Fallow Hill, the Riverlands
Robert could see the expression on Baldric’s face change. He clearly hadn’t been happy with the young man’s attempt to get food into his grumbling stomach. Even so, the master of arms’ anger would be for another time. Whether stern words or even the risk of some hard labour were to follow, the Ranger was all too distracted by Ariella.
For all of the forced formalities in public the pair were often much more lax when in the company of each other outside of prying eyes. M’lady would be replaced with the young woman’s actual name and playful words would be exchanged that the nobility would heavily frown upon if they were to ever bear witness to it. Such was the way of the world that two young adults couldn’t be friends without offending half of Westeros.
Reaching out with his hand Robert offered it to the young lady to help her return to her saddle. “Please let me help you back onto your horse m’lady.”
Ariella gave Robert a smile, accepting his help even though the two of them both knew she didn’t need it. She was still grateful, of course; Snap was a tall destrier, and it wouldn’t have been the most graceful of scrambles back into the saddle. “Thank you, Robert,”
she said graciously, waiting patiently for him to mount his own horse.
Breaking into a steady jog Robert covered a short distance until he reached Shadow. The horses deep, black colouration made it seem almost otherworldly. In general Shadow’s demeanour was stern verging on angry, only those it had warmed to being allowed to move within a few feet of it. The horse was a brave as most men Robert had come across and had played its part in saving the young man’s life more than once.
With a gentle stroke of its mane, Robert leapt onto the horses back. Taking the reins in hand he headed towards Ariella and Snap. The distance was closed in moments and the two began on their way.
Sat relaxed in his saddle, Robert smiled as he looked into the sky above. He could make out the silhouette of Wight flying high above, joyfully maneuvering through the air. He soon returned his gaze to Ariella and gave her a wide smile. It had been a while since they had some time alone so he was glad to hear how things had been for her lately. “So how is the life of a lady treating you since we last spoke?”
Ariella had been looking for Robert’s little “friend” as well, smiling up at the crow in the sky before returning her attention to Robert when he spoke.
She shrugged. “Very little changes,”
she told him wistfully, absently combing her fingers through Snap’s mane, “though of course, Father and Edmund’s return is a welcome one.”
She was quiet for a moment or two, and eventually glanced back at the archers, shrinking in the distance behind them. Once she was sure they were out of earshot, she nudged Snap as close to Shadow as she dared (Robert’s horse wasn’t always fond of others), though she remained as nonchalant as she could manage. “And the life of a Ranger?”
she asked, “Did you find anything of note on your travels?”
With the approaching Snap, Robert could feel Shadow tense up beneath him. His horse had grown accustomed to Thunder but Snap was new. It was only the sight of Ariella atop the new mount that relaxed the black coated horse.
Robert sighed at the question from Ariella, he knew what she was really asking. Her missing twin was almost always the focus of their conversations and the Ranger was secretly using his excursions
to try and find him. The friendship Robert and Ariella shared made the young man go above and beyond to find out what he could but as yet there was no luck.“Things are how they always are, time outside in the fresh air and the occasional arrow or two for bandits.”
Soon an apologetic look was painted across Robert’s face as he continue on. “I really wish I could give you some good news. Unfortunately I have nothing. Of all the people I have come across, none know anything.”
The rangers expression remained forlorn as he watched for Ariella’s reaction.
Ariella nodded, face falling a touch. Her eyes fell on Snaps’ neck, and for a moment she simply stared down, twisting the reins in her hands. Truthfully, she didn’t know what she’d been expecting; Morgain had been missing for two years, there was no good reason to believe any sign of him would show up after combing through the Riverlands all this time. But she foolishly hoped nonetheless; some days that hope was all she could cling to, frail as it was.
Coming back to her senses a moment later, Ariella nodded again, this time more insistently as she schooled her features into something more neutral. “I suppose I shouldn’t expect much more,”
she sighed, taking a deep breath and pushing her sorrows aside for the time being.
Offering Robert a smile (if somewhat more forced than before) she opted to move on to more cheerful things. “Well, I’m delighted to see you home safe again. Things have been awfully dull around Fallow Hill as of late.”
She gave Robert a hopeful look. “Will you at least be staying a while before you set off again?”
Feeling some sense of warmth from Ariella’s smile, Robert’s expression returned to one far more positive. “Thanks for the kind words Ariella. It means a great deal. As for se...”
In an instant Robert felt a small set of feet land on his shoulder and a softness soon brushing against his cheek. He let out a laugh as Wight had decided to interrupt the young man mid-sentence. He reached into a satchel hanging from his saddle and pulled out a small amount of feed. As the bird began to peck at the feed Robert continued to speak.“Sorry about that...the little guy has a bigger appetite than me. So to answer your question, yes and no. I have to go do something for your father but as soon as that’s out of the way, I’m hoping to stay around for a few weeks.”
Robert’s smile remained on his face as Wight took to the skies from his shoulder once more. “Maybe when I’m back we can take the hounds out for a walk into the fields...assuming Edwyn doesn’t mind of course.”
Ariella watched Wight as Robert spoke, a bit of a genuine smile replacing her more forced one. She’d always been fond of animals and birds, and Wight entertained her to no end. Robert’s suggestion was also a welcome one, and she nodded, a little more enthusiastically than before. “I’d be delighted to, and I’m sure Father won’t pay any mind.”
She gave Robert a knowing look. “He has a lot of respect for you, after all.”
Robert knew her father respected him, he didn’t ever really understand why. Even so, he was one Lord that the Ranger would show the utmost respect to. His words carried weight with the young man and he would die for him if needed. So even though he enjoyed the company of Ariella he would never knowingly take her anywhere without her fathers say so.“Aye I know, I just think that sometimes he’d rather you be a proper lady rather than out with me and the dogs.”
Robert turned around briefly to see that the range was now well out of sight. “Just make sure you at least let him know. The last thing I want is him thinking we’ve run off together somewhere.”
Robert would expect the full force of House Landry to search for them if they ever failed to return by dusk. Her father liked him but Ariella was still his daughter.
Ariella laughed at the prospect, imagining her father pacing the floor of his study counting down the seconds and organizing some grand search party. Robert was right, her father did like knowing her whereabouts. She remembered how troubled he’d seemed when she went off to live with the Blackwoods, even knowing she’d be safe going off to meet her then-betrothed. “Father likes things a certain way, but he never could say no to me,”
she flashed Robert a cheeky grin, leaning a little in her saddle. Snap didn’t seem too happy with that, though, and did a strange little step to the side, slowing down stubbornly. “Oh, Snap,”
Ariella scolded gently, trying to coax the young horse into moving again. He complied, but in an odd burst, rushing up ahead of Shadow and tossing his head in irritation.
Ariella sighed, but couldn’t help a small laugh. “I think Snap’s patience is running out,”
she called to Robert, focused on getting the horse back under control. “Meet me later tonight so I can get you your payment, Snap here seems to be in a bit of a rush.”
Robert gave a polite nod before giving Ariella the most sarcastic of bows from atop his horse. “Of course m’lady. I will see you tonight m’lady.”
Robert winked and gave Ariella a smile. “Only joking Ariella. I look forward to later. Have a good day.”
With his sincere goodbye shared Robert directed Shadow down the next fork in the path.
Ariella hesitated only long enough to hear Robert’s reply before kicking Snap into a gallop, the horse happy to comply and racing back toward the keep.
As Robert and Shadow moved away from Ariella the Ranger watched as Snap picked up its speed. Shadow however was still content to slowly walk along. Fortunately they were within sight of the Keep so Robert could watch Ariella all the way to the entrance.@Obscene Symphony