Nov 24

Kieri’s First Command: Part X

Posted: under Background, Characters, Contents, Excerpt, the writing life.
Tags: , , ,  November 24th, 2022

Part X

One evening, coming out of the daily conference, Duke Marrakai asked Kieri to walk with him.  “The lad’s different.  I thought he’d sulk and complain and you have him smiling and cheerful.”

“He’s a good boy,” Kieri said.

“Sometimes,” the Duke said.  “And sometimes I’ve wanted to put a knot on his head.  You have no children, yet, do you?”

“No, but I watched Aliam Halveric and his wife with theirs, and I remember them with me.  I ignored your lad’s sulks and treated him as a sensible person, which he’s turned out to be.  I’m going to put him back on his horse tomorrow.”

“Well.  You should have a horse.  You ride very well and you know horses. And apparently, boys.”

“I will have again someday.  Someday, I want one of your breeding.  That horse is the best I’ve ridden.  Aliam had a halfbred of yours.  Tell me, what do you charge for the fullbred colts?”

The Duke looked at him squarely.  “They don’t come cheap.”

“No good horse does, but by accident. I will have one someday, and you can tell it will be treated well.”

“Indeed.  The Prince says he’s thinking of giving you that barren mess up north as a grant, if you do well in this campaign and another one or two.  No one else has wanted it, at any price or reward.”

“It would suit me,” Kieri said.  “In time it would thrive, with good management.  Hard at the start, of course, but are not the best horses often those difficult to train well early on?”

“You are not afraid of challenges.”

Kieri laughed.  “No, my lord, I am not.  Challenges come to all, early and late, and Aliam taught me that the measure of men is how they meet them.  Let me have some land, or a young horse–”

“Or a young boy?”

“I cannot speak of your son in such terms; he is yours, and a future Duke of Tsaia.”

“Well.  I see him as a challenge; he has been for me.  And I like what I see, Captain.  Teach him to ride better, and care for horses better, and we shall be friends a long time.”

“If you knew Aliam, my lord, he would tell you tales about me at your son’s age that would curl not only your hair but your horse’s tail.  If I am able to help him through this, I am happy to do so.”

Later that evening, the boy said, “We should not have done what we did.  I should not have done what I did.”  None of the boys had spoken to Kieri about it before but there was no doubt what the boy meant.

“You’re right,” Kieri said matter-of-factly, setting the stallion’s saddle on its rack.  “But you did, and it’s done, and you’re not doing it now.”

‘No, but I…I needed to say that.  I’m sorry I did it.  I’m sorry I spied on you.  I’m sorry…”

What would Aliam say to that?  What had Aliam said to so many of his own unwitting cruelties, blunders, thoughtless deeds, including those that got men killed?

“Listen to me,” Kieri said.  “You did something you knew was wrong, and you know that some things cannot be undone.  You can’t forget what you saw, can you?”

The boy’s head shook side to side; his eyes glistened.

“So when I was your age, and Aliam Halveric’s squire, I did things I knew I should not do, and some of those things could not be undone.  Men died, for some of my mistakes.  To be good men, when we are grown, we must learn to think.  Beyond what feels good, beyond what feels like fun, beyond what feels like it will win us points: we must learn to look ahead and think.  And it’s hard.  You have learned important things in these days: about your horse, about me, about yourself.  Now you know you can learn.  And I know you will learn.”

“Will I make more mistakes?”

“Oh, yes.  If you’re like me you will make mistakes over and over.  Men do.  Women do.  Everyone does.  It’s how we learn.  When you started riding, you fell off a lot, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“So as you move into adulthood you will continue to make mistakes, and when you don’t make any mistakes at all, you’ll have made the worst, because you’ll have quit learning.  Keep learning, keep failing, but then go back and get it right.”

“I don’t think I’m ready to ride my horse again.”

“Why not?”

A mischievous grin this time.  “Because I’m still making mistakes here, walking.  Because my horse shouldn’t suffer for them. Teach me to ride your way, please, and show me by riding him yourself.”

“Now that will require your father’s permission: who’s going to ask him?”  Kieri grinned back at him.

“I will,” the boy said, with no hesitation.  “I will, and he will say Yes, and then he’ll tell me he told me the horse was too much for me in this situation, and I’ll say he was right, and then he’ll say I can ride his old horse, his second.  We can ride together.”

The End

Happy Thanksgiving

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Nov 23

Kieri’s First Command: Part IX

Posted: under Background, Characters, Excerpt, the writing life.
Tags: ,  November 23rd, 2022

Part IX

“It’s a long story.  How much farther, do you think, and which will be first, your father’s wagon or the saddler’s?”

