Of Stallions and Riding Them

Xanadu Weyr - Stables

The Stables of Xanadu Weyr are composed of one long building, lined with box and standing stalls that are kept thoroughly clean by the resident grooms and stablehands. Runners nicker and neigh at everyone who enters, save for the obstinate ones that just flicker their ears in indignant curiousity that they dare not make visible. The foremost stalls near the door to the Barn Yard are the grand box stalls which are home to the prized runners of Xanadu, as well as the most pregnant, those which are so far along that they require constant observation by the Herders, so as to ensure easy foaling.
However, the primary design of stall which lines the broad pathway that is covered in saw dust which is the main avenue of the Stables, is that of the Standing Stall. Many runners are in the standing stalls, with ropes strung across the front so as to keep the runners from leaving their designated containers. A few hay bales sit here and there along the avenue, some of which act as seats for the stablehands and grooms on their breaks, others as snacks for those runners who can reach out their necks far enough. Buckets and baskets of grooming supplies, brushes and combs, and the like also sit here and there, occassionally knocked over by a wayward hoof or inquiring muzzle.

Xanadu Weyr has no racetrack, so the runners training for the races between Fort, Ista and Xanadu have been shipped to Keroon to train and condition for the summer gather season. There are ten of the racing runners that have been chosen and sent, leaving the stables emptier than usual. But Xanadu is preparing for another event, this to be held next fall. And so those stalls have been occupied with another sort of fine-blooded runner, the powerful and tall show jumpers. The headwoman has taken an undue interest in this - and knowing that the selection having arrived today, she slips into the stables to have a look - and - hopefully - be the first to select one as her mount. Has she told anyone about riding in the rough cross-country race? Er… not… yet? But here she is this damp spring evening, slipping into the stables dressed like a horsewoman, albeit a fashionable one, in fitted jacket, spotless white shirt, knee-high boots, skintight pants, riding gloves and hat.

The cost of runners varies widely. These particular runners - both those sent to Keroon, and their replacements - are doubtless notable for a variety of reasons, but among the reasons they are most notable to the Steward of Xanadu is that they are, given the scale of costs for runners, rather expensive ones. In fact, so far as he is aware at the moment, their cost is the primary reason for him to be interested. They represent a nontrivial investment, and as such, he is here to assess it. He is not, however, dressed as a horseman; he wears the same sort of buttoned shirt and trousers that are his ordinary workplace attire, a clipboard and pen in his hand as he sits atop a haybale and takes what are, presumably, notes. He's been here for a while, since his ordinary workday. There are, apparently, a great many notes which need to be taken, and his gaze is occupied by the runners and those tending to them.

One of the benefits of being a Beastcrafter is getting to have that first look at the incoming animals when they arrive, even if all you have the fortune to do after is clean up after them. The young Nornon doesn't seem particularly disgruntled by this fact, rather enjoying the chance to fully explore and appreciate the fine forms of the jumpers as he has made his rounds through the stables to work them out and then groom them down afterward. Currently the wiry youth is about halfway through the recently influxed runners and is brushing down one with a dark chestnut coat and white socks, brushing over the proud crest as he hums some random tune to occupy his throat and soothe the stallion while he works, rather oblivious to the goings on outside the stall.

A stallion… training and running in a dangerous race… this could be…problematic if there are mares in heat when the race is held. Or other stallions about - which hopefully there won't be! But the unaltered males can have far more energy and competitive drive than the geldings do. They tend to be more muscled and quick and aggressive. This is something the headwoman knows and so as Darsce walks down the aisle, she stops to eye him over the half-door, frankly surprised that he's been among the group sent. However, she smiles after a moment, and holds out a hand to offer the runner a sniff. "He's perfect. He's the one I will ride." And to Nornon… his… groom? she asks, "What's his name?" She hasn't noticed Jethaniel yet - it's the case of not expecting him to be here so the figure on the hay bale, seen in her periphery is not really recognized because…runners! They are here!

Jethaniel eyes that chestnut - or is it sorrel? There's also dark bay, which does not, by any reasonable measure, seem particularly dark - runner consideringly. He has a page with listed descriptions, but the vocabulary used for runners is somewhat idiomatic and matching them to names is sometimes nontrivial. When they're carthorses, it's far less important to have a precise reckoning, and whatever documents the beastcrafters provide him are considered sufficient, while personal runners tend to be assessed by their own riders. In this case, however… his pen hovers near the page, and he frowns slightly as he considers, then lowers his gaze to the page as he writes. When Darsce speaks, his pen pauses, and Jethaniel lifts his head, looking more closely at the humaniform figures around that stallion.

