The Kingdom of the Boundary Veil

Blunt Force, part one
Courneye Stablery, Restov. Six years back.

Colin had grown like a weed, his mother had said, and was a half a head taller than the other pre-teen boys in Restov. Which was good, because much more of the work at the stablery was falling upon his broadening shoulders. It was two hours before breakfast and the lad rubbed sleep from his eyes with one hand as the other opened the gate to the western stalls. He’d have to light the lantern, he knew, but for now it was pleasant enough to walk blind on the hay-strewn boards he’d known like his own room and pretend he was still in his warm bed.

His foot came into contact sooner than he’d expected with something softer and more yielding than the expected floor and he clumsily pirouetted to avoid placing the rest of his weight upon it. Doing so, he wound up getting his other foot entangled in something woven and he toppled backward over a high-pitched protesting and frightened bundle.

“Don’t hit me!” cried the voice.

“I just tripped on you. Calm down!” grumbled the wide-awake now Colin. “What are you doing here?”

Colin sensed the figure sitting up, a darker, shorter, shadow in the shadowy stable. “Just s-sleeping, sir. Wasn’t doin’ nothing! Don’t tell!”

Colin regained his feet and felt on the wall for the lantern. He lit it with a practiced strike of the tindertwig from his pocket along the support beam, making a dark line joining the hundreds of others. He wicked it down low and then turned to look down.

He saw a boy, maybe a few years younger than himself, his feet wrapped in rags, unpatched holes in his pants and a ratty felt cloak wrapped around his shoulders. The kid squinted up at the light, pinching up his nose and mouth like he’d tasted something bad. “‘snot even dawn, why ain’t you jus’ lemme sleep?”

“Look, kid,” said Colin, “I need to haul some hay in and some manure out. We have a full stall and all these horses need to be ready to ride out with first light. You can’t sleep here now.”

Seeing an opening, the tatterdemalion tried a grin as he stood up, “So I could do it another time, then?”

Colin lit another lantern low, as the rustle of waking horses began to cascade up and down the stalls. He took down a bale hook from a peg and held it as he replied, “If there’s an empty stall…” He shrugged. “We get in horses in the middle of the night sometimes though. At least you’d hear us coming if you weren’t in the doorway.”

He pointed the hook though and added, trying to sound like his father, “But you steal something? You hurt one of these horses? Or scare them, so they hurt themselves or each other?” He shook the hook back and forth before the skinny boy’s face. He suppressed a grin as the boy watched it and shuddered.

“I wouldn’t do that, mister!” he said. “And.. and anyways, you wouldn’t even knows it was me!”

“You’re the only kid who comes here,” said Colin. “I’ve seen your messes before. You just leave early, usually.”

The boy looked down at his feet and turned to go and Colin ventured, “Why don’t you help me some this morning? Then you could have breakfast. I might even have some old clothes that would fit you.”

At that, the boy snickered. “Work muckin’ horse plops?” he laughed. “Naw thanks, I din’t need any er ’at.” He waved and padded off into the corral.

Colin heard a creak of the corral gate as the boy must have wriggled through the cross-bars. He shook his head and set to work.

(to be continued)

The Riding Lesson
Courneye Stablery, Restov. Six months back.

There is a corral, like a courtyard, surrounded on three sides by stables that are closed on the outside open on the inside so there is a lot of fresh air. The fourth side of the corral is two buildings with a gate in between to go right to the corral. One building is the family household. The other is not as tall and serves as a kind of a lower office and saddlery

Crytalis Surtova makes her way carefully towards the office type building, her eyes examining the ground constantly for signs of horse dung. “Heeelllooo” she calls out into the doorway of the office.

There is no reply from the office but a faint call of “Hello?” comes from the other side of the corral gate. There are no animals in the corral at present.

Crytalis turns to survey the rest of the stables, climbing halfway up the corral gate for a better perch to peruse her little domain from. “Hello you person who said hello.” She calls out again, before swinging a leg over the gate. Her heavy skirts making it nearly impossible, but she flails a bit and more like…rolls over the top of the gate. She does a quick look around to make sure no large beasts are heading in her direction before dusting herself off and marching in the direction of the voice with quick decided little steps.

