The solar is a smaller chamber where those within can be alone and away from the hustle, bustle, noise, and smells (including cooking smells) of the Palace Kitchens and the Grand Dining Hall.
It is much smaller than the dining hall, because it is not expected to accommodate as many people, but it remains a room of comfort and status. This solar features a fireplace, decorative woodwork, and tapestries hanging upon the walls.
The Arl of Denerim was ushered into the solar by one of the palace servants. Upon entering the empty space, he quirked a brow at noting he was the first to be admitted. Given his complicated relationship with the Crown, he hadn't had that many invitations to sup with the king. Rarer still, in such intimate settings. He waited until the servant left and he was wholly alone to soak up the moment. It seemed to Arl Vaughan Kendells that his estate was on the rise. Finally. He even strode about the room, as if he were its lord.
That moment was fleeting, however. For it was none too long before a second guest was ushered into the room with as much courtesy, if not more - to his annoyance - than he had been.
"Bann Nicola," the arl acknowledged the older, finely dressed woman who'd arrived albeit he didn't move a muscle to properly greet her. He remained aside a tapestry, eyeing it as if appraising its value rather than craftsmanship, "I was not made aware that there would be other guests."
Nicola, as far as Vaughan Kendells was concerned, belonged to the up-jumped nobility. Nicola's great-great-grandmother Catherine, however, won great acclaim and wealth fighting the initial Orlesian invasion of Ferelden. Catherine's prestige was such that, when she settled in Denerim, she was granted a sizeable estate. Catherine's daughter Dralla was raised with every luxury, which left her spoiled. By her mid-thirties Dralla had become the Grand Cleric in Denerim, but she was forced out with the scandalous revelation that she hosted many lovers—often at the same time—within the chantry itself. Those were the days when the Orlesians had seized Felderen's throne, and Dralla's many enemies both within and outside the Chantry seized on the opportunity to topple their rival and destroy the Baranti reputation. Dralla earned the unenviable sobriquet "the Whore of Denerim" before she was eventually assassinated by enemies who were never brought to justice. Dralla bore a daughter out of wedlock before her death, though. Her daughter Nina was raised and then employed at the notorious Denerim brothel known as the Pearl, completing the family's social fall and confirming her mother's unfortunate nickname. Nicola was born to Nina, her father unknown, and was raised by the whores at the Pearl.
"Of course not," the older woman replied. Her tone was deceptively gracious, "We are but servants of the Crown, Arl Vaughan. Are we not? It is not for us to know the king's agenda. Your father knew that."
Unlike her mother, Nicola had always evinced a fierce pride. Research in her youth revealed that Nicola's family still technically belonged to the bannorn and thus she was eligible to hold lands, even though her mother had always been told otherwise. Nicola kept this information to herself as she matured. She made it a point to meet and befriend the important people in the city, educating herself in the social graces of her betters and keeping her background as much of a secret as possible. When she was fifteen years old she married one Ser Duniel, a wealthy but savagely ugly knight from the south. He died three years later of a sudden illness. The newly wealthy Nicola set about rebuilding her family in earnest, making a name for herself as a charming hostess and canny politician. She married again, this time to the son of a bann with greater prestige but less money than herself; he lasted five years before he was slain by bandits outside Denerim. Nicola's public wrath was stunning to behold; each and every one of the bandits was brutally hunted and executed. A popular song about her vengeance that was widely performed by the capital's minstrels ensured public sympathy for her plight. During the late Urien Kendells' term as arl, and both late Theirin's - Maric and Cailan - respective reigns as kings, Nicola became a folk hero and one of the most popular and interesting nobles in the city. She publicly dedicated herself to good works within Denerim, establishing orphanages and funding new chapels in areas too poor to afford them.
Bann Nicola Baranti strode into the solar. Her dark gown of velvet and fine lace did not hide the frail frame beneath. "The last decade must have been quite the adjustment for you," she told the arl, deciding upon a seat for herself, "Your father cast quite a large shadow. You must miss him terribly."
Vaughan resisted the urge to wince at the bann's passive aggressive comparison between himself and his father. He didn't want to give Nicola the satisfaction.
