Veiled Vrentae/Rumors about Tzao Andrente

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First Impressions[edit]

The modest courtyard was decorated to the extent to which a young Baron and Baroness could manage. “At least let us bring some of our servants my boy. Poor Calik and his staff will wear holes in their slippers trying to service an affair of this size.” Tzao’s mother had offered to help with the décor and staffing the but he had roundly dismissed the notion.

“This is to be our gathering mother,” Tzao said, smiling warmly at his wife Ashla and stroking her arm in his. “If you aid us, then it becomes your party too. We are deeply moved that you would make such an offer, but I still must decline. If you are so concerned with Calik’s shoes, then I can send a runner to the village to hire a few extra hands to work in the kitchens out of sight.”

His mother, Valtha, knit her brows together disapprovingly. “You certainly inherited your father’s stubbornness, before all the Suaven I swear it to be true! Very well, I will retire to my quarters until the guests start arriving. Have Calik fetch me so that I shall not be tardy.” She inclined her head to them and Tzao bowed low at the hip, Ashla curtsying deeply. She had come from a much more modest upbringing. Her parents had never risen above the rank of Baron, the marriage had been a strange one but she was a jewel and Tzao loved her deeply, and he understood how truly rare that was.

Tzao turned and looked into the courtyard of Greenbridge castle. “Maybe she is right. Perhaps I will send Joci down to the village to fetch another half dozen to work the scullery.” He turned and nodded to an attendant who was standing by the door. The attendant in his house livery of red and white bowed at the hip and slipped from the room. Tzao turned again to the window overlooking the courtyard and his province below. Greenbridge was built against the foothills of the Whitepine Mountains. Below stretched a long valley at the base of which lay the village of Hamath. Small curls of bluish smoke streamed from the chimneys as the afternoon wore into evening. The lanterns were already lit in the courtyard casting an amber filter over the whole scene. The early guests were already filing in.

Tzao had never been blessed with social ease. His wife Ashla moved easily through the crowd. Everywhere she walked spirits were lifted. Tzao did his best to mimic her social graces. He gripped hands with his peers and bowed to his betters. He tried to remember some of the jokes he had memorized for this night. He got a few laughs here and there and thought he was doing quite well. His mother had come down almost an hour into the affair. As one of the most senior ranking nobles, she waited until everyone had arrived and then descended from the keep in splendor. Her ball gown was richly made and the envy of every Lady in attendance. She smiled easily to her son and worked the room. So far the party was going quite well.

At least, amid the tense atmosphere of the courtyard there were lighthouses to guard him from the rocks. Most of his Oathbearers had been able to attend. These welcome respites among the crowd were like oases in a desert. He had already spoken to No and could see her across the courtyard fanning herself and laughing musically at the jests of a young man who was just scarcely marrying age. Not far off, her husband, Noryandal, brooded watching the pair. Tzao shook his head. His loyalty was to No, not her eager suitor, though she should know better. He had only mentioned it once to her and she just smiled her beguiling smile and tapped him on the chest with her fan, “My dear friend, you do not understand because you cannot see the Beauty in the brevity of a candle flame.” Tzao thought she made no sense whatsoever, how enraging her murderous husband counted as art was beyond him. Still, his oath was to her and not young Tameril. Hopefully the poor boy would survive the ordeal, and emerge wiser for it.

He was pulled from his reverie by a gentle hand at his elbow. Neiton’s eyes shone with his trademark passion. “Have you given some thought to what I said? I could do such grand things with the eastern wing of the keep. Then your villagers would have a place to worship the Suaven, no? I tell you, it would be magnificent, a… and you have the stone here in your very own province do you not? It is perfect my friend. No! It is Destiny.”

“I have not had time to completely consider your offer Neiton but if I decide to create an addition to the keep, you will be the first to know. This I swear. Now I must see to the rest of my guests. You know, I think I remember mother mentioning that she and father were considering building a temple in one of their newest provinces. I think thye are seeking an architect, perhaps you should speak to…” Tzao smiled but was unable to finish his thought. Neiton had already excused himself and was making his way through the crowd searching for Marquise Valtha.

He heard Fyx before he saw him. The racking cough could be heard and the ven backed away reflexively though there was nothing to catch. “Fyx, my friend, are you well? Can I fetch anything for you, something for your throat perhaps?” He fixed a genuine smile on the frail Serpent even as he was waved away. Tzao was at least a head taller than his friend and he had always felt a bit protective of him, even before they swore their oaths together. This was not entirely necessary and Tzao knew this. Fyx was a more-than-capable swordsman and a sorcerer besides. Still, Tzao had always felt a kinship with him. He was a sort of outcast, like Tzao, though for different reasons. Unfortunately, neither seemed able to aid the other in resolving their status. Fyx’s wife was here, but she had hardly said any more than a greeting to Tzao all night, and she was not here now. She had spent the entire night trailing in Marquise Valtha’s shadow, ever trying to curry favor with her. If Tzao’s parents had not been in attendance, he doubted very much she would have come at all. All night Tzao had not seen his lecherous friend the Fox. He thought the name in its entirety but meant nothing derogatory by it. Like as not, he was somewhere hastily doing up his breeches and preparing for a daring escape from another Baron’s bedchambers and had completely forgotten about the gathering.

