the Valré ranges. And yet, Yndalon’s hills held little more than the occasional cutpurse while these peaks with which Emran had grown up as friends, in deep connection with their Gods and spirits, now housed a dark mystery. He had to learn what was going on, but he really did not want to, with both sentiments caused by fears he dared not name yet…

    Being home could not fail to lift Emran’s mood. Townsfolk, peasants, servants and his family welcomed him warmly. His brother Granmer had been ‘blooded’ in one of the skirmishes with the rebels before the arrival of the Marshal – a leg scratch that was healing well. The youngest sister Valina was craving her knighthood, but for now, she was still squiring for Lady Bhorda of Ameril-Saderney, a side branch of the family living a few hours further down the valley from Olya. Emran’s aunt Yshaleh was heavy with her fifth child, so she’d had to leave the fighting to her husband Medric. In all, the House of Ameril seemed much less perturbed by events than Olya – but then again, their heir had just returned home safely and their head, Emran’s father Machail, was just past his fortieth year and just as strong as Emran remembered him.

    Emran rested well in these warm, comfortable surroundings, even as news of disappearances and strange encounters in the mountains filed down the valleys. Ameril Castle was larger than Olya, having been rebuilt by his grandmother (the first Lady Valina), and rather luxurious with the hypocausts in most living chambers, an excellent Northern cook and inexhaustible wine cellar.

    Even so, the day before the Society was to meet, Lord Machail took his heir aside; only they were full members of the Myatha Society as tradition had it. Other family members had perhaps some idea that there was more to it than one of the many worship societies in existence – but what exactly was kept very tight. Most of the Society’s secrets were passed on in the form of poems, but a few were not, among them the rule that decreed that if anyone ever spoke about the substance of the secrets outside the Society, their and their whole family’s life was forfeit. Not that the rule had ever come into effect – but then, secrecy had never been compromised as far as was known. By tradition, the Society went back almost a millennium, to the first years of the realm. The core of what it guarded was simple: The foulest piece of magic ever devised, and means to counter it. Magic as such was a dark and evil path, consuming life force (the user’s or that of other beings) as it was performed. The height of the most twisted, most evil branch of it had not been performed often. Just one case was known, in fact, the one that had caused the Society to be formed by the legendary settler lords who had come to Dhalvour, the ancient ancestors of the five families and their many branches.

    The one thing that united all souls, all living beings, was death. But if you knew how, if you were devious enough to sacrifice many lives on the altar of your wish to avoid it, if you dedicated your whole life to that goal – then, with certain tools, you could turn yourself into a creature for which death had no meaning, a creature called a lich. You could reforge the chain between body and soul, replace its natural link by an artificial, magical one. The Myatha Society guarded both that possibility and the means to destroy such a creature, to the degree that they still knew it. No person had all knowledge, but each of the five member houses had some, passed on only to its heads and their direct heirs. Only upon the death of one member was another appointed, always the one next in line to their respective house, and only they were initiated into the secret traditions.

    “I believe,” began Emran’s father, the Lord Machail, speaking slowly and deliberately as he did most of the time, “that Sir Theodor of Olya is dead. I believe he was drawn in some form into the dark machinations around the disappearance of the Marshal of the Realm. You said his twin is strong?”

    Emran nodded. He was still not used to his father giving so much weight to him, but he did his best to handle it. “Lady Lium is strong, if a bit peculiar, father. She is a very avid hunter; if she claims that beasts in the mountains behave differently than they used to, it’s not a peasant’s tale. If the eagle says that the clouds are different, one is wise to listen to him, if you know what I mean. She is the only one over in Olya who took the matter fully seriously when I was there. The others… well, you will know that Lord Thaddeus is becoming weak of mind. There is no other way to describe it. If the Olya secrets are to be safe, it’s important to induct Lady Lium as soon as possible. Her mother is simply acting as if there was no problem at all, and the rest of the household are going along.”

    “What other choice do they have,” muttered Lord Machail; Emran didn’t quite understand, but it seemed wrong to ask. Instead, they discussed again what Emran had learned, what rumors had floated down the Valré peaks. There was no clear picture about the events in the Mountains, but the portents were not good at all. The Dhalvour Diet, with all nobles from the region, would have to be called if this disorder persisted, on that they agreed. But the procedure was costly and arduous and not without the risk of heightening the anxieties of the common people.

    The question, unspoken, stayed with Emran all evening. Only when they had emptied the last of their wine, alone atop the highest tower of Ameril Castle on that warm evening, dared Emran ask it aloud – or rather, it escaped him almost involuntarily, and even then, he asked it in a veiled, shameful way.

    “Father… some of these news are so strange. Do you think there could be… sorcerers in the mountains?”

    He could see the shimmer of his father’s large blue eyes, one of the traits they shared like the broad shoulders and sand-colored hair (interspersed with grey in Machail’s case).

    “It is good that you ask this only now, and that you ask only me,” the reply was. “Some things, Emran, are best not spoken of without certain knowledge.”

    Emran thought his father sounded reticent – uncertain, even. He knew the Lord of Ameril well enough to know that he would say more, and he was glad. It was never a good sign when his father used his full name instead of ‘Em’.

    “Son, I know what you really mean by your question,” Machail continued, his voice low and quiet but its intensity rising, “but there can be no thought of it. It is impossible. It has never happened and will never happen. Do not worry about it.”

    The last phrase did not sound like a reassurance; it was a command, and with it, Machail rose and climbed down the ladder into the tower. Emran trusted his father, his authority, his judgment, his wisdom. Never had he had reason to doubt this man he loved. Then why did the night breeze seem to carry all sorts of strange whispers?
     
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  13. Zulma

    Zulma Wild Member Member

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    Lium watched Lord Emran depart with a sense of dread. Had she been wise to share her worries and doubts with the heir of the Ameril? She might have gain an ally but she knew her family would probably not see it with a favorable eye. Theodor's disappearance was a family matter, nothing to concern the Five Families with.
    As she had expected, their guest was barely gone that her mother called her to her parlor for a little chat. While Lium had always had an amicable and respectful relationship with her father, it was quite a different matter with her mother. The tension was palpable the second she stepped food in the room. In her younger years, she dreaded those discussions, feeling belittled and put in a cage, but nowadays, she welcomed them and didn't shy from telling Lady Clara how she really felt about things.

    As usual, her mother didn't beat around the bush.
    "So?" she started. "What did you and Lord Emran speak about?"
    Lium didn't answer immediately, her eyes scanning the room. She disliked her mother's parlor, or rather she disliked the painting which was the object of honor in the small room. It was supposed to depict a battle in which good was triumphing over evil. Yet the horrors of war were painting with such reverence and detail that Lium couldn't help but feel that the painter or the one who commissioned the piece was infatuated with those terror filled eyes and dismembered bodies. As a child, she had asked about the dying dark figure in the center of the piece which seemed to be sucking the life out of the knights surrounding it. She had always gotten a vague answer that magic was evil, yet she always felt there was more to it.

    "Lium?" the noblewoman's voice came from behind her as her daughter had moved forward and was staring at the painting without answering her.

