|Summary:||Aeliana goes for a ride and ends up on Groves lands…longer than she expected.|
|It's land. It's landish.|
|Oct 01, 289|
It was early yet in the day, when Aeliana Charlton went out for her ride and it was a proper ride for once, too. Far enough in the distance behind for it to be considered -almost- reckless but not quiet there bounced her women in an attempt to keep up. The guards faired somewhat better, though not entirely. And Aeliana? Aeliana was letting Stranger have his head, while the ground stretched out beneath his long strides and all she could do was hang on; head thrown back, hair tousled, the rich sound of her laughter floating on the breeze.
If there was one place where Stafford felt absolutely at home, it was on the back of a horse. More so than anywhere else, including the courts and halls of power, or even in Kingsgrove itself. He had been born to ride, and did so with the kind of absolute confidence that seemed so natural it was barely even noticable as something to be remarked upon. The knight was a part of his mount, moving his lean frame in subconcious synergy with the ripples of powerful motion between his legs.
Not long ago the wind had shrieked against his face, tussled his dark brown hair, blown his cloak with dramatic flourish behind his back. Now, though, his palfrey rode a slower pace. An easy ripple beneath him, the mare catching her breath. She was a beautiful animal, sleek and graceful, made for the long rides that would kill a warhorse. She was perfect for circling the Groves lands, which he did ever so often. ESpecially important these days, with trouble everywhere.
He wasn't wearing armor, but rather huntsman's leathers, the dark green jacket as tough as a leather jerkin, abeit far more fashionable. A bastard sword hung down his hip within each reach. He was not alone; a single arms man kept him company as servant and protector, and -that- man was armed and armored to the teeth.
They climbed up the side of a low tree lined ridge, their siluettes thrown into stark relief against the morning sky as they crested it. He halted his horse, and stood smoothly up in his stirrups, drawing the fresh air deep into his lungs. The scent of grass, and of distant pasture lands. And when he opened his eyes again, he spotted them. Unfamiliar riders coming his way.
"Seems we have guests," Staffored calmly remarked to his man-at-arms. There was no sun in sight, a shroud of misty clouds having blown in across the cape from the ocean, low hanging and threatening to discharge their contents at any moment. The grass and leaves were damp already, though that glisning sheen of moisture came not from rain by simply the residue of the night's collected dew, remaining behind since no sun had peered out to burn it away. Casually he reached out with his hand to brush against the branch of a tree he shared the ridge with, feeling the wetness gather in heavy drops along his fingertips as he ran them over bark and leaf. "I suppose it would be rude not go to greet them."
So the end to his circumference of Groves land, as he steered with his knees his easily biddable palfrey down the other side, to come the Lady's party in meeting. It was only once he was halfway there he saw that it was, infact, a familiar guest.
"My Lady Aeliana," said the Young Lord with a mild curl of his lips, even as he dipped a bow from his saddle with a courtier's elegance. "I was unaware you'd come to visit, or I'd sent an escort." His head tilted slightly to the side as he added softly: "To protect my lands against your influence. I don't need riots in the fields and glens, as every hersman or farmer flees his mundane daily work to catch a glimpse of your beauty, or a whiff of your passing scent. A good thing I came across you, hopefully in time to avert complete chaos."
"Milady, please," came Myrth's low rumbling whine. "Can we not come down and take a break? These old bones aren't made for jostlin' about like this anymore!" The robust woman murmured as she struggled to catch her breath as her mare finally came to a slow; though still some distance from her lady.
"Did you see any markers for a border crossing, Ryken?" The girl inquired, head canting to the side, confusion on her brow.
"It might have been possible if we weren't so focused on trying to catch you instead," came the bemused bark of humor in response.
"Oh now it wasn't that terrible," Aeliana drawled in a faint tease, amusement softening the corners of her lips, before her attention swung towards the pair approaching down the side of the hill. Bow was returned for bow then; dark eyes twinkling. "My influence? My Lord, is that how you manage your peasants - Ply their ears with sweet compliments and hope it works to appease them? I expect something far better than a courtiers rehearsed lines."
"It takes far less effort than whipping them, my Lady," Stafford said as he let his eyes trail consideringly towards her entourage. "Who needs to use a hand when you've got a tongue that does twice the job in half the time?" Once he was done looking over her servants, they were casually dismissed from his attentions completely. Part of the scenery and nothing else, as if they had simply ceased to exist. His eyes slowly returned to Aeliana instead, a mild smile spread gregariously across his lips.
"But still, my deepest apologies if my courtier's manners bore you. I'm certain you've been plied with so much more enticing banter elsewhere on the cape. We're such a comospolitan center of refinement and unrivaled sophistication after all. Rather than attempt to compete, I shall instead merely say I'm most happy to see you once more."
There was something…sharp in the way the lady's eyes narrowed off for a moment, something aware. Something just a little bit dark, at his remark and then it was gone and her smile was easy. "Who indeed, though perhaps I must need see proof to such wild claims, if only, you understand, to validate them," came the tease while it was humor that filled both tone and eyes.
"Though I would not have it said that your manners bore me, on the contrary, as a blade requires a whetstone to hone its edge, so do I. Yet here you are, blunting my edges by saying something sincere," she smiled; head dipping low with his offering. "It is nice to see you as well, my lord. My apologies, as I had not realized that I had crossed your borders. Will you forgive me?"
"I'm certain it could be arranged," Stafford remarked in an airily casual manner.
If he noted anything at all about her sharpened gaze, the dark haired knight did not let it on. Instead he turned in his saddle and gave a wide sweep of his arm, and said: "I bid you earnest welcome, then, to the lands of House Grove. Ten years ago you would have already passed across our borders miles back, but while the land remains, the lines we draw on maps have a tendency to shift this way and that as the years pass us by." His smile turned inward, a slight bitter-amused flavor to it. An old wound, poked at to keep it fresh still.
