10-09-2019, 10:26 AM (This post was last modified: 10-26-2019, 04:15 PM by Neverwhere.)
Nerine was certainly a beautiful land, in its own way. It wasn't made of silver lakes or verdant greenery, it wasn't made of trees that grew impossibly high, or fields of flowers that never ended, it was stark and raw, a place where rock met salt-water in dramatic fashion. Where the grass grew golden and salty, and the few trees were bent and warped from the wild breezes and storms that blow in from the ocean. In a way, one might say that Neverwhere suited this land more than other places that she might have landed, her face ruined like the cliff faces that overlooked the undulating, crashing waves. She, too, is pitted and pocked and had occasionally garnered stares.
Of course, until now, she had not noticed the stares, though only a fool would assume they did not come.
And still, she is not the most fantastically damaged of horses in this place, it is just that her scars are difficult to avoid, and it's so easy for one's gaze to drift from her eyes to the red and chapped skin just below them. She misses nothing, here, anything that she can see has her rapt attention, and she has become a great Watcher of Things, as if she can see enough in a few short months to make up for the years of steadily growing blindness, or enough to carry her through excursions outside of Nerine where a single steps across the border instantly causes the magic gift of her vision to blink out.
It had been upsetting, at first, very upsetting, and she had been lucky that that first realization was followed immediately by the unexpected arrival of a friend. Now, though, she is not caught unawares, and a moment's patience renews the formers strengths of her other senses, so she navigates as well as she ever did. However, the ability to see brings her back to Nerine, more than Heartfire's assurance that she is always welcome here, and so, the wanderer has suddenly found herself with a home, a place that she inevitably returns to, no matter where in Beqanna her feet take her.
It's a curious thing, to have a home, she thinks.
Which, perhaps, is a curious thing to think.
She does not dwell on it. The late season sun arcs high, shadows dark and sharp-edged like knives, but Neverwhere barely blinks, and certainly does not squint. For some, this is the worst part of the day, the hottest, the brightest, but she finds she prefers it, and strides across the plateau confidently. Never mind that the magic that lets her see does nothing to cure the trouble of her face, and the sunburnt skin is peeling from her nostrils, no, the scarring reflects a deep, stubborn, self-neglect and being able to see has certainly not changed that about the dappled mare.
Heartfire has always been a ruler inclined to let others live their lives with minimal interference on her part. Of course, that does not mean she neglects to leave behind certain… incentives, but she certainly is not heavily involved, nor does she hover. There is freedom in that, no doubt. But also danger, though many do not realize it. She may refrain from stepping in often, but that does not mean she was not watching. And more often than not, she would give others just enough rope to hang themselves.
Indeed, she’d been watching many nooses begin to tighten these last several months.
She has little doubt Neverwhere had come to at least some of those conclusions regarding why Heartfire had made her such a strange, and seemingly benign, offer. Of course, she had soon discovered her gift only functioned within the confines of the northern kingdom. The mare might have her freedom, might be able to walk away at any moment with no further repercussion, but Heartfire had certainly provided her with enough incentive to return.
You see, Heartfire knows horses. She knows their minds and how they work far too well. Or perhaps just enough, given how much she has studied them. And she had known, from the very moment she had met Neverwhere, that the only one who could ever convince Neverwhere of anything was Neverwhere.
But she had also seen enough to believe the woman had a great deal of potential within her. A potential Heartfire had been keenly interested in further exploring. And thus, her solution had been as elegantly simple as it had subtly underhanded. And yet, she frequently finds the dappled mare returning, time and again, to the windswept cliffs of her kingdom.
For the most part, she had not bothered her. She had offered her welcome, and she had given her space. But now, today, she does approach, for the first time since she had shown her the lovely vistas of Nerine. Her steps would no doubt indicate her presence first, and she does not try to mask her approach. She settles comfortably alongside the brown mare, gaze sweeping over the expansive waters before shifting to settle on her companion.
The light grows thinner as the year draws to its close, and so far north, the landscape shows signs of winter earlier than in other parts of the continent. The sea-mist brings with it the threat of frost overnight, but while the sun is still out, the air is warm enough. She is built to withstand these cooler temperatures and her coat grows more dense each day, keeping out the cutting winds that billow across the cliff-tops and twist her mane and tail into knots. Her eyes still water - Heartfire's magic is not a healing one, after all - and her cheeks are pink and chapped, the wind stinging wet skin.
