|Summary:||A re-match between Stafford & Aeliana, with Nedra thrown into the mix.|
|Southern Orchard Road, Kingsgrove|
|Traveling south further the lands of House Groves brings a gradual change of landscape. There are still woodlands, but also extensive and well developed farmlands; fields and rolling grassy pasture lands neatly mapped out by low stone walls, hedges and odd trees. Orchards stretch out far and wide in long neat lines, and when in bloom the air is sweet with their fragrance.The streams are bridged with lich grown old bridges in weathered stone. Where there are groves and copses of trees, they're tamed rather than wild and forbidding. Woods where pigs rut for feed, and peasants gather firewood and lumber as the lord allows. What game there is, is carefully maintained from being preyed on by anyone not of noble birth. As a result, the stags show a great deal of points on their antlers. The communities one passes along the road consists of quaint hamlets, older than time. From the crests of hilltops one can see that further inland on the cape, there are darker woods, and the coast to the north is broken with sharp and forbidding cliffs. To the south the township of Kingsgrove comes into view, a beautiful old settlement by a small stream, surrounded by a low stone wall lower than a man is tall, made less for defense than to keep the pasturing animals from nearly fields from wandering into the town. There's a forbidding wood visible to the east of the road and town.|
|Fri Nov 23, 289|
It was a stretch of Orchard Road that ran between Kingsgrove and Terrick's Roost, winding around the natural countoures; up some the softest rises, around the steeper, while occasionally jumping across streams and rivers by the way of quaint old stone bridges with barely enough room for a single wagon to roll across. Stafford sat across his horse, a fleet footed creature meant to stretch its legs with both speed and endurance, and frowned at his betrothed. The kind of serious and thoughtful frown that came when you viewed someone as a more than dangerous opponent. A lethal advesary, infact. A possible threat to one's manhood, knighthood, and happiness for the rest of one's life.
"Right," he said. "You see the top of that rise, with the two elms atop of it?" He made a vague gesture in that regard. "First one who passes the elms, win." A glance from Aeliana to Nedra, then back again, to make sure both of them were aware and in agreement.
Nedra casually rests one hand on the side of the chestnut colored mare, Jinx by name, as she eyes the rise and the two elms that Stafford gestured toward, her eyes narrowing briefly as she calculates the distance, nodding slowly. "Aye, I see it," she confirms, straightening briefly in the saddle, sitting astride instead of side-saddle. "In the event of a tie, I presume there's some sort of tie breaker event planned, Ser?" she asks, humor coloring her tone of voice as she glances from Stafford to Aeliana and back again.
Atop Stranger Aeliana sat with an innocent, I have absolutely NO idea why it is you're looking at me like that face. Which is to say that her smile was as sweet as honey and her eyes were full of amusement and she winked, too, before she looked back towards where he was gesturing. "And this race is strictly to see who wins, there are no wagers nor bets attached to it." She clarified, just to make it known and pointedly plan. She had already won. He did not need to win at absolutely EVERYTHING.
But he was going to. She had plans for that one already. He was going to win, because…she was going to let him. "You mean, if he tries to say I cheated again? We can simply race from there and then back.
"In the event of a tie, we race back here," Stafford supplied to Nedra with the kind of smile that said he intended there to be no kind of tie. He was winning this one, damnn it, because he had a reputation as a superior horseman to uphold. It was said about the same time as Aeliana said it. He was still chaulking up Aeliana's last victory as the result of some kind of cheat. Or just that his horse had been stung by a bee. Something. It had to have been *something*.
He made a languid stretch atop his mount, a glimmer of amusement in his dark eyes as Aeliana did her best innocent impersonation. "Just for the victory," he confirmed solemnly. "And you.." he bit down his tongue. No, he was not going ot be a sore loser. At least not in public. "won fair and square last time, my Lady. Anything else I might have suggested, merely the heat of the moment." Smile.