"Would you like a tour? You can see fair wide across from atop that ridge over there. You can test your banter on the way."
"My forgiveness or your proof?" Came the inquiry, as she let her gaze follow the sweep of his arm; a warm smile touching her lips in response to his invitation for all that it flickered somewhat as he spoke of ever changing borders. "Ah, but that is the beautiful thing of maps, my lord, lines may be drawn again and again, as often as they are crossed. You may claim a Terrick bride yet and see to rearranging them, if…such was a thing you were willing to do," Aeliana offered as she gave a gentle squeeze of her knees and guided Stranger forward, so that she could settle near to his side. "It would be my pleasure to accompany you, though I require at least one telling of youthful misadventure with said tour. To better understand your familiarty with it, of course."
"Let it not be said I am anything but generous in the company of a Lady," Stafford murmured while casting a long sideways look in her direction. "So both."
The powerful courser that carried Aeliana was making his mare slightly nervous, but he had the skill to control her, and soon enough they were riding side by side. The ground was easy, a grassy slope that broke into a rocky ridge only at the very top.
"That was the plan, and you never know.. it might still be. Yet I'll admit to a certain reluctance to try my hand at further Terrick brides so soon after the last one proved such an embarassing humiliation." His expression turned a sour grimace as he spoke of it.
"Youthful misadventure. Whatever makes you think I ever misbehaved? Am I not the very striking example of a haloed knight? Such men do not have shady pasts."
"Speaking of generosity," Aeliana mused, those dark eyes sweeping against his figure once more; lingering against his neck, "I see that you're still enjoying mine," teased, with a faint quirk of those lips. The girl did her best though, to see that his mare was harassed as little as possible as they climbed ever up that ridge; a pleasant smile on her face that said she was ignoring, with every breath, the faint mutterings of her Septa trailing down behind.
"I…did not mean to touch upon so sore a subject, my lord. Though your reluctance is well understood. I have little forgiveness in me for those who embarass," admitted with a faint shrug.
It did not last long, however, where the young lord provoked her laughter; so that it carried out across the ridge clear as a bell. "Such men, my lord are precisely those with youthful misadventure. My Uncle is the most honorable man that I have ever met and there are still tales from his youth that he refuses to share with me. So I know there's something hiding in your own wardrobe."
Stafford brushed his fingers against the finely wrought silver clasps that held his rain proofed forest-green cloak in place about his shoulders. "Yes," was all he said in response to that, though it also came with a glance and a knowing little smile. As if it was the cause of an inside joke.
As they crested the top of the ridge, which wasn't much of a ride, or particularly steep at all, they were given a view of the surrounding lands. Mostly green pastures with livestock watched over by peasentry and their hounds, and patches of darker forestry. It was a pictoresque landscape, almost fairytale beautiful with the rolling hills and the little farmsteads and brown dirt-track roads and paths. In the distance was the coast, visible as a band of blue, and they could see the Roost and the Four Eagles high atop its perch at the edge of the ocean. Smoke drifting up from the town in bands of ephemral grey.
Kingsgrove on the other hand was still hidden.
Stafford ignored further talk of Lucienne.
"Which Uncle would that be, my Lady? If I don't mistake, you have five of them on your father's side alone?" Someone had been studying up on lineages, hadn't they?
"Though we were speaking of the past, not my wardrobe. My wardrobe is full of secrets and hidden skeletons."
As they crested the top of that ridge, Aeliana drew her mount up to a still; so that she could look without having to constantly refocus her gaze. A near dreamy sigh fell then, as the lady shook her head; those dark strands fluttering about on the breeze. "Whilst I realize the hazard that it may on occasion prove," like when the Ironborn came, "I can not help but envy you lot the coast which you enjoy. Do you've the same sharp cliffs that they have in the Roost or…is there, perchance, a shoreline that a lady could actually enjoy without threatening to break an ankle?" The lady inquired, and as he gave no further remark in regards to Lucienne, neither did she.
Instead she gave a chuckle in regards to his question. "Harold," she answered. "My Uncle Harold. And decidedly my favorite of the lot. Between he and Aleister I have been dreadfully spoiled; I could pity the man who marries me if only for that fact alone. And as for your wardrobe…my lord, you would not be a noble if it were not."
"I'm certain we could find a spot for you to wade," Stafford said, before adding with casual flippancy: "And if you break your ankle, I'll merely take it as a wonderful excus to keep you captive in my company all the longer." His eyes took on a bright gleam as he said it. With a calm slip of motion he let himself descend from his saddle. The arms man had already recognized the movement and gotten closer to take the reigns of his mare and hold her in check, while the Young Lord dismissivly took his actions for granted. Instead he moved along the rocky outcropping at the top of the ridge. It ended in a sharp V contour, with a sheer drop on one side, in stark contrast to the gentle slope they'd arrived up by. By his manner he obviously expected the Lady to follow.
"Are you rotten, then?" Since she was claiming to have been terrible spoiled. "I must say you certainly don't look it. I'd expect more reeking pus and suchlike. But as we're talking of reasons why a man aught to be pitied for marrying you, might I inquire into the -others-?" Since her beng spoiled was just one of them.
"Captive, is it? I am not a woman to be kept, my lord. Broken ankles or no," came the counter; as the woman watched him. With a faint nod, Ryken moved to take her reins, so that she could dismount in a flounce of emerald skirts and steady her balance upon the uneven ground. Another moment taken then, as the lady straightened both skirts and her cloak before she moved to join him where he stood. "I would enjoy that. Ser Justin has explained that the rocky shores at the Roost devour the shells when they happen to make it over the sandbar. In truth, it's youthful indulgence that has me asking, if you can believe it. I should like to hunt for shells," it came simply, with an idle shrug.
