When I hear hoofbeats, I don't think zebra. (JP - Tolfast/Tyne)

Nutmeg
 

IC Date Reference: 8.28.5.30


OoC: Coming down to the Beastcraft section of the Weyr so close to a Gather was probably asking for trouble, but she was feeling high spirited today and that meant she felt brave. The fair were cascading through the air high over the Lake, Bobbin at the helm as she led them a merry game of chase and fish hunting. Tyne encouraged them to spend time away, for lack of better wording, to let their hair down. It also meant that she wouldn’t cause chaos with an entourage as she made her way towards the stables. For a short while, she had stopped against a fence and watched some of the Apprentices leading out some of the stabled runners and begin grooming them in the yard, tails flicking away the flies that tried to bother them.


The reality was, as painful as it might be - Tyne didn’t have her own form of easy transportation anymore. She knew that R’zzon was always willing to accommodate where he could but given that the firelizard clinic was likely going to see her moving back and forth between the Weyr and Callamere on a regular basis, then the reality was, she either had to keep paying a pretty mark to the wagons or look into getting her own form of transportation. And practically speaking, runners might be the way to go. But of course, it would be a way off before she looked into investing into her own. Before she got as far as that, she needed to see if she would be able to ride them.


Stepping up to the yard, Tyne politely tapped the shoulder of a man with his back to her. She couldn’t see his knots properly but she assumed he was likely one of the Journeymen. “Excuse me, sir? I was wondering if you knew who I might be able to talk to about taking runner riding lessons.”


Engrossed in his work, Tolfast failed to notice the woman's approach until he felt the tap. At that, he gave the gentlest of flinches, not truly accustomed to being touched as a way to get his attention, polite though it was. "Faranth, you gave me a start, girl!" His laughter was booming, albeit tinged with embarrassment at his own reaction more than anything else. "Keera, take her through the course one more time and you can put her out to graze after," he instructed the woman standing beside a tall, leggy bay runner. She nodded curtly and walked the animal a few paces away before mounting again while Tolfast turned to give Tyne his full attention. 


"Apologies if I heard wrong, but you're looking to ride?" He asked, face abruptly serious. "We have quite a few journeyman who can assist. Can I ask for what purpose, pleasure or craft? --Ah, and your name? You may call me Tolfast." The Masters' knots on his shoulder would have identified him even if the name meant nothing to her. 


The laugh seemed to bounce off the walls and the hugeness of it brought a smile to Tyne’s own face, softening the deep sorrow that seemed permanently behind her eyes. She had watched the girl walk the animal, eyes watching the way the runner moved before turning her attention back as Tolfast questioned her. “Ah… well, a little of both? A means to secure my own transportation as I will be travelling regularly between here and Callamere Hold, plus I find myself with a lot of time on my hands so likely will be looking to learn for enjoyment as well…” That he asked for her name didn’t surprise her and she had nodded in quiet acknowledgement of his own, locking it into her thoughts.


“Oh, of course, forgive me. I seem to forget my manners half the time. Go --” It had started to come out as naturally as a sneeze but she stopped, something flickering over her features as though internally, she gave herself a mental shake. It took just a moment too long before the smile was back in place, albeit a little contrived this time. “Forgive me. My name is Tyne. Just Tyne.” Her manners were too smooth to belong to someone of truly no rank, too well structured and prepared. There had of course been the slightest hesitation before her name as though her brain was trying to fill a space that her mouth wasn’t sure how to say. “It’s my pleasure to meet you Master Tolfast. I do hope I’m not stealing you away from something terribly important.”


"No, no, not at all," he assured her without a moment of hesitation. "She doesn't need my help anymore, I fear she may walk the tables on me and leave to greater things here soon." There was a paternal fondness in the way he spoke of the journeyman rider as he glanced over his shoulder toward the arena. Smiling still when he turned back to Tyne, he had not been able to miss the sadness in her expression nor the hiccup in her introduction. There was something mournful about the way she held her face, and he wondered at the story he suspected lay behind that curtain. 


