Market of Autumn (Part 1)
Location: Stormholm Caer, Harkania March, Cymeria
Timeline: Mid-November 3550
The morning was clear and bright, with the last few birds that had not yet retreated to warmer climes greeting the rising sun with their usual carefree serenade. The gentle breeze carried with it a crisp chill that presaged the onset of winter, but for today at least, the weather promised to be mild and fair. That suited Richard perfectly as he stood in the courtyard of Stormholm Caer. For him today was not going to be another day of training spent getting bruised by sword masters or struggling to control his mount. While he had thrown himself into training with a will and had improved steadily in all areas, he still had a lot of training to do. Today instead he had been detailed to accompany the Chatelaine of Chimera on a routine trip to a nearby farm. It was apparently a typical practice to send trainee guards out on these sort of routine tasks under the watchful eye of more experienced guards to let them gain experience. In any event, Richard was glad for the break in routine and the opportunity to see more of the country before winter set in. Plus Godwyn had also pulled the detail, and it would be good to have a friend along.
On receiving the orders the night before Richard had spent half the evening cleaning and polishing his armor and weapons and making sure not a thread was out of place in his uniform. He wanted to present his best appearance. If he could not show discipline in small matters, after all, they would never entrust him with large ones. It was still strange to him that they liked so much of their gear to shine. In his mind, it would only make him easier to spot, but if that was the standard, he would adhere to it as though it were gospel.
He would have liked to have worn the uniform tunic Laryn had given him, but it had proved too far gone after the fight at the Samhain festival to salvage. Instead, he had settled for taking the section of the collar that she had embroidered with his name and cutting it away from the ruined garment. Sewing a small loop in it, he wore it now on a leather cord around his neck tucked away under his tunic, not unlike the dog tags he had worn back on earth.
Now he stood waiting for the rest of the party to arrive, nursing a mug of tea. It was good, but he still missed the strong black coffee he would normally have had to help open his eyes in the morning. The stable hands had brought out the horses and were harnessing some to a wagon and were placing saddles on others. Richard watched them with mild interest, trying not to betray just how eager he was to set out. Even if it was routine, he was excited.
Oréas gently patted Brawler on the flank, feeding him another piece of apple. The tall horse was a Dikaya, like Nightsong, and while Oréas did not enjoy riding half as much as Gero did, he had put as much work into the relationship to his proud friend. Brawler put up the wolf in return for being pampered. Oréas liked the horse, they were friends, so he just chuckled as Brawler finished the apple and began to nip at his long hair. As today was more of a formal errand, running on his own four paws was out of the question, except Lady Oksana wished something sniffed out quietly.
His eyes went across the yard to the preparations, and he spotted the man that had given Sword Master a handful of work. Gero had told him the man would be on this ride, which was another reason for Oréas to be here today. The man being in the sword master's capable hands it had been easy for Scyrane to watch him and Oréas doubted the man - Richard, the name was - had taken notice of the scribe with the injured arm. Right now it was less the man, but the mug he held that drew Oréas' attention. Why in the world had he taken that out to the yard? Food and drink might be served to the High Lord and his family wherever they wished, often as a greeting out here, but that was certainly nothing others might copy. The mug might be heavily glazed pottery, as was common for the Guard to have their meals served on, and while certainly cheaper than glass or porcelain, it was not that cheap. Potters lost part of each load in the oven, the rest was priced accordingly, not to mention the materials and colours for the glazes. It was nothing compared what the dwarrow charged for their best work, and even that paled compared to the prices asked and paid for Sidhe porcelain if a trader managed to get some undamaged down from Altyr' Darasmai.
Leaving Brawler to wait for their departure he walked over to the other man. "You better see that that," his eyes pointing to the mug, "gets back to the kitchen before we ride out. The servants do not check the yard for left behind pottery, and the mistress of the kitchens will have your hide if it breaks due to carelessness." he said friendly. Now was still enough time to go and bring the mug back to the kitchen and return without having to run or be late for the departure.
Richard turned to face the long-haired man that was so critical of his beverage container. Briefly, his mind entertained the childish and contrarian idea of 'accidentally' dropping the mug, but he pushed that away. He did not know the man or what his rank might be (Something that Richard found more than a little maddening about Cymarian uniforms) and he certainly carried himself in a manner that suggested authority. In the military that was often almost as good as real rank. To be fair, Godwyn had rather meekly tried to warn Richard about the same thing.