But rotten? "Of course not!" Aeliana huffed in complaint; reaching out to give a playful swat with the edge of her fan, "Pus? Really." Eyes rolled; nose turned up. It took her a second for his question to sink in. "Oh well, you know, for the life of me, I can not think of a single one." Grin.
"A free spirit, not to be shackled by such minor inconveniances as physical frailty. I stand corrected, my Lady Aeliana. Not to mention impressed as well, for the visual of you gritting your teeth in grim determination as you limp your way back to the Roost. Though I must apologize, for in my mind I cannot help but hear you swearing, too." He made a mock frown upon his handsome features, and those dark soulful eyes of his implored and begged her for forgivness: "Which of course a Lady of your station would never."
He stepped close to the edge, a straight drop a few dozen feet. Like an arrow's edge, sharp at the very tip but flaring out the side with gentler slopes less rocky and promising bone crunching finality. "I know little of shells or sandbars, but I remember picking a few in my youth as gifts to my mother and sister along a beach on the south side of the Cape." A single little tree clung to the ridge wall halfway down. A lonesome prisoner, unable to grow further, unable to move.
He smiled when she swatted at him, leaning back just a touch to avoid being struck, but still close enough to feel the wind of it blow against him. "Not a single one?" He mused, then nodded slowly. In an all too serious voice he said: "I can believe it."
Then he frowned. "My Lady, perhaps not quite so close to that edge. I love a thrill as much as the next, but those skirts don't seem made for careful balancing."
<FS3> Aeliana rolls Reaction: Success.
"Oh never," Aeliana agreed, "Not at all. And if I should say that you were correct…I trust that would stay with you as well," came the reply as she met his gaze; a spark of humor in her eyes when she winked. It lingered as well, even when those dark eyes turned back out over the lands. "Because of course, a gentlemen of your station never tells."
Back to talk of shells and sea then, where the promise of finding shells brought a flash of child-like glee to her face and the quick inquiry of, "Will you show me?" As she turned once more to face him; hands clasped against the stem of that fan in joint delight. "Could se see it today?" As all talk of imperfection faded beneath something so simple as stealing away to search for shells; much as jovial innocence made warnings moot where the stones beneath her feet shifted near in time with his words. It startled her regardless, a high pitched squeak as she jolted; less concerned for keeping her hands on her fan now and more for reaching out to cling against him before she fell. Hopefully he'd not dodge that as he head her fan.
<FS3> Stafford rolls Reaction: Failure.
He caught her wink with a shrewd gleam of amusement in response, and held her gaze for as long as it lingered in his direction. In truth he continued to watch her after her attentions dispersed onto the landscape, too, but in a subtler sort of study. Quietly contemplative. "It would be terribly ungracious of me to tease you with the possibility, and not offer you the tour itself. Though not perhaps today. As I said, it would mean the southside of the Cape, and a ride through the entire of my family's lands before we'd reach that coastline. While I would be delighted to share a whole day enjoying your company, I have responsibilities. If we were to make a plan, though, for a future outing, then I'd be happy to clear my schedule." In his family he was sadly known as the dutiful one.
He'd just started to look in the southernward direction when he heard her squeak. He blinked, looking towards her as he failed to grasp her in return. But at least he wasn't pulling away. In that first cruical moment, it was all on her to hold tight.
<FS3> Aeliana rolls Body: Good Success.
"So my lord offers me a tour and then recants. I must say I had not thought you so cruel, nor….hide bound," the lady replied, a near sigh in the tone. "You are fortunate that I am such an understanding soul," Aeliana replied, "A plan would be most agreeable."
Much like not toppling over the edge, would be most agreeable; for all that he seemed to be the least helpful thing in the world. So the woman clung, with all the steely determination of one not about to be undone by the edge of a cliff face and carefully worked to find solid footing on ground that didn't seem bent on falling out from beneath her.
"Well you're certainly no white knight," came the quip, as Aeliana released him and aimed to step away. It wasn't the ridge that saw her brought low then, but on that first tangled step away; her skirts - as if fate might actually have a cruel sense of humor. It had too, didn't it? Because she sank like a stone into a high flounce of windswept skirts. He might have even heard her swear, too.
<FS3> Stafford rolls Reaction: Failure.
Stafford's expression was genuinely horrified as he stared beyond her and into the empty air that she'd all but toppled into. His heart was pounding hard enough in his chest that they might as well have been charging straight into an enemy vanguard for the stress levels he was experiencing. None of the perverse joy of battle to be found, either. Just sweaty worry as he belatedly joined his hand to hers while she clung to him, drawing her into safety.
"Father's mercy, I swear that's the most frightened I've been in my whole damn life," he told her bluntly, with a laughing edge of hysteria clawing along the edges of his roughened voice. "That includes watching King's Landing burn from a damn alley." He wasn't really aware of what he was saying, which was uncharacteristic of him. He let out a long sigh of release.
"I'm sorry. I wasn't looking, my Lady. Though.." some of his usual calm composure was seeping back into him. "I did warn you. Really, when I marked you a free spirit I didn't think you'd take me on my word, and jump off a cliff to prove just how ethereal you are."
But then she was toppling, and yet again he was slow on the move. At least he followed it up as soon as she showed her weakness. Stepping in, offering the Lady his arm. "Here," guiding her towards a big stone to sit on. "Let me look at it."
Tumbling in a bouncing little roll slowly into empty space, was Aeliana's right slipper. It'd come loose in her skirts when she'd had to cling and worked to get her feet up with no hands to spare to hike her skirts up to a managable level either. That dainty shoe found itself clinging to the lone tree instead, a ready-made nest for the smaller cliff dwelling birds.
"I don't think it's really fair for you to be frightened, is it?" Came the reply, and pain rode its edges however soft. "You weren't the one dangling over the edge. But what's done is……done," she finished after a long pause; one while the mind tried to place a phrase that sounded with the strangest sense of deja vu. Where had she heard that before? Because she had heard it.