The absent and automatic humming — surprisingly tuneful — continues for several heartbeats before Nornon realizes that someone is actually talking to him. "Eh?" Eloquent, that. Amber eyes lift and spy the Headwoman, then the knot and then he flushes briefly with consternation at his rather inadvertanly rude response, offering an apologetic smile. "Headwoman," the name eludes him presently, else he is being incredibly formal, "my apologizes, I did not see you there." The brush moves in firm strokes against the deep mahogany chest, with its powerful lungs and heart within that cage. "His name is Cereld. You'll find him quite spirited." A glance goes toward Darsce and her attire, though it's hard to say if the Beastcrafter's expression is of approval or disinterest. "He responds best to controlling via leg muscles and a gentler touch on his reins. He gets a bit surly if you hold his head in too much." Sounds like a challenge!

Darsce doesn't appear too concerned with the groom's manners; she's busy admiring the appearance of fine breeding in this particular runner from the finely-shaped muzzle and delicate nostrils, the wide-spaced, intelligent eyes to the trim flanks and well-formed hooves. "Darsce," she supplies absently, a smile growing for that assurance of spirit. "Perfect!" she purrs, "I like a male with spunk!" She then commences to murmur in dulcet tones to the runner only to lift an iceblue gaze to the young man brushing the stallion. Dryly, "Thanks, I know how to ride, ah… you've a name?" For all the cool to her tone, her eyes aren't piqued, merely amused. So if it's a challenge, she doesn't rise to it. But then she's oft indolent. Whiiich has landed her in trouble at times.

Jethaniel lowers his pen and eyes for long enough to finish the line he was writing, then transfers the implement to his other hand as he rises from the haybale and approaches. At the headwoman's statement of her preferences regarding males, he coughs slightly, a throat-clearing sort of sound, and while one hand is occupied in holding his clipboard and pen, he reaches the other to tuck it behind himself as means of riding are discussed. Jethaniel's expression is a rather still one, though there's a certain interest in his eyes. Curiosity, perhaps, but while it is accompanied by uncertainty, there is neither smile nor frown present.

Features scrunch up briefly in an attempt to control the almost splutter that is strangled back after the Headwoman's rather crass remark, whether or not the innuendo was intended. "Nornon," the Beastcrafter supplies helpfully, averting his eyes briefly to take several deep breaths to control his reaction back down to something more polite and respectful of the woman's rank within the Weyr. "I'm certain as an accomplished rider you will find him a suitable partner for the upcoming event." Whether that is sarcasm or not is hard to say, given the deadpan way it is delivered. Jethaniel's movements are spied, but the Steward is not yet acknowledged, since he has not said anything and the Apprentice has not yet finished his grooming task. "Were you wanting to take him out once I finish grooming him? I can tack him back up."

Innuendo? Darsce's usually just comes right out and says things bluntly when she means it. So there's no dancing brows and suggestive brash grin - not this time. Instead she eyes the apprentice with polite concern while he takes those deep breaths. "Energy," she clarifies blandly in an almost-bored tone. Though there's a tiny curl to the corners of her mouth for his assumption. "Well-met, then, Nornon," she adds. That cough. She recognizes it and so turns, searching and ah ha! "Jethaniel!" She smiles outright, obviously happy to see him. With a gesture to the stallion, "Isn't he perfect?" She's agreeing with Nornon there, nodding, pleased he sees it too. "I'm riding him in the Overland," she informs Jethaniel. She assumes he's got a reason to be here and might ask if she remembers to. Right now, there's this specimen of runnerflesh to enthuse about and so that's what she does, though one hand reaches to brush his arm with her fingertips. "Would you please?" she says with a bright, appreciative smile to Nornon, flicking her lacquered nails to show him, "It would save my manicure." The headwoman is… a touch spoiled.

Jethaniel is not difficult to find, given his approach. He inclines his head to the salutation. "Hello, Darsce." There's a small smile for her, and then he looks to that runner as she provides her assessment thereof. "Ah," he says, then glances to Nornon, perhaps looking for a second opinion before his eyes return to the four-legged creature under discussion. He is somewhat lacking in the expertise to conduct a full assessment. Fortunately, Darsce provides him with something else to consider - that being her upcoming involvement with the stallion and that race. "Are you?" he asks, looking to Darsce once more. His tone is a curious one; the fact is new to him, and implies others which… are also new to him. Thus, the lift of his eyebrows, though he doesn't seem displeased, just somewhat perplexed.

