|The Path to Stonebridge|
|Summary:||Danae falls off a horse. Hardwicke does not catch her.|
|Date:||December 7, 2011|
|Outskirts of Stonebridge — Stonebridge|
|The trails are worn and well tended here and the fields on either side are lush and full of wildflowers amidst the lightly scattered trees of the central Cape of Eagles. A few packed dirt trails converge with the main road from outlying hamlets around Stonbridge.|
|December 07, 288|
It is late in the morning when Hardwicke is growing close to completion of the journey from the Roost to Stonebridge. He's paused right on the outskirts with his destination in sight, though not, from the looks of it, because he needs the break: instead, he's standing near Delylah's hindquarters, lifting her back leg to work out a bit of debris that's become a bother in her hoof. His plain leathers are fit for travel, though he still wears the markings of House Terrick, and his longsword is visible near his mare's saddle.
The crackle of breaking branches and the hammer of frantic hooves across the packed earth shatters the crisp quiet of late morning. Erupting from the slim cover of trees, a dappled mare charges towards the pair as foliage is trampled beneath her wake. Her ride, the small blonde figure of Danae, manages to get enough of a handle on the beast to stop her from directly colliding. A shout and a firm hand on the reigns does stop the mare's momentum, but also causes her to rear sharply unseating her rider.
Delylah shifts uneasily, pulling her leg from Hardwicke's grasp, but a touch and a word from her rider keeps her from spooking. Hardwicke turns quickly to the less calm horse, reaching for the dappled mare's reins to keep her from bolting, and beginning a gentling mantra of quiet words to try to calm her. "Whoa there, girl," he murmurs, stroking at her neck. "Quiet down there. That's right." It's only after the mare looks a little less nervous that he glances at the fallen blonde. "Are you all right, miss?" he asks, a bit more brusque and less warmly gentle than he spoke to the horse.
The puddle of dusty skirts and tangled blonde hair on the ground murmurs something in the affirmative of her own well-being. It's a slightly pained acknowledgement, the pressing of hair back from her face revealing blue eyes to be wide and a little scared, cheeks flushed equally with terror and adrenaline. "Yes, thank you," Danae manages shakily, licking a dot of blood away from where she bit through her lip. The cloth is expensive, although it is difficult to tell through the dirt, but the tailoring is simple and leaves the only real note of wealth in the well-make of her sadle and the glimmer of jewellery around her throat. "Thank you…Ser of Terrick?" The house marks and the sword he carries make for her guess.
With Danae's mare settled enough, Hardwicke leaves her to move back to Danae and offer the lady an arm up. "As you see. Ser Hardwicke Blayne. What spooked her?"
"Danae of Westerling," the blonde replies breathlessly, courtesy present in the incline of her head despite the quiver that remains in her hands. That arm is gracefully, and gratefully, accepted. She raises to her feet slowly and shakes her head, jaw set hard. "I am not certain, there was a loud sound…and she bolted."
"Ah." Hardwicke's jaw works briefly, and then he says, voice a touch stiffer, "My lady." He makes sure she's settled on her feet before pulling back with a faint frown. "Well, that's instinct enough."
Danae waves her hand slightly at the addition of his 'my lady,' tacked on as it. The release of him leaves her hands free to slightly brush over her skirts, checking for injury in the process. "Indeed. My apologies for the rude introduction, Ser Blayne, it was not my intention to draw you from your business. I had hoped to let Delphine calm herself by letting her run out her startlement," she says, voice leveling for all that she cannot control the tremor of her hands as she moves to reach for the reigns. It is the solution of an uneasy rider, if one respectful to the beast.
"They need direction and distraction," Hardwicke disagrees instantly. "They'll forget what's spooking them soon enough if you give them something else to do." He frowns as he notices the tremor and takes Delphine's reins first. "If you're scared," he tells her, "she'll be scared."
Swallowing thickly, Danae nods and retracts her hand from the reigns to draw it back to her breast with a tremorous smile. "As you say, Ser." The shifting, spirited mare is eyed with trepidation as the blonde woman gives herself a moment to settle her own fears, watching Delphine's hooves. Delphine decides that nibbling on Hardwickes hair is an acceptable sort of horse-hello in the meantime, whinnying softly. Hello, man-person. She doesn't appear to be a very well trained horse for such a hesitant rider. "Quite like people then," says Danae, attempting to distract herself perhaps.