"Oh hush, it's fine," there really was no need for an apology. "I hadn't factored in the ground shifting else I might have…oh who am I kidding. I was intent on teasing you and quite plainly forgot to pay attention. My lesson has been thoroughly…"
"Milady! Oh milady! You must have care," Myrth had finally made it down from her horse and in a flustered huff rushed over to the pair's side. "She's weak ankles," the rosey faced Septa told him plainly. "All but broke one as a child she did, bless her, we need something cool and to…"
"Septa Myrth!" Aeliana cut in, "It's hardly anything to…,oh good gracious," grumped in the wake of it, a near calm speech interrupted by the portly septa sweeping an arm beneath one of her own as she attempted to hoist the girl up to her feet, 'And keep your foot up!'
Aeliana took Stafford's arm for balance then, silently mouthing apologies the entire time, while the new upright position made her particularly aware of the fact that she could feel her heart pulsing out a beat in her ankle. That didn't seem normal. "I'm fine. Really. I swear. I can walk well enough on my own."
"Right onto her face she can," Myrth muttered and despite protests saw the chit perched precisely where the Lord directed her. "Now then, let us have a look."
"Septa Myrth, please," Aeliana all but whined, bottom lip tucked in between her teeth, "We really don't need to…" Someone had caught the hem of her skirt though; Myrth most like, because it was the quickest way to put an end to her arguing. "…look at it." Gulp.
Looking always made things worse. Always. It never failed. A thing didn't hurt nearly as bad until you could see just how much it ought to be hurting and her ankle was slowly turning into a grapefruit. But at least the arguments stopped.
"One of us has to be afraid," Stafford said with a wry smile, his calm confidence completely reasserted so that as the Septa swept down upon them with protective mother hen intensity, he only watched on with bemusement. "Since the other so clearly doesn't have the sense to be." A light tease, flowing like a twin companion to the gentle breeze blowing in from the distantly visible ocean.
His eyes settled against the damaged limb, making a sound of sympathy. "The angle is still sound, so I suppose I failed to get quite the full broken limb I was hoping for. A sprain still let's me keep you around, however. As I couldn't possibly let you ride all the way back to the Roost with your leg in agony. I must insist you come see my home, and experience my hospitality until you feel better." A softer murmur, with a sly grin.: "My captive after all."
"I was…," Aeliana frowned at him, nose curling, "I was too concerned with hauling myself back up since you seemed to be unable to," Ae grumped; before a low growl hissed past her lips and she cut her eyes sharply towards her Septa as the woman poked and prodded. "Would you just sto—Ow! Blessed Mother, be gentle, please," she whimpered and made a small sound in the back of her throat before she drew in a settling breath and searched out his eyes with her own.
"You jynxed me," she pouted, while the sound of something ripping came from below. 'It needs to be wrapped, milord, would you rather wrap or keep her still?' Septa Myrth inquired, voluntering the young lord whether he wanted it or.."Captive? You can't…Myrth, you are not helping. The man just said he wanted to keep me captive and now you're offering to help him bind me? Traitors, the lot of you!"
"The sight of you waving your arms around like a little baby bird flapping its wings for the first time.." Stafford began in a droll tone. There was a welcome in his dark eyes when she came in search for them, a safe haven for her stare, calm and a more serious and meaningful counterpoint to the dry wit that followed his teasing murmurs. "Why, it briefly caught me wondering if you couldn't possibly manage to lift off after all. The endearing sight certainly lifted my heart."
To the Septa's inquiery, the Lord gracefully descended to one knee. His hunter's attire was little suited to make bindings of, but he did have a fine pocket cloth that he drew out, then shook clean of the crumbs of a cake he'd finished earlier. Once it was clean, it would do well enough.
"I think it would be most suitable if I bound her, good Septa. After all, it would hardly be suitable if I were to hold wrap my arms around her to keep her absolutely still, would it? No, no." He shook his head dismissivly, while his hands came to rest against her delicate foot.
<FS3> Aeliana rolls Alertness: Good Success.
"Flapping my wings, I wasn't flapping my wings I was trying to keep from falling down a bloody cliff!"
"Milady!" Myrth interjected in a shrill shocked tone that said she didn't appreciate the language in front of a lord. If the sadistic woman also turned a little more sharply to prodding at Aeliana's ankle well…at least she'd stopped harping.
"I'm sorry! Have mercy, please I…I smell strawberries. Was there cake in that?" Ae's gaze turned sharp towards that cloth and the crumbs that flittered down to become birdfood on the wind. "You had cake?" And she didn't get any?
"Please don't make it hurt."
"Of course, my Lady," Stafford replied smoothly to her protests. "Though I'll point out that attempting not to come crashing down into 'bloody' death, tends to be why the birds flap their wings as well. Unless you suppose they do it for shere amusement's sake? They do sing, so it stands to reason they'd dance as well." His tone was completely serious the whole time, his expression a carefuly composed map of absolute neutrality. Only his eyes laughed as he spoke. "In which case I apologize. I should rather have said that you looked like a young chicklet making its first attempt on the aerial dancefloor."
He really did his best not to make it hurt too much as he set about wrapping her ankle. He wasn't, strictly speaking, the most deft pair of healer hands available, but such a rudimentary process even he could pull off. So the hankie was wrapped around her foot and ankle, to provide a bit of temporary stability. "Yes. It was rather delicious, too. It was meant to be served at dinner today, but I stole a little ahead of time. Hrm. Does that count as a misadventure?" The latter came with a quirked eyebrow as he lifted his eyes slowly back up from her leg, his touch still light and warm against her slender appendage, his thumb a lazy stroke upon the curveing sole of tender tissue between the heel and the ball of the foot.
"Regardless, you're in luck. There'll be cake today."
