(123-09-13) The Reason Why Not
The Reason Why Not
Summary: A brief lesson in human-horse relations. Or human-human, for that matter… (Genevra is NPC'd by her mother, Hellan.)
Date: 04/10/2016
Related: Kingsroad Crossroads, Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth, The Reason Why Not, The Wisdom of the Ancients, The Seventh Order.

South of Moat Cailin the swampy, soggy, humid land of the Neck goes on mile after mile, day after day. The horses, plagued by mosquitoes, flick their manes and their tails in constant irritation, and seek every opportunity to roll in the nice soothing mud and get it caked all over their handsome bay and black and chestnut coats. The two-leggers have in the main no such convenient methods of warding off airborne predators, and must content themselves with anointing bitten skin with a variety of lotions and salves produced from their saddlebags. Each man swears by his own — and against everyone else's.

The days have long since settled into a rhythm, for this party of northerners launching a peaceable, mercantile, matrimonial invasion of southern climes: a rhythm dictated by the needs of so many horses. Feeding, watering, grazing, grooming, occasional poulticing — every man has his own particular charges among the herd, above and beyond his own mounts. Even Aryana Snow, quick and clever with a currycomb, leaves Lady Bethany's wagon routinely to see to her two mares and help anyone who's falling behind due to equine misbehaviour. Morning or night, nobody eats till the horses have been tended — the cook Karelin's meals are timed not to coincide with full horse bellies, rather than empty human ones. If Lady Ryswell is exempt, in the evenings, it's only because after spending twelve or fourteen hours in the saddle it's sometimes all she can do to limp from horse to tent with her bold features resolutely set. Once one is initiated into the open secret of her bad leg, it's all too obvious that she makes accommodations for it, and that she regrets having to do so.

They camp off the Kingsroad most nights, in tucked-away valleys or beyond bends in the road: secluded and defensible locales chosen in advance by a party of outriders, which is as likely to include Lady Ryswell as anyone else: she never misses a chance to stretch the legs of whichever bay stallion (so alike they're surely brothers) is next in her careful rotation of her mounts. She shuns inns, with their thieving servants and infested bedding, but once or twice she and her companions are feasted as the welcome guests of some noble family or other with a castle conveniently near the road. Such evenings bring out the best, or at any rate the most glitteringly insincere, in Lady Bethany; see Lady Ryswell's riding leathers replaced by cleaner, handsomer, but equally masculine garb; and provide diversion for everyone else, too. But in field, forest, or castle, the bulk of House Ryswell's men sleep with the horses, armed.

On a crisp clear morning in the Riverlands Lady Genevra Stark is kneeling to check her horse's hooves for small stones picked up during the night, when a shadow foreshortened by the early hour falls over the grass next to her.

Lady Ryswell has her stick in one hand and a tin mug of soup (thank you, Karelin) in the other. She's in her shirtsleeves, enjoying what is to her uncommonly balmy weather for this time of the season; her greying hair just had a wash, and has been pulled back damp with a leather thong. She stands there leaning on the solid support of her stick — sipping her soup, with a care for its heat — and watching the Stark girl tend her horse. Her attitude is one of unhurried interest, as though Lady Genevra has all day to get it right, and she herself would be content to watch all day to be certain it's so.

Genevra is having a bit of trouble with the task, as it turns out. She has the method down; it's the irritation of the horse that is delaying matters, as it seems keener to stomp its hoof back down than acquiesce to having it cleaned. There is a bit of frustration present in Genevra's expression, but mostly, her youthful face is writ with focused concentration and sympathy for the creature despite its stubbornness. Maybe it's a trait she can understand on some level. "Don't you know I'm trying to help you," she's murmured to her mount just before the shadow of Lady Ryswell beckons her notice. She glances sideways to recognize the lady's boots, but doesn't look up, as the horse is nice and still and she's almost got that next stone— "Um— good, good morning Lady Ryswell," the girl chirps, cheery as though they were breaking fast.