Nornon isn't particularly invited into the conversation and knows better than to inject himself into such banter. Perhaps someone has given him a tongue lashing too many over his free flowing tongue? Either way he offers Darsce a warm smile of acknowledgment. "Not a problem at all, milady. Just allow me a few minutes to finish grooming him and I'll get him tacked again." True to his word the Beastcrafter completes the remaining grooming with due haste, the soft hair gleaming faintly under the light once he finishes his thorough attentions before he slips out of the stall and moves back to the tack room and acquire appropriate gear to sling onto the runner for the Headwoman's pleasure. Or neck-breaking. It really isn't his concern, after all.

The Steward is easy to spot isn't, is he? He's right there. But Darsce's head is in the clouds this evening and so, she's scattered. Her nod to Jethaniel is enthusiastic. "Mhmm." It's entirely possible that she heard of it only this morning when the news of the runners' arrival - and the race they're intended for - reached her ears. But does she think to explain this? Nope! Her fingertips rest on Jethaniel's arm after that brush to it, unless he moves away from her touch. She's not so oblivious that she misses the perplexity in his expression and asks with breezily innocence, "What?" He's seen her ride before. And not all that mindful of safety. "Thanks," she says casually to Nornon though, "Again? He's been out?" She'll go easy on him then.

Jethaniel does not move away, no; his arm remains beneath those fingers, and he slowly eases it closer, returning his hand from its position behind his back to rest at his side once more. At Darsce's easy agreement, his nod is a slower one, more considering, and he turns his attention back to the runner and his groom. His mouth shifts, a question considered but delayed due to the lack of appropriate vocabulary. Instead, Jethaniel looks back to Darsce for her question. What, indeed. What… does she intend to do in that race? What… has made her select this stallion? What… is going to happen? There are a great many questions he could ask, but as Nornon departs to gather the tack, Jethaniel shakes his head slightly. His arm shifts, letting Darsce's fingers brush along it until his can curve around hers gently. "I had not heard." Which is not entirely the point, but after so saying, he ducks his head and lifts her hand to brush his lips to the back.

Returning with the promised tack the Beastcrafter weaves around the few obstacles in the aisle to make his way back into the stall and starts applying the gear to the runner. The question that the Headwoman asked finally gets answered by Nornon with a while of reassurance tossed her way. "Only to briefly stretch him out and warm him up after he was brought in. He should still have plenty of energy for you." Blanket then slim saddle go on first, the tall man ducking under the lean belly to fasten the straps firmly and ensuring they won't shift during the ride before gauging the stirrup length after a long look at the woman and then finally putting the bridle on and checking that the bit sits in the mouth properly before leading the tall, lean runner out and offering the reins to Darsce. "If you'll hop on I'll make sure the stirrups are the proper length for you."

Darsce's fingers traverse Jethaniel's arm, then curl and twine with his. Her attention shifts from the study of that runner as she acknowledges the departure of Nornon to collect the tack. Iceblue eyes turn back to Jethaniel in the interim that the apprentice is gone. She nods easily and though she's unsure… well, she assumes in his capacity as Steward he'd heard about the race and the jumpers being shipped in, he's meant her riding in it and so, breezily, "Oh, I just decided when I heard of it." Then she smiles brightly at him as his lips touch the back of her hand. "I've done it before." But not in a pack of frenzied riders and runners all going at the jumps at once. And not on a stallion. Still she says offhandedly, "It'll be a snap." Nothing to worry about, right? And then as Nornon returns she watches him saddle and bridle the runner. "I approve of the way you handle him," she says, reaching a gentle hand to stroke the runner's neck. Hop on, says the runner's handler and though Darsce has the appearance of long-legged lithe to her frame, she's a petite woman. She snickers, reaches for the reins and nods. "Thanks. That'd be great! I'll just… 'hop on' from the mounting block outside the stable." Because mounted inside if he decides to rear in here bad things will happen should her head contact one of the overhead beams. And so she allows her fingers to slip through Jethaniel's as she leads the runner outside, steps atop the mounting block and eases into the saddle while murmuring to the stallion.

"Ah," Jethaniel says to the knowledge Darsce provides as to her decision-making process. He is indeed aware of the race; that is the reason for his presence at the stables today, albeit from a less directly involved perspective than Darsce intends. He nods, as he lifts his head, to the fact that she has done this before; perhaps it's a wobble as if he intends to linger over her hand, but he does not, though his fingers squeeze hers gently before releasing them to let Darsce go ride this stallion she has found so appealing. He follows her to the doorway, and glances down to his clipboard before lifting his eyes once more to watch as Darsce settles into the saddle… outdoors. Which will reduce the chances of something worrisome happening, though… perhaps not so far as Darsce's airy tones would like to imply. Nevertheless, he raises no objections as he watches, though he does look to Nornon and ask, "Is he one of the ones from Hannista?" His record sheet, and by extension he, wishes to know.