"You're not particularly funny," Aeliana huffed in response to his teasing, "And I don't sing, either." But she was trying not to smile despite it; because the light banter made a pleasant contrast to the dull ache there in her foot, while her stocking kept his fingers at least, from touching against bare skin. It didn't hurt that Myrth was right there, keeping the Lady's skirts out of the way and fighting against the way that Aeliana tried to jerk her foot away every time it hurt. "Chicklets are small little balls of fuzz, my Lord. If I must be compared to one or the other, I suppose at least they're cuter."
Even if he wasn't so smooth at binding as her Uncle, the actions still put her mind towards the man so that her eyes went soft and perchance just a little distant as well. "That depends on wether or not you've a cook who fusses when you take things from the kitchen early," she answered him, seconds before her bottom lip jerked in between her teeth as she stiffled out the sound of a squeak that came from that lazy little stroke of his thumb; her foot bouncing. More than just a little bit ticklish. "…I like cake," she ventured, when it was safe enough to do so without giggling.
"You still have to get there first, milady. And that ankle needs propped up soon," Myrth reminded, not entirely oblivious.
"Then why, my Lady, are you trying so very hard not to smile?" came his question with a level of quiet smugness oozing out. "A chickelet, then. Forever more, in my mind, thus you are decreed to be." His voice was a somber decleration, as befitting a Lord pronouncing judgement upon a supplicant.
His hands lingered for a little while longer, one against the back of her calf while the other rested beneath her foot. Again there was laughter in his eyes whens he'd struggled against her ticklishness, even if he kept it out of his expression. After all, there was a whole entourage around them. "If the cook dislikes my thieving raids, I fear being the Young Lord insulates me against the displeasure. So I can't honestly say."
One last little lick of attention from his thumb brushed against her foot, before he smoothly lifted back up to his feet. "My palfrey is better suited to carry you, my Lady. A gentler gait, for a less painful ride."
"I wasn't," Aeliana offered in a low grumbling sort of tone, while she still struggled not to do that very thing before she finally just…gave up. "Alright fine, perhaps I was. Though I do not know about this notion of being a chicklet forever. Still," the lady sighed, "If it gets me cake…" How could she possibly argue?
And more, how could she complain for the warmth of his hands as well. Something…curious in those dark eyes as they searched out his face then, found them humor in his own and struggled yet to keep her laughter quiet; a task that became easier when he stopped moving his fingers. "Though I don't see why being the Young Lord should spare you," she teased, giving a small smile and looking towards his horse.
"Well, I suppose there should be some benefit to being your captive at least and it is a lovely horse…"
"Soft fuzzed down, cute and full of little squeaks. I should have gotten one a long time ago," Stafford said as he motioned with his hand for the arms man to bring the horse closer. "Certainly deserving of cake, and soft white frostings you can lick off to your heart's content."
With a courtly show of elegant knighthood the Young Lord offered the poor young lady his arm once more. Both arms, infact; one for her to settle against while the other would make to swing in a gently supportive cradle around her slender shoulders, him hovering just a little to the side and behind. Like he had been escorting broken limbed little birds all his life.
"Being a Young Lord has plenty of conveniences. Alas, certain responsibilities as well. Less time to fly about from Hall to Hall and flirt with all the pretty young ladies. Though my brothers have filled me in on occasion."
He'd offer to help her up into the saddle, too, and do it with perfectly gentlemanly helpfulness.
"There's still time yet," the lady countered, to the first, while it was the invitation of frosting that made her laugh. A genuine sound of full blown mirth that, with amusement in her eyes. "Ah, but I am no Young Lady, are you sure there won't be someone to chide me for making a mess of your icing. Of course, I might lie but…I fear my sticky fingers might give me away."
It came with a dramatic sigh, while she huffed a dark strand away from her face and laced an arm through his own; letting him help with her movements while she tucked that foot up like a bird might with a wounded wing and swallowed her pride; hop-shuffling towards the waiting mount.
"Well, I shall be glad of your responsibilities," Aeliana replied, "After all, they've ensured that you were out here for me to happen across. Though I do hope you don't expect me to ride too far." Because carried up or no, she had winced a time or three as she'd moved.
"Sometimes it's easier to come by forgiveness than permission," Stafford said pleasently as he stood on the ground besides her. "But better yet is to simply keep it our little secret, and nobody need ever know." As he stood there, he considered the poise in which she sat, a small furrow working itself across his forhead. He wiped some of his wavish brown hair back in a subconcious gesture.
"Will you be fine to ride by yourself, my Lady?" Since she'd not be able to have one foot in the stirrup, and while the palfrey was docile enough, it was still a strange mount, ridden across unfamiliar lands by a girl in pain. Though he didn't spell it out, there was a silent offer there to have him in the saddle with her if it made her feel more comfortable.
"Mmm, there is that," the lady replied, as she settled herself more comfortably in the saddle; mindful of the wounded ankle. To remedy the problem, the girl went without stirrups at all; hugging in with slender calves and the pressure of thighs and knees.
"I shall be fine indeed, my Lord, do you but care to manage Stranger for me. And if you fret then, simply but let Ryken handle him and take his mount instead," she offered. After all, it'd take but one rumor of that persuasion and who knew who might happen across them as they rode. No. She'd ride. And if she fell well, then he could join her.
<FS3> Aeliana rolls Animal Handling: Good Success.
<FS3> Stafford rolls Animal Handling: Good Success.
Stafford had an obvious hand with horses, for even the naturally suspicious Stranger was with a few soft coos and a calm authorative manner put, if not into friendship, then at least willing supplication for the time being. It helped perhaps that there were no sudden movements, and no screams or shouts or aggression of any kind to trigger his war horse training. After a minute of soft talking, the knight was swung up into the saddle meant for a woman of shorter legs - even if she wasn't that much shorter - and sitting comfortably as if Stranger had been his for ever.
"It's less than an hour's ride, usually, but considering the pace you're likely to set.. I would say perhaps add half that again to prevent it from being a painful trip."
