The Rosarian Chronicles Part Two: Castle Ronda Stesana awoke. Apparently she had slept for days on their journey to Castle Ronda, and now she was there in the bedchamber where she presumed her brother Ponteric once slept. As is custom, she thought. But there was nothing customary about this unpleasant, to say the least, situation. Her eyes began to understand their surroundings: her lady mother Deosithia by her bedside, probably mulling over the ordeal repeatedly; and a Scholar, a man wrapped in a light gray toga who had devoted his life to the appreciation of the gods and to the continued progression of learning. She touched her arrow wound. The healers had done fine work while she was asleep, but the mark still hurt. "What shall I do, mother?" Lady Hexen smiled faintly. "You have been robbed of what belongs to you by right. You have been cheated and assaulted. Your sister and sister-in-law have been taken captive. Your father and brother have been murdered. How would you respond to this?" Stesana rose, still wincing from the wound. Her long blonde hair fell into her face, but she brushed it back and looked her mother in the eyes once again. "I would seek revenge against those who have wronged me and my family, and I would make them pay for their transgressions tenfold." "Good," Lady Hexen responded. "So we are in agreement that Eloric no longer merits special treatment from House Diothon or otherwise." She stood from her seat and offered her daughter a hand. "Come. We must plan our attack." --- Stesana and Deosithia settled into seats surrounding a large round table fully occupied primarily by unfamiliar people. The old table was carved roughly, either by an amateur woodworker or perhaps intentionally by an expert for some naturalistic effect. Everything in this strange castle was far from what Stesana had known growing up in Loth Sirian. She noticed the people seemed more solemn, too, though that might have been due to other circumstances. "All of you know of my daughter, Stesana the First of House Diothon, Stewardess of the Great Sea Realm, and that she has endured great hardships already," Lady Hexen said. "What news do we have of Eloric?" Stesana asked, eager to get right into business. A man to Stesana's right began speaking. "Your Excellency, I'm afraid the Usurper has been crowned Steward of the Great Sea Realm and has raised his standard in preparation of your attack." "This is Philix of House Tarthien, Margrave of the West," Lady Hexen began. "And your cousin." "Forgive me, Lord Tarthien," Stesana smiled. "I did not recognize you. It's been decades, I believe." The margrave slightly bowed his head. "There is no need to apologize, your Excellency." Philix Tarthien appeared to be the quintessential military man, a serious and obedient war veteran who wore embellished armor and scars like monarchs wore crowns. War was his home away from Castle Tarthien in the West, and he had spent his life preparing himself and now his teenage son for combat. "The Usurper is not alone in this fight, unfortunately," began a young woman seated across the table. "House Pharaphol has declared for Eloric, as have House Vermandith and its vassals in the Hinterlands. In the north, House Porthona has yet to declare." "Lady Reisa of House Granten, your Excellency," Deosithia quickly said. Reisa was a beautiful woman of around Stesana's age with long auburn hair and a permanent countenance of fortitude and self-assurance. She was clothed in armor customary of knights, not lords or ladies. Next to her sat another young woman quietly, one with platinum blonde hair and icy blue eyes. She had all the beauty of Reisa and more, but none of the confidence. "Lady Granten, perhaps we should send an envoy to the Porthonas to convince them who is right and who is wrong?" Stesana suggested. "That would be wise, but the envoy must be small and secretive," said Reisa. "The Usurper and the Hinterlands stand between us. I would go if it is seen fit, but I would need a companion." "Pardon me, but will your wife not do?" asked Philix, eyeing the woman with platinum blonde hair. The young woman finally spoke. "I do not dare venture far from the West." "There you have it," said Reisa. "Who will join me? I hear walking through Castle Porthon is like traveling through history. The dragons of old that lived there are legendary, and perhaps we will see their skeletons shackled there in the castle." Lady Deosithia Hexen spoke up. "My duty to the realm thus far remains unfulfilled. I have failed the Great Sea by being soft on my son. I will join you, Lady Granten, and convince the Margrave of the North to join our cause." Stesana looked at her mother, surprised and confused. "Mother, I will need you in the coming times. Please do not leave my side." "It is my duty. You are in the hands of some of the most skilled fighters and brilliant minds in the Eight Realms. Trust them as you trust me." The journey had to be swift, before the Porthonas announce their support for Eloric under pressure. Deosithia Hexen and Reisa Granten departed at dusk that day, heading east. As Lady Hexen turned back to see her daughter, she could see only a silhouette before the setting sun, and when she faced forwards, there were only dark waves.