"The pleasure's all mine, Tyne." Big, coarse hands reached forward in an attempt to clasp her own. Did he know that name somewhere? It sounded strangely familiar, though he failed to put his finger on it. "You've come to the right place. We have quite a few placid, well-trained runners that make for excellent first-timers. Do you have any prior experience riding?" He asked innocently.


Now that was something of a loaded question. Because in a manner of speaking, yes she had had a form of riding experience. But now probably not the time to fall down that particularly cotton-tail hole. As her hand was enveloped with his own, it had been shaken firmly. After a moment’s hesitation, she had shaken her head.


“Not riding. I’ve been around runners before to a degree but that was… more in passing?” That wasn’t… precisely a lie. She had never really ridden a runner but she had, usually at Myrandith’s request, been expected to pick out the gold’s next meal and the beast had had ridiculously high standards!


Tolfast didn't miss the pause, but had no understanding of just how deeply his question had cut to the quick. He nodded in acknowledgment. "That's more of a start than some of the students I've seen," he replied with casual ease and an encouraging smile. This was not a man looking to shame anyone for their experience or lack there of. 


After a friendly shake of her hand, he released her, but gestured toward the stables carved into the Weyr cliffside on the far side of the pens. "Care to take a walk with me, Tyne? I can introduce you to a few of the runners, and then if you have time, I will introduce you to one of my journeymen." They were good folk, he knew, and riding lessons were well within the scope of their training. 


For several moments there was the very awkward and very obvious fact that she was not making any move to follow, nor that she seemed immediately inclined to do so. In fact a look of abject consternation came over her face as though, for that moment, Tyne was experience an extreme conflict. Which, in a sense, was precisely what was happening.


Finally, it came out. As explosively as water in a pipe suddenly realising that the boot holding back the pressure had suddenly been released. “I’m… I’m dragonless!” It wasn’t how she wanted to do it. In an ideal world she wouldn’t do it at all. But her brain had very casually pointed out that it would be a hundred times worse if she kept it to herself and then it all came out and changed things.


No, this was probably one of those situations where “that” had to be known up front.


Tolfast's expression grew mildly concerned by her delay, confusion emphasizing the subtle wrinkles on his forehead. There was something he was missing here, though he couldn't be sure what. That hesitation seemed almost like fear to his eyes. He waited patiently while she warred with herself, observing the changes in her demeanor silently and without judgment. When her confession came out abruptly, the mastercrafter regarded her with a new appreciation. 


"I see," he managed politely. How did one respond without offending her, without speaking down to her? He had never bonded one of the great beasts, had only a close approximation in his love of his own animals, but could understand she had experienced a *great* loss. A soft smile touched his lips, looking rather sad on his handsome face. "Thank you for sharing. I can't even imagine how that feels and I won't pretend to." He couldn't be certain why she was telling him, but that she had done so tugged on his heartstrings. A heavy, thoughtful moment passed while he weighed her words; he no longer felt he could entrust her into other hands. 


"I would like to take you to meet one of my runners. She's sharp as a whip-crack and I would trust her with my life," he explained, his smile growing broad at the thought of this particular animal. "We can start slow, just an introduction. If you like her and she likes you, we can do some groundwork, but if at any time you don't want to continue, we will stop. Does that sound alright to you?"


For a moment, the turns seemed to slip away and Tyne looked so very young. “I… thought it would be better if you knew from the start. In case it’s  not okay for me to be here. But I would… I would understand…” It became very clear that “not welcome” was something that Tyne understood the bitter taste of very well. It was why she tried so very hard to know who she was now. Because she was so very tired of people looking at her and only remembering who she had been. 


He was being so nice. Normally, people were just… incredibly awkward. Because of that one aspect of herself that put them immediately on edge and suddenly made them not sure whether she could stand up in a stiff breeze without shattering like spun sugar. But she could. At least, she could now. She really was so much stronger. Honest. Her eyes had flickered to the floor, completing the visage of naughty child. In the blink of an eye she had gone from calm and collected to very small. “I would very much like to meet her.” She said finally, “Take it from there.”