Aeliana watched, those dark eyes intent as the stranger handled well…Stranger. In truth, he was handled by very few souls if ever. Ryken of a certainty, though her ladies avoided him. She could count, truly, if she were pressed to. And those who were newly introduced often found it lead to more trouble than it was worth. That he could do so and not only come away with his fingers intact and sitting proudly in the saddle left her looking at him with something akin to admiration. "That was well done, my Lord Stafford. I am impressed, truly." It was spoken and ment, her tone gone soft for it, though whether it was the man or the animal it was hard to say.
"You have just turned less than an hour into an hour and a half judging me, I hope you realize. Do you promise that I shall be properly tended then I am inclined to make it somewhat more quicker than that. Particularly if she holds a steady gait as you've said she does."
"It was no insult, my Lady," Stafford said mildly, though his eyes rested against the young lady with sincerely. "It's not because I doubt your riding abilities - after all you control a courser with the ease of a knight - that I expect it to take longer than usual. Nor that I doubt your grit and determination. I'm all but blinded by the stubborn pride you're glowing of right now." He manouvered the horse with a few standard directions with his knees, subtly testing its training while they were still at ease. "But there's no sense in courting pain just to prove a point, and I'm not in that big of a rush." A shrug swept over his lean frame, after which he rolled his eyes and made an inviting gesture with his hands. "But by all means, you set the pace. Do you see the farmstead there? Once we reach it, simply follow the track to the wagon road, then it'll take us to Braeburn House."
Of her compliments regarding hish andling of her horse, he merely smiled. A knowing kind of smile that said that, he appreciated the kind of difficulties she might have had letting others tend it, but that he *was* a knight, one who had grown up atop horses. If he had one great talent, it was horses.
"I was only teasing, my Lord," Aeliana offered, a faint apology in her tone. "And I am not that prideful," she huffed, reaching up to tuck her hair in behind her ear. "But a little pain, it isn't always a bad thing, you know. It helps to feel alive. Granted, I think I've felt alive enough for one day, but in general…I find it a useful learning too." Or teaching tool.
So she set out, with a gentle nudge; a pace that was easy, one that wouldn't put too much of a throb in her foot, for all that she was holding her jaw more than just a little tense. Another faint push, at least until she found that point where pushing more became an act of stupidity rather than good sense.
"I've…met more than a few who've admired him, my Lord, but of those who admire, you're the first to swing so readily onto his back."
"No?" In regards to her being stubbornly prideful, he gave a simple shrug as if it was no great issue, and that he accepted her correction. "My apologies for making the assumption." His tone sounded quite contriute, too. All it took to break through that masquerade was a single glance at his eyes, though, which were bubbling with dark laughter.
"Only by invitation, my Lady. Only by invitation." Because as he had said the last time they had met during the Mallister wedding, he was not a man to approach another's horse without it. He had spoken of other things requiring invitation too, of course.
The ride was a peaceful one. Though increasingly wealthy, the lands were not heavily populated. There were farms and pastures and small hamlets that they passed, inbetween orchards and 'groves', and the smallfolk made their obedience with hats picked off lowered heads. Stafford returned the gestures with charming smiles and casual waves.
The smoke from the town of Kingsgrove itself was visible, but rather than continue down the road they picked a different one that lead past thick copses of oak trees, a long treelined avenue that ended with a well manicured green lawn, and Braeburn House itself.
It was a fortified manor house, rather than a tower or a keep, built in stone and wood on four sides, with a small lily-covered moat circling it. A single bridge led into the entrance. It would hold back bandits and small raids, but not an army. "Welcome to my home, Braeburn House," Stafford said with a small smile, at once fond and haunted by the knowledge that for a lordly seat it was a quaint and beautiful home, but no dominant military fortification that awed.
"If memory serves, you had invitation, did you not?" But they were talking about horses, weren't they? Oh yes, surely horses. Most certainly that. Ladies didn't speak of other things, did they. Except perhaps of sewing needles. Though as they moved more deeply into his lands, Aeliana's pace slowed down to a comfortable canter, one that let her do more looking than simply passing by and she reached up to give a fond stroke to the palfrey's neck in appreciation for being such a good sport with someone else atop her as she did.
The change upon the girl's features was a slow thing, but a keen eye might notice it. The way she looked over houses and small folk alike. The way she offered a little nod of her head where it was due and someone's attention turned in her direction but for the most part…for the most part it was as if watching a measure of those 'layers' that settled about her slipping away, because she looked entirely too…relaxed.
"It's beautiful," the woman said and it came with a wash of warmth and appreciation and more than a little of that awe he probably didn't expect. "Absolutely so, my lord. It's almost like riding home," Aeliana said, a soft whimsical sigh to accent the words. Before it faded with a little shake of her head and the lady offered Stafford a lopsided smile.
"I suppose it makes more sense if you know first that by Uncle's home in Kellen is my far and away my most favorite place to be. You're a most fortunate man, Lord Stafford."
"I always thought so," of the place's beauty. "Though you'll have to tell me of Kellen, I'm afraid I'm unfamiliar with it."
The bridge across the moat was made of old stone in gentle arches, the water greenish beneath them on either side, filled with frogs and tadpoles, and small fish, with white waterlilies in bloom floating as they would. There was just enough space for a single wagon to roll across, or for a pair of riders if they weren't shy about being close. Stafford had to bend his head beneath open gap of the gatehouse, arrow slits above where archers could fire upon attackers. It was a small cool ride through a tunnel after, the sound of horse's hooves against cobblestones echoing against the walls all around them.
Then they were free of the shadows, and into the central courtyard and little garden, with quaint facades facing inwards on every side. A boy ran out from the tables to take horses, and soon he was followed by several servants spilling out once a sizable company was spotted from the interor.
