[ORP] The Secret Life of Northvale

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Zehara
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[ORP] The Secret Life of Northvale

Post by Zehara » Mon Jan 04, 2021 5:48 pm

Just over the border between Southfenshire and Northfenshire, not far off the road to North Fenia, the heavily wooded hills parted to reveal a lush green valley studded with red-roofed white buildings. The hills, ominously rocky and craggy with sharp grey fingers jutting out here and there, concealed many secrets that only the residents of Northvale would ever know. From stalactites to skeletons, spiderwebs to smuggled goods, in the intricate network of caverns beneath the foothills of Northvale lurked any number of mysteries to unveil.

The land was both treacherous and precarious, leaving little livable space on which to build. Other than the valley village, the only other building of note within the barony was Northvale Castle, known locally simply as "The Vale." The castle's keep and sole tower perched atop a particularly rocky hill on the north side of the valley, pointing straight upward as if to challenge the heavens themselves to knock it down. It was built into the rock of the hill, its dungeons carved out of the caves below. Rumor had it that a series of secret tunnels led from the castle dungeons into other caves scattered across Northvale. Some even theorized that one tunnel led as far as Surxia. The villagers liked to tell stories of the various grisly murders they imagined had taken place in the hidden tunnels, even claiming a long-lost king's bones were to be found in one cavern, appropriately named the "Skeleton Cave." Of course, this was all mere gossip - not even the villagers of the valley knew where most of the caves and tunnels were to be found, nor for what purpose they were used today...

Zehara and her personal servant Martine arrived at the Vale a week after the King's announcement. With her new larger income, Zehara had hired an army of brawny lads to pack up her belongings from Nettlebane Tower and cart them up to Northvale. Zehara and Martine followed a few days later on horseback, a method of travel that Zehara loathed. She fidgeted in the saddle for the millionth time that day, muttering, "Who in the name of all the fae gods invented this absurd contraption? I won't be able to walk straight for weeks!"

Martine sighed but kept her gaze on the road ahead. "The pain fades quickly, Lady Zehara. And it's still easier than riding side-saddle, believe me!"

Zehara stared at her maid. "What, you mean I could've been sitting sideways on this thing all this time?" She whooped gleefully, and swung her leg over the horse to sit comfortably with her legs dangling together off the side. "Ahhhh that's so much bett---AAAAAGHHHH!" All it took was one dip in the road and Zehara was jolted off the horse's back, falling into the mud with a resounding, squelching splat.

Martine sighed again and pulled up on her horse's reins. "I tried to warn you, my lady..."

Zehara pushed herself up, muck dripping from her face. "You did that on purpose!" she accused, wiping her face on her sleeve. Since this was also soaked in mud, it made no difference whatsoever. Growling, Zehara flicked her fingers at Martine, sending a small (verrrry small) bad-luck curse her way. "See how you like to be the clumsy one for once," she grumbled. Zehara managed to get enough mud out of her eyes to look around. Her sharp fae hearing soon caught the sound of rushing water nearby. "I'm going to jump in the river," she said, and set off through the trees with her head held high.

She returned to the horses a few minutes later, soaking wet but mud-free. "No more shenanigans, Martine, we've got somewhere to be!" she said, leaping nimbly up onto the horse's back, and settling her legs properly in the stirrups once more (though not without a groan of pain). Martine merely let out a loud exhale and kicked her horse onward.

Fortunately the day was relatively mild for January, and the sun kept Zehara warm enough not to catch pneumonia. Her clothes were only damp by the time they split off from the main road and entered Northvale Valley. As the valley widened, the castle soon came into view past the trees on their left. Zehara grinned and pulled up her horse to admire it. "Creepy and imposing. I approve. Now how in the realms do we get up there?"

Martine pointed to a lane that veered away from the road into the village, winding its way around the sharp hill until it reached the peak. A bridge from the main hilltop to the castle's own crag was the only way to reach the isolated house. Unless of course one was blessed with wings. "That looks annoying. I'm going to fly," Zehara announced, preparing to dismount.

"If those guards see a giant black-winged faery flying up the side of the cliff, I guarantee you they'll shoot you down, my lady," said Martine sternly, crossing her arms over her chest.

Zehara froze with one leg in the air, glared at Martine, and then grumbled, "Fiiiiine, torture-creature. We'll do it the hard way." She flopped back down into the saddle hard enough to make her horse snort and fidget anxiously.

The climb was slow-going, and by the time they reached the drawbridge the horses were nearly spent. Martine announced Zehara's identity to the guards, and they bowed slightly before stepping aside. "Hmmm, I could get used to that!" Zehara grinned. "You see, Martine, that's what proper servants do." Martine's only response was a loud sniff.