It didn’t seem at least, that he was saying “no”.


Tolfast’s heart broke to hear the worry in her voice, to watch her shrink before him. At once his face became very serious, but not the least bit callous or irritated. “Tyne, listen to me when I say you will *always* be welcome at the stables.” He couldn’t speak for the whole Weyr, though he doubted anyone else would contest him. “The only thing I want to be sure of is if you are ready for this. Nothing you could say will upset me or make me give up on you; I’m quite hard to get rid of.” His laughter returned like quiet, distant thunder as another of those smiles split his jaws. She seemed very much like she needed a hug, but he wasn’t about to invade her space in that fashion after the secret she revealed. Instead, he settled for laying a big hand on her shoulder. 


“Now, let’s go meet Rain.”


The “niceness” had a rumbling quality to it that didn’t feel forced. In fact it felt very genuine. Yes, he seemed sad for her, but it had seemed… more that he was genuinely sorry, and not awkwardly sympathetic because of the hugeness of what it had all been. And that was always a bitter nut to chew. That it seemed that so much of this was because of Myrandith’s colour. And she suspected that in time, he would quietly ask some questions and find out more about it. Maybe she would tell him herself. But for now, she would take nice. Nice with no strings attached. Nice with no quiet ambition behind it to get into her good graces and climb their own ladder. Just nice for… the sake of being nice. It wasn’t something she was used to, but ironically, had seen more of it without a dragon behind her than she had before. It was an unusual feeling but wasn’t altogether unwelcome.


As the hand landed, she felt its warm and heavy weight but to her credit, hadn’t flinched. She was better at not flinching. She had never been what she thought of as a “happy hugger”, her gestures small but significant. But she appreciated the gesture. It too, was kind.


“Then I think you should lead the way. And tell me a bit about her as we go.”


Nodding, Tolfast did as asked and guided them both across the courtyard. "Oh, that I can do," he chuckled a second time, always happy to speak at length about the animals he loved. "I've met all sorts of runners, but Rain is special. She's gentle and incredibly patient. Children have a tendency to spook runners, see, all fast movements and shrieking voices. Rain, though, she's been sweet as a lamb since she was foaled." There was obvious adoration in his words, but the grin on his clean-shaven face would have given it away first. 


As they entered the stable, a chorus of snorts and happy nickering greeted them, several runner heads poking over stall doors to see the newcomers. Not all of the stalls were full, a schedule shuffling them outside in shifts to graze or be worked by the apprentices. "Hello, darlings," he met them like old friends, pausing to scratch a tall black stallion beneath his chin. "It's not your turn yet. I'll be back for you later." The runner flattened his ears, almost disappointed, but closed his giant eyes for the attention. "Rain'll be out in the back pasture with some of the other mares," Tolfast explained, leading the way through the far doors. 


Opening onto a space outside the Weyr that had been deforested to make way for grazing pens, they walked down a gravel path that divided two large fenced areas. Runners flicked their tails with heads down in the distance, perusing through the greenery. Tolfast approached the pen and gestured for Tyne to stop beside him. Cupping his mouth on either side with his hands, he let loose a strange, hooting call. 


A white-faced mare lifted her head and whinnied excitedly. Tolfast smiled as she leaped into action, a blur of sorrel and white that came racing toward them from across the field.  "There she is."


Following him through the stables, she had noticed with interested amusement not only how the runners responded to him, but how he responded in return. It didn’t feel as if it were all for show. It very much felt that he was more than happy to stop and give them his time. “Not easy to spook is good… especially for someone new, I’d think?” The question was tentative as opposed to argumentative, like she wanted to be sure she was thinking “correctly”. 


Apart from selecting Myrandith’s meals of choice - and the gold was very picky most of the time, Tyne had never really spent time around runners. It was baffling and yet fascinating to see how the animals reacted to their presence. There was a bristling sense of keen interest in the air and she felt… almost scrutinised. Like they were regarding her keenly and wanted to know who she was and why they were there.