"Thank you, milady. I've been handling runnerbeasts since before I could walk. I am glad to hear my experience is paying off." Nornon's tone is polite and informative rather than condescending. At her rather sarcastic quip the young man chuckles lightly. "I gladly would have assisted you in mounting, Headwoman," he notes quietly as he follows the stallion out, ready to be on hand should anything go downhill unexpectedly. He watches Cereld closely as the tall beast shifts with a bit of antsyness under Darsce as she mounts before settling down, eyes bright and head held high as a soft wicker of anticipation sighs from the large, lean runner. At the Steward's query the young Beastcrafter thinks, trying to recall, and finally nods. "Yes, this one was from Hannista. We got a few from there, actually."

The… quip? Was merely informational, not meant as sarcasm. This though, the tart, "It's a wonder you weren't stepped on by one then." That's sarcasm. The headwoman chortles right afterwards, though, so she's not intending it to be mean-spirited, just teasing. But really, before he could walk? She is skeptically amused by that claim. Once seated, she smiles reassuringly to Jethaniel as she collects the reins. See? Nothing to- and then the runner dances. She hasn't yet put her booted feet into the stirrups - awaiting Nornon's adjustment for those - and so her calves press instinctively for her balance. That's all it takes for him to leap forward in a mighty surge of flowing muscle. The trip by ship was long enough to bore Cereld and he's frisky! He's several steps from the paddock fence and takes it in one smooth bound, flicks his tail and circles the enclosure. Hey! Where'd his rider go? Darsce? Is flat on her back wide eyes staring at the sky in stunned surprise. Excellent horsewoman she may be but this is no average runner! He's unseated her with a swift efficiency that the steward might relate to.

Jethaniel has no comment to make concerning what one may be capable of doing prior to bipedal locomotion. It, of itself, is not likely to be the impediment, but it does correlate to certain of the other skills required… but he lacks meaningful data, and as such, he does not speculate. There's a tip of his head down when Nornon suggests an alternative to the use of the mounting block, but Jethaniel does not comment on that either, and the slight frown may be ascribed to the focus he gives the clipboard and its contents. The source of this runner is important for his records. It is from Hannista? "Very well," he says as he makes a note of that fact, then pauses. "It will likely be relevant to some of the spectators," he says, tone considering. "Is there a canonical dataset -" and that's where he stops, because his inquiry into established procedures for racing is interrupted by Cereld's demonstration of one aspect thereof. The leap is an excellent one; his rider retention is less so. The demonstration of efficiency is certainly noted by Jethaniel, but he does not appear particularly pleased by it. There are, as he has previously postulated, desiderata beyond mere efficiency. The frown returns, and Jethaniel's clipboard is lowered as he strides for Darsce, lowering himself to one knee beside her. "Ah. Are you…"

Though data of all sorts fascinates the young Nornon, any commentary he would have provided is interrupted by events that follow. The Beastcrafter was just about to move for and adjust the stirrups when the stallion does what he is bred for, taking the few steps necessary to build a bit of momentum before leaping over that fence with beautiful form, cleanly clearing the posts as if they aren't even there. As much as the Apprentice would like to admire the perfect jump, he is rather sorely distracted by the rider's rather unfortunate dismounting, moving quickly over to knee beside her along with the steward, though he doesn't touch her, instead offering his support if she wants it. "Can you feel everything? Anything broken? Do I need to get a Healer?" The questions come out in a rather hectic tumble of syllables, though the young man is still intelligible, unless your brain is addled by smacking against the ground unexpectedly. Than all bets are off.

Darsce's reaction to Nornon's declaration of assistance to mount (the runner one would presume) brings a crooked grin while her bright gaze darts to Jethaniel. She burbles a spurt laughter even while catching that frown at his clipboard. "I've no trouble mounting, trust me," she drawls in reply to Nornon. This time, innuendo totally meant! The suggestive brow dance accompanies her leer at her husband. Jethaniel might miss it though, focused on datasets as he is over there. And then she's got her hands full trying not to yank on the runner's mouth, keep her balance, her seat and failing in at least two areas of her endeavors. And unseated as she is, the sky, for Darsce, is presently blocked by two heads, both asking her questions. She's silent for a moment while she squints to be sure they really are two heads and not double vision. "Broken?" she finishes for Jethaniel more tartly than she intends. "I don't think so." She's not moving just yet. "Please don't," she interjects into Nornon's tumbled questions. Presumably she means don't get the healers because she's levering herself up on her elbows while grimacing at her riding outfit. "Well damn. I'll never get the grass stains out." She's… er… probably fine.