"Morning, lass," Lady Ryswell answers. A faint slurping sound suggests she is addressing herself to her soup. "He knows it, but he doesn't like you holding his pastern," she offers in a low, sympathetic tone, which contrives to apologise for the gelding's idiosyncrasies rather than blame the groom's comparative inexperience. "Some don't mind it, some do. You might try moving your hand up to his toe instead, lifting gently in toward his elbow — and when he stops arguing with you, relax your hold. Just… like… that," and as her advice is put into practice, she and her shadow both nod their approval.

Genevra breaks into a great big smile when Eddara's advice works like a charm. "Thank you!" She doesn't dare look away yet, though, not when there are still a few stones jammed in a bed of Riverlands mud. She works carefully away with the hoof pick until the horse is free and clear of debris, stands upright and gives the creature a soothing stroke. Genevra's boots are now muddier than the horse. They started off so clean earlier this morning… "You know everything there is to know about horses I bet," she commends Lady Ryswell. "Where will you stay in Oldtown? Will you stay at the Weirwood manse with us? You should see the stable. It's really small, but there are some funny horses there." 'Funny' in her tone seems to be a good quality; besides which, it's the first time she's mentioned Oldtown during the trip with any kind of positive light.

Lady Ryswell has almost finished her soup. She gives a small, wry shake of her head at the suggestion that she knows everything; but when Lady Genevra steps back she does step forward, swallowing the rest of her cup's contents and giving it to the girl to hold along with her stick. "Which one do you do next?" she asks, and having had the answer she takes several slow limping steps round to the vicinity of the animal's other front hoof.

Introducing herself via caresses of the gelding's mane she remarks to Lady Genevra over her shoulder, "I wasn't here when you began, so you'll forgive me if I tell you what you already know — you want to run your hand down his leg first and give him a gentle tap here, to warn him what you expect of him and provide him the opportunity to shift his weight to his satisfaction. Then if you lean into him," and she rests her own shoulder against the gelding's, the unavoidable implication being that he's supporting her more than she him; "he knows exactly where you are without needing to see you."

By the time she finishes speaking she has a hoof in her hand, lifted to a convenient angle for her slightly bowed figure; she has avoided, as she recommended, touching his pastern. "Pick, please. I wrote," she explains, delicately employing it in the hoof's V-shaped frog, "to the Starks in Oldtown, seeking the hospitality of their manse for my daughter and her women. But I didn't imagine any city stable could accommodate all of us, and so I have also commanded pasturage outside the city walls. The rest of us will sleep out there till we've sold the herd down to a more manageable number."

She bends her head, eyeing the hoof, the shoe, and the nails holding it in place; happy with what she sees, she lowers it to the ground and stands up straight with a hand on her lower back. "I'll let Jake know your boy here will be wanting new shoes in about a week's time," she says to Lady Genevra. "Our smith. I don't know if you've had the pleasure yet."

Genevra's look of determination while Eddara speaks is slightly at odds with the awkward way she holds the stick and cup. She nods here and there. Firm, responsible nods that show she's listening. And she truly is, keen on every word. "I watched him work a few… camps ago." Was it days ago? Or was it weeks ago? Time becomes blurred on the road, mile after mile, camp after camp. Some strips of the Kingsroad look the same to her eye in-between landmarks. "Anyhow— thank you Lady Ryswell, I'll remember for next time," she says with a look to the gelding's hooves. A look of consideration passes her face, worrying it a little around its soft edges — wanting to say something to Eddara while she's here, and it's morning, but not quite knowing how or what and thus seeming on the verge of speaking and staying precariously silent.