    "I asked him about the court. I should like to go there one day." Lium replied, turning to face her mother. One thing she had to give Lady Clara was that the woman was smart, in a manipulative sort of way. In any case, they both knew that Lium was at least partially lying.
    "I see. Well maybe this is something that we can arrange for next summer." Lady Clara offered. Lium squinted. What was her mother up to?
    The blond woman had a small sigh.
    "Lium, I am afraid you do not understand what is at stake. You shouldn't monopolize Lord Emran when he pays us a visit."
    This time, Lium's emerald eyes blinked. What was her mother talking about.
    "You know how your sister feels about him. They have been close since childhood." explained her mother with a patient tone as if talking to a child. Lium snorted.
    "I don't give a damn about Emran! This isn't why I was talking with him. I was just trying to-" she stopped herself. A satisfied smile crept on her mother's round lips.
    "To what Lium? Speak up!"
    "To know more about court." she repeated stubbornly.
    Lady Clara's eyes darkened slightly. She seemed to never get through with her daughter.
    "Alright then. You may leave."
    But Lium didn't move, jaws clenched, she made a step towards her mother.
    "Where is Theo?" she asked.
    The noblewoman raised an eyebrow and shrugged.
    "I do not know where your brother is." she played it cool, yet there was an edge in her voice which made Lium pause.
    "You are worried." she stated.
    "Of course I am worried. He is my son." she replied.
    "You are never worried when he's away on his drinking binge. Where is he?" Lium pressed. Something was off, she could feel it in her bones. She had trouble with her brother, hell, she had trouble with everyone in her family, except maybe with Enya who had the sweetest disposition, but she still had a bond with her twin that was beyond family.
    Lady Clara didn't reply immediately.
    "I do not know." she admitted.
    "Where was he heading?" asked Lium, her skills at tracking and hunting always at the ready.
    This time Lady Clara stared at her daughter as if she was nothing but a maggot. "None of your business. Now leave!"
    "But I want to help! Why do you keep me in the dark? Is he in danger?"
    The mistress of Olya had a dark chuckle. "You? Help? You only care about yourself and what you want to do! You have always refused to listen and do as you are told. You are daily and blatantly dishonoring the family. Snooping around in the mountain like a peasant. Refusing to even wear the armor with the Olya crest. When was the last time you even trained with some of your peers? You act all mighty but in a battle of wits or weapons, you would be defeated in an instant! You are a disgrace. I know I was right and I am grateful Theodor is the heir of this House instead of you! You would have been a pitiful example of one! Get out!"
    Lium had not been expecting that at all. She knew of her mother's distaste for herself, but her harsh words hit the young woman hard. She stormed out like a teenager, without being able to say anything back but slam the door behind her.

    It took her the rest of the day, riding and walking in the neighboring mountains, to calm herself down. She was used to loneliness and reprimands and yet, she was still craving that recognition she had been denied since she was born. She was no heir, but she was still valuable. She might not shine at jousting or fighting in full armor, but she could hit a target hundreds yards away, kill a deer even eighty yards away and could definitely hold her own in a hand to hand fight. She wasn't useless!

    She knew she would never be able to forgive her mother, but once the fog of anger and disappointment lifted, she tried to analyze the situation. She came to several conclusions and realizations.
    First of all, her mother was terrified, and with her own gut feeling, it wasn't too much of a stretch to think that something terrible happened to Theo.
    Second, what could have her mother meant by 'I was right.' She had spoken as if there had ever been a question whether she should be heir instead of Theo. She dismissed the idea, deciding that her mother's words, as usual, were aimed at hurting her rather than spreading the truth.
    And third, on a corner table in her mother's parlor, she had spotted one heavy book which usually belonged to her father's private library. A book which, through a door left slightly open, she had seen him, once, show her brother as they spoke of the secret guarded by the Five Families in hushed words which she hadn't been able to hear. A book, she wasn't even supposed to know existed. A book, which her mother should have never had in hand!

    That night, Lium sneaked into her mother's parlor, surprised by the woman's carelessness to be leaving such a treasure out in the open, and stole the book. To be fair, she had no idea what was in the book, just that it's sheer origin made it priceless.
    She spent the following two days trying to decipher the manuscript. At first, she believed it was just a nonsensical compilation of poems and legends about magic. Fairy tales with disturbing twists every time magic was involved. The more she read, the less she understood. She got a headache and was ready to throw it in the fire more than once if it weren't for the hope that some clue in there might help her find Theo. Afterall, wasn't that the reason why her mother was reading the book in the first place? She was actually surprised that her mother hadn't come searching for the manuscript, maybe Lady Clara thought that her husband had taken the book back.

    Once Lium got to the end of the tome, she was certain that the author was a total nutcase and yet, she had the eerie feeling that the author truly believed in those tales, that he believed in magic and its evilness. She couldn't shake a disagreeable shiver which brought goosebumps to her spine.
    She would have dismissed the entire book as the work of a madman and totally pointless if it weren't for a map slid between the old pages. The map seemed old but some markings on it were made of fresher ink and her trained eyes recognized the landscape markings. This was a map of Dhalvour. Upon further inspection, she noticed a small circle with a cross in its center and the words 'Alsvartr Skalm', meaning black dagger. What was Alsvartr Skalm? And why did it sound so ominous?

    She sighed and chugged down the rest of her wine glass which did nothing to help with neither her headache nor her state of confusion. She had but one day before the Myatha society in Ameril's castle and all she had was a dusty old book filled with old maids' tales and an outdated map. She cursed. This was her one and only lead, so she hid the book in her room and slipped the map inside her tunic. An hour later, she was passing Olya's gates on her horse, her gabardine hidden under her cloak, her short sword at her belt and crossbow secured on her saddle.
     
  14. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Emran’s memories of the day when he had been initiated into the hidden part of the Myatha Society were vivid, even six years after the event. He had believed in a joke at first, but his father was no prankster. He remembered considering that his father had simply gone mad, but the presence of the other important people from the five major houses of Dhalvour, their unequivocal confirmation of his father’s words had ended that way of explaining them away…

    The heir of Ameril, at sixteen, had thought he had a solid idea on how the world worked, in broad strokes at least. The revelation that magic was more than shadowy tales by old folk, sleight of hand and theatrics had not quite been a shock – for it had always been clear not everything followed the simple everyday rules of life. Yet, it had been enough for Emran to be confused for a while. The great mages of the past, however, were gone and, given the nature of their art, he was glad for it. He had quickly understood that magic did not only consume the life-force sacrificed, but also the practitioner. Magic did not only corrupt the mind like unlimited power of any sort might. It ate the soul. A damaged soul could not hold the peace with the heavens; it would forever be a grain of sand in the cogs of the world, neither living nor dead. Perhaps it could be healed, but if not, its torment would be endless. Emran had never quite understood why anyone would risk that.

    The preparations for the meeting of the society began the day before; the staff at Ameril Castle got quite busy, but the family had little to do. Emran spoke to his siblings. There was much catching up to do still, he loved them, and as future head of the family, it was important to stay in touch with them. With the marriages they were to make, they would always be a part of the ways he had to run the landholdings, to preserve the name and fortune of the ancient house of Ameril.