"So," Nedra says, lightly threading her fingers through Jinx's mane, "this is just a friendly race. Just to see who wins. No cheating. No wagers. Just a friendly race," she says this in a tone of voice that conveys a serious lack of belief in the ascertains made by Aeliana and Stafford. "So, there will be no jumping up and down, no finger pointing, no sulking, no declarations of 'cheater cheater' afterward, correct?" she clarifies, not really trying to fight back the grin of amusement that is now on her face. "In that case, lets do this thing."
"Correct," Aeliana replies and she has put on her Serious Voice, to go with her Serious Face. "We will all simply be able to enjoy it for the light hearted easy spirited thing that it is and, may the best woman win, of course." See, Serious Voice. No jumping up and down, no declarations…oh wait, that was Stafford's very thing. "Or man." She added, belatedly and smiled in Stafford's direction. "For if any man should best me, surely it should be no other than yourself." Aww.
His gaze had the kind of flat note to it that suggested he was half a moment from frowning, or just rolling his eyes at the two girls' antics. "Exactly, my Ladies," he said with an amibale tone of agreement, as if he hadn't heard any of their disbelief, and had completely missed irony and droll humor altogether.
"If you would do the hors, Lady Nedra? A count down from five. We ride on one." He nudged his horse forward a touch, until its hooves were more or less aligned with the line of pebbles he'd strewn across the dirt track before. As he sank into anticipation for the go, he took on an all too serious expression. Intent, focused, prepared! His body the same, a tight coiled spring of steel, ready to snap.
Nedra aims a smile at Aeliana before aiming another glance at Stafford that conveys even more amusement than the first few glances did. "I find myself oddly inclined to shuffle the order of the numbers, Ser Stafford. Did you say begin the count down at five?" She gives a rather credible attempted at a vapid smile, a brief flutter of eyelashes to accompany the vapid smile before straightening her back, giving Jinx another light pat with one hand, settling in place before she leans slightly forward once more. "Five…" she hums briefly, "four," another brief hum as she fees Jinx dance in place briefly, "three.." she exhales then grins, "two - one!" and gives Jinx a nudge, leaning forward intently on the go!
And Aeliana just sat there. Go Stafford Go!
Staford rolls Animal Handling:Good Success
Nedra rolls Animal Handling: Failure.
Aeliana reached down and gave a gentle pat against Stranger's neck, while he pranced and longed to follow the other horses. But no, no. Aeliana just, sat there and watched them go without a far too pleased little smile on her face.
Stafford was completely winning, and more than happy to win as well. Except Aeliana was cheating, once more. This time she was cheating by not trying, which was just as bad as cheating trying to win. Either way diminished the Young Lord's victory, which was just completely out of line. Rude, was what it was. Rude. Confidently ahead of Nedra by a mile, he still reigned up his horse with a guttural snarl after he'd looked over his shoulder and caught sight of Aeliana atop of Stranger. Who was probably as angry with her as he was.
"Stop!" He growled, then turned his horse around and set his horse into a slow walk back. "My Lady Aeliana, you seem to have mistimed your ride." Crisp disapproval! "It would not be appropriate of me to continue, without offering you another chance." Hmph.
As intent as Nedra is on running the race she clearly forgot to give Jinx the same memo. While Nedra was busy counting down, and humming, her mare was busy eyeing a handy thatch of clover a few yards up the plotted course of the race. On the 'Go' Jinx bolts forward, nostrils flaring, and skids to a halt a few horse-lengths away and buries her nose in the clover. This, of course, promptly sends a handful of fat bees swarming upward and outward, buzzing the alarm at full bug volume. Jinx makes a snort of a sound, sneezing out another fat looking bee and takes a huge bite of the clover, long tail swishing sharply to swat a bee to the ground while another ear twitches to send another bee zinging off.