A broad-shouldered young man, shirtless and sweating, his hair tied back out of his eyes pokes his head through the doorway to the stables to her left, a shovel in his hand which he leans against the wall. Taking a rag from his breeches pocket he wipes his hands. “Ma’am, I’d have been happy to open the gate for you,” he says, with obvious concern but a hint of good humor at her pluckiness.

She stops at the sight of the owner of the voice, for a moment she just stares finally saying in a quite resigned tone, a simple. “Oh my.” His words break the spell and she turns to look again at the gate of which he speaks, that little barrier to her desires already having been forgotten. She turns back his way, clearing her throat…“Yes, well, I need to learn to.” she flicks her hand around. “Ride. Who do I speak with for such a thing?”

He breaks into a wide grin, artlessly oblivious to her subtleties of reaction, and approaches across the dirt of the corral. “Oh, you’ve come to the right place. Normally they’ll take care of schedules and such in the office but it’s just me here today.” He pauses to look at her thick skirts. “Were you thinking you’d want to get started right away? Have you ever ridden before? It might be easier with breeches, ma’am.”

Crytalis takes a half-step back at his approach, self preservation taking over, she forces her foot to stop however and plants it in the dirt instead. “Why yes, of course now, when else would one start something. I have an hour to devote to it, surely one can learn such a thing in that time?” she looks down to peruse her skirt along with him, dusting some dirt from it. “No experience, I just, you see I, well I haven’t had the time what with parties and all those things that come with growing up fabulously rich and such. Also, I don’t own breeches anymore” she shrugs, then seems to catch herself. “Not that I ever did, mind you.” She decides to just keep studying her skirt through all this, far more safe that that bare chest of his.

He smiles again, listening politely and seeming to take everything she says at her word. “Well, I don’t know too much about parties but that sounds very nice, ma’am. We can definitely find you a saddle that should suit your skirts. Just need to make sure you don’t fall too hard.” He runs a hand to wipe the grime from his brow with his handkerchief and looks up, gauging the time. “As for how long it will take? Well, everyone’s different. Most folks come back for a few lessons at least, once or twice a week. I suppose I could put off mucking out those stalls for now and get you started.” He smiles again and strolls back to the stable. “Let’s see who’s around today for you to ride,” he adds by way of invitation, slipping into the shady doorway buzzing with flies.

Traipses after him, “Fall?” she queries as she stops in the doorway, slapping at flies, both handed. “Isn’t it your job to assure that I /don’t/ fall? I mean, that is the sole purpose of me paying you, otherwise I would just climb atop one of the beasts and figure it out. Also, shouldn’t you put on a shirt first….to prevent being eaten by flies….of course.”

He turns with a laugh and knocks the side of his head gently with the heel of a hand. “I’m sorry, ma’am. You’re right. I’d forgotten I’d taken it off so it didn’t get too dirty.” He steps past her, excusing himself, to reach for a undyed cloth tunic on the rail behind her. As he pulls it on over his head, he says, “I don’t know how to behave around proper ladies like yourself, rightly. Haven’t had too many opportunities besides grooming their horses.” He manages to get his arms through the sleeves and, checking that his hand is reasonably clean, extends it. “My name’s ”/characters/colin-courneye" class=“wiki-content-link”>Colin, by the way. I won’t let you fall, ma’am." Then he glances down at his hand as if wondering if this is the wrong thing to do with nobility.

She switches from batting at the flies to clapping at them, in an attempt to squish them between her palms. This stops as he pulls on the shirt, her stealing his moment’s distraction to catch one last look at the skin before the shirt covers it. “Hmmm” she hums out to herself, much pleased. She quickly slaps at another fly as his head emerges. As he begins to speak she stops, hands falling to her side. A strangely intense look crosses her face, a quick flicker, at his promise. “I shall hold you to that, Colin.” She reaches to clasp his hand in both of hers and pumps it gently up and down.

A light wave of relief crosses his features as she accepts his gesture but as he feels the softness of her hands an unfamiliar warmth seems to move from his wrists up his arms to flush his cheeks and he releases the contact. He leads her between the rows of stalls to either side, the aisle well-kept and as clean as one could reasonably expect. He passes several horses of various size and color and comments, “Most of these are boarding with us with visitors to Restov so of course, I’m not free to lend them out for a lesson.” Towards the end of the aisle there are two horses that he turns toward. An impressive looking large grey mare with whorls of white on her flanks and a white mane and an older, chestnut brown gelding, its eyes a faded blue. Colin reaches a hand to scratch the male’s nose. “I think old Sergeant Brass will work well for you. He’s got a nice smooth gait and he’s used to taking care of folks who are learning.”