She has paused to look curiously out at the sparkling ocean when the other mare's footsteps approach from behind, and Neverwhere turns, catching the silhouette of Heartfire as she nears. One ear twists back as the roan comes up beside her to look out at the water spread beneath and before them. Time has not built a greater love in her for the Nerinian queen, and she can feel the the acid bite of sarcasm on her tongue before even one word splits the crashing silence of their wind-tossed home. Heartfire extends a bland greeting and Neverwhere tosses her head as if at flies.
"That was a funny trick with the eyes, Heartfire."
Is that Heartfire's idea of a joke, buried deep in pleasantries?
She cuts past the greeting. Of course the vision would be the first thing to discuss, and the dappled mare could easily grasp the point of it because it does bring her back, as much as she claims to dislike and avoid magic. She is not ashamed of her hypocrisy, though. What she is, is unsure of the point of keeping her here, Heartfire's motives have always been unclear but this seems to make little sense. Neither of them are exceptionally good company - in particular to one another - and Neverwhere is neither well suited nor inclined to defend or play diplomat and advance the kingdom's interests. The wind yanks the words from her mouth, she lets them fly away without further comment, and she does not expect anything like an apology, or even an explanation. What was done that day is done, she had not asked for it, but had given her permission all the same, consenting without all the information. It had been an interesting way to pass the time, though, and not entirely regrettable.
I didn't even know dolphins existed, she thinks, remembering how in the summer the pods would often leap and breach the water's surface. They seem to have disappeared now in winter's approach, migrating like birds to follow the warmer water and the fish that move with it. It seems like such a small thing, twisting shapes well out of reach, but everything she sees here is amplified by everything she cannot see where-ever else she goes.
She had long since grown used the Nerine’s frequently biting winds. Her coat already grows thick, warding against the frost that hangs so threateningly in the air. She had never been a notably attractive woman, and without the sleekness of her summer skin, she is markedly less so. With the scruffy thick fur and tangled locks, she is perhaps one of the most plain and ordinary women to grace this land.
Were it not for the stunning blue of her eyes, she might have been entirely unremarkable.
But that has never bothered her. Her confidence does not lie in her appearance, or lack of it. No, there is so much more to the world than what one can actually see. As a woman who deals so frequently in vision, she is far more aware of that than most. And she had often taken advantage of that mistaken impression in others.
Her lips twitch at Neverwhere’s dry greeting, an almost-smile briefly touching her lips, appreciating the humor in that statement. Many might believe sarcasm and wit lost on Heartfire, but for all her icy serenity, she does, shockingly, possess a sense of humor. In most cases however, her deliverance is so deadpan, most don’t see it for what it is.
That is one thing she does rather appreciate about Neverwhere. Others might find her brash and gratingly sarcastic, but she is one of the few who actually seems to appreciate Heartfire’s rather interesting brand of dry humor.
Appreciate may be a loose definition in this case, but she’ll take what she can get.
She allows the brief silence to fall between them with no comment, gaze turning to consider the view Neverwhere had been admiring. When the dappled mare continues however, asking a decidedly conversational question, Heartfire turns her attention back to her, one brow lifting slightly. She considers the question with due thoughtfulness before replying, though her voice contains a faint hint of amusement as she speaks. “A great many things. But I have trouble imagining you’re actually interested in what they are.”
10-26-2019, 04:04 PM (This post was last modified: 10-26-2019, 04:05 PM by Neverwhere.)
Conversational might be a stretch.
She has been practicing her conversation lately, regardless of whether that has been her intention. In fact, it has certainly not been her intention at all. Her intention had been to drift through Beqanna the same as anywhere else, but things did not worked out that way. Instead, she lingers here, trading snide comments with the Nerinian queen. Although she would never - literally never - admit it, there is a grudging appreciation for Heartfire's silence and the way she never tries to fill it, or push Neverwhere to do the same, and so it is with some reluctance that the silver dapple asks the question at all. She blatantly ignores the quirk of Heartfire's black brow and only shrugs in response.
"Well, don't hurt yourself trying."