    In the early afternoon, Emran and Lord Machail started to prepare as well. They bathed, shaved, applied oil to their skin and combed their hair – Machail being teased by his wife that there was little left to comb. It was true, but Emran still found that his father looked like he ought: Straight of back, intelligent but not lost in thought, strong but not imperious. In his time at court, Emran had forgotten how much he loved his father. That made him think of the strange way Lady Lium had been treated by her mother. To whom was Lium close? And if no one, how could one live like that? She was not a girl anymore. Emran assumed she craved to leave Olya and make a family of her own, because at her own, she seemed the odd one out…

    Then it was time to don the ceremonial robes – the long white tunic girded with a broad black canvas belt, bound in a complicated knot, and the equally long, fur-trimmed cloak of shimmering black. His father wore the colors in reverse; Emran would blend into the background, while his father, as the head of his house, would stand out, as it ought to be. Emran had been infected with the dark mood in Dhalvour, but the ceremonial dress, outdated in every detail but ennobled by it, could not fail to raise his spirits. He already felt solemn when he walked down to the castle gate to greet the arrivals; the lookout had announced the first of them, and the host Lord and Heir were required to welcome them. Most parts of this event had some ritual to them, all to please the Goddess Myatha – and to keep the ancient secret…

    Valdemar of Ennan was first with his daughter Hild. Lord Valdemar was well into his sixties, a sharp-featured, tall man with long, white flowing hair. Emran could remember being afraid of the Lord of Ennan as a child; now he considered his impressive appearance an asset to Dhalvour. Hild was rather like her father, but where he was stately, she was dour; Emran had never much liked her, but by all indications, Ennan would have another good lady in her when Valdemar joined the Heavens.

    As Valdemar, Hild, their families and a retinue of servants and guards neared the gate, the Lord and Heir left the rest to go on into Ameril’s spacious courtyard. They dismounted their horses, aided by Emran and his father. Lord embraced Lord, Heir embraced Heir, and ancient words were exchanged in greeting.

    The Lords of Séhran and Felne arrived together soon after; Eliana of Feldar was the oldest of the Society at seventy-five, while Benzon of Séhran was the youngest at eleven, but even the boy spoke the required words well, which earned him a proud kiss from his mother and friendly pats from Emran and Machail.

    The Olya, despite having one of the shortest journeys, arrived only when dusk was already upon the mountains and their rocky sides glowed in sun’s last rays. Emran assisted Lady Lium in dismounting, a perfunctory gesture required by the rites.

    He embraced the older knight and recited his words: “To thee, Lium of Olya, who is to be inducted today into the Holy and Ancient Society of the Worship of Myatha, greetings from Emran, Heir to Ameril’s place in Myatha’s circle. Another moon hath passed, another meeting hath come. The Day of End is not today; the ancient still holdeth. I bid you good day, and be welcome in my father’s house.”

    They exchanged courtly kisses and he looked into his counterpart’s eyes for a moment. She seemed glad to see him; he was happy she did, but at the same time, his heart grew heavier once more. The Marshal’s death, the disappearance of her brother were what had to be foremost on every mind, comfortable, well-known rituals notwithstanding…
     
  15. Zulma

    Zulma Wild Member Member

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    Local Time:
    12:23 PM
    Morning was well on its way when Lium slowed down her mount. Draco snorted, foam at his mouth. She had been pushing him hard and although the lean and shorter horse was used to long treks in the mountain, she knew he needed a break, and so did her butt. She had never mounted a warhorse in her life and Draco almost looked like a pony next to those impressive beasts. But when it came to endurance and craggy paths, he was the best stallion she could have dreamed off. She often teased him that he must have been a mountain goat in another life.
    "Sorry boy, I need you to bear with me." she patted his neck.

    As the horse came to an halt, she waited, listening for a long moment before she hopped down. The reins still in hand, she let him drink at a small mountain stream, refreshing her own face as well.
    Her thirst quenched, she listened again. A frown draped her face. Although she had been riding with a purpose, she wasn't stupid and had briefly halted several times to make sure she wasn't heading straight into one of those bandits groups. For the last half mile though, she was getting uneasy for the surrounding hills were quiet, too quiet. No squirrel wrestling in the leaves, no insect buzzing in the grass, no bird singing in the trees.

    Draco snorted again and shook his head.
    "Easy boy, easy." she absentmindedly combed his black mane then caressed his dark red flank, her green eyes peeled on the surroundings. "I don't like that either." she admitted, her hand pulling her crossbow from the saddle, just in case.
    She quietly moved them behind some boulders as trees here weren't as dense nor big as the forest from which they had emerged. She waited then pulled out the map, looking at it again. She nibbled on her lips. Had she taken a wrong turn? She shook her head. No she was on the right track. She had been wondering when she left the castle, what she would do if she had to dismount and continue on foot. She never liked the idea of leaving Draco by himself tied to a tree. But so far, the gods were with her for the path she had taken could accommodate a horse, even a bigger one than hers.

    The path was dry. The storm which had kept Lord Emran in her home for a night was long passed and any old track washed away. But she was trained in the art of hunting and in the dried up dirt she had spotted some hoof tracks, which meant that someone had used this way two days prior when the ground was still muddy. Broken branches and twigs on the sides of the path also told her that the trail had been used recently and less recently. But by who or how many people she didn't know. At least two, judging by the set of hoof prints.

    She hopped back on Draco and clicked her tongue. The horse slowly headed back to the path. She kept their pace slower and her crossbow in hand. Thirty minutes later, she discovered what she was looking for and it was much more than she had bargained for.

    ~~~

    It was only late in the night that the daughter of the Olya House came back to the castle. As per her habit, she stormed in and rushed up the stairs towards her father room. She wasn't sure how to explain to him what she had found or not found and why she had gone there in the first place, but she knew that she needed to talk to him. Her stomach was still turned from what she had stumbled upon. At this point, she was realizing that she knew too much or rather too little. She understood nothing but she knew something very very wrong was going on in the mountains.

    As luck would have it, Lady Clara was waiting for her.
    "Where were you?! Your brother is missing, can't you be more responsible?! You know that we are leaving tomorrow at dawn for the Myatha's reunion!" spat her mother, then the noblewoman's eyes widened when she spotted blood on her daughter's cloak and pants.
    Following her mother's gaze, Lium looked down at her clothes. She swallowed hard, the smell of blood still making her nauseous and the taste of vomit still in her throat after she had emptied her stomach upon her grizzly discovery.
    "It's not mine." she stated, her voice hoarser than she would have liked. She wiped her hands on her pants as if it would help.
    Using her mother's unusual silence, she added. "I need to see Father. It's urgent."
    There was a long silence between them.
    "Have you found Theo?" Lady Clara's voice was as pale as a ghost.
    Lium's wild expression turned stunned then apologetic. She sighed and shook her head. "No. Not yet."
    "Then you will talk to your father tomorrow..." replied Lady Clara, when Lium stepped forward to object, her mother added. "He had a really bad day."
    For once Lium could see in her mother's eyes that she was tired, sad and worried. If Clara didn't like her daughter, she had always been a devoted and loving wife.
    "I understand." the raven hair woman said before retreating to her room.