She spares the passing horses a brief glance, much more interested in watching him as he guides her through the stable. The grey mare catches her attention, however. “Why, she is beautiful, I wish to ride her.” she declares, not giving poor Sergeant a second, or first, glance.

He takes a step back towards her, the mare nickering and stepping forward to stretch her neck towards him which he unconsciously slides an arm around in a gentle embrace. “She /is/ beautiful, that’s for sure. (to the horse) Aren’t you?” He faces the noblewoman and sheepishly shrugs. “But Joyous Storm is bred for fighting, I’m afraid. She’s quite spirited. She’ll only tolerate a skilled rider.” Joyous Storm shakes her head vigorously and stamps the ground before her as if to accentuate the point. When she moves, a wooden shield and sword propped in the back of her stall, are revealed.

Crytalis is convinced by the stomping and nods, turning a polite smile to Sergeant, “Yes, you are lovely too.” she tells him before turning back to Joyous Storm. “Whose is she? Why is she bred for fighting, who does she fight? Does she stomp people to death?”

He laughs and says, “No, no. I’m just training her now. She’s never hurt anyone.” Joyous Storm nips at the cloth on his shoulder, then. “Well, she’s thrown me a few times, haven’t you, girl? But I was asking for it. We were still getting to know each other. It takes a while, you know. Every horse and rider are different.” He gets a faraway look in his eyes, adding, “Now… Now, it’s like she knows what I want to do before I do it. It’s… it’s the best feeling, like being two parts of the same animal.” He gives the girl a bright smile. “I hope you get to feel that someday too! But we’ve got to walk before we can run, as they say.” He enters Sergeant Brass’s stall, leaving it open and checking him over. “Go ahead and say hello if you like,” he suggests, not specifying to whom.

Her eyes arch up as he zones, only to then narrow as she tries to grasp the sensation he is describing. She turns to eye Sergeant with trepidation. “So, you are saying that the horse’s soul will eventually possess me?” she steps back. “You know, riding is just a fancy of mine, really no need to….I am sure it is lovely, Oh my it is later than I had thought.”

“Wait, don’t go!” he cried, surprising himself with the suddenness of his own reaction. “I’m sorry. No, it’s nothing like that. I shouldn’t talk so much.” He composes himself and says, “Please, ma’am. I’ll just go get a saddle and bridle for Sarge here. I’ll be right back.” He hurries off, lightly striking the side of his head with the heel of his hand. “Dumb, dumb, dumb…”

She runs after him, grabbing at his hand to yank it away from his head. "No, no, I like it when you talk. I like your voice, and your words. I just….well I have this imagination, you see. I am forever trying to hide it but it always rears up at the most awkward of times. " if she manages to catch his arm she seeks to lightly turn him. “Please, think nothing of it.”

He turns and looks down into her face and seems to only now notice the brilliant golden-brown of her eyes. He holds the gaze long enough that he embarrasses himself with his boldness and then lets a smile wash over his face. “That’s very nice of you to say. No one’s ever told me that before,…” his words hang as if he wants to pronounce a name he does not know.

She stares right back up into his baby blues, though there is no embarrassment in her boldness, her eyes drop to his mouth as the smile forms “I have never seen a man’s lips so close before, would it bother you if I kissed them? Is that a strange thing to ask?” she still does not produce her name, too intent on watching his lips form words.

“Bother me?” he stammers. “N-no! I mean, that… would be great but well… I mean, you’re a noble and you’re here alone… I’m… I’m just… nobody. You’re… better.” He breathes hard, his heart racing.

Her eyes lift to his eyes again, appraising. “You are not nobody.” she says simply. “There is a hum to you, a buzz.” Those eyes narrow further, sparking ire. “And nobility does not make one better, ever.” she lift up on tiptoes, one hand raising to pull down his head before she presses her lips to his, in what might be described as a kiss if one is like 6 years old.

He accepts the kiss and then smiles kindly, enclosing her hand on his head in his. “Here,” he says softly and then closes his eyes and tilts his head to the side, widening the connection of his mouth to hers, taking an inward breath to complete the seal. He pulls back after a moment. “How is that?”