“The saddler’s.  Well, the Prince’s wagons of horse feed, tack, and his grooms and saddler will be there.  See that pennant?  That’s the royal one, so it’s one of those.”

The saddler, when they found him, had spare halters; they borrowed one.  Then he went to work quickly, explaining to Kieri–and Kirgan Marrakai, when reminded that this was the Kirgan’s horse–what needed to be done and why, and what exercises might help even out the muscling of the horse’s back.  Kieri and his student, as he now thought of the boy, walked along behind the saddler’s wagon with the horse, now tied to the tailboard, while the saddler worked in his shop, built into the wagon.

The boy now seemed less angry and fragile than he had earlier.  “Why is he using different colors of wool?”

“Let’s ask him,” Kieri said.  “You or me?”

Me ask?”

“Surely.  You want to know; I’d like to know.  You can do it.”

The boy did ask, and the saddler explained, even handing the boy small tufts of wool to feel: the dark, the light, the softest, the springiest.  Several times the saddle went on and came back off the horse, then the saddler said, “Now, Kirgan, time you get up and let me see how it compresses as you ride.”

The boy looked sideways at Kieri.  “If you don’t mind,” Kieri said to the saddler. “I’m a little heavier, and will compress it faster.”

“Oh.” The saddler looked back and forth at them.

“It’s all right,” the boy said.  “My father wants him to ride him for awhile anyway.”

“Ah. Well, then.”  He offered Kieri a leg up and then walked beside the horse, feeling under the saddle as the horse walked along, seemingly quite calm.  “Like you to give him a bit of trot and canter,” the saddler said, and unfastened the halter.  Kieri turned the horse out of the line of wagons and trotted him in circles both directions, then cantered, then a hand gallop both ways. The saddler checked again, made one more adjustment, then nodded.  “Should be good for today.  Bring him back to me tomorrow, after he’s ridden, or any time he kicks up again.”

“We’ve a walk to catch up with my group,” Kieri said.  “To keep our senior commander happy, I’d best ride the horse, but you can tail or use the stirrup leather if you like.”

“Tail?”

“Have you never?  When you have reason to move faster than walking is comfortable, and not enough horses for all, a horse can carry a light rider, and help along two more at least.”  He slid one foot out of the stirrup.  “Put your hand there, and see.  He will walk faster than either of us would want to.  If you were taller, you could hold onto the stirrup leather; right now it would make your shoulder sore.  You can also, going uphill, catch the tail and let one pull you along.  They won’t kick if the tail’s being pulled–smoothly, not jerking.  It doesn’t hurt them.”

The boy did that, and they passed wagon after wagon, until Kieri saw his troops again, and the prince’s wagons just ahead.  They slowed to match them, and Kieri said “It’s our secret, eh?  If anyone asks, you’re just good at walking fast,” and when the boy pulled his hand free, set his own foot back in the stirrup.  “I suspect many of your friends don’t know about the kinds of wool the saddlers use,” he added.  “Now you know some new things.  Here’s another.  Come meet my sergeant.  He used to be in Halveric Company in Aarenis and Lyonya.”

Over the next few days, the boy asked question after question, mostly reasonable ones, as if he’d been told before that asking questions was unsuitable.  Kieri and Siger–and several of the troops–answered as if he were any new recruit or squire.  Kieri, remembering himself with Aliam–at first afraid to ask anything and then, in a flood, asking questions all day long and into the night–found the boy far less arrogant than he’d thought earlier.  The boy was quick to take suggestions, and Siger treated him like a junior squire.  To Kieri’s surprise there was no sulking, no sneering, just a willingness to learn.  Why had he been so touchy before?  Had it been the other boys, or something else?

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Nov 22

Kieri’s First Command: Part VIII

Posted: under Background, Characters, Excerpt, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  November 22nd, 2022

Part VIII

Kieri knew that despite the acquiescence the boy was boiling with indignation: he had been humiliated in front of everyone by his horse, Kieri, the prince, his own father, and he was in no state to think clearly.  “Do you have a halter or lead for this horse, so we can take him to the saddler?”

“In my father’s wagon,” he said shortly.

“I don’t know which it is,” Kieri said.  Ahead of him, the Prince’s wagon lurched into motion and he turned to his sergeant.  “Sergeant, take over for the moment. The Prince has ordered we get this horse to the saddler.”