    Lium washed up as much as she could and tried to get some rest. But the images of what she had witnessed haunted her and she welcomed the first lights of dawn. Despite several attempts to see her father and the announcement that they were leaving early, the Olya delegation left well passed noon and Lord Olya traveled in a carriage instead of on horseback as the custom wanted. It was only once they arrived in sight of the Ameril's castle that he pushed himself on his horse and lead the march, ignoring his daughter.

    Lium spoke with her sister, trying to get a better sense of how her father was truly doing. Enya was worried about their father, but it was eclipsed by her eagerness to arrive at the Amerils.
    "You won't monopolize him, will you?" the young woman asked, her cheeks taking a gentle pink hue.
    "What? Who?" asked Lium, then she understood. "Nah. He's all yours." she tried a smile but to be honest, she didn't care about her sister's heart at the moment, she needed to talk to someone and if it couldn't be her father, then she didn't have a choice.

    Emran's gesture and greeting took her offguard. Usually the heir of the Ameril would greet the heir of the Olya, which was her brother Theo. Did she have to act as if she was Theo? Nobody told her that. What did he mean by 'induced today'? Her mind was already fried between the nonsensical book and the gruesome trip in the mountains. The whole thing puzzled her, especially that she had no clue what to answer. Her surprised showed on her face but it didn't hid the mixture of relief and helplessness that was glowing in her eyes to see Emral and feel that she truly had an ally in him. She embraced him as was required but she pulled away quickly, so used to her loneliness that a single touch, even formal, wasn't something she cared for.
    She tried to reply something which would sound as polite and formal, but failed. " And I bid You good day too Emran Of Ameril. I, Lium of Olya, am humbled by your welcome and thank you for your kindness."

    As the two families formally greeted each other, she leaned again towards him and whispered, speaking as fast and clearly as she could.
    "I need to speak in front of the council." she wasn't asking to join them or listen to them, but she had to be heard foremost by her own Father, but also by the others. They needed to know what she knew.
    "I can't say more now. Please trust me." she begged. She knew that what she was asking was highly unorthodox but she wanted to help. She had no clue that her revelation could incriminate her own family and that she might be signing her own death sentence because she was utterly clueless as to the custom of the Myatha's circle.

    Emran had to greet the other members of her family and she had to greet the rest of his family. They walked apart without her knowing if he would or could help her. The Olya house was led inside the castle. Despite the splendor displayed by the Ameril clan, her gloomy mood was not entirely lifted in front of the festivities. If the heads and heirs met on business, the worship of Myatha was also a way for the five families to bound over a welcomed celebration. How she wished she could be smiling innocently like Enya and Valina who seemed very happy to see each other.
     
  16. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Local Time:
    7:23 PM
    There was more decorum to be kept, more greetings; by tradition, the families separated even before dinner. The heirs and heads in their robes retreated to the ‘Myatha Chamber’, a good way off the main hall where the rest of the families enjoyed a full banquet while the participants of the Myatha Rites ate a more frugal meal with a symbolic sip of red wine each. Lium, as a candidate for induction as heiress, had to stand under the Olya banner, holding a wreath and a cane. Opinions differed on the symbolism; Emran believed whatever the Ancients had meant by it was long-lost, like so many parts of the rite which could not be written down. He could see the strain on Lium – not to forego food, but to keep her silence for now. He gave her a furtive nod, all he could do to reassure her. Much in him didn’t want to hear what she had to say, but duty’s call was clear.

    As the host, Emran’s father was master of ceremonies for this meeting. Emran leaned over and began a whispered conversation.

    “Father, we must hear Lady Lium. She was the keenest mind when I was in Olya.”

    “It’s unheard of, Emran, Heirs do not speak,” Machail of Ameril whispered back. “We will induct her and conduct the rites. She can tell all tomorrow.”

    “If what she has to say could be uttered outside the chamber, she would not have asked to speak here,” Emran objected. “It must be about the Secret in some way. You said yourself the Heir of Olya is dead. You, too, have heard the news form the Mountains, the whispers of strange sights from afar. Did you not see the look in her eyes? You’ve known her forever, so have I – has she ever spoken up? Ever sought attention? Father, if she says it is the Society she must speak to, then it is. She is of one of the Five Houses, is she not?”

    Machail made a calming gesture, and Emran fell silent. “We shall hear her after the opening rites. That way, whatever she says falls under the Secret…”

    Emran let out his breath. On the one hand, he was glad his father had not needed more convincing. On the other, it meant he was worried as well, that he had, for instance, seen the horrified look on Lium’s face.

    When the meal was finished, Heads and Heirs formed up off to one side, with Emran and his father in the center, Lium still standing under her family banner hanging on the wall. Servants came to remove food and drink and the tablecloth of the round table to reveal sheer, ancient wood.

    As they started to file out, Machail recited the phrases that started the Myatha Society’s meetings.

    “Thence, thenceforth, sounds hither, hitherto, the noble and loving spirit of Our Lady Myatha, protectress of Dhalvour, under whose arms we-all meet, noble of birth. Her secrets are gift to us, not to they-all; thus, I command: Out all but the Twice Five! Begone, lurker in the shadows, begone, hidden one – begone now, and we shall not see thee nor seek thee out; stay and once discovered, we shall slay thee and scatter to the winds thee who breaks our communion with Her.”

    Uniformly, heirs and heads turned towards the wall to allow anyone who might have hidden in the room to leave unseen. The Ameril Myatha chamber was built in a way that allowed little hiding space, but in other castles, the rite was less of a mere formality.

    Upon Machail’s command, everyone turned back. “My son, barrest thou the door, then fasten the bar, then try the bar’s strength, then tell what thou findest.”

    Emran went to do as he was told. He slung the rope (a new one had to be used each time) about the heavy bar most unusual for an inside door. He grasped the bar with both hands and pulled – not with all strength, but strong enough that it would have broken if it had been faulty. Then he turned to the round table where the Heads were seated, the heirs sitting a step back and to their sides.

    “My lords and ladies, the bar holds fast at my attempt; may you and your houses be as strong,” he announced.

    “Do all agree that no unbidden man, woman or child is in this holy chamber; and that the door is closed, barred, fastened and tried?” Machail asked, and the four other Heads replied ‘aye’.

    “Then be seated, Emran of Ameril.”

    Emran felt his pulse quicken and his chest grow tight. He didn’t want to hear Lium, he feared her voice now, but the moment drew closer and closer. When he had taken his seat, Machail spoke again.

    “We are now under Our Lady’s Seal; the Society is in session. Under the Holy Counting, it is the Four Thousandth, Eight-Hundred, Six-and-Thirtieth.” Machail looked around the now dim room (just a few candles illuminated it). “We must today induct Lady Lium as Heir for the House of Olya; her older brother has disappeared in war and we do not know when he will return. Brothers and sisters…”

    Emran heard the slightest quiver in his father’s voice – what he was about to do was most irregular. “Brothers and sisters, we must today deviate from the path our worship takes. The to-be Heir of Olya has asked me for permission to speak to us. My son believes her news may be of importance to the Society; so I beg your indulgence when I do ask her to speak before we induct her, which rite must not, as you know, be burdened by any other matter.”

    Machail turned to the waiting Lium. “Lady Lium of Olya, step to the table and speak,” he bade her.