"It's much smaller than this," the girl began and had managed to get so far as everyone fitting within a single tavern when she got distracted peering over the edge watching the way the waterlilies drifted over the murkey surface, with the occasional hint of scales seen jarred from hiding by the echo of horses hooves. "I don't think I would want to wade in that though," she indicated the moat, lips quirked up at the corners, before she dipped low and avoided the potiental for fly-away hair teasing into the grim that could so easily run atop the tunnel's arch. And perhaps, just perhaps, she hummed a single note to test the echo.
"I suppose you don't often bring home ladies from your rides, do you?" Ae teased and for all that they may have been arrived; the spry ease with which she'd bounced down earlier was gone now as she lingered atop the palfrey's back, waiting on assistance to see her down so there wasn't added pressure given to her ankle. A task that Ryken would handle most easily, should the lord not care to himself.
"Wading, perhaps not. But then it's not made to wade in, but to drown in. If you're going to drown somewhere, I'd say it's as beautiful a bit of water as you could ever wish to get." Of course the lilies only grew around the edges; the actual moat was considerably deeper in the center, even if it might just be close to needing another dredge. Old moats had a tendency to slowly silt up, and Braeburn House was old. Older than the Keep they'd been forced to abandon after it was torn asunder for treason a hundred years ago.
The lordling was quick off his sadle, handing the reigns over to the stable boy with a sharp word of warning to leave its handling over to Aeliana's staff. He went instead to palfrey's side, offering Aeliana his support down from the mount. Hands, strong arms and dependable shoulder, all at her disposal while he looked up at her.
"No, I can't say I do. Truthfully I've something of a reputation as the recluse, my Lady." The way he said it suggested he found it amusing rather than an insult. "Come across my brothers, and they'll remark upon it constantly. Then again, better brothers would have helped share the burden." He said it with a snort.
It was still beautiful, more than beautiful truth be told and there was something charming about the lilies. "So, it's a sweet death, innocent; a ladies method, almost." It came on a thoughtful musing. "Still," a faint nod as she straightened once they'd cleared the tunnel, "I approve." And no more a compliment could be offered than that, truly.
Ryken stepped forward to collect the reins from the stable boy then, when the Lord went to the lady instead. Offering an easy smile for the youth before he settled back to wait directions from the lad as if he were a master proper.
Aeliana, meanwhile, brought a leg over and slid down from the palfrey's back and into the young lord's arms; one of her own braced over his shoulder to help with her balance and still ended up doing an awkward hop for it, as she tried not to whimper in his ear.
"A recluse, my Lord, truly? Something will have to be done of that, though with such a beautiful home it seems an easy enough thing to remedy. And I would love to beg a tour and play a proper dutiful guest, but I am missing a slipper and pretending, gracefully, that my ankle isn't actually throbbing as much as it -is-, so if I might instead beg some place to rest…"
"When I'm at home," Stafford confirmed with amusement as she settled in against his lean frame. "Though most of my life has been spent in the various courts of the Reach, truth be told. I squired at Old Oaks, and I've had a preference for traveling the south as time and oppertunity has afforded it. Tournaments, mostly, but I've found that friends made in the tilts are useful outside of it, too." He continued to provide her ample support, making it a natural and confortable thing. Him there to offer assistance as she needed, but never pushing it.
"Mistress Jayna, please let my parents know we've a guest. Lady Aeliana Charlton."
"They're in the township this evening, m'Lord."
"Ah, then when they return. Have a room for the Lady prepared, and space for her entourage. They'll be staying the night. Some refreshments to the Solar as well, and we'll need someone to take care of the Lady's sprained ankle."
Stafford slid his gaze back in Aeliana's direction, them made to guide her towards the great twin doors of the main wing. The interior was a lot of stone, muted darkwood, oak, and the collections of generations of Groves. Art, old weapons, heraldry, tapestries, etc. All of it clean and in good repair. Nothing allowed to mold to pieces. Rather than take her to the main Hall, he'd instead walk her down a narrow corridor on the way to the Solar, up some stairs and into a rounded room overlooking the moat, and pasture fields in the distance. Cows grazing.
"You travel the tournament circut, my lord?" The question pulled in an almost distracted tone while she struggled to keep her steps balanced so that her weight didn't pull his off balance and topple them both onto the ground. "I thought you said that you were a recluse?" She teased; near bouncing along to keep herself upright.
"Milady if we're staying…," Myrth said, hustling to keep up while Rayleen took a moment help tend to the horses. "You'll need things. We'll need things, milord," the Septa's attention shifted, "Milord we really don't need to stay…"
At which point Aeliana made a small sound and while she might have wanted to cut eyes towards the woman, she refrained long enough to turn her attention to the Lord Stafford instead. "You really needn't keep us so, my Lord. I'm sure that if I simply rest for a spell I'll be perfectly fine," she assured; even as she took in the inside of his home.
He didn't do her a kindness with the stairs though. Because she was forced to cling to him and the wall, rather tightly for support to keep herself from falling or more, further damaging herself. It meant she took that climb in silence too and there were lines of strain about the corners of her lips by the time they'd reached the top. Those dark eyes searching around almost desperately for a chair to settle herself into.
"I did. It's been over a year now since the last one. I missed the Tournaments of Seagard and the Twins due to a shoulder injury I took in the war," the one that had upended the entire country, due to one man's greed. "I'm not certain if I'll be leaving Kingsgrove again anytime soon, either. I might have healed, but things are.. in flux, in these parts. A bad time to be gallevanting around the Reach. Even if their wines are lovely, and their tournaments equal to none."
As for staying: "By al means, I shaln't force your stay, my Lady. Though you are welcome to it. If there are things you require, your servants should ask mine. A rider can be sent to the Four Eagles Tower to pick up any absolute necessities, as well." It wasn't so long a ride that was impossible.
tIt was not a long climb, at least, and he made sure they moved slowly and that she had all the support she needed to make the pain as little as possible. The solar was a wide round room, with two hearths and a shelf with some books on it. There was an old family sword on the mantle, while the furniture was made for comfort, privacy and intimacy as opposed to the formality of the Hall. The chairs were deep and plush, and Stafford helped to settle her into the very finest of them.
