The Thinning Veil
Location: Stormholm Caer, Harkania March, Cymeria
Timeline: Late October 3550
The early morning was blessedly bright, casting light through misty crystals in the air. The nip in the air caused her plaited hair to crackle. Silently, she passed beneath the arch into the massive arena where the Keep’s horses were trained, and into the elaborate stable complex. She passed somewhat incognito; the young woman did not resemble members of House Stormdanovich, her garments being her usual arrangement of leathers and wool in the style typical of her people. Walking an easy gait beside her, likely not needing the reins slung on her but wearing them all the same, was Kairavi. The Herak-breed mare looked sturdy enough to follow precarious mountain trails, without being so stocky as to look graceless. Renestrae absentmindedly drew her fingers through the beast’s silvery mane. She was of gradiated shades of greys and blacks spilling into one another, there being pale dappling across her entirety, but was named for a near-round patch of white on her left hindquarter.
Being permitted to come and go at her leisure, Renestrae had taken it upon herself to familiarise herself with the locality. She had not yet grown comfortable enough with the land to resume hunting, favouring the activity as a solitary one. She had, in the privacy of the forest thicket, practiced her hand at using her bow on horseback. She reflected that while she was a fair enough shot, she had much to learn if she was to be of greater use.
Once she had guided the mare back to her stables, she went through the comfortingly familiar motions of removing the saddle, rubbing her down, checking her feed, and freeing any debris from her hooves. Humming, she drew a wire brush through the horse’s mane, gently working it through any tangles from their early ride. Kai’s ears flickered towards her, as they always did when the bard hummed or sang; an appreciative eye swivelled to take her in. Renestrae laughed, and produced a lump of sugar from one of the pouches about her person.
“Here, appreciative audience that you are. Methinks you’ve been spoiled rotten here; you have young fellows to tend to your every whim through the day, and spritely companions to seek your attention. ‘Less I allow it, there’ll be no foals for you, my beauty.”
Richard was late. At least he was pretty sure he was late, when he woke with a start that morning. With no watches or clocks he had no idea how anyone around here knew when to be places. He head dreamt that he was back home again, using the term home very loosely. He had been back in Afghanistan on patrol when the sound of a mortar attack had woken him. It was strange though, to feel almost homesick for that awful place. Dressing hurriedly he pulled on the one set of cold weather clothing he had been given. It consisted of woolen trousers and tunic in a mossy grey green, black leather boots lined in fur, and a charcoal grey cloak. He did wear the two accoutrements that had followed him from home. His combat knife was strapped to his belt and his tan beret crowned his head.
Hustling through the winding passages he made at least a couple of wrong turns in the maze of corridors before a helpful servant pointed him to the stables. He was sure now that he was late for his riding lesson and that Laryn would be annoyed with him, something he hoped to avoid. Looking around the courtyard area though she was nowhere to be seen. Was he so late that she had left already? Maybe he was actually early? He had no real way to know for sure. Deciding to search the stables for his instructor he began going stall to stall at a quick pace.
Coming around a corner he nearly ran over a young woman with dark hair. Startled and looking a bit embarrassed he managed to find his tongue after a moment. “Errr… sorry miss, I didn’t see you there.”
The storm-blue eyes found the source of the voice, and a dark eyebrow was lifted at the newcomer’s sudden materialisation. Her head canted to one side as she took him in. What a strange fellow he was -- while his trappings were those of the Keep, his hat was most unusual, the fashioning of his sheathed knife so very different than what was typical of Cymeria. His accent was unlike any that had come to her ears, and so she concluded he was likely some visitor from some far-off land, although he looked to be of Cymeria. What did he mean by “miss”?
“ ‘Tis no trouble,” she replied evenly with lilting cadence, lowering the brush while the other hand came to rest upon Kai’s side. The mare dipped her head, gently nudging her in the side in the hope that more treats were forthcoming. “And what are you, pray? You look not to be of this place, but the comings and goings of the Caer are strange to me.” A tell-tale glimmer sat within her eyes, even if her expression remained neutral.
Richard blinked slowly as he listened to the girl in front of him. Her voice was pretty and like many around here she sounded vaguely Irish, at least to Richard’s ear It took him a moment to process what she had actually said. He was getting a bit better at understanding their way of speaking, though Doc Kiernan was still pretty much unintelligible to him. It made him vaguely wish that he had been paying attention in English class when they were reading Shakespeare instead of daydreaming about the brunette sitting in front of him.
“My name is Richard.” He said at length. He had pretty much given up on introducing himself as Sergeant Coyle as it just confused people. Though she had asked what he was, not who. “And no, I’m not exactly from around here.” How to exactly answer though? “I’m an American,” it came out of his mouth first, but he knew it was only gibberish to her. “A… traveler. And you are?”
