Abby - 1999-3-20
nsleigh's market was almost identical to every other small-town market Keleos had ever been to. By the time the sun had cleared the horizon and the last bright colors of the sunrise were fading to white and blue, stalls had been set up all up and down the length of the street called Market Way and it's immediate branches. People, most of them of the same stock as the barmistress whose acquaintance Keleos had made the night before, filled the street; women and men haggled over their chosen purchases, vendors cried their wares, livestock neighed, lowed, squealed, and cackled, and children gambolled and giggled underfoot. There were even a scant handful of street-musicians, though they couldn't be making their living on music alone in such a small town.
Keleos, though she hated crowds, was in a decent mood. She'd managed to purchase the food and spare clothing she had needed without having to empty her purse or settle for low quality, and she hadn't had her pocket picked yet--though she'd felt fingers on her belt once or twice. The porridge that had been her breakfast had been surprisingly edible when cream and honey--both of which had, to her pleasure, been available--had been added, and her night's rest had been undisturbed. All Keleos needed now was a horse, and she had just learned of the promised horse-trader's location a few moments ago. Things were, all in all, going well.
Keleos headed to the end of Market Way, where the buildings thinned out and gave way to open land. Here a small string of horses, widely varied in color and pedigree, were picketed, tended by Trader Devlin and his apprentice, Jorji.
"Good morning!" the trader, a stout and weathered man with cheerful hazel eyes, greeted her.
Keleos nodded politely. "Trader Devlin?"
"That I am," he affirmed. "What can I do for you this morning?"
"I need a horse," she told him. "A riding mount, with high stamina, an even temper, and not too much ginger. Preferably intelligent."
"Hm." Devlin tapped his callused fingers together contemplatively. "I'll be honest with you; I haven't much by way of what you're asking. Most of my beasts are the sort farmers buy--work animals."
Keleos quirked a wry half-grin. "I suspected as much. Quite frankly, I need a horse that will get me to Torrigan. One I'm there, I can sell it and buy something better suited to me. But I'd really prefer to get a mount I like now, and not have to go through all of the haggling three times over."
"Well... I may have a beast for you. It depends on how far you're willing to trust me."
"Your words do not inspire my confidence," Keleos noted.
He chuckled. "I admit, that does sound a bit dubious. Here, though, come with me and I'll show you what I mean." Devlin led her down the line of horses, greeting some of the animals cheerfully as he went along. Keleos watched his easy manner with the horses, and the well-fed looks of them, and decided she was willing to trust him. To a degree, anyhow.
"And here we are," he said, stopping at the end of the picket. "Lovely little lass, isn't she?"
The grey mare Devlin indicated was, indeed, beautifully built. She only stood about fourteen or fifteen hands, a little smaller than Keleos liked in her horses, but had all the marks of Ronin breeding: slim, sleek build, with a deep heartgirth, short back, and compact hindquarters; fine legs; wavy silver-white falls of mane and tail; a vaguely high crest and proudly arched neck; a small head, large and wide-set eyes, the slight concave profile and petite muzzle that were the signature of good southern horses. More than that, there was a spark of intelligence in the mare's eyes and bearing that Keleos liked.
She could see immediately, though, why Devlin had said it would depend on how much she trusted him. The mare's fine white coat was marred down the left side of her chest by a scar; by the looks of it, it had been no superficial wound. It ran like a bolt of lightning from the top of the near foreleg over the mare's chest and up almost to the top of her shoulder, the black skin in stark contrast to the white hair. Two more scars, thin, straight lines, were barely visible under the sleek coat, and a third was a black line on the mare's left cheek barely more than an inch under her eye. Keleos knelt to examine the mare's chest, and was rewarded by the small grey muzzle whuffling at the back of her neck.
"What happened?" she asked Devlin.
"I bought her from a nobleman down south, the blood still fresh on her. I'm fairly sure he'd stolen her--no Ronin would have trusted a jewel like her to a bastard like him. He'd been riding her to hunt, and tried to take her over a fallen log--not a sapling at all; it was near as big as one of those tree-giants up north, and all over broken branches. She'll jump anything you set her at, whether she ought to or not, and she tried to jump that log, but one of the broken branches caught her shoulder and tore it open. She fell on the other side, and he fell with her--well, he was furious. Took his whip to her, like you see, then dragged her back to the stables, both of them lame. I was there to sell some carthorses for farm work, and heard what had happened; he was going to slaughter her for dog meat, saying she was fair worthless now--I stepped in and took her off his hands. For a song, you might say. She healed up well enough and has been little enough the worse for it. But no one'll buy her, on account of the scars; they think she'll go lame on them if they work her any."
"Will she?" Keleos asked seriously.
"I've never seen her do it," he replied, with sincerity Keleos didn't think he could feign. "Not that leg nor any other--and I've taken her out for a few runs myself. It's a right shame no one's willing to take a chance on her. I daresay she's the best horse that'll ever come through my hands."
"Well, I'll take a chance on her," Keleos pronounced, "but I'd like to try her out a bit if that's all right."
Devlin positively beamed. "Not a problem at all. I bought her tack with her; I'll send the boy for it. Jorji, lad, fetch m'lady's tack, will you?"