    A shiver ran across Emran he tried to fight. His mind spewed incoherent prayers to all Gods he could think of – then he turned to Lium, hoping that neither she nor his father had made a mistake…
     
  17. Zulma

    Zulma Wild Member Member

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    Local Time:
    12:23 PM
    Lium was getting queasy by the minute when instead of joining her mother and siblings to eat, she was asked to follow the Heads and Heirs of the Five Families. It was the first time she stepped upon this room and although in her youth, she had hoped and imagined countless times joining the Ten for their special meetings, today, she wanted nothing but to run away.

    She wasn't dense and she quickly realized that she wasn't there as a mere witness to speak in front of the table, but as the new heir of the Olya family! A ball of anguish settled in her chest. Why hadn't her father told her about it? And how could they all behave as if Theo was dead?! She felt like an impostor to be standing so solemnly under the banner of her own house. A banner which she had seen but a day passed, trampled and shredded in the dust, the white dove stained with blood and gore. Her fist clenched on the cane. She was glad not to be sitting with the rest of the group for she had lost all appetite.

    Emran's discrete nudge was a welcome reassurance that she had an ally within those walls, yet her heart longed for her father's gaze. But Lord Thaddeus ignored his daughter the entire meal. Was he in one of his episode or was he simply ashamed that his daughter would be soon sitting at this table instead of his son? Her heart sank. At that point, she didn't even know if she would be allowed to speak up or not. Each word, each action seemed to be regimented by an elaborate etiquette which ought to be followed and she knew nothing of the rules. She feared that anything she would say or do would be an offence to the Twice Five.

    When they all turned, enabling an unwelcome spy to walk away, Lium thought about leaving the room too! And when Emran stood up, straight and tall, to block the room, she felt trapped and her heart thumped loudly in her chest. The heir of the Ameril seemed at ease with his calm ways and solar demeanor. She, on the other hand, was out of place!

    When all the eyes turned to her after Lord Machail's invitation, her ears were buzzing. If she couldn't truly comprehend the enormity of her being able to speak now, before even joining the council, the heaviness in the air was enough to make anyone uncomfortable.
    Her feet suddenly weighted tons and each step was painfully slow.

    "Th-Thank you Lord Machail of Ameril." she finally breathed out with a revering bow towards Emran's father.

    She wasn't one to do speeches and now she regretted not telling Emran about her discovery so that He could do the talking instead of her. One last time, she looked in her father's direction, hoping that the noble would give her an encouragement of any sort, but his eyes were settled upon the table and her own emerald gaze dropped to the ground.

    "I am not familiar with the rituals so please do forgive my rudeness. I know that there are things that should not be known by anyone outside of this council. And I don't know them. I just had to, because I,..." she stopped, she knew that she was making no sense and that both Lords of Ameril were probably shaking their heads in front of the debacle that was her speech.
    She bit her lips, clasping her fingers onto the wooden cane so tightly that her knuckles were white, then taking a deep breath, she looked up, staring straight at her father.
    "My brother is alive." she said with as much strength as she could master. When Lord Thaddeus's head jolted back to meet her gaze, she dared the hint of a smile and a softer voice. "Theo is alive." she repeated. She turned to Lord Machail.
    "You see my Lords, my Ladies, I have no right to be here."
    There was a little hum in the crowd as several whispered to their neighbors. There was some relief in the air, although people had questions and were now wondering why he wasn't here, if he was alive.

    But before she could be questionned further, she added.

    "However, Alsvartr Skalm is missing."
    While her first statement had brought a gulf of air in the assembly, this one brought a deafening silence. There was no kindness, no compassion when they looked at her and she almost took a step back. She knew that she wasn't even supposed to know about the dagger. As she feared the news was indeed grave. She wondered if she made a mistake but what else could she had done? She didn't know that Alsvartr Skalm was used in dark rituals, and even further, she didn't know that this cursed blade was one of the keys to the creation and destruction of a leech. Had she known, she would have probably forced her father to listen to her before asking to be heard by the Twice Five.

    The Master of ceremony invited her to go on with a sign of the hand. Lord Thaddeus's gaze was once again missing and this time, she looked at Emran, hoping to find friendship but he looked as stunned at the others and she couldn't read his eyes.

    "I have been looking for my brother since he disappeared. No trace. Nothing. Not even the...connection I usually feel with my twin. I was worried. I found-" she licked her lips, omitting that she stole a book from her father. "I found a map. It was the first lead I've had in weeks. So I went. The map was old but nobody knows the mountains like I do and I recognized the landmarks and followed the trails." Her gaze had dropped again, she felt the nine staring at her. She was certain they despised her now.
    "I found the cave." the word had been pronounced as a mere whisper, but she didn't know that the cave was actually a secret of the Olya family. She swallowed hard, the memory still bore in her mind and she tried to keep speaking despite the fear and disgust which tug at her insides.
    "The latest rains had washed off most of the tracks outside but the mud had been tracked inside. I could see that someone had been here recently. Then the stench made me gag."
    She paused again, her shoulders slumping and her hand trembling.
    "I found the first body a mere three yards in. When I say 'body', I should say 'remains'." Her face went blank, only her haunted eyes which traveled from the ground to the ceiling and back, without looking at anyone, betrayed the horror she had witnessed.
    "It was rather a pile of flesh, bones, guts and blood, laced with what remained of their clothes. Even mauled people look more put together than what was left to rot in that cave." She didn't share how the smell and sight of the sliced up body had turned her stomach and her vomited breakfast was now adding to the overall gore of the place. She kept to herself how she ran back outside, crying like a baby but forced herself to go back inside this cave of hell because she had to make sure that Theo wasn't in. She clenched her jaws, emotions tightening her throat.
    "There were two others, deeper in the cave, next to what looked like a carved pedestal. There was nothing left of the stone. The two 'corpses' inside the chamber were wearing the dove and the crow." she explained, talking about the emblem of her family. "But the one by the entrance was wearing..." she hesitated. "The armory of the Duke Marlico." If someone would have heard a fly whisper before, now one could hear snow fall.

    "I could count three maybe four different footsteps inside the cave, and one of them was my brother's." From the corner of her eyes, she spotted a skeptical eyebrow and anything was better than speaking of the way those corpses were dismembered and disfigured. "My brother fell and broke his leg two years ago. It never fully recovered and he had a limp now. I could recognize his tracks among hundreds. I know he was in this cave." She knew nothing of the rules and etiquette of this council, but when it came to the mountains and tracking, she knew her stuff. However, if she had thought about her discovery further, she would have realized that she was just admitting to her brother committing a most heinous murder and betrayed the Five Houses! A crime which should cost not only his own life, but the lives of everyone in his family, including Lady Lium herself! But this was something, she totally ignored, as she hadn't been induced yet...
     
  18. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

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    Local Time:
    7:23 PM
    The silence was deafening. For Emran, there was nothing but to look on, horrified. He could hear the breath of the Twice Five, each struggling to contain their feelings. Clothilde of Sehran, the youngest of the Heads, recovered her wits first; it was a lowly, unworthy feeling, but Emran could see it on the other Heads’ faces, even his own father’s: They were relieved that another had spoken up and removed the burden.