As they approached the fields, the strange call earned Tolfast a confused expression, but her attention was quickly taken by the movement out of the corner of her eye as the mare ricocheted across the field like someone had fired a cork out of wine skin. “She dropped everything,” she said with astonishment, watching as the other runners were rapidly left behind.


"Aye, she's a smart one - she knows I've got a pocket full of treats waiting for her." He spoke humbly, but by the way the animal had reacted suddenly and swiftly, it was hard to doubt there was a connection between them. The mare that came running stood out from the herd in more than just intellect, her pattern a white base on which a large chestnut swatches had been painted. The white on each of her legs rose high as if in mimicry of a lady's stockings, her mane and tale like banners of platinum streaming in the wind behind her. As she neared, unusual blue eyes were visible on her bald face, alert and sharp. 


Tolfast had already begun to stick one hand in his trouser pocket, the other held out for Rain. She slowed to a casual trot before stopping at the fence line, nostrils flaring as she pressed her nose against his palm. "I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying," he laughed adoringly as the mare's giant pink tongue lapped at his skin in search of her treats. Slipping one beneath her lips, which she promptly vanished, Tolfast handed a few of the sugar cubes to Tyne. 


"Rain, sweetie, this is Tyne. Tyne, this is Rain," he introduced them as if they were both equals, though one was runner and the other human. "Go ahead, move slow-like and offer her your hand to smell. Have you ever fed a runner before?" 


Tyne watched the creature move, the fluid canter as she easily picked up her feet. It seemed as though she were gliding. “Oh! She has blue eyes!” She sounded entirely surprised as though she hadn’t realised such a thing was possible. Her own eyes were huge by comparison as she watched the runner intently. Tail high, head tossed back. The entire feeling that radiated from the runner was one of intense glee, as though she were very pleased with herself and her current situation in life. As she approached, it was clear that Tyne was picking out all of the little details, eyes flickering over her and studying her intently. It was hard not to smile as she nosed insistently at his hand. 


“Hullo Rain…” Tyne’s voice was barely more than a whisper, her eyes glued to the bald face and had shook her head at Tolfast’s question. “... I don’t think I’ve even been this close before…” she had admitted as she curled her fingers around the sweetener cubes. You hadn’t needed to be quite so up close and personal when you were hand picking your dragon’s dinner. Slowly and extremely carefully, she moved her empty hand forward, having at least the foresight to hold it flat. Flat meant more surface space, runners seemed to like using their mouths to investigate so flat would hopefully mean no unintended nips.


Tolfast nodded approvingly as he watched the pair walk through their first interaction. "Good, good. Just like that. Keep your fingers together, now." He had no doubt as to whether Tyne was interested, and her willingness to follow direction earned points in her favor. The difference between an attentive student and the opposite usually resulted in a bite or a kick, lessons learned the hard way. 


Rain turned her head to stare at Tyne with one of her big eyes, blinking slowly, thoughtfully. The outstretched hand was met with a rush of air exhaled through flaring nostrils as she ran her pink muzzle across the woman's palm, ears swiveled toward her. Making a noise somewhere between a grunt and a cough, the runner searched for her treat with whiskered, velvety lips. She was careful not to use her teeth when retrieving the sweet, plucking it painlessly free before crunching happily. 


"There's a good girl," Tolfast beamed at both of them.


Tyne’s eyes, ironically as dark and soft as a runner’s own, was taking in every minute detail, sucking up the information like a dry sponge in water. The way muscles shifted under Rain’s coat, the movement of her ears, the snorting huff of breaths that made her sides move. As the mouth with lips as soft as velvet brushed over her palm, the giggle that escaped her was more akin to that of a child’s than that of a grown woman.