Jorji, a gangly tow-headed lad, obliged, and Keleos chuckled softly in approval of the Ronin-style saddle and hackamore. "Very nice," was her comment.
"I rather thought so myself," Devlin agreed, as Keleos settled the saddle--more a glorified bareback pad than anything else, all layers of cloth and soft leather in black and white and grey, with a high cantle and a deep seat--on the grey mare's back. The hackamore slipped over the mare's head, and she made no fuss over it. Keleos led the mare away from the picket, watching for any sign of lameness and seeing none, then mounted.
It didn't take her long to decide that Devlin was telling the truth. The mare's gaits were as smooth as butter, and she was as responsive and willing as Keleos could have wished. I'd be a fool to let a mount like this get away, Keleos decided. I'll never find another of this quality at a price I can afford. She reined the grey in beside Devlin. "All right, trader, I'll take your word on her. How much do you want?"
He laughed. "She's worth her weight in silver, if not gold," he said, "but I expect I'll never have another chance to sell her, and she's wasted on me. Shall we say thirty-five royals?"
Keleos did a quick mental inventory of her purse and decided she could afford it. The mare, if Devlin was telling the truth about her soundness, was certainly worth more. "Done," she said, and grinned at his surprised expression. She dismounted, digging into her purse and drawing out three platinum coins. "Will this do?"
He blinked at her quick acceptance, but wasn't fool enough to question it. "Nicely, and thank you. Safe travels to you."
"No fear of that," Keleos said dryly. "Does she have a name?"
"I call her m'lady, but if she'd a name when I bought her, I was never told."
"Then," Keleos mused, leading the mare away, "I suppose I'll have to give her one. Swift," she decided. "Swift you are and Swift you will be called. Swift."
The grey mare whickered, and Keleos laughed softly to herself, well pleased with her purchase.
Yvonne - 1999-4-6
he buzz of insects was very hypnotic as was the sun on his bare head. This Lucian character didn't seem to be showing up yet so Deran put his head down to take a little nap while Diana rustled about in the grass. He had long since intimidated the guards so what else was there to do? He closed his eyes and soaked up the heat.
"Mmm?" he opened his eyes sleepily and glanced over at his sister. She was staring off down the road.
"I think this may be our employer ... and a fine looking one at that."
Deran rolled over onto his stomach, but it was only a lone man riding down the road on a grey horse. "I thought you said it was female."
"No, just attractive." Diana's lips curved into a sensual smile.
"Fine. You take him." he snorted as he rolled onto his knees and picked up his pack.
"Oh, I will."
Deran rolled his eyes. "Just don't get us fired. Again."
"Lord Lucian!" one of the guards shouted and the figure waved and kneed his horse into a jarring trot. At least it looked that way to Deran, who's only riding experience consisted on whatever horse would bear him, which wasn't many. Most horses hated the predatorial smell of the Llowra, which was why many of the species didn't ride.
"Geric! I hear my new guards have arrived?" the man said once he was in comfortable speaking distance. He was dressed in green and white, set of with tiny silver accents. He looks like a dressed-up tree, thought Deran with amusement. And my sister actually thinks he's attractive?
"We're over here." Diana said, rising gracefully to her feet and shouldering her pack. The man, presumably Lucian, turned his horse to look at them and Diana smiled and managed a seductive walk. "I am Diana, and that's my brother and partner, Deran. I presume you are my employer, Lucian?"
"Lord Lucian," corrected one of the guards.
"That's right, I am. Please to meet you both." he smiled at Diana, ignoring Deran. He decided that he wasn't overly fond of this Lucian and shouldered his pack, moving over to glower behind his sister.
"The pleasure belongs to me," purred Diana. She's being outrageous! thought her twin with disgust as Diana continued. "I've never met a Lord before, and you certainly live up to the tales that I've been told, in almost every way."
"Oh?" the man said, raising an eyebrow. He looked intrigued. "What have these stories said?"
"That your kind are as handsome as they are rich, as brave as they are handsome, and as kind as they are brave. The rest I will not repeat for fear of offending ... delicate ears." she said, sounding flirtatious. Her whole posture said ~Take me!! I'm yours!!~ One of the guards behind their Lord looked about ready to pound her, so Deran glared challengingly at him until he dropped his eyes.
The Lord broke out into a wide grin. "Well, I think that you may have misjudged me-"
"No. I am a very accurate judge of character." interputed Diana smoothly. "But I am keeping out on the road which isn't particularly good of me as your guest. Shall we?" she took a few steps down the road before coyly glancing behind, a playful smile hovering around the edges of her mouth. Lucian kneed his horse to follow looking a bit flustered at Diana's taking charge but a bit intrigued at the same time. Deran obligingly took up the rear. Or rather, to the left of rear. The whole time Diana had been playing with the Lord the horse had been rolling it's eyes and it's ears were firmly pinned back. No doubt it would attempt to kick him if he got too close ... now there was a thought. Hiding a savage smile Deran took a step closer to the horse and nearly laughed as it pranced sideways rolling it's eyes and making the Lord scramble a bit to regain his balance. Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad trip after all...
Copyright (c) 1999-2000 Abigail Laughlin and the members of the Circle of Stone.