“Richard?” The syllables were strange. Although from Haradar, Cymerie names were not unknown to her. The names of her own people had taken strange shapes by what mixed heritage they had, but were nothing like what he had just offered. There was the slightest suggestion of an amused smile. “I have not heard of...an American before. And, traveller you may be, but travellers take many forms. Are you a traveller of the Keep? From it? To it?” She dipped into a shallow bardic curtsey. “Some know me by Ren, or I’m told such. Her ladyship, here, is Kairavi, although she shall settle for Kai if there is the promise of apples.” Her hand drifted over Kai’s muzzle, a soothing gesture to perhaps satisfy the gentle horse’s demand for attention.
Richard nodded, he had gotten somewhat used to people finding his name strange. Her name on the other hand was the most pronounceable one he had heard in days. “Ren? That's all? No Lady this or silent ‘Q’?” He asked with a laugh. Stepping closer he reached out tentatively to the horse’s mane. He patted the creature gently almost as though he were afraid of it. “Good girl, Kai.” He said to the horse.
“I guess I’m a traveler to the keep. Sort of. To Cymeria… to Aereth… I’m from very far away.
A newcomer! Perhaps this one would deliver unto her sweet things. Kai accordingly pushed her muzzle firmly against Coyle, nostrils flaring.
“Ren is all,” the bard replied, watching Kai’s earnestness with amusement. She gave Coyle a curious look once more, an eyebrow lifting in an arch. “So ‘tis true, then?” She said, half to herself. “I have heard of many strange happenings here at the Keep, but I hardly expected there to truly be a Traveller.” Her smiled tugged further at the corners of her mouth. “There must be so many tales for you to tell. ‘Tis a storyteller’s duty to know these things, to pass tellings on.”
Richard smiled and offered her his hand, “Then it is nice to meet you Ren.” he said, remembering his manners. He looked at her a bit curiously when she asked about stories. He tried to think back of all the folk tales, all the history that he knew, that helped define who he was as an American. At the moment he was a bit at a loss. There were so many. He had been required to be able to recite from memory the history of his regiment, but most of that would make little sense to her since she had never seen a gun or an airplane, or even a car. There was part of him that really wanted to tell her stories, to share something of the home he might never see again, but it seemed very overwhelming. “I will have to tell you some then.” He said after some time. “I’m afraid I’m not thinking to clearly at the moment. I’m supposed to meet Lady Laryn here for my first riding lesson, but I think I’m late.” Glancing up at the sky he tried to guess the time. “Or maybe I’m early… I don’t know… What time is it?”
There was the quiet nicker of a horse behind the pair in the arena, and holding a pair of reins in her leather gloved hand was the young woman that Richard was waiting on. Offering them both a nod in greeting, Laryn also smiled. “Lady Renestrae, Richard.” She spoke, turning to stroke one of the horses, her white mare Belle, gently down her nose and chin. She had also brought her other personal mount, a black stallion she called Tempest. “Lovely day for riding.”
“Lady Laryn,” Renestrae said to the courier, her smile spreading wide and warm. She dropped in a deep curtsey, dipping her head. “ ‘Tis indeed. I have not seen you since the Gathering; I hope the day finds you well.”
Richard raised an eyebrow at the way Laryn greeted Ren. Apparently she was in fact a lady with a fancy name, though she had told him to call her Ren so that is what he would do. Turning to face Laryn he offered a slight bow. “I’m glad to see you, Lady Laryn, I was afraid I was late.” he said with a sheepish smile. Looking at the two horses he looked a bit nervous, they were both rather large. “Which one am I supposed to ride?”
Laryn's smile warmed when both greeted her in return. "No, I do not think that we have." She spoke to Ren, remembering the day she spoke of and how chaotic things had been. "I have been quite busy the last few weeks, but I will make time for us to spend, at the very least, an afternoon together so that we may visit." She offered, looking over at Richard. "No, you are not late. You are early, earlier than myself so it seems." She replied. "I think that I will start you on Belle." She said, nodding to the white mare. "She is perfect for a beginner rider, sweet and gentle disposition."
She smiled over at Ren again. "Will you join us?"
Renestrae seemed pleasantly surprised by the proposition. Should she not come to know her cousin well? And, indeed, Laryn was a cousin, as Mika was. Kai whickered, nudging her long head up against the bard.
“It would seem that my ride this morning was hardly enough,” she replied, with an easy laugh. “I shall happily accept.” She stepped around the mare to retrieve the saddle, and for the second time that day, went through the well-practised motions of securing the riding straps in place.
Richard approached Belle cautiously and gently petted the large creature. He still seemed more than a little nervous despite being assured that the horse had a sweet temperament. He was also of two minds about Ren joining them on the ride. While he was curious to get to know the bard a bit better, he had hoped to spend the morning with Laryn.