"As you say." Hardwicke frowns at the hair-eating and eases the mare's nose away. (Delylah, meanwhile, is all well-behaved, though she does bend to munch on a nearby tuft of grass while she waits.) "Not of a particularly comfortable seat?" he guesses of Danae.
Delphine pushes back at Hardwickes hand in a bratty fashion, disagreeing purely to see if he'll give in, acquiescing only if he persists. "Ah, no Ser. I am not. I prefer something rather more solid beneath my feet," Danae admits, having the grace to loo wryly pained at the admission."I can do slow and easy." And that is about it.
"You should have a better-trained mount, m'lady," Hardwicke says frankly, nudging Delphine's head away a second time. "I can't imagine she's helping."
Fiiiine. Delphine drops her head, nibbling at the grace with what might be considered a positively petulant expression for a horse. "She certainly has a mind of her own," Danae agrees, shooting a look at the horse. "Presents given for the vigor are not the most considerate, I ought to look into such."
"A different mount might suit," Hardwicke agrees a bit dryly, finally patting Delphine's neck now that she's learned her lesson.
"I believe that you are all too correct. For now, I will have to remain with this one until I can find a substitute." Drawing a hand back across her hair, Danae idly feels for any leaves or twigs there that may have taken root there as a Delphine positioned chapeau. A few are found and tossed aside, one pocketed for interest. "Or at least find someone who knows more about them than I." The curve to her mouth is self-deprecating in its humor. Delphine flicks her tail at the pat to her neck, eying Hardwicke's hair against but refraining.
Eying Danae with a critical eye, Hardwicke apparently deems her calmed enough to hold over the reins to. "She'll sense it if you're uncomfortable, and she'll take advantage of it," he advises her.
Although she glances from the horse to Hardwicke uncertainly, Danae does retrieve the reins from him with a low exhale of breath. "There…girl," she says awkwardly, looking up at the rather large horse. Good horse?
"She's as dangerous as your nerves make her," Hardwicke says, his voice blunt as he watches her uncertainty with a hint of exasperation. Why can't you be instantly improved, Danae?
"She is an animal this is about 4 times my size and distinctly large hooves, Ser," Danae replies dryly, reaching out to kind of half-pat the horses neck in a 'please don't bite me' sort of fashion. There is nothing sharp to her tone, quiet and cautiously low. It doesn't work like that.
"Yet you can still convince her you're her mistress." He watches her a moment, his gaze somewhat skeptical as she pats the horse. "You're a long way from home, m'lady."
"Perhaps." Danae isn't quite so certain of that as Hardwicke is, experience has taught her otherwise. She moves to check her saddle and bags, after giving the horse another tentative pat on the neck. Good horse. Do not eat me. Please? Even dirty and snarled, her movements are ever gentle and careful as she checks over the saddle and the horse, herself. Delphine looks no worse for wear despite her spook. "Closer to my one of the moment, in Stonebridge, but yes a length from the Crag. Yourself as well, Ser. Business in town?"
Relieved of one horse, Hardwicke looks back to his own. She's still waiting placidly, but he does move to gather her reins up. "Aye," he says to the question, though he doesn't elaborate.
"I would not keep you from it," Danae offers, giving him permission to take off should his knightly duties so call him into town at a faster pace.
"I am not pressed for time." Hardwicke glances back at her with a sort of — reluctant consideration on his expression. "If you should need an escort, m'lady…"
"Duty before courtesy, Ser. Please feel no need to linger on my account, it is a pleasant enough walk into town and my guard is likely to meet me on the way," Danae replies plainly, shooting him a smile.
"You should not be traveling alone, m'lady," Hardwicke says, stubborn despite his reluctance. Chivalry is inconvenient.
"I already look as though I have been beset by brigands, Ser. I hardly think that more might come to call," Danae retorts, pulling a stick from her hair. "If your chivalry insists it, I will not deny beyond this but I warn that I shall be slow accompaniment."
Hardwicke exhales a slow breath through his nose, but responds, "Very well. It is not far from here." He adjusts his grip on Delylah's reins and arches his eyebrows expectantly at the noblewoman.
Danae inclines her head, lifting a blonde brow before folding into a concilliatory curtsey. As you say, Ser Blayne. Once she has risen, she takes the reins in hand begins to walk back towards town, clicking her tongue lightly at Delphine.
Hardwicke is a rather stolid presence without the horse-centric conversation to guide him. It is a long minute before he says anything at all as he walks along beside Danae. Eventually, and a bit awkwardly, he asks, "What brings you to the Riverlands, m'lady?"