While all of this is happening Nedra, for her part, goes flying tail over tea kettle and lands a few feet away, the wind knocked out of her upon impact - as impromptu flying lessons usually recommend the process of throwing ones self at the ground and missing. She's silent for a moment, eyes blinking, before the first bit of laughter escapes her, one hand lifting to swat away another fat bee as she starts to laugh harder while picking herself up off of the ground, dusting grass and clover from her gown as she marches over to Jinx and eyes her mare - sternly. "Did I say 'ready,set, snack?'" asked in a rhetorical question as Stafford - who'd been quite clearly winning - turns his horse around and rides back, such a tone of crisp disapproval in his voice.
"How can I?" Aeliana inquired with her head tilting to the side, her eyes instead on Nedra in concern. "Someone had to be here to make sure that she's alright," gestured at the Mallister as if she were in fact responsible for the whole thing and had planned it. She hadn't. She couldn't have. No one could ever plan something like THAT, but it sounded pretty and it meant that for a few more moments at least she could remain free of accusation. But she did indeed ride forward, a slow little canter that drew her up near. "Ah…Nedra, darling….are you alright? Shall we start again?"
"My Lady," he murmured in Nedra's direction, perhaps just a hint of concern when he saw just what had occurred to the Mallister Lady who was technically under his roof. If the Mallisters weren't particularly fond of House Groves already, likely to be less so if the girl broke her neck while horse racing with him. "Are you alright? Would you like to perhaps.. sit for a while, and pass over this one, my Lady Nedra?" He none the less swung off his horse once he returned to where Nedra was dusting off her clothes, a smooth motion of elegant horsemanship. He'd offer her his assistance to get back up onto her horse if she wanted it. What a gentleman!
Nedra calmly plucks a few twigs, some leaves, and a bit of crushed clover out of her hair while alternately favoring Jinx with a look of amusement and sharing the same look up at Aeliana, "But of course," she says, shaking her head slowly as she speaks. "At least we weren't at full gallop this time," she admits, "I twisted an ankle that time." She dusts herself off for a few more moments and nods at Stafford, "I am fine, I promise, Ser Stafford. Trust me, this isn't' the first time I've been thrown and won't be the last, I assure you." Nedra doesn't even look all that upset about it, point of face, more amused AND accustomed to it than anything else as Jinx continues to greedily gulp down the sweet leaves as fast as those teeth of hers can seal around the clover and tear it free. "Greedy glut," she adds in a lower voice as she swats Jinx lightly on the shoulder, gathers the reins with one hand and glances from Stafford to Aeliana then back again, speaking to each in turn.
"You simply must race, Aeliana, no one will believe that my flying lesson is what disrupted the race." To Stafford Nedra says: "Never sit out a race, my lord, always saddle up and jump back into the thick of it. One can't win, after all, if one doesn't play." She gives a small flex of her knees, testing her ankles as well in that movement before she swings back up into the saddle, though she winces as she sets herself in place. While her movements aren't as elegant as Stafford's, it gets the job done, and she gives a small roll of her shoulders, her head tilting left then right, "Though I think one flying lesson was good for the day."
"I suppose," Aeliana says, watching and glancing between the pair with a measure of uncertainty in her eyes, for all that there'd been appreciation on behalf of Stafford's knightly behavior, "That if you're really sure you're alright…" But she still had the sort of keen eye that suggested if there was a genuine ailment it had best be reported now and not later when there was a chance that it'd gotten worse.
A look flashed in Aeliana's direction when Nedra pointed out that nobody believed she had ever really tried, one that said 'that's right, so don't try to pretend anything else'. Flat, that look. With a touch of narrowing, to drive things home with honed sharpness. Of course now if he failed to win, he also had an excuse in regards to her completely sabotaging his first start. Which had been excellent.