"Your boy's well-trained," the Lady of the Rills comments, reclaiming her stick and then trading hoof pick for cup, a nod of her head encouraging Lady Genevra to go on to the more dangerous back hooves; "if you treat him well he'll always want to please you." The sound of her voice continues, low and steady, from where she's giving the gelding's neck slow, reassuring caresses. "If he doesn't it's only a matter of looking for the reason why not. Perhaps there's too much commotion nearby, making him skittish. Perhaps he would like to be certain of where you are. Perhaps he's off balance — leaning into him the way I just did reminds him to shift his weight the way he should. But if one of his hooves is hurting him, he won't want to put his weight on it whilst you lift up one of the others. Sometimes that's the reason. I'd have looked at that next if he hadn't responded so well to being held by his toe instead. Or," she inquires, with a lift of her brows lost on the girl facing the other way, "had you something else in mind to say to me, beyond horses and hooves?"

It's a lot to take in right before performing the task right in front of the person giving the sage advice. The Stark girl takes a quick pause to think and double-think about what she's doing this time when she prepares for the back hoof. But when she leans into the gelding, she simply remains there for a moment, supported by the strength of the animal. He stays calm. "Well… I was just thinking…" she begins, hesitates, and goes on, chancing a look over her shoulder. In the morning, it's more obvious that the colour of her eyes is grey, all crystalline shadows-and-light. "If it's the same as it was," her words pick up speed with no sign of stopping, "the Weirwood manse is all men and Mother except the servants and it looks just like it's in the North 'til you look outside. I was thinking how Lady Bethany will hate it and maybe she could take my room because it's got a nicer view and it's closer to the rooftop garden although she might hate that too because of all the pigeons— and I could help you with the horses."

Over her shoulder Lady Genevra sees Eddara Ryswell's tall, stocky, sensibly-dressed figure in absolute stillness, one hand buried in the strands of the gelding's dark mane. She is hardly breathing as she listens. Early in the day she smells more of herbal soap and less of horse, though the proportions are already reversing themselves. "Your mother will have her own ideas of what's right for you," she remarks mildly, "and of course you'll obey her. And Lady Bethany will make do, I'm sure, with nursing her disappointments in whatever chamber is granted her." She follows these unavoidably quelling words with a short silence — and then, "If you're finding the time heavy on your hands as we travel, we could put you to work helping with the rest of the herd. Another pair of careful hands is always useful, if you'll give me your word that in matters touching our horses you'll do as you're told even by men who can't match your rank," she says seriously. She's Lady Bethany's mother.

Genevra has a response at-the-ready for what her mother's probable ideas of what's 'right' or not, but cuts it off before it's begun (a sign of maturity or respect for Lady Ryswell or both, truly). She nods, quashing some of her eagerness in order to appear more serious and only partially succeeding. "Yes, I promise." Keeping busy will do her well and she knows it. Not only does she sincerely want to learn and be of use, the more busy she is the less restless she is, and the less restless she is, the less she thinks about the future.

Lady Ryswell gives the gelding another pat and his mistress a short, firm nod. "Good. I think you've met my groom, Liss," she insinuates, having been in receipt of several of that stalwart young northwoman's reports regarding Lady Genevra's great interest in horseflesh. "She'll be expecting you at the next halt, and she'll tell you what to do with yourself once you've seen to your own." Woman or no, Liss occupies a position amongst the grooms roughly analogous to Lady Ryswell's own among the men-at-arms. "You're stronger than you look," she observes, "and that's useful, too."

Genevra nods once more, confirming: Liss, check. She might be standing a little taller after Lady Ryswell's words; that twitch of her lips might be in want of a smile. But she doesn't puff her chest out too proudly. She means to prove her worth all the more, and so says nothing, simply getting straight back to work on the horse's back hoof, following all of the advice she was given, and using the motions she watched Eddara use.

It isn't perfect knowledge and infallible instinct Lady Ryswell is looking for in Lady Genevra, but gentle hands, a conscientious nature, and the willingness to pay attention. And she has seen enough, this morning, to be confident in her plan for the occupying of the young Stark's time. She lingers to be certain of her manner of addressing those troublesome, kicksome back hooves; and then, with a quick nod of farewell, she turns away to find her brigandine, her sword, and her own mount. The sun is rising fast. The road beckons.

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