“Captain.”  Siger’s face was as blank as his own, he saw.  They were all on bog ground until they got the boy and the horse both sorted out.  One wrong step and they could be in it to the neck.  And no grant of land.  And a boy mired in helpless anger, and a horse mired in bad training, bad riding, bad saddle fitting.  He understood now, though he still wished it to have been different, Aliam’s refusal to hire him as a junior captain.  He pushed that aside and looked at the boy again.  “Can you take me to it–either your father’s supply wagon with horse tack in it, or the Prince’s saddler?”

“They’re both with the other horse supply wagons,” Kirgan Marrakai said, with slightly less stiffness.  “Back this way.”  They walked toward the tail of the line, the horse snatching now and then at grass.

“How old is he?” Kieri asked.  “Five?  Six?”

“Five.  He was backed last year by the trainer.”

“Still quite young, then.”

“Yes.  I thought–the trainer let me sit on him last year, because I was so light.  Then I grew, but he was a year older and also grew two fingers, so I thought–I thought I was doing well.”

“You grew taller; did your trainer explain what that does to your seat?”

“Taller?  I thought only heavier mattered.  That’s all the trainer talked about, how young horses should never carry too much weight.”

“That’s so, but when boys grow into men, they change the shape, where the weight is, as well as how much.  Where you can put your leg on a horse, how your balance changes when your shoulders broaden.  When did you start drilling with the sword you carry, instead of a boy’s shorter one?”

“Last winter; it was a Midwinter gift.”

“And have you done mounted exercises with it?  Knocking rag balls off poles?”
“Yes.”

“So you have more weight in your sword arm and as you reach out to do that, more weight shifts onto that side of the saddle and your horse tries to hold steady–with the muscles that are now developed more than those on the other side.”

The boy stopped short.  “I–I never thought of that!  The riding master never mentioned that!”

“And then after a few minutes it doesn’t feel good, so he hollows, to avoid the pressure–”

“Yes!  I know he does, and when I try to make him lift his back he bucks.”  He looked at Kieri wide-eyed.  “How do you know that?  Why doesn’t our riding master?  He just says ‘More leg, more leg, ride him into the bit.'”

“Did he tell you to wear spurs?”

“Yes. Because my legs aren’t strong enough, he said.”

“Um.  There are ways to strengthen legs, if you care to try.”

“You don’t have spurs.”

“I did.  I sold them”

“Because you don’t use them?”

“No, because I needed the money for something else.”

“What?”

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Nov 21

Kieri’s First Command: Part VII

Posted: under Characters, Excerpt, the writing life.
Tags: ,  November 21st, 2022

Part VII

The horse walked over calmly as Kieri led it.  At the Crown Prince’s prompt, he pointed to the curb chain, which they agreed was correct, and then put it in the position he’d found it.  They nodded, then put it back.

“The saddle?”

“May I take it off completely?”

“Of course.”

Kieri showed the underside of the saddle, to all appearances, ordinary for a Tsaian war saddle.  But Duke Marrakai frowned and turned to his son.  “That’s not his saddle, is it?”

“No, sir.  His was being re-flocked and the groom said this one, Blink’s saddle, would fit well enough.”

Kieri laid the saddle on the horse’s bare back and felt under it.  “It’s wide enough and not too wide…this side has contact, no lumps.”  He went to the off side.  “It’s…my lord Duke, would you feel this?”

The Duke ran his hand between horse and saddle.  “Well.  Take it off; I’ll feel his back.”  Kieri took the saddle down, then moved behind the horse to look along the spine.  He could see what he’d felt. Uneven muscle development meant the saddle would pinch here where it did not on the near side.  “That’s why his own saddle was being restuffed,” the Duke said.  “And that–and the curb–is why he started bucking.”

“If there is a saddler with the army,” Kieri said, “He should be able to restuff this today, and then adjust after a ride.”

The Crown Prince looked at him.  “My saddler is with us.  But you, could you ride him without that?”

“I could, but it would be uncomfortable for the horse.  I can sit differently, take some of the pressure off, but not all.”

“Try.  A few minutes only; I want to see and so does the Duke.”  A sharp glance aimed at the Duke, who nodded.

Kieri saddled, accepted a leg up from his sergeant, and picked up the reins.  The stallion came up into his hand, flexing correctly; he could feel the horse react to a different seat.  Walk, easy.  Trot, no shaking head, no hollow back. Turn this way, turn that, halt, back.

“A short canter only, heart lead, I think,” said the Duke.  Kieri nodded, asked for it from walk, and the horse bent to it and bounded off correctly in the first stride, bent away from the side that needed a little more room. “Who taught you riding?”

“Aliam Halveric’s horsemaster and Aliam himself, when I was his squire,” Kieri said.  “And then, in Falk’s Hall, we learned saddle fitting and bitting as well as advanced riding.”

“Such as?”