    “So, Lady Lium, you have certain knowledge that your brother was in the cave, where the Hidden Heirloom of your family was hidden,” she stated coldly, her voice echoing harshly off the stone walls. “The Heirloom is gone, you say. That means the Secret has been broken – broken by the Heir of Olya.”

    The words came matter-of-factly, but Emran felt the desire to cringe under each of them as under the lash. The mere idea of such treason was horrible, so horrible it became ludicrous, impossible to consider. He shivered and clenched his teeth so hard his jaw started to cramp immediately. His heart hammered, all he wanted was to run, to not face this situation, to flee far away…

    Lady Clothilde cleared her throat. “Brothers and sisters… we would do well to clarify what that means,” she said, suddenly uneasy, dodging an unseen fire.

    “I’ll tell you what it means!” Valdemar of Ennan responded, his voice cracking as he leaned forward, putting his hand on the table as if he needed the physical support to keep upright. “There is no leeway. There has never been leeway. They must all be punished, that is the holy law of our society.”

    Clothilde swallowed visibly. “Lord Valdemar,” she replied with a forced, unnatural formality, “surely we must consider the language of the old traditions; it could be said, perhaps, that they forego some perspicuity in favor of easy of memory?”

    “I do not see it that way!” Valdemar snapped, his face far from the mildness attributed to old age. “This is the worst crime committed on the soil of Dhalvour, the lowest, most horrible, godless act anyone has ever stooped to. If that is possible in a house, then that house is like a rotten tree that cannot be saved!”

    “Rotten tree indeed,” Terence of Feldar chimed in in a tone Emran knew only from drunks, a slightly unhinged quiver that could mean nothing good. “We shouldn’t forget we only found out about this crime through the commission of another – Lady Lium has no business knowing about any of this. Perhaps the house of Olya regularly spreads our Secret like the peasants spread next year’s seeds?”

    Emran was confused by the opening of another issue, but most of his mind was still on the horrible idea that the four innocent houses would be obliged to extinguish the fifth. It was physically impossible, a terrible stain on all their souls, on the very landscape of Dhalvour. How was this to go? Should they burn down Olya town and castle both? Would they draw swords and walk over to the main hall to slaughter the rest of them, their kin? It was madness, pure madness, like the act that had prompted it.

    “Terence…” Machail of Ameril cautioned, and Emran was relieved that his father spoke up, even more that he seemed at least somewhat be in control of himself. Emran knew Machail and the Heir of Feldar had always been friends, being of roughly the same age. “I believe we should forget about how Lady Lium found out. She has clearly stumbled, unwittingly, into the realm of our Secret, and that in following her twin brother. It would be strange to cast blame for that. But that, of course, does not remove the problem of what appears to be her brother’s treachery. I must admit that I do not see the leeway sister Clothilde sees. The pertinent verses go ‘So strike the saplings of the sick garden / treason throws death / at traitor and kin, infant, young and old / let not them live whose line is lost.’ That does seem to prescribe… complete supreme punishment.”

    Emran couldn’t contain an audible gasp. His own father, contemplating the murder of kinfolk, the worst crime perhaps of all except the one Theodor had committed? Or seemed to have committed. Well, Emran thought, he probably had committed it, but there was no certainty. His thoughts were disordered, he tried frantically to give sense to the ideas at the edge of his consciousness before Lium and Enya and old Thaddeus were condemned. Thaddeus. He sat there, smiling politely and a little uncertainly at the raised voices. He knew nothing of what was going on, Emran thought, and if he did, he was incapable of reacting. Emran pitied the old man – his family’s fate hinged on the next decision and he didn’t even know.

    “Then the manner is all we need to discuss,” Lord Valdemar stated. Emran was glad that at least, the terrible tension in his voice betrayed some unease, some inkling the aged man had of what he was proposing. Insanity was not complete in this room, perhaps. “They should perhaps themselves…”

    “There are larger issues at stake, brothers and sisters,” Machail cut in. Emran knew his father had little tolerance for discussions which, to his mind, did not focus on what was truly important. “We have the Marshal of the Realm lost, and an Heir of ours with an Heirloom. We have reports of the strange goings-on in the mountains. We must consider the danger of…”

    “No!” Valdemar had risen from his chair. Emran remembered tales about him – how merciless he could be as a judge, rarely considering grounds for leniency. “They have broken the Secret, they must all perish.”

    Emran could see Lium blanche. She had not known, he realized in despair. She had not known she was condemning her family by bringing a problem she had found out to the Society’s attention. Emran closed his eyes. It was all so unfair. Then he opened them again. Terence had spoken, he was only an heir – that meant Emran could speak as well.

    “Friends!” he heard himself call, almost shout. Eyes turned to him and he took a shuddering breath, desperately praying he would find right words. “Friends… the reasons from tradition have been given. But other reasons have not been given. Good practice in a matter of law… well, you have stated the law. But we must examine if the case fulfils the conditions. It is a well-known principle that highest punishment needs highest certainty. And the death of a complete and ancient house is a very high punishment. I agree that it seems most likely that Theodor has… done what we all think. But it is not certain. Theodor was in the cave, and soldiers of Olya were killed there, but that does not mean he led outsiders there on purpose or told them where it was, not with certainty.”

    He was glad to see that while nobody seemed quite happy with his argument, no one seemed to find it weak enough to object to it. Emran’s tongue now stumbled less as he made his second argument. It was, he knew, the weightier one.

    “There is another point as well, another well-known principle in law: contritio in actu, that is, active contrition… if one, in commission of a crime, recoils from it and works to stop it from coming to fruition, then that should at least lessen his punishment. If all of Olya house is to be punished, then contritio in actu should extend to all of them as well – and I’m willing to argue that Lady Lium’s investigation of this crime and the openness with which she has laid it bare to us is a prime example of active contrition and a most noble thing to do.”

    Suddenly, Emran felt in his element. Lord Valdemar began to speak, but Emran raised a hand (perhaps a little dramatically): “I can hear your objection: But she had little knowledge of the crime, she did not even know the law. I could argue that in law, lack of knowledge of it usually does not protect, so why should it do harm? But my real reply to this objection is this: The fact that she had no idea of what was at stake makes the purity of Lady Lium’s action even clearer. Under these circumstances, it would simply be wrong to condemn Olya house.”

    “I see you have become learned in the ways of the law,” Valdemar growled, “but do not forget you are but an Heir!”

    Again, it was Lord Machail who tried to calm the discussion. “Lord Valdemar, I’m sure my son knows his place, for that is the way in which I have raised him,” he stated in an almost light-hearted way, but the implication was clear and sent a wave of love and gratitude through Emran: His father was supporting him, telling Valdemar he could not criticize Emran in this without criticizing his father as well. “But the weightier point is another: As this month’s host, I declare this question a Great Issue of the Society; a possible breach of the Secret could be nothing else. That, however, means that no decision can be taken without all ten (or, considering it is about the Olya house, eight) members’ consent. My son has not only made clear he does not consent, but he has also brought weighty arguments in favor of his position, so let no-one say his remarks are mere obstruction.”

    That last phrase was no empty chatter; by declaring, as Host, that Emran’s objection was not simple ill-will or a case of deliberate contrarianism, he had made it valid. Emran had, as he now realized, in effect cast a veto to the destruction of Olya.