While Laryn was still nominally his adult supervision, his guard if he was honest about it, he had seen less of her now that he was up and about. Still he enjoyed her company and thought she was pretty. He had hoped to get an opportunity to chat with her.
Though at the moment he had more pressing issues. “So… uh… I guess I should get on?” Studying the horse he reached for the saddle horn and stepped into the stirrup. Unfortunately for him he was using the wrong foot and when he tried to lever himself over it turned into an awkward struggle. After a few moments of struggling fruitlessly though he realized his mistake and stepped down. Switching feet he managed this time he managed to get in the saddle. Looking pleased with himself he turned to Laryn. “So what do I do now?”
“The more time we can spend riding and working the horses, the better. Once the snows come, we will not be able to do as much.” Laryn said, gently running her fingers through Tempest’s black mane while she watched Ren saddle up her own horse once again.
Watching Richard try to mount up on Belle proved to be somewhat amusing per the small smile on Laryn’s lips, the corners of her mouth curled upward. She did not offer her help as he finally started to realize what he was doing incorrectly, and finally settled himself… somewhat awkwardly, in the saddle. “First,” she began, keeping a hand wrapped around both Belle’s and Tempest’s reins. “We are going to walk you around the corral for a little bit, allow you to get used to Belle’s height and movements.”
What a strange thing it was, that Coyle was so unfamiliar with horsecraft. She was not a rider in the fashion that those of Stormholm were, but her people did breed and use the hardier mountain horses for travel. They were slightly stockier, not nearly as tall as war horses and the like, being graceful although not nearly as long-legged, but they were sure-footed and sturdy. They were also nimble, able to readjust to icy conditions. She watched curiously as the man struggled to draw himself into the mare’s saddle. She, appropriately for a Stormdanovich, shared Laryn’s inclination to withhold assistance. One did not learn if their hand was held like a child.
She followed after them with Kai in tow, with the reins held loosely; Kai instinctively followed at Renestrae’s pace, perhaps just as curious as she was as to what the lesson held. She realised that Coyle had perhaps more to learn than she did, and felt a pang of sympathy for the man. He was in good hands, though. As she was learning, the Stormdanovich family were all capable riders, fighters, and workers. Everyone had their part to play.
Richard could not help but look a little bit disappointed that the first part of the lesson was a glorified pony ride from the county he fair. He wasn’t six years old anymore. Still he had learned that Laryn was generally not one to argue with. She had had a stubborn streak a mile wide about him getting out of bed before Doc Kiernan had said it was okay. “If you say so.” he said at some length.
Sitting atop the horse as Laryn lead it in circles round and round the stable yard was more than a little dull and he wasn’t entirely sure what he was supposed to be learning from this. He could feel the way the animal was moving and all, but it was like trying to learn to drive a truck by riding in the passenger seat. After the fifth time around the stable yard he finally spoke up. “I think I’ve got it Lady Laryn, can we move on to something a bit more challenging now?”
“I do say so, you’ve only just been released from medical care. To push your body simply because something seems easy would be foolish and I do not really want a lecture from Healer Kiernan.” Laryn reminded the Traveler gently. She easily mounted Tempest and clicked her tongue, easing her horse into a gentle walk while she had one hand on a lead from Belle.
A dark eyebrow lifted upward on Laryn’s brow when Richard spoke up a short time later. “No, not yet.” She shook her head. “You are just learning, and I will not put you at risk for something more challenging. I’m sorry.” Laryn said, and the apology was clear in her voice and expression. “However, we can leave the corral and go for a short ride through one of the close by trails, but I do warn you, your body will be quite sore after as you are not used to this as we are.” She looked over at Ren with a smile.
Richard looked slightly annoyed at not being given the opportunity to actually be able to control his own horse. Still the fact that Laryn at least seemed sympathetic to him and that tempered his annoyance. It seemed that she was, unnecessarily, trying to protect him. The idea that he would be sore from the trail ride brought an amused smile to his lips. “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” He replied, his tone good natured. “Let’s go. I’m sure the two of you are just as bored watching me ride in a circle.”
As the horses and their riders made their way from the coral Richard turned to Ren. “So you are interested in stories?” He asked quizzically. “What sort of story would you like to hear?”
“Why, syr, a bard will know the tellings of all,” she replied with an easy laugh, her shoulders shaking with the strength of it. “Do they not have bards in the land from whence you come?”
The trio took their horses out of the corral, waving through the halls to outside the Keep. Laryn took them on a path that wove out into the woods and along the river, listening, as did Lady Reneastre, to Richard as he spoke tales of of his homeland. They took a brief respite on a small grassy field nearby the river to allow the horses time to drink and rest, as well as have a light lunch themselves. Afterward, they returned to the Keep and the corral, where Laryn instructed Richard on the proper aftercare for the horses; how to brush them down, check and clean their hooves of dirt and debris, and how to feed and water them. They each bid farewell to the other before departing to the rest of their days.