Across the bridge, they passed through a gatehouse manned by two more guards in uniform. A small round room to the right seemed to house the guards mess hall and barracks. Zehara nodded to them in what she considered to be a stately manner, but what Martine silently described as pompous. On the other side of the guardhouse lay a small inner courtyard, filled with trees, a small grassy area, and a few benches. A groom met them across the courtyard and offered to take their horses. Martine directed him to bring the saddlebags inside to their rooms. She then rapidly took possession of the rest of the staff, quickly introducing the handful of maids, the cook, gardener, and butler to their new baroness. Zehara stood rather dumb-founded, looking around herself in awe, and randomly smiling at each person Martine presented to her without remembering a single one of their names. Martine seemed to realize her mistress was overwhelmed, because she soon shooed the staff away with directions to bring drinks and a bath to the baroness's chambers.

The castle itself was compact, but tall. On the ground floor were a few larger halls for dining, lounging, dancing, and praying (hah, as if, thought Zehara with a scoff), as well as the kitchen, stables, and servants' offices housed in a series of interconnected outbuildings. The second floor consisted of a large set of suites for Zehara's use, including a bedroom, dressing room, private sitting area, and writing room. On the third floor were other bedrooms and a larger study, and above that were the servants sleeping areas and various storage rooms. Descending again, the bad luck charm finally took hold. Martine slipped on the stairs, landed smack on her bottom, and slid down to the next landing, much to her mortification. Zehara managed to bite back her laughter with very creditable poise, and said in a voice of simpering innocence, "Careful, Martine, we can't have you laid up with a broken leg!" Martine was not amused.

Returning to her own rooms, Zehara collapsed on the bed and stared up at the embroidered red canopy. "This is so not me..." she muttered to herself. Imagine the look on Queen Rania's face if she were to see me now... Zehara giggled aloud at the thought. She was certain Rania had laughed herself stupid after banishing Zehara from the fae realms, assuming (quite correctly) that Zehara would have no idea how to fend for herself amongst mortals. But she had figured without Zehara's distant family of witches and warlocks, who had soon found her and taken her in, teaching her dull but practical skills that allowed her not only to survive, but to thrive here. And now here she was, a baroness and mistress of a daunting castle. Yet, amongst all this grandeur, the first thing Zehara wanted to do was drop an ugly vase from the highest tower of the castle down the sheer-faced cliff and see it shatter into a million pieces hundreds of feet below. Zehara giggled again. Yep, she was definitely going to have to do that, right now. After all, why not? It was her ugly vase, now.
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Zehara
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Re: [ORP] The Secret Life of Northvale

Post by Zehara » Sun Jan 10, 2021 3:06 am

Being a baroness was far more work than Zehara had expected. She had spent the first few days going over the castle from top to bottom with Martine, making a list a yard long of all the changes to be done. It was clear the last owner had loved hunting and mortal gods, neither of which appealed to Zehara in the least.

But unfortunately being a baroness also came with less power than she had imagined. Nearly every item Zehara tried to throw on the fire met with such vociferous opposition that eventually she threw up her hands and gave up on the whole redecorating project. The chapel had been the last straw. Apparently her staff "needed" somewhere to pray. Zehara had a few ideas of where to tell them to go pray, none of them polite.

Frustrated, Zehara went down to the dungeons to imagine excruciating torments for whatever idiots had decided that enormous deer heads were sacrosanct. She would just admire the torture devices and pretend her predecessors had all met their deaths in their clutches.

The dungeons were carved into the rock of the cliffs on which the Vale sat. Just descending the stairs brought about a chill. Zehara shivered and wondered if she should have worn a cloak down here. They felt damp, too, with signs of dripping water along the rough rocky walls. The ceiling was low enough that Zehara did not think she'd be able to stand up fully in her fae form. Despite the small area, the torches seemed stifled by the darkness, unable to penetrate the dungeons' depths more than a foot around. There were no prisoners at present, just two empty cells, their barred doors swung open listlessly in the dark. Zehara could hear a few sets of scrambling paw prints, probably rats. Rodents didn't bother her, though. She continued her exploration, running a hand over the damp wall. It was as cold as ice.

The larger part housed, much to Zehara's delight, a red-stained table, a rack, a human-sized cage dangling from the ceiling, and an iron casket lined with spikes. She clapped her hands and bounced with glee, wondering who she could test these wonderful new toys out on. The iron maiden drew her eye first. She tested its spikes with a finger, drawing blood with scarcely a touch. Closing the casket, she saw a strange iron figure on the wall beside it. She leaned closer, pulling a torch forward to inspect the little statue. It seemed to be a crow, with some sort of sparkling gem for its eye.

