1626, Sea Season, Fertility Week
It’s been about a week on the road between Nochet and Boldhome. Varanis has clearly been struggling with her horses, especially Manasa, who is regularly accused of being a demon, and has thrown Varanis once already. The Vingan looks miserable.
“Serala,” she says quietly, “I need help. What am I doing wrong? Manasa is trying to kill me and Doqeia is fine unless she sees something that startles her and everything startles her.” There is frustration in her voice.
Serala is, in her usual manner, riding easily on the outskirts of the party, reins loose on Pag’s neck, essentially controlling by posture alone. She turns her head towards Varanis and offers a smile. “They’re individuals. You have to train them as individuals. But you do have to train them. Right now, they’re in charge, and they know it.” She looks fondly towards Manasa, reaching to scritch between ears, serene confidence in the movement. “Some people are calm. Some are not. It’s the same for horses.”
“My brother gave me these two. I can’t tell if it was a prank or if he’s trying to kill me.” Varanis sounds tired, but seems to be making an attempt at humour. Sort of. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m not exactly a good rider.”
“Maybe he was trying to teach you something.” Serala unhelpfully offers. “Can you think of any lessons he might be trying to share? Or maybe he thinks he’s a better rider than you are?” Ouch. Pulling no punches there. “Falling is no shame. Letting the horses be in charge though… how can you expect your warriors to follow you into battle if you are afraid of your own mount?”
Varanis stiffens in response to Serala’s last statements. “First, my brother is an ass who has always enjoyed tormenting me. The only lessons he likes to share are those that emphasize his opinions of his little sister.” Her voice is bitter when she speaks of it. “Second, I have never led from horseback. I fight on my feet and in Vinga’s hands. I am not afraid of my horse. I’m not afraid of anything.” There is pride and anger in her tone. Unsurprisingly, Manasa starts shifting irritably. The suddenly tense grip on the reins demonstrates the lie in Varanis’ words.
Serala is completely placid as she glances towards the irritated mare, and simply nods. “As you say. In that case, I would surmise that the mares must be valuable indeed for you to put up with them solely because they were gifted by a brother you hold in such low esteem.” She lifts a shoulder, and her eyebrows in tandem. “Then you tell me. Why do you believe they were gifted as my guesswork was so inaccurate?”
“He wants to see me fail. But I won’t. I can’t.” Varanis’ voice is edged with frustration and something more. “Serala…. can you help me, please?” The word sounds like it is unfamiliar on her lips. The arrogance has vanished suddenly and Varanis seems to deflate slightly.
Serala lets the silence ring on for several long steps. Not to cause embarrassment, but simply to think through her response; it would seem that the Grazelander doesn’t offer help she doesn’t mean. Finally comes her response, “I will.” The simple words seem to hold the tone of an oath. “But I don’t promise it will be easy. There is more to mastering a horse than there would seem.” She nudges Pag with her knees, almost invisibly and he skitters to the side, light and surefooted. From that distance, Serala regards Varanis for long moments, her clear grey eyes taking in everything about her. “You transmit your fe.. uncertainty in everything you do. She doesn’t care what you say. She cares what she senses.”
Varanis heaves a sigh of relief as soon as Serala answers. She’d been holding her breath and staring at Manasa’s twitching ears throughout the extended silence. She takes a deep breath now and straightens in the saddle. Manasa lifts her head, shaking it in response to the Vingan’s shifting seat. She jumps forward suddenly, with Varanis barely holding on, a look of mixed fury and fear on the Vingan’s face.
It takes only a heartbeat before Serala, clearly expecting something similar, is moving. Or rather Pagliacci is. Serala seems almost immobile in the saddle, and yet never jarring against the horse, more a part of him. She is next to Varanis and Manasa in a moment. But where others might reach for the rein, to catch it, to slow the headstrong horse, Serala merely matches pace, making no effort to help. “Move with her,” she chides. “With. You’re like a dry log on her back, she knows she can cart you.” It would appear that, although Varanis has company, she is on her own, as the mare gets the bit between her teeth and starts to move for real.
Serala matches the pace, but very subtly behind. Horses are herd animals, the instinct will be to stay with Pag and thus not accelerate any more than Serala lets Pag go. In this way, the Grazelander exerts a certain amount of control over the situation, though Varanis is unaware of it.
“Oh Vinga,” the words sound almost desperate. Varanis draws in some deep breaths and tries to relax into the horse’s movement. Slowly, things seem to come together, with her hips adjusting to the rocking motion of Manasa’s body. Bit by bit, she lets the tension go and the blood begins to flow through her again, so that her fingers regain their colour. Manasa is still moving quickly, but Varanis no longer looks like she is in imminent peril of falling. She starts to pull the reins slowly and evenly, as she does, she seems to sit back in her saddle. Manasa slows gradually. For the moment, at least, Varanis appears to be in control of her mount.
Serala doesn’t appear to be helping at all. She looks alive and enthused; there’s a wildness in her eyes, and her braids streaming behind her. She is, however, keeping close, watching, careful. It doesn’t help any rider to fall or lose their nerve – the point is to improve the Esrolian’s confidence, not shatter it. And when Varanis settles back in the saddle and Manasa begins to slow, Serala gives a single word of praise. “Good. ” Followed by more instruction. “Now look in the direction you want to go. Let your body turn naturally. That will tell her all she needs to know. She reads everything of your body language. Which is why calm and lack of fear is the most important.”
Varanis turns slowly to look in the direction of the others, who are stopped some distance away and watching the events unfold. Manasa is now trotting in their direction, with Varanis safely on her back. There are expressions warring on Varanis’ face; relief and chagrin seem dominant.
As they get closer, but are still out of earshot, she murmurs “thank you” without shifting her gaze to Serala. Whether it’s embarrassment or nervousness about looking away from her destination is not clear.
Serala says something in her own language, which could mean anything, but from the expression, it is something calming and complimentary. Whether to Varanis or Manasa, however, is rather more of a moot point… “We ride again tomorrow.” she then says – it doesn’t appear to be a question. Varanis asked for her, and daily practice is now part of the Vingan’s life, it would appear.