Despite her advanced years, Bann Nicola was as sharp as a dagger and the matriarch of her household. Her reputation in Denerim was nearly unassailable. Vaughan Kendells knew the truth, however: Bann Nicola was a conspirator extraordinaire, a perfectionist whose plans were laid years in advance, who considered every eventuality to block every possibility for failure. She excelled in setting her enemies against each other while remaining above the fray, spinning conflicts between others into opportunities for House Baranti to carry out public acts of largesse. The arl knew the bann to be utterly without morals, she who hungers for—and glories in—public love and broad acclaim. Nicola, as far as Vaughan was concerned, was a psychopath whose glittering madness was predicated upon ensuring that her family's good name was never sullied again. Some would say the arl and the bann were alike in these regards, but Vaughan would never admit to that. The arl thought about having the bann killed, but Bann Nicola's death would cause chaos in Denerim. She had her hooks into everything and, to his everlasting annoyance, she was far better loved than he by the people.
"My father, yes," he responded, just as cleverly, as he selected a seat in kind, "A great man, indeed. We were all blessed to have known him." Vaughan had no qualms about offering up the not-so subtle dig where Nicola's parentage was concerned. He folded his hands upon the table as he sat down, looking rather pleased with himself.
"How is your beloved grandson?" he inquired, knowing that this, too, was a sore spot for the bann. She voraciously consumed the love of Denerim's people, but also coveted it. In more recent years, however, her grandson had begun to outshine her. Adric Baranti was an accomplished warrior, a handsome and charming womanizer, and something of a local celebrity after foiling an assassination attempt on the king.
The power dynamics in Denerim were complicated, both Eamon and Alistair had come to find in the years following the end of the Fifth Blight. Unbeknownst to the then-Arl of Redcliffe, Aedan Cousland had made a furtive deal with Vaughan Kendells in exchange for the latter's supporting Alistair's claim during the Landsmeet of 9:31. Had he learned of it sooner, Eamon would not have endorsed the arrangement at all. There were plenty of rumors circulating in Denerim pertaining to Vaughan's debauched and unscrupulous preoccupations. Far more sinister were the rumors surrounding Urien Kendells', Vaughan's own father, fate as well—which was something the king's cautious chancellor had been secretly investigating without the monarch's knowledge.
The chancellor made his way toward the solar, neither at a rushed pace nor a lethargic one. With regards to the former, he merely had no enthusiasm for the audience awaiting his arrival. Yet, as concerns the latter, the aging chancellor had been determined to present himself as hale before the court—lest anyone question his place at the king's side. In some ways, he had felt restored after awakening from his so-called illness. Or, perhaps, it was merely as simple as having a new lease on life after such a close brush with death. Regardless, Eamon opted for ceremonial armor in his chancellery's livery. In many ways, his doing so sent a firm message as to the rigor with which and where-to his loyalties remained.
He stopped just outside the solar's closed doorway, and let out a long and weary sigh after hearing the petty voices within. Eamon had fully intended to arrive before Nicola Baranti as he well knew that placing the Arl of Denerim and the Bann of Denerim in a room together, alone with one another, was akin to smoking a cigar near a gaatlok barrel.
"Your father cast quite a large shadow. You must miss him terribly," he heard Nicola prod.
"My father, yes. A great man, indeed. We were all blessed to have known him," Eamon pinched the bridge of his nose at the very sound of Vaughan's voice, "How is your beloved grandson?"
Kendells' last jab seemed as good a cue as any for the chancellor to make his entrance. He straightened his posture and hardened his jaw before offering a single nod to the guardsmen at the solar doorway. One of the guards pushed the door open, announcing as he did so, "Chancellor Eamon Guerrin—"
Eamon raised and waved a hand, dismissing the need for the introduction. He entered the room confidently and moved to stand at the head of the table. He addressed them both with the utmost civility, if wholly lacking in warmth, before taking his own seat, "Arl. Bann."
He was obliged to greet the Arl first, given Vaughan's status in the echelons of Ferelden nobility. Eamon loathed the man, but to denounce Kendells after his very public support of the Crown would result in a precarious political situation for the king. Alistair's coronation had not been a landslide. The votes between Maric's son and Cailan's widow had been neck and neck, and Eamon shuddered every time he was forced to credit votes like Vaughan's as having been essential for Alistair's kingship. He had better hopes for Alistair's reign, but much of the country remained divided even after Anora was moved to house arrest. Even as they all sat in the palace solar, Eamon knew the king and a number of Ferelden forces were yet fighting Mac Tir loyalists—those calling themselves the Scions of the Land—in Gwaren.
There was much to discuss, but Vaughan's last barb toward Nicola had struck a nerve with the chancellor. He folded his hands upon the table and looked at that Bann with genuine interest, asking, "How is Adric?"