Suddenly, Zehara lost her balance and fell forward, reaching out to grab the iron crow. To her surprise, the crow moved with her, rotating around until it was diving towards the ground. A sharp crack followed by a loud groaning sound met Zehara's ears. She straightened up, swinging the torch around to see where it came from. "Who's there?" she called. No response. She followed the creaking noise to the far corner of the torture chamber. When she reached what should have been the other wall of the dungeon, instead her torch met darkness. A door-sized slab of stone had rolled to the side, exposing a hidden tunnel. Zehara squealed. "A secret passage! Best. Day. Everrrr!"

Without a second thought, Zehara plunged into the tunnel. Her steps echoed off the narrow walls, and the few feet of light provided by her torch showed her only that the tunnel continued onward. The tunnel swerved this way and that, descending ever deeper into the hills. After what seemed like hours, the walls of the tunnel fell away and the sound of running water assailed her. A cavern then, with an underground river. No light hinted at an exit to the outside, yet the water must come from somewhere. Zehara turned this way and that, but the torchlight met only open rock floor. With a shrug, she started forward, following the sound of the water.

This cavern was quite large, but even colder and damper than the Vale's dungeons. Occasionally her foot met with great stone icicles growing up from the floor. She imagined there were more above her head, but the ceiling in here was higher than her torch could reach. Finally, she found another wall, and an opening that must lead to the river. The sound of water was almost deafening once she passed into this rock hallway, the rushing brook echoing off all the walls of the cave. The passage was short, and opened into a narrow chamber with the river filling half the space and loose stones piled up alongside it.

Wait... those weren't stones. Zehara frowned and stepped closer, squatting down to shine her torch directly on the items. Boxes, corded up with twine. What in the world could these be doing in an underground cave? Clearly, they were trouble. But also clearly, that only made Zehara more curious. Her nimble fingers made quick work of the knots, and she threw open the first box to reveal a package wrapped in wool to keep out the wet of the cave. This, too, she pulled open. Inside was a pile of the riches, softest furs Zehara had ever seen. Luxurious, certainly, and valuable, yes, but that didn't explain what they were doing hidden in a cave on her land. Zehara dug underneath, but found nothing else in the crate. The next two held the same, and the fourth carried silks. Curiouser and curiouser.

After closing the boxes back up, Zehara turned to the river itself. There was nothing in it, or on it, but she did notice that it emerged from and reentered the cave walls with a clearance high enough to allow a raft to pass. Even a raft laden with several boxes... Perhaps this explained how the crates got here, and how they would get out again, but it didn't explain why.

Zehara made her way back into the larger cavern, and felt her way all along the edges. She found nothing else of note, and certainly no answer to her mystery. Dejected and shivering, she decided it was time to return to the castle. At least she had a new project to keep her from strangling the servants and their useless chapels. She had a puzzle to solve.
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Zehara
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Re: [ORP] The Secret Life of Northvale

Post by Zehara » Thu Jan 28, 2021 10:20 pm

A slight throbbing in her temple and an increased irritableness signaled to Zehara that she had a migraine coming on.

"Blast this paperwork! Why can't I hire someone to do this for me?" she yelled, swiping the pile of reports away from her, which only succeeded in making a giant mess of her desk.

Fortunately, she did hire people to clean up after her. Already attuned to the tell-tale signs of the baroness on the warpath, several maids came scurrying into the room with rags and dustpans at the ready. Zehara flung herself up to stand at the window. Northvale was grey, as seemed to be the usual at this time of year. Grey rocks, grey trees, grey roofs. At least it wasn't drenched in snow today. She'd already been snowed in once, much to her staff's dismay. Cooped-up Zehara was even less fun than frustrated-with-work Zehara. It had become even worse when she tried to escape in the air and discovered that snow and fairy wings do not play nice together. At that point, she'd gone down to the frigid dungeons to scream her frustrations into the rock below. Though, she realized after several hours of servants running away from her that this exercise had probably only served to enhance and not muffle her shouts.

The maids swiftly cleaned up the papers and spilled ink, then hurried away to whatever work they were actually supposed to be doing just now. Martine entered in their wake with, for once, an extremely welcome suggestion. "You could hire a secretary, my lady."

Zehara whipped around, amber eyes alight. "A whatretary?! You mean there are people who will do all this boring scribbling for me? Why has no one told me before?!" She clutched at her black hair, yanking it down in exasperation. Useless, the lot of them. She was perfectly sure that Martine had been intentionally sitting on this little tidbit in order to torture her. The woman's smug expression as she further tidied the pile of parchment made this perfectly clear.

"You'd still need to tell them what to write, but they could deal with the menial tasks on their own."

"Well?! What are you waiting for? Hire me one at once!" Martine dipped the tiniest of curtsies and headed downstairs, hopefully to conjure a secretary out of thin air.

"Excellent, no need to bother with this anymore," said Zehara, cheerfully scattering the papers around the writing room once more. She skipped out of the room, maids entering in her wake like ducklings, ready to clean up the mess they had only just made neat all over again.
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