"Yes syr, I will make sure it gets back in one piece." He said, coming briefly to attention. "I'm afraid, syr, I don't know who you are. Are you the officer in charge for this little excursion?" Richard asked curiously.
While waiting for a reply, Richard quickly downed the remaining contents of his mug, inwardly annoyed that he would not get to savor it properly. The stable hands were finishing their work now and beginning to disperse. As one of the younger ones passed by Richard caught his attention. "Lad, have you eaten yet?"
The young man stopped and looked at him slightly confused. "No, syr. Why? Do you still have need of me?"
Richard nodded and handed the stable boy the now empty mug. "Since you are headed that way anyway, do me a favor and return that to the garrison kitchen." Fishing in a pouch Richard produced a copper coin and handed that over as well. "For your trouble," he added. Richard still didn't really understand the value of the various coins he had started to receive as part of his pay. Judging from the goggle-eyed look the boy gave him before scurrying off to complete the task, he had probably overpaid.
Returning his attention back to the other man, who he presumed was in charge, Richard waited for further instructions.
"The man responsible for the escort will be reporting to her Ladyship as we speak," Oréas replied, hiding his amusement at the scene with the stable boy. "My name is Oréas, I was assigned to accompany the escort today." With the recent attacks on the High Lord's family, it was not surprising that there were more fighters than usual assigned to such tasks. "You seem eager to head out," he observed, keeping an eye on the stable hands harnessing the horses to the wagon.
"I'm Richard." the traveler replied as he committed the guard's name to memory. He suspected that the other man if he hadn't known who Richard was already, had at least heard of him. He and Sofi had been objects of great curiosity since their arrival. He doubted anyone in the keep had not heard mention of the pair of travelers. "And yes," Richard added with a nod. "I think this mission should be a nice change of pace."
Oksana D'Corwyn, Lady of Winterfell by her marriage to Gareth D'Corwyn, and the Chatelain of Stormholm Keep because there was still no High Lady of Cymeria, stepped out of the keep and into the main courtyard. She paused and turned to her tall, handsome husband and placed a kiss on his cheek. "Be careful that the urchins do not leave you trapped in a cupboard during one of their hide-and-seek games." Her dark green eyes sparkled with humor.
"I will beware the urchins," Gareth responded with a light laugh and an answering twinkle in his brilliant blue eyes. "Here, Sanya, do not forget this." He gently turned his wife around so he could fasten her sword's scabbard to her back.
Reaching over her shoulder, Sanya made sure her sword drew smoothly. She had chosen to wear the dark, everyday uniform of the Cymerian Guard, a privilege she had earned from her two and a half years of service. A thick Sidán silk undertunic protected her skin from the light chainmail she wore beneath the studded leather tunic of the uniform. The silk, a product of K'harsten March, was stronger than that spun by other species of the silkworm. In the unlikely chance an arrow penetrated the reinforced leather of the uniform, the thick silk would entangle it, providing another layer of safety. The habit of wearing the heavy silk undershirts had led to the myths and legends that said the Cymerian Guards were impervious to enemy spears and arrows. This, in turn, made some people believe they were protected by the high magic of the Cymry.
Gareth gave a final admiring look toward his wife, standing tall with her braided red-gold hair gleaming in the morning sun before he turned and disappeared back inside the keep. Oksana approached her mount, a tall, powerful Dikaya warhorse. The stallion was the pale golden color referred to as cremello. His flowing mane and tail were silvery-white as was the narrow stripe that ran from his forehead to his muzzle. Auric was well-trained and had proven himself in battles before being added to Oksana's stable. She enjoyed riding him because, while war-trained, he was milder tempered than many of the Dikaya warhorses.
Oksana greeted Auric with a couple of carrots. Turning, she spotted Oréas of Moonhunter Pride standing near a man she did not know. Crossing to where they stood, she laughed and extended her hand, "Oréas! By what honor am I graced with one of the High Lord's most trusted Morrighan for this journey?"
Taking the Lady's hand Oréas bowed, he could never do it quite as elegantly as Nighthunter could, or so he felt. "The honour is all mine, Lady Oksana," he replied, returning her smile. "With recent events, High Lord Mikhail expressed his wish to the Ryndar to have additional protection for his family whenever they travel."
A teasing light surfaced in the deep emerald eyes. Oksana gently tapped Oréas' arm with her gloves, "I heard tales of a certain dark wolf dancing with a certain white wolf at Samhain. Please tell my grand-dam that she is expected for the Yule Feast, yourself as well."
