(514-05-22) Battle of Wills
Summary: Acwel and Heulwen head out for a ride, and things do not go as planned.
Date: 22 May, 514
Related: None
acwel heulwen 

A message was sent, by way of a squire-turned-courier, for Heulwen to meet Acwel by the gates of Carlion and on horse. Said squire also left as soon as the message was conveyed, likely to report back to his tutor before going away for whatever reasons. The Woodford is dressed in clothes best fitting for court, instead of the usual armor and tabard set most of the knights currently practicing for a grand event are sporting, in the training yards, right now. His sword has not left his side, however, the blue kerchief she has given him tied there, for all to see.

It took a bit of bargaining and pleading to put the meeting in order, what with Heulwen being watched rather closely by her brothers. However, it appears she was successful: the young lady is mounted on her calm mare as she trots gaily toward the meeting point. Spotting her companion, Wen raises a hand to hail Acwel before drawing her horse up to a stop beside him but facing in the other direction. "Sir Acwel, I must say it was most kind of you to ask for an outing. Poor Ffionn was in need of a little exercise, and I'm afraid I put her to little use since we've come to Carlion."

Wen half-turns in the saddle and looks around, taking in the sprawl of the countryside beyond the gate. Her lips curve upward in a soft smile that remains as she turns back to Acwel. "And it looks like fair weather for a ride, too. Most well-timed, indeed. I hope, though, that you have had ample time to practice for the grand melee? I do not want to be taking you away from something more important."

His own waiting has been uneventful. Acwel has spent his time between sending for her and her arrival looking at the horizon, then regarding the people coming to and from Carlion, from commoner to noble, though certainly the heraldry of the latter draws some attention from Woodford. His stallion, however, does not seem to be prone to grazing the grass calmly anytime soon. It takes some pulling reins, some pressing into Saint's flank to keep him nice and calm. Wen's arrival draws his attention to her, lips curving into something of an easy smile as she draws her horse to stop beside him. "Lady Heulwen, I should say Saint was faring likewise, the poor lad," he pets the almost pure-white horse's mane, "was unrestful. Perhaps he yearns for some earth under his hooves."

He observes Wen as she takes in their surroundings, meeting her gaze when she turns back to him. "No need to worry about that, my Lady, you are not." There is a brief pause as he turns his horse. "Shall we?" And then with a snap of his reins, the horse starts marching towards the wide green expanse of the countryside, the knight glancing over his shoulder to make sure Heulwen is following suit.

Heulwen is not exactly a true natural on horseback, but she has quite the knack for it nonetheless. Her well-tempered mare responds to pressure from her knees and with a light pull of the reins she urges Ffionn into a trot that brings her abreast of Acwel and Saint. "Had you a destination in mind, good sir, or is this to be a mindless amble about the fields? Not that I mind the latter, of course, I am simply curious. Oh! I nearly forgot to ask - have you completed your personal challenges as of yet? I regret that I have not been keeping entirely informed of the outcomes, but I think I have been shying away from my brother's general dourness due to his ill-luck. This tournament has not been particularly kind to him, which is quite unfortunate; he is such a skilled knight, but you know how fickle luck can be…"

It isn't as though Acwel is quite a virtuouso at it, but he is competent, having been trained as a knight to be at least halfway decent at riding a horse. To be a footman after earning your spurs would be the ultimate disservice to your tutor, after all. "I have no destinations in mind, to be honest. We will be hunting for the best view. I figure that planning this ahead of time would take some of the enjoyment from it," the Woodford admits, his attention split between Heulwen and the gentle slope they descend to reach a plains interspersed with tall trees. "I do not know if I completed them, but thus far I am three victories to one defeat. A sufficient number, though it seems to be driving the other Knights half-mad with dueling frenzy," Acwel laughs at that, apparently not quite minding personal challenges that much. He does look to Heulwen, though, and mentions, "It would honor me if you were there next time I fought, I … enjoy your company very much."

On the subject of the tournament not being kind to Kamron, he considers, "I have seen Sir Kamron slaughter many a Saxon and Pict, now. He should keep in mind that this, the tournament, while it bears glory and you can be recognized for your skill here, has almost nothing to do with war. You won't see a Saxon with a blunted axe, or a Pict whose speartip has cloth wrapped around it. And indeed, luck is rather fickle. But he will improve."