“Her nose is really soft!” It was a gurgle of giggled sound and for a second, she looked almost disappointed as the mare moved her head away. Had she ever stopped to think about how a runner’s nose would feel? She wasn’t sure that she had. But her eyes were glued to the runner, as if committing the entire image to memory. Perhaps in a way she was, just in case this didn’t work out the way she planned. This moment right here, it was a good memory. A positive interaction. No signs of fear, no cautious glanced out of the corner of eyes, no awkward conversations. Nothing but good. It could be safely tucked away and called back whenever she needed it.


At the praise from Tolfast, if Tyne had been a canine, her tail would have been wagging, the quiet praise received as gladly as a pat to the head. In many ways, it was poignantly sad to see her suck up praise as happily as a brat being told they had done well in a Harper lesson. She beamed at Tolfast, her face lighting up as though it were Turn’s End and she were standing in front of a pile of presents with her name on them. 


This didn't go over the Master's head, as Tyne was not the first broken person to arrive at his proverbial doorstep. There was something about the dragonless that reminded him of a wounded animal; scared, defensive, hopeless, and utterly vulnerable. He was compelled to help them, to help her, in any fashion that he could if it meant bringing smiles like the ones she wore. It was tragic knowing that something so simple brought her such joy, and yet it filled him with great satisfaction to see. He scratched at his salt and pepper beard as if absently trying to hide the grin on his face and failing terribly. 


"It is!" He agreed with her observation, enthusiastic to share this fact. "Their coats are quite soft if brushed regularly, too. We take special care to groom them daily and maintain a healthy lustre - but that nose is all her. Careful if'n she sticks it against your hair, it's a ploy, she might eat it." By his voice he could only be teasing, but you never knew with a playful runner. 


Rain, finished with her cube, returned to Tyne in search of more, stretching over the fence to nose her hands. A low, quiet whickering noise was the paint mare's attempt at pleading with her, those blue eyes deep and imploring. 


"She's a porcine," Tolfast said with a wink. Surely Rain could not understand him, but she whipped her flaxen tail as if indignant. "She'll eat the Weyr out of sweetener if we let her. ...One more can't hurt though." He was quite the sucker, offering Tyne another cube.


At his words, she had unconsciously fingered the tail of the braid that looped over her shoulder. If she was going to come here more often she would have to make sure that she had tucked her hair safely out of the way. “It doesn’t taste very nice,” Tyne had said in that same giggle of sound, this time her voice directed to the runner as she whuffled at Tyne’s hands. “And it would stick horribly to your tongue.”


Being told of the need to maintain their coats fit into the same analogy she would use to compare with the dragons. Their hide needed oiling. So runners needed brushing. It made sense. Her eyes flickered over the chestnut and white patches, seeing the sheen that the sun bounced off, down to the well oiled hooves. “Their noises are different.” It was more a statement of fact than a question as she listened to the mare. “Is it hard to learn what they mean?” Dragons had the added advantage of being able to share their emotions, but a keen ear could also quickly decipher their mood by listening to their sounds. But then, many animals used sounds for a range of things.


As the cube was passed over, Tyne did it again, carefully holding her hand flat, fingers tucked neatly together as she presented it to Rain. “Nicely. And then no more.” She instructed, without even realising it, giving the same command she used on the firelizards without even thinking, even going as far to use the same tone - soft but with a firmness under it.


Tolfast nodded at her statement, though he had no real experience with dragons to relate the experience to. “They are, but no - it isn’t difficult. Most folks never bother to look twice, but beasts are very expressive. You’ll discover real quick-like what each noise means, what those head tosses and tail shape mean. She does have quite the repertoire." His lips curled in a wry smile that said he didn't always appreciate Rain's opinion. 


The runner did not seem deterred by Tyne's warning regarding her hair, intensely focused on the potential for another treat. Her ears pressed forward, listening to the woman with the same intensity that she attended Tolfast. With the order, Rain's white muzzle dropped into Tyne's hand where she carefully removed the sweetener with her lips. To say she savored the treat would have been a lie, for she consumed it as quickly as she possibly could. A delighted little shiver rippled from mane to tail, and she threw her flaxen mane with a toss of her head. 