Content in quiet, Danae does little in that minute to suggest conversation nor smalltalk, taking in the flora of the area with interest as they walk. At Hardwicke's question, she turns to him with the slight curve of a smile as she answers, "Trade interests, Ser. The Crag is looking at opening up their routes to include others and it was decided that I ought come to the Riverlands."
"Ah." Hardwicke's poor talent at small-talk quickly becomes apparent. There's another pause. "What do you come to trade?"
"Ventures and lines of supply, small goods as well from the West. Ores and metalled goods mostly," Danae offers, tipping her head as she examines his features. "Your house's Ser Jerod mentioned that it might be of interest."
"Ah." Hardwicke's brows lift. "Then I wish you luck of it. Lord Jerod is a — fair man."
"We shall see. I would not impose where it is not wished," Danae demurs, pausing to pick what a small wild weed from the side of the road before continuing at their pace. "Are you of this region originally, Ser Blayne?"
"Aye, m'lady. From the Middleton hold originally, but I came to Terrick's Roost as a squire and have lived there since," Hardwicke replies, peering at her weed-picking.
"That is a long, well service then. This is a beautiful region. It is so green and lush, even with the coastline nearby." The weed in her hands is long, breaking into separated bursts to form its flowered heads. "Oh. Fennel, I believe. It is said to be good for the eyes and ailments," Danae explains, smile warm. She shows it to him briefly, turning the stalk over between her fingers.
"I'm glad you find it to your liking," Hardwicke says with a bit automatic courtesy. He arches a brow. "Fond of weeds, are you?"
"Fond of plants and their uses, yes. Sometimes that means a weed or two picked along the roadside," Danae admits with ease.
"Why remove all the mess from your hair, then?" Hardwicke replies, smirking.
"Do you think it suited me so much the better?" Danae wonders impishly, the itch of a grin forming at her mouth. "Very well then. There." The fennel, roots and all, is tucked behind her ear with a laugh. "Perhaps it shall take foot and I will have the finest of accompaniment to my gowns."
Hardwicke scowls at her impishness and looks onto the path ahead, as if annoyed by the implication he paid her a compliment. "Well, if you're so fond of plants, you might as well keep whatever you gather."
Although he scowls, Danae simply shakes her head and leaves the plant where it now lays. "They would be rather less useful as purely ornamentation. There would be little point in gathering them at all then. I will the brighter of their ilk to the gardens."
"Well." Perhaps losing ground in the talk of plants, Hardwicke falls silent as they walk.
This silence is kept a little longer than their last, feet drawing them nearer on the path into Stonebridge. "Is it a length ride to the Roost from town," Danae wonders, casting a glance back over her shoulder at the direction from which they have come.
"Only a few hours, m'lady," Hardwicke assures her. "An easy trip."
"Ah. Well, then perhaps I will be able to manage it, provided this lady does not attempt to unseat me upon the ocean's length." Danae glances at her horse and shakes her head slightly. "At least I can swim. It is still a lengthy ride for a morning. Might I invite you take refreshment with me once we reach town, Ser Blayne?"
"I—" Hardwicke's posture shifts stiffly. "I have business once we arrive, m'lady." He glances over at her. "I am not much company for tea, at any rate."
"Surely you are fine company, but I will not keep your from your other business…ah. More than I am at present, then," Danae says, looking slightly abashed. Her gaze flickers towards the town, although she does not suggest again that he rides on without her.
"I'm still going in the direction I need to," Hardwicke says with a shift of his shoulders. "Just at a slower pace."
"Far slower." Danae looks over at Hardwicke, gaze slipping over his horse in the measure of an examining gaze. "I do thank you for the aid. If there is anything I can help you with…merely ask."
"Well, if I find myself needing weeds," Hardwicke blands.
Danae laughs, sudden and bright. "Aye, Ser. If you find yourself needing weeds."
Hardwicke is quiet a moment, though his expression has taken on a more thoughtful caste. "There is rumor-mongering," he says, "going on in Stonebridge. Concerning — my Lady Lucienne. If you hear anything about who may be at the root of any such rumors, I would appreciate the information."
"Mhm." Fingers slipping up to tuck a strand of hair, Danae watches Hardwicke's features shift into a more pensive cast, bringing the fennel back down in her grasp. Her thumb brushes along its stem as she considers. "Certainly, Ser. There are places where a lady might hear which others may not. If I hear anything of the like, you have my word as a Westerling that it shall come to you."
Hardwicke tips his head in silent acknowledgment, though he doesn't thank her aloud as they continue along.