One would, in fact, presume, but though Jethaniel's eyes flick up at the sound of Darsce's laughter, he does not offer any further clarifications. His expression does ease toward neutrality and that consideration of data, of which his clipboard already holds a variety; it is his intention to annotate it with further information. It is, furthermore, fortunate that it is held in the form of marks on paper, as - when circumstances proceed to unseat Darsce from that runner - it is no longer in his head. Admittedly, she had no difficulty mounting under those circumstances. Regarding other circumstances, Jethaniel has admitted nothing. His gaze, as he observes a supine Darsce, is concerned, and as she finishes his statement for him, his head tilts forward to acknowledge that conclusion. It is one of several he might have made; it addresses the primary point. His head remains lowered as Nornon asks his flurry of question, but he does not acknowledge them. He is, for the moment, only interested in a certain subdomain of knowledge, and does not provide an interruption. When Darsce answers the question she assisted in posing, he nods. "Good." She is plausibly unbroken; the easing of his shoulders is perceptible. There's a movement of his hand toward Darsce, but it settles back to his side again before reaching her. He leans back, giving her space, and his gaze settles to the ground before lifting again at Darsce's comment concerning her attire. "There exist other outfits."

Relief is evident in Nornon's face and frame as he settles back on his haunches as the Headwoman indicates her lack of broken parts, or seems to, from what the young man can tell of this rather elusive woman's communication habits. "If you wash it in cold water soon you might get it out," he offers helpfully, having had more than his fair share of grass stains to remove over the Turns. He rises then, offering a faintly rueful and apologetic glance to the Steward as he moves to vault over the fence and round up the errand stallion with gently soothing tones. He is able to capture the reins and mount the restless beasts himself, making a quick circuit before they vault over the fence and back on the side of the stables, though the Beastcrafter doesn't suffer the same fate as Darsce, staying rather firmly in the saddle as he comes up beside the pair. "Perhaps I should work him a bit more, seeing how spirited he still is." Indeed, the hooves dance restlessly against the earth, eager to be granted release.

Darsce catches that abortive hand movement of Jethaniel's. She reaches for him, but not to his hand. Instead her gloved hand lifts in a silent appeal for him to bend closer so she may curl her arm about his neck. She tells them both, "I'm sorry; I'm annoyed with myself, not you." Not Cereld, not Nornon and certainly not Jethaniel. "Will you see to him, please, Nornon?" the headwoman asks before tipping her head to touch her forehead to Jethaniel's and breathing so only he can hear her, "Help me up?" She's not broken, but is she fine? The fact that she doesn't remount and have another try speaks volumes if one knows Miss Darsce. The tatoo of hooves brings her glance up to see Nornon on Cerald jump the fence. "Showoff," she mutters schooling her face not to grimace as she rises. "I'll be back," she assures Cereld and his handler. Later. Tomorrow. Or when she is not sore. In a different outfit. One without grass stains. This one? The launderers can work on.

The look from Nornon is barely seen, though Jethaniel is aware of his movement, eyes flicking to see the beastcrafter's departure to handle the runner who, fortunately, has not gone far. Jethaniel's attention is, however, still primarily elsewhere. His position shifts again as Darsce reaches for him, his fingers splaying against the ground to support him as he leans toward her. There's a slight nod of his head for her apology, though he does not answer her, simply leaning closer. His eyes close, as his head enters the proximity of hers, then open again at her softly murmured words, studying her face intently for a moment. He tilts his head, lifting it from hers, but he does not go far. There's a brush of his lips against her forehead as his head rises, and Jethaniel slips closer to Darsce, his arm slipping in around her shoulders to offer support as she rises, then drifting closer to her lower back to remain around her. The clipboard's still in the other hand, though his pen may have fallen somewhere along the way, and while his notes are not complete, he does not remove his arm from around Darsce. He does, however, address Nornon… though not the runner he rides. "I will be returning tomorrow. At that time, I would like to obtain a brief assessment of these runners." Ideally, one with enough data points to permit him to cross-reference between the animals and the information he already has, but given the circumstances, Jethaniel will not be delegating this. Nor, apparently, will he be delegating the task of walking Darsce home. That of removing the grass stains may also be delegated, but not to Jethaniel.

Continues in If I Lost You...

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