"I think she likes you, lass." Tolfast observed without hiding the hints of pride in his bass.


“What is she like with firelizards? She needs to be okay with them. I have twelve.” Her voice was thoughtful, as though her mind had wandered slightly for all that her eyes were fixed on the runner as though a part of her brain wasn’t entirely convinced that any of this were real and that if she were to look away, the runner, Tolfast, this entire moment in time - would vanish right in front of her.


The runner was sweet, and sharp. You could tell by the glint in her eye, the slight hint of smugness that glittered there. But Tyne had learned long ago that it served no purpose to get your hopes up too soon - it was too easy to have them all dashed to pieces, and for what? 


When she turned to look at Tolfast, the expression was one of intense solemnity and concentration, it pinched her cheeks in and there was a firm set to her jaw. “If she is okay with them. And if you’re okay with me. What do I need to do first? What do I need to know?” Her voice was still small, slightly clipped and tight as though she were waiting for bad news that she had already convinced herself was imminently around the corner and she was waiting for the verbal blow to land.


"Flits? Ah, she don't mind them too much. We've done more training to keep her calm around dragons what with being in the Weyr, but she hasn't shown any fear or aggression toward the little ones. In fact, she's really quite gentle." He scrubbed at his beard thoughtfully. "Twelve is a bit more than she's been around at one time, though I can't imagine she'll spook unless they work at driving her away." 


Rain watched Tyne with those huge blue eyes, strangely perceptive to the woman's discomfort. Though she couldn't know precisely where the fear had come from, Rain could practically smell the worry coming off of her. Rather than bolt as other less experienced runners might, the curious mare reached over the fence. She nudged Tyne's arm with her nose, gentle and without the same insistence she had used in search of treats. This was a comforting gesture, accompanied by a quiet whuffling that seemed to say, *don't be sad, I'm here* without the words. 


Tolfast had made his decision to teach her a while ago, and when she asked with the implication he was still uncertain about her worthiness, the master raised a hand to stop that self-doubt in its tracks. "You've already done the first part," he smiled warmly. "She will teach you to ride. Make no mistake, I'll give you direction and help, but Rain will be the one you learn how to move with. Looks like she's already agreed." He was pleased and proud in equal measure, hooking his thumbs through his belt. "This has been a good start for today. We can continue tomorrow if you're up to it, we will begin with the foundation of how to groom and tack a runner. Once you can saddle her up yourself, we'll take the next step." 


He freed one hand and stuck it out to her as if to seal a deal. "You'll be riding in no time at all."


“They’re well behaved. I don’t allow them to cause mischief.” Well, not when she was directly supervising. Tyne was starting to suspect that Rona was going to cause a soapsand shortage in the Weyr at the rate she was stashing it under Tyne’s bed. “They’re part of the work I do and… help hold me down. So they’re usually nearby…” The way her voice drifted away almost seemed to suggest that what she wanted to suggest was something along the lines of gradually introducing them to the runner - but has hesitated as though not sure she was allowed to.


The jostle of her arm broke the solemn reverie and Tyne seemed surprised. No, there was no “seem” about it. The motion was completely unexpected. But she noted that it wasn’t the same curiosity edged with the same demand for more food, it was different. Concerned. She hadn’t expected that. Watching the runner for a moment, Tyne tentatively moved a hand to touch Rain’s cheek, feeling the softness of the hair against her palm. She could lose herself in those eyes. It had been a long time since she had done that.


As Tolfast spoke, Tyne looked up, blinking with a confusion that seemed to say that for a moment, she had forgotten he was there. He too was scrutinised, taken in from top to bottom. Tentatively she had already let him breach the invisible bubble that surrounded her like a protective shield. The extended hand was inspected just as thoroughly. Large. Calloused and well worn. Hands that had seen work and hadn’t shied away from it. 


After a long moment, the extended hand was taken by her much smaller one with a firm nod as she peered up at him with her odd, solemn expression. “Tomorrow, then.”


= End =



--
Nutmeg on the Wizzy.
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