Ffionn is canny on the descent, light-footed and sure with her rider in the saddle. Heulwen is silent as she turns her mind to the task of not flipping over her horse's head and landing in the dirt. Once they have safely reached more level terrain, she looks up and over to Acwel. Her eyebrows arch upward—and up, and up, nearly disappearing into her hairline. Her wide-eyed surprise renders her speechless for the moment, and she covers this by coughing politely and pretending to guide Ffionn around some invisible obstacle in their path. "You are very kind to say so, Sir Acwel, and I find your company most agreeable too."

When the subject turns back to her brother, Wen relaxes visibly about the shoulders - unaware that they had tightened up to nearly right beneath her ears. "It is true that a tournament bears no great resemblance to true battle, and I do think the threat of impending death should aught go awry is enough to keep my brother level-headed. Or as level-headed as one can be in the heat of a fight to the death. If you do not mind, sir, I would desire to relay your kind thoughts to him. I know he is rather stoic, but I also ken what lies in his heart. The luxury of being his sister, you understand? It would do him well to know he is respected for his skill."

What awaits them are more plains ahead, but there are hills in the near distance, though as they ride through the tall grass, the wind blows gently against them, causing Acwel to lift a hand to clear his eyes for a moment. Dust, an eyeball's worst enemy. He does see Heulwen's reaction as he turns to her, however, the arching of her eyebrows and the wide-eyed surprise prompting a smile from him, his attention remaining on her for a moment longer before she coughs politely and detours around this invisible obstacle. His gaze shifts to the path ahead of them, then, though he casts a quick glance to her, "It makes me very glad to hear it is so, my Lady."

Like a good, chivalrous knight, he makes no note of her embarrassment.

"You may, my Lady. I, too, have a younger sister, so I understand she knows more about my state of mind than others might, from a glance," the Woodford looks to Wen for a moment longer as they ride up the hill, and then descend it again, with the river in sight, after sometime. And just so, there is also a tall, large tree they might find shelter from the sun under, a vantage point to observe the scenery in relative quiet.

Perhaps Heulwen is able to read the knight's mind, or perhaps she is simply feeling the heat of the balmy spring day. Either way, her gaze alights upon the tree in the distance and she clucks her tongue to urge Ffionn into a canter. The mare is quite keen on stretching her legs a bit more, and wastes no time in responding; dust kicks up behind them as the pair head toward the tree with no discernible loss of speed when they hit the gradual, gentle incline. Heulwen rises in her stirrups, half-crouched, and glances over her shoulder to be sure Acwel is following.

When the pair nears the tree, Wen pulls up on the reins to slow Ffionn to a trot, and then down to a casual walk. They finally stop beneath the overhanging branches, taking shelter in the shade. Wen turns her face toward the breeze, letting the cool wind lift the hair from her shoulders. "Ah, I had almost forgotten the joy of sunshine."

Either way, whether she can read his mind, or if she feels the heat of this day, Acwel follows suit, a slight pull on the reins of his horse to follow after Ffionn, caressing Saint's mine as he canters and then finally ambles to their destination. His attention drifts to what surrounds them for a moment— the sight and sound of the river flowing, the gentle breeze, the sound of birds above.

When they stop under the shade, the Woodford's green eyes focus on Heulwen, letting Saint canter a little closer to her horse as the Dinton lady enjoys the cool wind. "Perhaps, next time we embark on a journey I deem safe enough, I will ask to bring you with us," he offers, the corner of his lips twitching into a grin, "plenty of sunshine on the King's high roads, I should say." He reaches out, ostensibly to take her hand in his, but hesitates after a moment, holding his rein again. This shyness does not fall too well on him, truth be told.

Heulwen is gazing off into the distance, admiring the sight of the bustling Carlion from this distance—although, to be sure, the bustling is reduced quite a bit considering its walls. Nevertheless, she is gazing a bit starry-eyed at the sunshiney spread of nature before them, when everything is green and crisp and fresh and opening up to a cheerful sun. Leaning over in the saddle, Wen reaches out to run her fingers through Ffionn's dark mane and to pat her affectionately on the neck.

"I think my brothers would not hesitate to deny your request, Sir Acwel, unless one of them could be sure of accompanying me. Most like it would be Sir Kamron; he has that noble, brotherly tendency to protect me to the point of smothering." With a light laugh, Wen glances sidelong to him briefly before looking away once more. "I would like it. I would like to get out more, to see and do many things before I am required to settle down and become a wife and begin a family. Then, I think, I would not have much time for adventure."

