The strong scent of a stable and all the noise associated with dozens of grooms tending to scores of horses dominates in the stableyard. There’s a constant traffic, an unceasing ebb and flow, although the westering of the sun and the coming of night leads to more horsemen coming in to leave their horses than those coming to take them out. Amidst all this activity, a lone figure, a Dornishman in a Dornishman’s robes, watches from a distance.
Another curious sight in the yard is the young woman who, despite that her garb makes it plain that she must surely be a noble, appears to be tending to her own mount. The silver-grey horse, quite unlike a lady’s palfrey in appearance, is tied to a hitching post off to one end of the yard while its mistress is washing it down with rags dipped in a large wooden bucket. Or rather, attempting to do so, anyhow, as the horse doesn’t seem to be entirely keen on the process. “Oh, you beast,” the young woman can be heard reprimanding it, after a kick from a front leg nearly overturns the bucket. “The heat makes you uncomfortable, does it not?”
The reprimand, faintly heard, draws the young knight’s attention. A smile touches his lips as he watches for a time. He drifts nearer, until finally he stands near enough where he can say, “That is a fine horse, my lady,” and perhaps surprise you by his nearness. “Good day,” Aidan follows that with, a brief bow from his waist accentuating it, but his eyes are more for the horse than for you. “She is well-proportioned. Is she one of the horses of the clansfolk of the North? I read of them once ... or, no, perhaps a maester told me. I cannot say.”
Rather engrossed in the process of attempting to cool her horse off without its full consent, Aisling does indeed find herself surprised as you speak up. Straightening up a little too quickly, she gives the horse an excuse to shy away once again. In doing so, a hoof again hits the bucket, splashing water all over the hem of her dress. “Oh, Ash, look what you did now,” she mutters, briefly distracted from you. But then she remembers, and turns around. Dark eyes settle on you, thoughtful for a moment or two (though surely she can’t have forgotten where you last met), before she minds her manners and curtseys. Passably. “Good day, ser,” she replies, not entirely sure what to make of you. But then, a brief pause as she glances back at her horse, now placidly resting, and a hint of a smile touches her lips as she answers your question. “No, not quite that. There are some common bloodlines, no doubt, but stock like this has been bred at the Rills for some time now. They’ve got some of the same hardiness, though.”
Keeping his place—mindful, perhaps, of the horse’s apparent nature—Aidan responds with a question . “Hardy enough to not falter in this heat, I suppose? Though not so hardy as to not protest.” He moves around to look at the horse from the other side, earning a roll of its eyes from it when it briefly desists in causing you trouble. “Yes, I can see that her temper is inflamed. I cannot blame her, so far from her home…” A longer pause there, and then he offers up, solicitiously, something entirely different, “Can you not find a groom to assist you, Lady Aisling? Bathing horses are one of the many tasks they are proficient at, I’d imagine.”
“In summer, the Rills too can be quite warm, but there’s always plenty of water, so I often ride her through streams to cool her off. I thought this would be a passable substitute, but ...” Aisling shrugs, and for now drops the rag she was using into the bucket. Then she, too, finds herself silent for a time, and like the mare behind her ends up shifting from one foot to another once or twice. “I suppose I could, ser, ” she replies after some time, her gaze narrowing faintly as it fixes—in a vaguely challenging way—on you again, “but I don’t see why I would. That would only leave me with another hour or two that I don’t know what to do with.”
“My apologies, my lady,” Aidan says with a lowering gaze and a soft concilatory tone, “if I pried too much. Of course you should do as you wish. It is better to pass one’s time doing something than nothing.” There’s a pensiveness that follows, as he considers the horse, then you, and then the horse again. When he speaks again, it’s still that solicitious manner. “What of embroidery, or singing? I have noticed there are many ladies here, at this court, and surely they pass their time in such a fashion. That is how many women pass their time in Dorne, in any case.” Given the reputation of Dornishwomen, what’s most remarkable is that he seems quite sincere.
“Indeed,” is all that Aisling says to that, at least at first, though she gives you a look that speaks volumes about what she thinks about spending her time with embroidery or singing. “I suppose I should not give all Northwomen a bad reputation,” she continues after a while, a thin smile on her lips, “as I am quite certain there are those who embroider and sing quite well. Some of us, however, are a little less refined than the ladies here in the south. And, apparently, than the ladies in Dorne.” This prospect doesn’t seem to bother in. In fact, she seems rather pleased about it. “I am sorry to disappoint you, ser,” she finishes, not sounding sorry at all.
Aidan listens quite gravely, with a seriousness that seems to suit him quite well. When the apology is made, he is quick to dismiss it with a perfectly pleasant smile. “The only disappointment, my lady, is that I see now that you will not ask me to assist you with your horse so that you might turn your attention to other pursuits,” he replies, all mildness and pleasantry. “It is a way to pass the time, as you say, and I think it’s better to handle a horse than to look at it from a distance.” His gaze lingers on the horse in question, and then he shakes his head with a brief laugh. A tress of dark hair falls before his eyes and he brushes it away casually as he states, “Of course, in the case of this creature, I suppose being at a distance is mere wisdom.”
Comments about her horse, at least, seem to meet with less disapproval than comments about herself, as Aisling does smile wryly at your concluding statement. “Ash has a mind of her own, that is certainly true, and an unwary groom would undoubtedly find himself with a few bruises.” She rubs her hands together then, to rub off some long silvery hairs from the mare’s coat, and then brushes the last off onto her overgown where already similar hairs cling here and there. “But if you know horses, she can usually tell, and won’t be quite so quick to put you to the test.” With that, she gestures to the mare, “By all means, acquaint yourself with her if you wish, ser. Though I am not looking for a groom, and I hardly think it would be fitting for one of the King’s hostages to play at being such.”