"I enjoy watching tournaments as well, when I could talk my Uncle into taking me out to see them. And sometimes even when I couldn't. It's a pity that good entertainment seems to have gone…stale in the wake of rising nonsense. One would think that men would find better things to do with their time instead of waging wars. Present company excluded, of course. And disbatching a rider would be…nice. Rayleen may give over a list." And there was nothing in that room that couldn't be searched, "Though…though I was supposed to have brunch with the new Nayland regent today, which seems a bit..out of the question. Perhaps, perhaps I might stay on with you here, while my ankle heals. The lady was supposed to be coming down this way to see you."
Her smile had mischief in it then and for all that she'd clung and breathed in, perhaps a bit too deeply of the scent of him. She still toppled down gratefully if not gracefully into the chair that he delivered her; a content sigh spilling past her lips. "You…spend a lot of time in here, don't you, my lord?" Inquired, when she finally settled her breath and fought against the urge to drape her legs over the arm of the chair like she so desperately wanted. So instead she begged for a footstool.
"Wars are not nonsense, my Lady Aeliana," Stafford said with firm conviction. "They're the purest resolution of argument, the utter extremity of the political game of Houses and Thrones. There is a beauty to war, if only because it discards all the illusions and delusions of conduct, and lays bare one very important truth: In the end of the day, if you're dead, it doesn't matter how 'right' you are."
Cracks formed in his expression soon enough, though, revealing a crookedly charming grin as he added: "Though I'll admit that while war is anything but nonsense, there's plenty of wars fought -over- nonsense. And the skirmish between your House and the Naylands strikes me as one that could have been avoided. Now the Naylands have scraped coffers, and a torched town, and you have a wounded pride and a lot of dead men." He shook his head.
When she requested her footstool one of the servants who had followed them up to the Solar was quick to supply one, and soon enough there were fruits and light cheese set out, too, as well as some fresh pressed apple cider.
"Is she now?" Of the Nayland. "Well, I should be glad to have you. By all means, stay. And yes.. I do prefer the Solar to the Hall. I like the view," he made a vague gesture, even if it was mostly oak trees and pasture lands. And cows. A lot of cows. "And the quiet peacefulness."
"There is a waste to war," Aeliana countered, "This I firmly believe. That one could find resolution a whole lot quicker and with a loss of less men if one simply dealt a few very carefully orchestrated deaths and made sure that the new pieces were lined up waiting in the wings. Though I will not argue that truth. Fools may raise the blind up to follow them, but…if ever there had been but one brave enough in the dead of night with clear purpose, why, we would live in a much different world."
"I do not believe in wasting lives, my Lord. The skirmish between the Highfield Charltons and the Naylands was precisely that. Now Stonebridge hurts for being half turned to ash and Highfield as well as those places in Hollyholt from which levies were pulled hurt as well, short men who could have worked farms." And there is heat in her voice, fire too, where the man has touched on a decidedly sore point. "So now instead, Highfield becomes a place that the smallfolk will be leery of going to, for the rumors that will float about it's lord, while Stonebridge still sits near center of the trade circut. They can make back what they lose in tarrifs, least the Houses carve out new roads around them to avoid it. It was a…"
"Milady." Myrth's voice, a bit pointed, but it helped deflect from the slowly rising ire. Aeliana rememebered herself.
"My apologies, my Lord. Your invitation and your hospitality has been most kind. And the view here quiet peaceful. Until you invited me in to ruin it," she teased.
"There is no honor in assassination," Stafford said with a shrug as he settled down into a comfortable chair of his own. "And not so easy as it might sound, either. And perhaps, too, there is a hesitation in employing such methods for the simple reason that once Lords start killing Lords, who knows who is next? Nobody wants to live in complete paranoia about every meal, my Lady Aeliana." Inbetween speaking, he had thrown off his cloak and demanded a wet towel to clean himself up with, and another for the Lady.
"But you're right that wars lay waste. A wise noble pursues the most efficient means to acquiring what he wants. War is rarely that. It's best reserved for last resort. But it has its place. Some things are more important than peasent lives, or towns. Like your reputation, and your House's reputation. Like honor, some would say," though perhaps not him? "Like simply winning."
His head threw back with laughter when she apologized, and he brushed it away with easy dismissal. "Forget it, my Lady. Nothing to apologize over. A girl who speaks her mind is nothing if not an engaging company. Though I'll say of the Naylands and Stonebridge; if they squeeze trade too much, they'll end up with less coin than they started with. They'll want the merchants to start moving more goods, n ot less. But then short sightedness has never been in short supply with the Naylands, has it?" He snorted. "And what will the Charltons do if they're squeezed out of the rivertrade completely? I see smuggling, and I see 'banditry' to prove the point."
A knock on the solar door, and the Maester appeared. "I understand the Lady sprained her ankle?" He asked. Stafford was on his feet with unhurrired grace and nodded. "Yes. Please, see to our guest. Lady Aeliana, when you're done the rooms should be ready for you. I'm sure you'll want to refresh and rest a little. If you have any needs, please speak to a servant and they'll see to it. I've some rounds to make myself, but I'll find you later." The Young Lord Groves withdrew with that.
"Thank you, my Lord," Aeliana replied as the Young Lord moved to excuse himself and left instead with the company of a Maester. Beneath his poking painfully prodding fingers the girl's shrill hiss could be heard down the hall outside the door.
"You're lucky it's not broken, my Lady," the Maester replied, "Though it was a near thing. You'll want to stay off it for a few days to keep from further damage. Here now, let's get you properly wrapped…"