"I've heard that one once or twice," came a quiet murmur to the old maxim of getting back up onto that horse. "Of course, I expect a few men who listened to such words of wisdom, did just break their stupid necks. But as your neck could hardly be stupid, my Lady Nedra, graceful as it is, I'm certain that won't pertain to you." He smoothly inclined his head, then got back up onto his horse as well. Gradually he realigned his mount back to the starting position they'd vacated earlier.
Nedra waves one hand in a gesture meant to settle the issue, "I'm fine, and I'll be quite fine tomorrow and the day after. What's a few bruises earned after a good laugh?" is asked as she guides Jinx away from the tempting .. remains of the patch of clover that the chestnut colored mare has greedily chomped down to the roots. Jinx gives a sad snuffle at the remaining roots before returning to stand alongside the other horses at this line of pebbles. "And of course my neck is stupid, Ser," she says with a sudden grin. "But, we all have to die of something, eventually. I'd rather die, laughing, than any other way." She turns and angles a look at Aeliana, "You simply have to do the count this time, Ae, it's only fair."
STOP LOOKING AT ME! OHgod, but she thought it at least, it wasn't said. It was implied, with the way she was suddenly very busy brushing at the loose ends of Stranger's mane with a casual sort of obliviousness that said she'd look up when the topic changed. And there, there it came. "Oh goodness gracious, you're being positively depressing now Nedra. And I blame you, Ser Stafford, for turning the topic towards death. What's wrong with you? We're ladies." Hmmph. And Stranger gave a pointed plow of the earth with his hoof, just short of ruining Stafford's carefully placed out line, before Ae went, "54321!" All in a single breath.
Staford rolls Animal Handling: Success.
Aeliana rolls Animal Handling: Good Success.
Nedra rolls Animal Handling: Success.
Stafford got off to a start that was only half as good as the one he had possessed last, blamed of course on Aeilana and Nedra for completely spoiling what had been an inititally victorously good chase down the length of winding road. With trees breezing about, and pasturing cows looking content in the distance, wondering what on earth these idiots were about. While chewing on clovers and snorting to each other. One even said moo.
That blasted clover! Nedra can feel Jinx practically quivering with excitement as they pass another large clump of clover and she has to nudge Jinx with heels in order to keep her mare going in the right direction! The trees blur by as Nedra starts to laugh, shaking her head as she leans forward, Jinx's mane tossing up in her face as she urges her mare forward, knowing full well that she isn't going to win, but enjoying the chase all the same.
Aeliana's heels hadn't so much touched to Stranger's flanks as she just…let him go like he'd wanted to the first time when she'd held him in check. This time he wasn't forced into check at all, rather she let the courser simply go, pouring on strength in an avalanching burst that tore through the elegantly done ribbons in her hair as if they were nothing. She'd merged down with the horse too, svelte frame stretching up his sleek neck as the pair streamlined ahead. She had -tried- to give it to him. Alas. At least her mouth was shut and her eyes were oh so demurly on the ground by the time the others arrived. No broadfaced grin on her anymore, nopenope.
"You really are something special," he was forced to admit when they finally caught up with Aeliana, a ride which had been a decisive victory on the side of his betrothed. Of course whether he was talking to the girl herself, or Stranger, was a matter of debate, as his eyes were most definetly on the dark menace. It was the kind of horse that could make any sort of knight envious, even if his own mount wasn't something to shy about. Perhaps it was her lightness. She had to weight half of what he did, which mattered on a long distance ride, didn't it?
Rather than gnaw over how he could've lost two good races, he let out a slow exhale, rolled his eyes, and flashed the two of them a wry smile. "I'm going to conceede defeat. Again. If I was a less self assured lord, my Lady Aeliana, I might have doubted this marriage. If only to protect my pride."
Nedra tries, honest, she DOES try, but she can't help it. Stafford's words, after that slow exhale and rolled eyes, just tug a laugh from her. It's a nice laugh, honest, it is. But it's a laugh all the same. "I so, honestly, so look forward to the day of your wedding," and by 'your' she totally meant the two of them.