“You must be right, Lady Aisling. Still, I’ll take you up on the offer when it comes to Ash. A good name,” the Dornish knight says. Mindful of the place where water has pooled from the washing and the horse’s antics, he steps nearer with confidence. No doubt the mare looks at him suspiciously, but though his approach is made with a certain resoluteness, that hand he extends towards her mouth is more gentle and tentative. He lets her sniff at it, if she’s so inclined, and even to begin to mouth at it, if needs be, before he moves to rubbing gently at her nose. He has, perhaps quite unsurprising in a knight (or perhaps not), a certain affinity with horses. In his soft, Dornish drawl he murmurs soothing words, until he can scratch near to her mane and give her neck a good pat.
As he does this, Aidan remarks, with nothing but apparent interest in those cobalt eyes of his, “I do not suppose such a horse is used in war by your northmen. But are there destriers of related breeds? Do you have such, at the Rills?”
As you acquaint yourself with her horse, Aisling eyes the two of you thoughtfully, as if she puts some stock in her mare’s opinion of people. Perhaps that is what then makes her answer more readily. “She’s got good bone and mass, but she’s not quite tall enough for a warhorse, nor is most of the stock we have. Still, we do breed some larger and heavier ones as well, with more southern bloodlines mixed in.” She moves a little closer then, to stroke the mare along her back. “There’s less call for such, though. Mounts for riding, that handle rougher terrain and harsher weather, is more important the further north you get.” A slight, inquisitive tilt to her head follows and, after a brief pause to consider this course of action, she asks, “What of in Dorne? I have heard of your sandsteeds, but never seen one myself. They are not quite like destriers either, are they?”
The mention of the sandsteeds ... Aidan pauses for a moment in what he’s doing, looking at you with some surprise. “Not quite like ...,” he begins to repeat, almost incredulous. And then some well-trained part of him shifts easily to something earnestly informative, “No, not quite like the destriers, my lady. Sandsteeds are smaller and lighter. They do not have such strength, although some lords prefer to ride the get of sandsteeds crossed with destriers, especially those acquired in… well, with destriers, in any case.” He was no doubt about to reference the occasional Dornish raid on the marches, but for some reason he refrains. He continues, however, stroking Ash’s flank as he does so, “They cannot bear so much weight as a destrier, our sandsteeds. But they are very swift and enduring.”
A slim brow arches briefly at your aborted reference to how such destriers might be acquired in Dorne, though it seems to have elicited a hint of amusement more than anything else in Aisling. “I see. And no doubt there are a few palfreys in the Reach and the Stormlands with a bit of sandsteed in the bloodlines,” she dryly remarks, before becoming inquisitive once again. “How small are they, then? I suppose Ash would be heavier, but is she taller, I wonder?” Dark eyes, with a hint of purple in the light from time to time, look you over in a measuring fashion. “You are not so tall, I suppose, so you would not look misplaced on a smaller horse, no more than the clansfolk do on their mounts.” A quick shrug, and she looks back to Ash, adding, “I would like to see one of them.”
“The very largest pure sandsteeds might well be sixteen hands,” says Aidan, matter of factly. “These, as you may imagine, are quite prized. But more normally they run to ... oh, about the size of Ash, I’d suppose, or even a little less. Not so heavy, though, as you say.” He gives the mare a last pat on her neck—she’s practically eating out of his hand, now, and would be doing so if he had had something to feed her—and then he steps back a little, perhaps due to what you last said. What he responds to that is said with a certain carefulness, “I believe you will have your desire satisfied soon enough.”
“You must not have all that many knights who are very tall, then. It always seems to me as if they are never quite satisfied with the height of their horses. Or perhaps you have more sensible knights in Dorne, ser?” She sounds a little dubious about that last bit, however. And then Aisling pauses, thoughtfully, and considers what you said last. At first with a questioning look on her face, and then with a sudden frown. “Oh. Yes, I suppose that may be true.” She looks a little uncomfortable then, and that feeling seems to spark a touch of temper in her. “A rather foolish business, this whole war. Father was rather glad he had no sons of an age to insist on going along with the small force that came down from the North.”
The matter of the war lies too close for this hostage of King Daeron, so this may be why he doesn’t give a response to your final interjection; or perhaps it’s the temper in your voice. “There are tall knights even in Dorne, my lady,” he says, offering a smile. “In truth, those will ride on some sort of crossbreed ... if not with a destrier, than a courser or a hunter. As you might suppose, there is considerable argument as to what pairing makes the better warhorse, and even whether the sandsteed part should come from mare or stallion.” Glancing beyond the stableyards to the darkening sky that can be seen above the tall, imposing walls of the Red Keep, Aidan finally remarks, “The hour grows late. I am sorry to have detained you so long, Lady Aisling. I’ve a squire who tends to mischief when left unattended over long, and I should see about what new adventure he has managed.”
Left uncomfortable again, Aisling remains ... mildly riled, a slight blush colouring otherwise pale cheeks. “There’s no need to apologize, ser. I am in no rush to rejoin my step-sister at her embroidery,” she tartly responds. “But you should probably make sure your squire has not found himself in any trouble, all considered.” With that, she bends down to retrieve the rag previously dropped into the bucket of water, apparently set on continuing her work once left alone again.