    “The question is, how are we to proceed?” Machail continued. Emran could hear in his voice that he was on firm ground now, even while Emran’s own head swam with the tension of the moment. “We must have the clarity my son has denied – not even, I should say, so that we can properly judge the case, but to protect our lands and perhaps the whole realm. Given that Alsvartr Skalm is gone, we must not assume the other Heirlooms are safe. And if that is the case… then we must consider the possibility that there is a new Lich.”

    Ever since Lium’s revelation, that thought had been lurking in the corners of the room, but now that Machail had brought it to the light, it elicited another collective gasp, even from the young Benzon of Séhran.

    Machail turned to Emran; father and son shared a look. The calm in his father’s eyes seemed to spread to Emran. “My son, since you have spoken in defense of Olya, it is perhaps best if you explain, briefly, to Lady Olya what her discovery means. I think we can all agree that ritual should in this case be set aside.”

    Emran nodded and cleared his throat, then looked at Lium. “As you must know,” he began stiffly, “magic has always been a terrible art. But even many who know that it exists do not know its full depth. The Myatha Society holds an ancient secret: That there is a magic fouler than any other. The founders of the Five Houses, long ago, discovered that magic and how to destroy its product. They banded together to not only hold on to the way of destruction, but also to the very knowledge of that magic. If nobody knows that a crime can be committed, then nobody can commit it, see?”

    He swallowed; he knew he was dodging the real point and could do so no longer now. “That crime… that foulest form of magic… is the Path of Lichdom. It is possible, if you are prepared to sacrifice many lives and your own soul, to construct an evil, magical link between one’s body and spirit. As long as that link is intact, a person will, in a way, continue to exist. They will be able to speak, to use their body, even if the spark of life is gone from it.”

    “Each of our families has some knowledge concerning the Path of Lichdom, and things or knowledge needed to destroy a Lich. It is handed on through verses, not all of them clear. Most of what we know we share, but some locations like that cave are known only to one of the five houses. You must understand that over many generations, the ancient knowledge has eroded. It has never been necessary or even interesting to put together all we know, because what end would that serve except to produce ten people who know how to do the most terrible thing imaginable? That way, things have become unclear…”

    “That makes it even more important to find out what happened with Olya’s dagger and your brother,” Emran concluded, forming the thoughts as he spoke. “I know that in many places, old writings about magic exist. It’s not inconceivable there could be other ways to learn about Lichdom than from us…”

    He turned to the others and heard himself speak as evenly as if he had been thinking about this matter at leisure for days. “I believe it would be best if I went with Lady Lium to the mountains tomorrow to seek out what has happened – and what, perhaps, is happening. Our judgment and our other tasks rest on that. I am the youngest of you, except Benzon, who is still a boy, and I’ve spoken in Olya’s favor – so it should be me. And Lium I shall need to track her brother; we should be hard-pressed to find anyone as skilled, and it is outright impossible to find someone skilled enough we can tell enough for their skill to matter. If we find that Theodor is alive, he can justify himself; if we find he is dead, we may still learn if he did betray us. If he didn’t, there is no question of punishment, and we can concentrate on recovering the Black Dagger. If he did, then Lady Lium’s efforts will have earned her and her kin leniency.”

    It seemed to Emran that everyone, even the formerly belligerent Valdemar, was happy to have a plan. When Machail asked if anyone objected to Emran’s proposal, they all shook their heads, and Emran felt his knees go weak with relief for a moment.

    “Thank you, brothers and sisters,” he managed to whisper, feeling suddenly exhausted as if he had run all day.
     
  19. Zulma

    Zulma Wild Member Member

    Messages:
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    Local Time:
    12:23 PM
    When Clothilde spoke, not even ten years a senior, with a voice as sharp as a new blade, Lium's brow furrow. She didn't even know that the Black Blade was something protected by her own family and now she was realizing that she just kicked up a hornet nest! Hornets that seemed hell bent on feasting off her entire family! Her eyes widened in astonishment: they were serious! It wasn't just a mere figure of speech. The council was discussing the potentiality of eradicating an entire family on the mere suspicion that one of its member might have betrayed the others?!

    The surprised quickly turned into fear. She felt grateful for the cane which was steadying her and even thought about using it as a weapon to defend herself.
    She tasted bitterness and even blood in the pit of her stomach. She felt ill when the fate of herself and her family was discussed with a lack of emotion and humanity which startled her. She had always believed the society of the Five to be a brotherhood of friendship and assistant. The five families had always been so close! Meeting monthly and with many alliances within the different branches. The only alliance which wasn't 'allowed' was between two heirs as it would have concentrated two families in one and disrupt the balance of things.

    But at that moment, she saw no mercy, no friendship. Lord Valdemar seemed all too eager to have them all killed and Terence spoke of her family in such terms that she felt her blood boil. Her fear was shifting to her usual defense mechanism: anger. An anger fueled by the unfairness of the discussion but also the silence of the one member who mattered most in that matter: her own father! Why did he remain silent?! He didn't even try to defend his own son!! What did he know that he would allow the Two times Five to kill his entire family, himself included?! Or was he just so far gone in the folds of his mind that he wasn't even realizing what they were talking about?!

    She was about to burst out when Emran spoke and all eyes, including hers, turned to the young knight. It seemed that his stay at Court came to the benefits of the Olya House because although Clothilde had weakly objected to the slaughter, it was the first time someone at the table spoke some sense.
    She watched and listened as he objected to the massacre, using terms of laws and logic which she wasn't familiar with but which seemed to hit truth in the other members because even Valdemar calmed down. Lium felt a gratitude toward the blond head which she had rarely felt for a fellow human being and yet, she couldn't shake the feeling of betrayal which had swept into her heart.

    Magic was mentioned and after her previous days reading, she wasn't as stunned as she would have been otherwise. Still, hearing a grown man tell her that magic and lich were real was unsettling. Strangely enough, it wasn't as disturbing as hearing people she had considered acquaintances, friends or even distant family, discussed her death and the ones of her entire family based of the small suspicion that her brother had done something wrong. She wasn't ready to forgive that!

    As the heir of Ameril sank back in his seat, Lium stepped forward, gripping the staff. Emran's speech had given her hope that they would be spared, but it didn't give her peace of mind just yet, her emerald eyes immediately settled on her father and she wasn't hiding her sadness and disappointment.

    "My father might not dare plead for the life of his family because he knows of your laws and secrets, but I do not know anything of the pact you all share and I cannot help but feel...at a loss by what I am witnessing. You are as swift to pass judgement without proof as you are to replace a missing heir without even making sure the missing one is indeed dead. I believed your society to be based on mutual trust, respect and assistance. Where was the Council of the Five Houses when my brother went missing? Outside of Lord Emran of Ameril who came to visit, no one offered us any help, yet, you all knew Theodor was missing, so much so that you were ready to replace him! Where were the Heads of Sehran, Ennan, Felne and Ameril when the Head of Olya needed support?" Her hand was shaking as she spoke and she wasn't hiding the flood of emotions which was bubbling in her throat, yet she was trying not to make a spectacle of herself.