"Isn't he just," because even Ae puts credit where credit is due. She is proud of the beast and his pedigree and the fact that he'd been meant for one of her more knightly brothers instead of a paultry little girl. His pedigree had been, she'd thought, fitting of hers; where the Charltons had traced their lines back for generation after generation and then that gods be damned to hell stupid split. For a moment the girl's expression looked half bitter, until she pulled it from the past to the present. "I'd not mind having a colt off him, to be honest, or two. He was absolutely precious when he was still little. Devil of a thing to break. I cried for two weeks when Uncle meant to give him away." But they were obviously together now, which was all that mattered.
And where Nedra laughed at Stafford's response, Aeliana smiled. "There is nothing to doubt, my lord. Should anyone have seen, they would think you naught but gracious for holding back you're obviously considerate skill and allowing your betrothed to win." A subtle pass of a promise there, that while she might win at the occasional horse race, she would never attempt to outshine nor outdo him in public nor on any front that might actually cast shadow to his reputation.
"There are a few mares I could consider matching him to," Stafford supplied, since Stranger was an uncut stallion, able then to sire. And probably more than eager to finally get a shot at some of the prime horseflesh he'd so far been denied. "From good lines, but ones I'd say he is more than worthy of." The Groves knight was a man who took horses seriously; his eyes had the sort of gleam to them that came when proper thought was put into an issue. His mouth a thin line pursed with thoughtfulness.
"I was being lighted hearted," he assured Aeliana when she made her own little promise, his eyes touching on the girl with bemusement. One that suggested he had little actual fear of being outshone. "Anyway. I was gracious, wasn't I? In a way I did let you win. I returned." He wore a crooked smile when he said it.
"So do I, my Lady Nedra. We'll have a proper joust."
"Don't forget the bards," Nedra reminds Ser Stafford with another sudden grin of amusement. "You simply must put out a call for as many bards in the area to attend, make it a contest, who can write the most appealing or even the most epic prose in honor and memory of the day." The grin is all sorts of amused, actually, "And maybe even a bard-off," she suggests. "A competition , that is, between bards."
"I'd not mind looking at them when you've a moment," offered, "And their pedigrees," because she would not breed the eager bastard with anything less than he deserved even if he wanted it. Noble men could dabble where they pleased, but horses didn't get that option.
"I was just attempting to offer encouragement and you, my lord, were most gracious. I believe that was the most gracious we've seen him yet, wasn't it Nedra?" Though there was amusement glimmering in her eyes. Yet when the suggestion for a bard-off came, Aeliana could do nothing but chuckle and once more glanced in Stafford's direction, lips curling up in obvious delight. "We'd planned on it, among things," she teased, "I did tell you that we'd everything planned and it hadn't taken us long to do so or to agree on it at all."
"Only the working horses," the ones the knights and nobles of Braeburn House used normally, "are at the Stables back at Braeburn. The breed is done at a couple of lesser manors. It'd be my pleasure give you the tour, and show you a couple of possble matches."
He made a quiet snort in response to Nedra's burst regarding bards, letting Aeliana answer that one. "As she said, we've already planned to have a Bardly contest. Or, let's instead say one of entertainment. Talespinners, singers and musicians may all apply, the finest of which will earn prize and patronage to spread their creations across the Cape and beyond. And yes. It does seem as if we've been of a mind in regards to these things."
"I think the two of you ought to give lessons," Nedra suggests after another laugh is given. "Some pairs take weeks or months to haggle over the details. Or, that is, their families and most especially their mothers. I thought mine was going to lose her mind while arguing over the details for Kamron's wedding to Saffron," she admits. "lists and lists and lists of things and details and music and flowers," she gives a quiet groan at the memory, "oh the flowers. Gods save us from flowers being the wrong shade and not arranged precisely as imagined." A small eyeroll accompanies her words, "So, see? the two of you should teach a lesson on the proper and expedient method of making these arrangements."