Kieri named the figures they’d been taught.  “But this fellow needs more training before he’s ready.”

“Agreed.” Duke Marrakai turned to the Prince.  “I yield to your judgment, my lord prince.”

“Well, Kirgan,” the Prince said, turning to the boy, standing pale and miserable before them.  “This man you do not respect rode your horse better than you do, and with more concern for the horse.  What do you say for yourself?”

“I was wrong.”  The voice sounded even younger, choked even. “I–I trusted others and should have trusted my father first, to know I needed an older, quieter horse.”

“Well, then, I have a plan for you, so you do not waste your opportunity to learn.  You will not ride your horse for five days, during which its saddle will be restuffed and adjusted until the saddler’s satisfied, and during which you will walk with Captain Phelan’s cohort. You will watch the saddler do the restuffing, and he and Captain Phelan will instruct you in saddle fitting.  You will observe how Captain Phelan handles the horse, how he tacks it up, how he cares for it, and you will take over from him when he permits.  You will then–until we are within a league of the Pargunese border–listen and learn from him, what you may be doing as a rider that makes the horse uneasy.  It is my command that Captain Phelan report to me and to your father any errors you make that may injure this or other horses, and by the time we reach Pargun, you should be far advanced in your horsemanship.  Do you agree?”

What was there for a boy to say but what he said?  “Yes, my lord Prince.”

 

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Nov 19

Kieri’s First Command, Part V

Posted: under Characters, Excerpt, Story, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  November 19th, 2022

Part V

The next day, marching once more at the head of his company, dusty, unable to see farther than the Crown Prince’s entourage ahead of him, he was caught between annoyance and amusement at himself.  Who did he think he was, indeed–as he’d heard others say–he who did not know, could not name, either of his parents, or his place of birth or anything remotely respectable in his past until his arrival at Aliam Halveric’s home as a starveling.  How could any of these people respect, let alone admire him?

Yet here he was, with an independent contract, and the promise of a chance to earn–in good time–a grant of land.  He had seen it, even.  “Go take a look,” the prince had said.  “It’s empty, cold, near barren.  But it’s the largest area in my father’s realm not already occupied, or at least claimed. No one has wanted it.  No fields, no orchards, no towns: barren, some say, and too much work, say others.  Yet it is my father’s, and I would see it useful and well-governed.  Go see.”

And he had borrowed a horse–after the horse-master had checked with the  Crown Prince yet again, and given him, he was sure, the worst horse in the royal stables, gray about the muzzle and eyes, with splints in both forelegs and a hitch of some kind in the off hock.  He had ridden, at a pace that let the old horse loosen up and enjoy the trip, day after day through forest and hills, until on a wet day the view had opened to a broad plain with hills off to either side, a brisk little river…that might, someday, run a mill.  Hills on three sides, then, and a wide, presently soggy, plain rising slightly to the north, where it disappeared into a dank mist.

His mind produced an image of the mill on the river, near a town…here.  A bridge over the river, wide enough for wagons to carry supplies and troops to march. Another town over there–out of sight except in his mind.  He rode out onto the soggy plain: even this early in the year, it had grass the old horse was glad to eat.  And ample room for any number of troops to drill.  He could see it all: a big walled fort to guard the land and the track–that would become a road–to Vérella.  His mind built it quickly into what it could be.  A base for protection and for training.  Aliam’s home was crowded between a mountain and the dense Lyonyan forest of elventaig: this would be open.  Colder, yes, but then his troops would be fit to fight Pargun over there to the east in those hills, hold off the horse nomads, if any threatened.  His horse’s hoofprints and the grass showed that the land was fertile enough for grain.  And in the shelter of the hills the towns would have walled gardens and fruit orchards.

He rode back to Vérella, treating the old horse so carefully the horsemaster was amazed at the difference in the animal.  “He’s not limping at all–what did you do?  What poultice?  A special herb?”

“No, just careful riding, never fast and not too long at one time. He’s a good fellow, this one.”  He patted the horse and it rubbed its head on him.

And so the offer of a chance at a land grant had become a promise of one…in good time, which meant at the Crown’s convenience, but at least it would not be given away, he was assured.

Reason enough to keep his temper with those boys and their arrogance, reason enough to keep a smooth tongue to all.  Aliam would be happy with him, if he knew, but he was not minded to write Aliam about it, not until the grant was actually his.  Still the dust was annoying, and he did wish the nobility would not make it worse by galloping past him every time they wanted to come to or leave the Crown Prince’s presence.  If he’d had a horse–he’d sold his along with all the other gifts Aliam had given him to outfit his troops for this very mission–he could have seen over some of this dust.

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