    "Enough Lady Lium of Olya!" Lady Eliana of Feldar interrupted before Lord Valdemar or her own son could antagonize the second born of Olya. "You have said quite enough!" Her ton was one of command and the young noblewoman remained silent. "There is so much you do not know nor understand. Your anger might be just, but do not undermine the effort of Lord Emran on your behalf." The eldest of the heads continued in her usual calm and quavering voice, yet there was a warning in her voice that Lium should suffer irrevocable consequences should she keep speaking in such terms. She had already said far too much in view of the situation.

    Lium struggled then nodded at the woman, a flush on her cheeks. She was a mess but she turned towards the heir of the Ameril house and bowed to him.
    "I am grateful to you Lord Emran of Ameril, I am in your debt." She didn't use the term lightly, she knew that within the five families, a debt bound you by honor to someone. Recognizing such a thing in front of the heads and heirs of the five families was a true acknowledgment of Lium's gratitude.
    "I will assist you in any way possible to prove my brother's innocence!" she paused and swallowed. "And if I find out that he has indeed betrayed the council, I shall...kill him myself." The words choked her. "Olya is as strong as ever." Her pride was all that was left for now and it was the only reason why she hadn't fallen down her knees sobbing quite yet. The idea of having to kill Theodor herself if he was found guilty was already tearing her apart. He wasn't just her brother, he was her twin.

    "Then it is settled." Lium heard the host of the ceremony spoke. "My Lords, my Ladies, let no words passed those walls, for this matter is of the upmost importance and the secrecy even more crucial." Then Lord Machail encouraged each head to look into their own heirlooms and make sure of its safety, but by that point Lium's ears were buzzing and she was feeling weak as the adrenaline rush was slowly fading. When Emran reopened the door and they were all allowed outside, she didn't move. The members left two by two, each head with their heirs behind them, in order of age.
    When Lord Thaddeus's turn came, Lium called after him.
    "Father?" but the man didn't even slow down or turn.
    At last Lady Clothilde and the young Benzon vacated the premises.

    Left alone, Lium staggered to the closest wall and slid down to the ground, burying her face in her knees. She was in no shape to face anybody, let alone her sister or her mother. There would be questions asked and the only answer that would be given is that Lord Theodor might be alive so Lady Lium's inducement was postpone.
    But right now, the woman was sobbing like a child. She was trembling and feeling cold from the emotional shock she had just received, but the worst of all was the feeling of abandonment from her own father. He had always been her hero. He was a strong man, a warrior, a jouster. He might not have had Lord Machail's ways with words, but Thaddeus was respected and listened to. And yet today, when it mattered most, he hadn't spoken a single word! And nobody had even asked him. Lium remembered very well when Lady Clothilde had come to the Olya's house to get council from her father. She and Lium had even had some interesting discussions together.

    Behind the emotional strain, the raven hair woman couldn't help but wonder why Thaddeus had remained silent and the more she thought, the worst she feared. What is her father knew something and hadn't spoken by fear of betray himself as well as his son?! She felt sick and she cursed, several times. Her voice echoed in the vast empty room as she hit the stone ground with her fist. She had spoken of the strength of the Olya house but she wasn't even sure she believed in it.

    She heard footsteps and quickly jumped to her feet, wiping her eyes and nose with her sleeves and trying to appear as presentable as possible considering the circumstances. If there was one thing she hated was being seeing in a weak moment, so she let out a sigh of relief when it was her sister who stuck her nose through the door without daring entering.
    "Lium?" the voice was sweet and worried.
    "I'm coming." grunted Lium.
    Enya knew her sister enough to see that she was in quite a state. "Are you alright?! What happened?" she questioned.
    "I stabbed my toe with that damned cane." Lium replied with a crooked grin.
    Enya raised an eyebrow, not buying it for a second, but she didn't pressed the matter further.
    "Mother sent me after you." she told her sister. "I believe she would like you to dance with Lord Leon. He's been asking after you."
    Lium winced. During their teenage years, she had been pretty closed to Lady Clothilde's younger brother. Leon was charming and funny and Lium had definitely had a crush on him, even imagining that one day they would marry. They were both 'non-heir' which gave them something on which they could relate as well. But his family had other plans and he married another, letting the young Olya more disappointed than she would ever care to admit. Fate had it that his wife, from a side branch of the Felne House, died while giving birth to their son. Now a widower and father, Leon had renew his interest towards Lium but despite his attentions towards her, she kept as much distance as possible between them. Now Lium was pretty sure he would run away if he knew what happened tonight.
    "I will be right there. Give me a minute." she told her sister.

    But instead of heading for the main hall were everyone was celebrating, Lium took the hallway leading to the small Ameril garden. It was a mere courtyard with some beds of herbs and vegetables, and two stone benches, but anything green was welcome in her state of mind. She sat and looked up the walls to the skies which were quite dark tonight as the moon was but a thin crescent. She shivered. It might have been summer but the night was chilly, and the cold stones didn't help. She also hadn't eaten and her body was recuperating from the stress. She took several deep breaths, trying to settle her racing heart.
    "Where are you Theo?" she whispered to the night.

    Inside Enya had come back alone and tried to avoid her mother by greeting Emran.
    "Well met cousin." she said with a graceful bow. "The feast hall is particularly grand tonight." she tried to make small talk.
     
  20. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    553
    Local Time:
    7:23 PM
    Everyone, it seemed, was glad to have the session end. It was abridged, the usual worship omitted. Emran noticed Lium stayed behind, but there was no question of going to her. First, he had to preserve her dignity; second, his absence would have been noted and it was hard enough to keep the insane events hidden from the five families at large. Third, and hardest, what was to be borne she had to bear alone.

    “Yes; most grand,” he replied to Enya’s attempt at conversation; the tapestries, candles and other accoutrements were indeed as stately as ever. But nobody’s mood seemed to match, at least not since the Society members had joined the group. Emran himself was barely staving off despair. He wished he were younger, just a few years, so nobody would expect him to do much… but he had placed himself in the very center of affairs right along with Lady Lium. He had nobody to blame for that.

    His further responses to Enya stayed equally terse. He was too preoccupied to feel very ashamed of it. All evening, his thoughts dwelt on the mountains, what they might find there, and – his fear of it. The feast ended unusually early. The Lord of Olya had barely said a word. That, somehow, made it all much worse…


    *


    The morning had a sharp wind coming down the mountains while oppressive heat lingered in the valleys. It was a weather to give headaches and sullen moods; small, torn clouds were lingering near the sheer peaks as Emran looked out of the window of his room. He got dressed in hunting clothes – strong fabrics and leather, solid boots, a sword, a light hunting crossbow (the bigger war crossbows would be too unwieldy in the mountains), a cap. In the courtyard of his ancestral castle, a pack mule with necessities for both him and Lium waited.

    For the families, their trip was covered as a scouting mission concerning the troubles in the mountains – that was close enough to the truth to be believable, but it was clear that the ones outside the Myatha Society were aware that something was afoot. The heads’ spouses were casting glances, the adult children were whispering. That, however, was not Emran’s concern for the moment, for which he was grateful. It was not only the heat that was oppressive, the atmosphere at Castle Ameril was as well. Emran thought he could almost smell the fear – including his own.

    He waited for Lium in the shade of the smithy shed (the furnace wasn’t in use that morning), struggling with this task he had brought upon herself to come to the aid of Olya.
     
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