Looking to the horizon for a moment, Acwel gazes over to where the river eventually meets Carlion, the activity at the docks drawing his attention somewhat, even at a distance. The ships there, and what appears to be, at a distance, miniatures of men loading and unloading objects that can't quite be seen this far. It all paints an interesting picture for the Woodford, nature versus man. Quietly, he smiles, Saint now no longer trying to act unsettled.

"Of course not. And Sir Kamron would likely be welcome to come along, though he above anyone else knows that I didn't hesitate to bring my own sister to Exeter and would have stopped at nothing to protect her. Admittedly, we had a pretty hefty group, so it wasn't necessary," he grins at Wen when she glances sidelong at him, finally mustering the courage to reach out and brush a stray lock of her hair behind her ear, though it might all be a pretext to caress her cheek, even if only briefly. "I will bring you with me, then, if I am ordered to do something outside Salisbury for the Earl once again. Naturally this also means I am getting another sword — or axe — to come along, at any rate. But I think even if we were married I would not keep you locked into the manor. As the wife manages the household in the husband's absence, she should know how to deal with all sorts of things. Venturing out gives her insight on how to do this best."

Critical Success!
You check your honest at 16, you rolled 16.

Heulwen turns her head and follows Acwel's gaze, watching quietly the men as they scurry over the docks and tend to their work. It is not nearly as interesting, however, and eventually her attention slides away and she turns to look in the opposite direction - across the rest of the field. Just then, a nice spring breeze happens by, sending locks of her loose hair dancing in front of her face. Her hand is halfway up to tend to the unruly mane when she is startled into utter stillness by Acwel's overly familiar touch.

Wen's cheeks turn red, a rather pretty flaming color, and the muscles in her jaw flex as she clenches her teeth together. The movement is brief but obvious, and the tension that thrums through Wen's body is enough to send Ffionn dancing in sudden nervousness. The horse snorts and tugs on the reins, distracting Heulwen enough that she has time to assemble her features into something more reasonable; the look, however, is closed and dead cold. "I think you are rather forward, Sir Acwel," she replies in as quiet a voice as she can manage but still be heard over the nervous sounds of her horse. She has to pause in her remonstrance, however, to tug tightly to keep Ffionn in check. It takes a good fifteen seconds to calm her animal into near-silence, but by then she has turned the mare to point it back toward Carlion proper. "You forget yourself, good sir, but I will assume it is merely a symptom of the frivolity of celebration and the marriage of the King. It would behoove you in the future to recognize the difference between the fantasy and the reality, no matter how picturesque the scenery. And now I think my horse requires a little exercise before she drives herself into a nervous fit." With that, she snaps the reins and clicks her tongue, and the mare needs no further prompting to take off like an arrow loosed from a bow.

Acwel checked his energetic of 16, he rolled 2.

One supposes this is the difference between these two: she prefers the nature, in all its glorious, placid self. He prefers to regard activity, as industria is a virtue often preached about. Perhaps because that is his distinguishing characteristic from others, or what has been imposed upon him since childhood, at any rate. Acwel watches as wind sweeps Heulwen's hair, letting those loose locks dance, as it has been put, in front of her face, while he reaches out.

And as her cheeks turn that much red, rather beautifully so, his smile widens a little, though her horse starts her fits and this distracts the Woodford for a moment, the reins on his own mount held tightly while he pulls his hand back. The cold look surprises him somewhat, and he straightens on his horse while looking at her. But even the look, and the declaration that he is forward doesn't wound, or would wound were he a lesser man, as much as what she says next. Stunned into silence for a moment that seems a bit too long. But when she races ahead, he follows suit with a burst of energy, Saint galloping forward and due to being a charger, perhaps more powerful, quicker than her mare. If and when he has the edge over it, he wheels around, keeping the mare from advancing further as the stallion is ridden around her. "You forget I lead my own Manor, Lady Heulwen, and whoever lady I choose to betroth myself to, it would be very hard for her father to say no, unless I truly overstep my bounds."