“Papa!” Shanjar’s voice rang out from the keep doors and the young girl came bounding down the stairs in her dressing gown, her bare feet slapping on the paving stones of the courtyard. She ran to him and was lifted up into his arms giggling maniacally. “Papa, I don’t want to go to bed. I’m not tired. I want to come out here to the party and see everyone. There Mr. Fyx! HEY MR. FYX!!” She waved excitedly and then stuffed her fist in her mouth to try and cover a colossal yawn and rubbed her eyes. The party goers immediately around Tzao exchanged endearing looks at the tender moment between parent and child.

From the keep, Marja the governess, burst out of the doors looking stricken. She moved to Tzao and curtsied deeply. “Begging your pardon m’lord, I was just tidying up the nursery when I turned and she was gone as in puff of smoke. Please sir, forgive me.” Her face was ashen. Marja was fairly new and had come from a much stricter household where such missteps were grounds for dismissal at best, and at worst a sound beating. Tzao smiled down at her and then looked at Shanjar, “I am afraid little ven must go to sleep with the birds and the fawns. Else they will miss you in their dreams if you are not there to greet them. Go with Mistress Marja. I will come tuck you in presently.” After some minor protestation, Shanjar consented to go with Marja back to the house. Tzao kissed her head and sent them away. He turned back to the party and his stomach turned anew. He very nearly wished he could be sent to bed. It was his first major gathering at the newly completed Greenbridge. He tried to settle his nerves calling for a glass of wine; after all, it has been going well enough so far.

“In my house we do not suffer ineptitude from our staff, but then, our staff is not inept.” A high slightly-nasal voice cut through the crowd as the doors to the keep were closing again. The barbed comment silenced the conversation in the immediate vicinity. From the northwestern corner the musicians were still playing, blissfully ignorant as they underscored the venomous remarks. Rali Steele, a rival from House Elk who owned a nearby province stepped from the crowd and stared daggers at Tzao. Tzao sighed; it had been going so well. Tzao had only recently learned who Rali was. Apparently they had both been vying for a trade contract with a merchant and his caravan. Tzao had won the contract after it had come to light that Rali had lied to the merchant on his prospects within his own region. Tzao had been the one he decided to blame for his ill luck. Tzao had hoped that by inviting to his gathering he could smooth things over and come to an understanding. He had spent much of the evening graciously accepting many such thinly veiled contemptuous remarks and even an out-and-out threat from Rali. Reconciliation was now looking less and less possible.

Tzao spread his hands, “Marja is new and Shanjar is very clever. I think she has inherited too much of her mother’s Beauty. I worry for the state of the courts she is old enough to be wed.” This drew a few tense chuckles from the gathered crowd. Rali spat on the ground at Tzao’s feet. This stopped the laughter short and elicited a few gasps from the surrounding ven. This man’s rudeness had gone beyond the pale and any self-respecting ven would demand satisfaction of him. Tzao did not intend to give him what he knew Rali wanted. He would try to use Rali’s anger as a tool to get what he wanted, which was better standing for his family. Tzao measures his breathing and looks away chewing his lip.

Ashla comes to him and lays a hand on his arm, speaking to him but loudly enough to be heard, “Come darling, we will have Calik show this brigand out of our home. We should have known better than to invite this barbarian within our walls. He is a disgrace.” Slowly Tzao allowed himself to be led away, his self-control straining to contain the rage rising in his breast.

“Indeed! Run and see to your cub. If you should find need of it, I could sell you a flea comb.” Rali turned away laughing and tipping back a large glass of wine then shattering it against the paving stones. Several of the men in the crowd, Fyx among them, moved toward him as though they intended to answer on Tzao’s behalf.

It was unnecessary.

The moment the glass shattered on the flagstones Rali was hauled about by a pair of iron-hard hands. A vicious right cross slammed into his jaw spinning him to the ground with a groan. It wasn’t the typical way to issue a challenge but it seemed to convey the intent well enough. Tzao stood over him positively foaming with rage. The crowd had backed away to a safe distance. Tzao’s fingers flexed reflexively coiling into fists and then relaxing. “I bid you stand sir and answer my challenge! These Insults will no longer go unheeded. You may speak ill of me and I shall not think much of it as the word of a shiftless worm carries no weight within these walls. But you, sir, have stepped beyond the mark of my patience when you Insult my daughter and my family. So I bid you stand and give to me my satisfaction.” Tzao’s eyes blazed and the party and the entire evening was now forgotten.