She shivers all over and stares at him in equal parts delight and terror. The delight finally wins and she lifts her fingers to his lips, tracing them. " Is that what all the fuss is about, then?" she naively asks. “It is no wonder people are always killing each other and such, how can the mere touch of another’s skin and taste of their breath invoke such response?”

He smiles and kisses her fingertip. “It’s just nature, I guess. Will you tell me your name? I need to know what to whisper after you’ve gone back to your parties and riches. I promise I won’t bring you any shame. I’ll keep it secret.”

He pops her little happy bubble with his words. “Shame? What shame is there in this? Do you think this something that can be danced away at some ball? Do you not feel the twine threading and twisting us together?” she laughs, “Oh Colin, some binds can not be explained nor broken.” in an instant she transforms back to blushing girl “Oh, Crytalis…I suppose you were just asking my name in a polite way…huh?”

“Crytalis,” he sounds out, like tasting a new food. Then he smiles again. “I only meant that you probably have suitors from other families and arranged marriages and all those sorts of things I hear about nobles. I wouldn’t want someone to be able to use me against you to make some scandal.” “I…” he hesitates. “You have a way about you, you know that? I haven’t ever met anyone like you. I think I /do/ feel like I’m being lassoed.”

The smile she bestows on him would be sweet if not for the undercurrent of satisfaction and hunger. “You are being lassoed, but fear not, I am a bastard…I have already caused my family great scandal with my very birth. What would a bit more be?” she steps back, eyes shifting around the stable. Unsure once more, “So, weren’t you going to teach me to ride?”

His jaw, momentarily slack, reanimates and he doffs the side of his head. “Right! I was just going to get a saddle and bridle for Sarge. I’ll be right back.” He crosses to the opposite stables, returning momentarily with a leather saddle and harness. He smiles as he passes her and then sets to saddling Brass Sergeant, leading the horse out into the corral. “Why don’t you go ahead and climb up,” he says, cupping his hand near the horse’s right flank. “Put your right foot here and then swing your left leg over his back.”

She looks at his hand and the height of the horse. She hikes up her skirt before she grabs ahold of Colin’s head and uses it steady herself. She then uses his head to pull herself up flopping over the side of the horse and clinging to it.

He sputters a bit, extricating his head from the skirts. “Not bad for a first try!” he smiles. “Next time, let’s try letting me lift you up.” He pulls the reins almost taut and hands them to her. “Now just hold on. Don’t try to guide him. Let’s just practice staying in the saddle. Sarge is pretty gentle but all horses bounce a bit. I will walk next to you if you slip.” He makes a clicking sound with his tongue and the gelding begins forward at a slow walk.

Crytalis sits as straight as humanly possible, chin lifting. Occasionally, she will nod to an imaginary subject in a regal manner. Eventually she grows bored with her game and amuses herself with watching Colin. “Are you wed?” she blurts out, the sudden thought springing just as quickly from her lips. “And if so, is she the healthy sort?”

Colin coughs loudly, having swallowed an insect. “Wed?!” he sputters, regaining his breath. “No. No, I’m not wed. I haven’t really even thought about it. I mean… I probably wouldn’t. Not for a long time anyway.” He looks up at her with a struggling expression. “You see, it wouldn’t be fair to her. I’m probably going to be leaving Restov. I haven’t told my family yet. I need to go and help people, you see.

“I met these travelers once when I was little,” he continues. “They had the most marvelous steeds. So strong and well-loved. They insisted on caring for them themselves but I watched. They were cavaliers of the Order of the Shield. They’d dedicated their lives to protecting the weak and bringing justice for those who suffered. It didn’t matter that some were born noble and some weren’t. They gave it all up. I…”he falters, somewhat. “I want to do that too. When I die I want to die knowing I did everything I could to make the world better than it was. I mean, imagine if everyone lived that way! There would be no more suffering or despair. Just a place where people could feel safe and accepted, no matter who they were.

“So, anyway… I don’t even know if I’d ever come back from that. It will probably be really dangerous, too. I couldn’t ask someone to sit and wait for me. Or to depend on me, either.” He looks down at his feet, then.

Perfect little white teeth scrape at her lip as she listens, eyes thoughtful. “Well, I suppose I shall just have to travel with you when that time comes.” she says resolutely. “It shall be a grand adventure, and I shall keep you alive.”

Colin looks up at her, tenuously perched above him, a bewildered but appreciative smile spreading warmly across his features.


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