Oréas was not able to quite keep up a stoic mien, he had gotten some teasing and ribbing from other Wyr about being seen so often in the company of Lady Kerowyn, those who knew him best knew more of his heart than he liked to admit to openly. It seemed that it now had gotten the attention of the High Lord's household as well. "If the silver and black wolves dance in the mists, the Moon Hunter himself may come from the cold to dance at the Winter Ball," he replied, slightly teasing Lady Oksana back. "I shall be very happy to relay your invitation to Lady Kerowyn, mayhap I can convince her that one visit does not constitute as cute."
"Yes, please assure Lady Kerowyn that no one would ever mistake her as a cute and cuddly grandmother," Oksana's eyes sparkled as she tried to imagine her grandmother knitting blankets or booties for the children. She turned to the other two men waiting nearby. "My apologies, gentleman. Oréas is an old and dear friend that I see too little of these days. I am Oksana, the Lady of the Hearth. Thank you, both for your service today." She lifted her eyebrows, waiting patiently for the young men to introduce themselves.
Richard for his part had done his best to look politely disinterested in the personal conversation going on between his two superiors. He had not been dismissed so much as he would have liked to slink away and continue his preparations for the missions, he stood and waited. Soon though the woman who had come up introduced herself and Richard offered a slight bow to her, as did Godwyn, who had also stepped up. "I'm Richard Coyle." He said simply, waiting to see if there was any recognition on the Chatelaine's face. "The Traveler," he added after a moment for clarification. "I am happy to be of service."
Nudging Godwyn with his elbow, Richard prompted the young man to introduce himself as well. "I'm Godwyn." He said simply, looking more than a little afraid to be talking to a personage of such high rank.
Seeing his friend's plight, Richard went ahead and stepped in. "If you will excuse us Lady Oksana, we should see to the final preparations for our departure."
Oréas eyebrows rose just so slightly as Richard tried to dismiss himself. What was he thinking? He was in the presence of the Chatelaine, a sister of the High Lord and he would stand where he stood until he got an order or was dismissed. Even for someone from strange lands, this was a basic courtesy if it was not to be concluded that he was a total gutter rat, which did not fit the story Oréas had heard so far. He was about to speak up and to tell off the two of them, as the slightest touch on his wrist, no more than fleeting on his skin, stopped him. He did not need more to understand that Lady Oksana did not wish for him to interfere. He replied with no more than a small casting down his eyes, signaling he understood.
"Guardsman Coyle, my brother has spoken of you. Welcome to Cymeria. Guardsman Godwyn, well met," Oksana responded pleasantly, "It is vital that we get these medical supplies to Felonwood." She gestured at the wagon, "We do need to be on the road."
Richard had been briefed the night before that the mission would include escorting the Chatelaine, who was also the sister of the high lord, so he was aware of who she meant when she spoke of her brother. The family resemblance was there as well, though perhaps not quite as strong as Richard would have guessed based on the other two sisters he had met. How many sisters did the poor man have? "I hope the high lord has had only good things to say." He replied with a polite smile. Her words and gesture counted as a dismissal in Richard's book, and so he offered another slight bow to Oksana and a polite nod to Oréas. "By your leave then." He added and elbowed Godwyn to get him into motion.
On arriving back at the wagon Godwyn settled himself into the driver's seat, adjusting his weapons and gear to be able to ride comfortably but still have everything close to hand. Richard, for his part, climbed up into the back of the wagon instead of on the seat beside Godwyn. Arranging a box, he created a perch for himself where he was seated above and behind Godwyn. Godwyn gave him a questioning look, and Richard shook his head. "If I sit beside you it blocks my view to one side of the wagon. Up here I have a better view and a clean line of fire all around." He said patting his crossbow. "This way you just have to concentrate on driving and I can keep watch."
Richard had selected one of the lighter models for today's excursion. While it had less range and hitting power than some of the heavier models, it's ease of reloading, and therefore faster rate of fire, more than compensated in Richard's mind. He had also brought with him a hand-and-a-half sword, that had quickly become his preferred close quarters weapon. Richard liked the extra reach and leverage the two-handed grip gave him but found it handy enough to wield in one hand should he need to grapple his foe. He also carried his combat knife on his belt as an emergency backup.
Taking a short length of rope Richard tied one end to his belt and the other to a spar of the wagon to keep him from being thrown if they had to make any quick turns or sudden stops. "Ready when you are," he said to Godwyn, who began gently guiding the wagon into place with the others.
~ To be continued in Part 2... ~