Rali stood slowly, more than bit taken aback but he regained his composure quickly wiping the blood from his lip with an offered kerchief. “I accept, you dog. It is a measure of your worth that you should issue a challenge thus. Still, I shall lower myself to treat with you, if only to demonstrate how a proper nobleman conducts himself.” He moved away as the crowd began to gather back in now clearly delineated into two separate camps each devoted to either side of the confrontation. The talk became a low buzz like a hive of bees. As the ranking noble in the courtyard, Marquise Valtha was among the Jury of Peers to decide the terms of the duel. She and two others were to hear the pleas of the duelists before declaring the rules. Once the jury was decided, Rali made the first plea. His argument was that Tzao had intentionally sabotaged his business interests with the merchant Gildred. He said that he had Insulted him and asked for a duel to first blood to decide the matter, with the winner taking the pride of the day and the contract as well. There was a light pattering of applause from his side of the courtyard as the nobles there expressed their approval of this arrangement.

Tzao moved up before the Jury, his rage having abated but his anger still burning bright in his eyes. He spoke slowly as if considering every word just before its use. “I apologize that our first gathering here at Greenbridge must be tainted with bloodshed, but Baron Rali Steele has spent much of the evening ridiculing me needlessly. It is true that we were competitors in a business arrangement. The merchant Gildred chose me as his partner. It was a fair deal and Rali lost. On this, he has no claim. For myself, I can abide the personal derision of one so low as he and think nothing of it. However, I will not, cannot, stand idly by while this dung heap insults my child or any member of my family. For this, I ask that the Jury grant me satisfaction in a duel to Injury.” The crowd gasped. This was a much more severe penalty to ask for in a duel than normal. “I will not be satisfied until this blaggard must be hauled from my grounds on a litter. Perhaps then, he will think better of insulting the noble ven families so odiously.” Tzao stepped away and moved back to his wife who was staring reservedly at the paving stones.

Rali stepped from the crowd, “I protest, this slight, though certainly significant, would not warrant a duel of such severity. I…” The words died in his throat and he retreated back to his friends before revealing true cowardice.

The jury deliberated for several moments and then Marquise Valtha spoke. “Rali’s conduct is shameful and we the Jury grant Tzao’s wishes for a duel to Injury. Duelists have 10 minutes to prepare.” She looked pained as she made the declaration. Tzao was a skilled swordsman but he ran just as much risk as Rali. He was her only child.

After the 10 minute warm-up, Tzao moved into position. His saber held low at his side. His eyes, though calm now, still boiled beneath the surface. Rali moved into position, looking less cocksure than before. They began by circling each other, feeling each other out. Steel rang a few times in these first moments but only as tested each other reflexes and defenses. Then they engaged in earnest. The first significant cut came from Rali. He blocked a low strike and whipped the sword up cutting across Tzao’s cheek. Blood ran in rivulets down his face and the cut burned. Rali smiled and prepared a follow up attack. He raised his blade and moved in.

The world seemed to slow. Tzao’s mind reeled, “Minor cut to the Zygomaticus, of little concern. Step into meet the high attack, block high and send a right hook to the floating ribs. Spin out , ducking under the lateral retaliatory cut, slice across abdomen. Weaken the ankle with a low kick at the end of the turn and pommel strike under the chin. Jam the sword arm at the elbow with the free hand and draw the blade down the length of the other exposed inner forearm. Break ankle with a follow up kick and finish with a slash above the eye to scar for remembrance. In summary: Three major lacerations, 2 cracked ribs, a broken ankle, and extensive blood loss. Full physical recovery: eight weeks. Full psychological recover: nine months. Complete faculty recovery: unlikely. With a feral roar, Tzao crashed into Rali with a savagery that stunned everyone there, even Marquise Valtha. As Rali fell back on a useless ankle, clutching his stomach and forehead, the Judge stepped between them, declaring the match ended. Rali’s supporters rushed to his side to immediately begin administering aid. Tzao turned back to his supporters and was met with a mix of horror and disbelief. Even Ashla was ashen-faced. She moved up to him and dabbed at the cut on his cheek. This will need stitching. We should get you inside.

“What is the meaning of this!?” The doors to keep were open again and a large man in red and silver was standing at the top of the stairs like a statue of a Suaven elder. Tzao’s father, Korthos, had spent the bulk evening embroiled in a business negotiation.

Another man was standing nearby and, on seeing Rali, cried out and rushed to his side, “My son! Who has done this to my son!?” The man knelt by Rali weeping openly and working to staunch the massive bleeds. From the stairs, Korthos’ stare for Tzao could have melted stone. Tzoa swallowed hard as he was led into the keep. As he passed, “Father I-,” but he did not get a chance to finish. Korthos’ voice was low and dangerous and brooked no interruption, “Boy, get inside and get patched up. I will have words for you… later.”

Tzao nodded silently and went inside. The crowd was beginning to disperse as Rali was being loaded onto a litter. As he moved away he shared a secret conspiratorial smile with his wife. She returned it in kind. Gods above but he loved her.