The horse stops, letting her go should she want, but his eyes meet her. And in that moment they are sharp, full of a fire she probably hasn't seen before. "I was untoward in regards to touching your cheek, aye, and for that I should acknowledge my uncourteous, unchivalrous misstep," a courtly gesture is offered, then, one hand sweeping in a half-flourish. "But I want you, even though you seem to have a penchant for making me feel as though I was a fool most of the time. And I generally get what I want because I am willing to work for it."

"But you are not 'what', you are 'who', Lady de Dinton. Someone who I hold in very high esteem indeed, a study of contrasts: the gentleness of your actions with the harshness of your words. It is torture," the Woodford admits, taking in a deep breath, "if, as you say, this is such a fanciful notion, that I should not go to your father or even Sir Dinton right this moment and ask your hand in marriage, or even, perhaps foolishly of me, that you would not be happy as Lady Woodford, I want you to tell me now."

Heulwen is leaning over Ffionn's neck, riding hell-for-leather for the gates with her hair streaming behind her and the hot sun beating down upon her back. She can hear the thundering hooves of the much bigger charger from behind, and then beside, and finally surpassing her, but the surprise is only when Acwel deftly swings about to block her horse's path. Her immediately reflex is to yank back, causing Ffionn to neigh loudly in consternation. Before they can crash, however, Wen wheels the mare in a wide circle to slow the animal down and finally comes to a halt.

Ffionn is antsy from the abrupt cessation of her free sprint, and she stomps a bit to communicate this to Heulwen. The noblewoman is having none of it, however, and she keeps tight hold. Her face undergoes a series of transformations from righteous fury to shocked dismay and back to righteous fury again, a quiet storm building just beneath the surface; the redness of her cheeks that was once receding has appeared again, and her lips are pressed together so tightly that they nearly disappear. Still, she listens silently to the outpouring, scoffing only once and tossing her head much like her own mare. The wind picks up her hair - damn the thing - and she is forced to toss her head second time to free her vision.

Finally, and only after the untimely delivery of his ultimatum, does Heulwen relent enough to open her mouth and reply. "That is the second ungentlemanly thing you have done today, Sir Acwel. I choose neither to encourage or dissuade you from doing whatever it is your knightly heart pleases, nor would any of my notions stand in the way of youwhat is it that you said?ah, yes, getting what you want. After all, you are so highly placed that nary a girl's father could disapprove of such a union, and so truly what does it matter what I think? Now am I free to go, or is there more you wish to profess?"

He listens to her again, Saint protesting the tension budding between the two — knight and lady — by trying to start into a run. But the Woodford's grasp on his reins is strong, and the white horse is kept in place. For Acwel's part, his eyes are kept directly on Heulwen's, whatever smile writ across his face gone into what could amount to an expressionless mask, the man barely expressive in that moment. He swallows, dipping his chin slightly to conceal this, his hand grazing gently across Saint's blonde mane to placate the horse.

"It matters to me," he says, finally, after listening to her, "I will not bind someone in lifelong matrimony to myself who will suffer every day, yearning something other than their lot in life. I will not belay your path any longer, Lady Heulwen," he states, quieter than before, exhaling afterwards, "God bless you."

Heulwen relaxes back into her saddle, not even realizing until that moment that she has half-risen in her anger. Was she planning on, what, jumping off and starting up some fisticuffs? With as much calm as she can muster, the lady reaches up to smooth a hand over her hair, twisting it casually into a knot that she tucks beneath the neckline of her gown to keep it at bay for the present. Her gaze is everywhere - up to the sky, down to the grass, staring directly between the ears of her mare, skittering over the image of the looming knight on his charger to gauge the distance between here and the gates beyond. Finally, however, she exhales audibly and her shoulders slump a bit.

"You are not a bad man," Heulwen replies, although whether she is reassuring him or herself is unclear. "I recognize the kindness in your eyes, even when my temper is left unchecked. It wounds me most to think I have made you feel a fool, for perhaps the fool is truly me. I—thank you. And maybe you will forgive me someday when the sting has faded." She raises her gaze to his briefly - a mere second - before clicking quietly and sending Ffionn into a trot headed back toward her family's encampment.

"I already have, Lady Heulwen," Acwel replies, meeting her gaze for that second. He remains still, upon his horse, as he watches her click quietly and trot her horse away. He wheels Saint around, running a hand through his hair for a moment as he spurs his own horse into motion, riding Saint across the plains.

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