A great many things, indeed. There are whispers of A Great Many Things everywhere that Neverwhere goes, well beyond the rare few that would affect her in any meaningful way. The unrest makes wag-tongues of horses in the common lands, and the dappled mare has sharp ears. Although it is rarely Heartfire's name on their lips, it would be foolish to assume changes south of the rocky cliffs cannot reach them here. Neverwhere has assumed no such thing, though she is unaccustomed to a life with borders and politics. Or perhaps it is because she is unused to them that she understands exactly how meaningless they are to the creeping discord.
It is unlikely that Heartfire needs any such lessons, so Neverwhere only fixes an eye on her, studying her quietly for a moment. One might describe the spotted roan as a mare with purpose. Neverwhere is frequently the opposite, though she often looks as though she has one, expression serious and steps bold. She never acquired the hesitation or studiousness of some horses that have lost their vision, only learned to lift her feet a little higher, listen a little closer, to know by the difference of the wind whether it is the face of a cliff or it's edge that stands ahead of her. But her purpose is only to explore, in her own way, and Heartfire's is... unknown.
And I bet that just pisses them off, Nev thinks, knowing exactly how frequently her own actions and words are ascribed meaning that never existed until placed there by someone else. She takes the bait with a flick of her ears.
Heartfire has seen too much not to understand just meaningless borders truly are. The concept is purely for the benefit the society’s mind as a whole. Certainly the land itself has no understanding of it, nor would it ever care just where and how their petty dramas might spill. It’s this understanding that had prevented her from developing the fierce protectiveness over imaginary lines that so many in this land seemed to suffer under. Ultimately, it is a product of diplomacy and made nearly as much sense in the grand scheme of things.
Still, she had long ago learned how to play by a certain set of rules. Of course, it’s also hardly surprising she had learned to bend those rules to her whims as well. She may play the game, but it’s not quite the same one most of Beqanna seems to adhere to. Which, as far as she is concerned, is perfectly dandy.
She had always made it a point to keep her name from tongues and minds as much as possible. While that unfortunately was becoming much more difficult lately, it still only circulated with any frequency among those who happened to have either caught her interest, or placed their hooves in all the wrong places. Either way, she is perfectly aware that even those who do speak of her, speak with a fair amount of uncertainty and absence of any real knowledge. Even those who would be her adversaries as it were.
Her lips twitch in amusement as Neverwhere irascibly retracts her question. What others might find grating, she finds quite amusing. Truthfully, she cannot imagine Neverwhere would actually wish to hear her thoughts anyway. While Neverwhere might find the frequent unkindness of them amusing, her companion had never struck her as the overly political type. And considering how heavily they tended to lean that way these days, no doubt Neverwhere would find it mind numbingly boring otherwise.
Or, well, perhaps not boring, per say. But certainly she would gain a few more insights into the mechanics of Beqanna than she might wish to. Especially if she discovered just how lacking in privacy things truly could be.
“I suppose you could say that,” she replies idly when Neverwhere continues. Whether the question had been sarcastic or not is irrelevant. After all, it’s likely become exceedingly clear by now that she is not typically one to simply enjoy the scenery. Unless, of course, the scenery also held some particularly juicy bit of information.
After a brief, rather unassuming silence, she continues with an almost nonchalant, “How did you enjoy meeting my grandson?”
Perhaps Neverwhere wouldn’t understand the question at first. After all, the familial resemblance is decidedly lacking. Still, the brief flash of the blue and gold stallion, as though simply a memory passing one’s thoughts, would no doubt jog those recollections.
This is not where she expected the conversation to go, and for a moment, the silence that reigns is a bemused one. The word falls on her without much meaning at first, and maybe it shouldn't catch her so off guard because she has not met very many horses at all, in spite of her wandering. Wolfbane comes back to her like a biting fly and her scarred face becomes a scowl. Oh, yes. The memory of meeting him in the Taigan woods is surprisingly clear, despite the shock of blindness overcoming her again, the memory of his melting out of the fog and shadow, entirely too feline for her liking from the start. The memory of the fondness that Lilliana had tried to hide, had tried to disguise as no more than her usual friendliness that she shares with everyone - if the dappled mare had been a hundred times more blind she would still have seen straight through that paltry effort, and no more inclined to think the striped stallion worthy of the least of her friend's favors. She responds sharply, ignoring the question of how Heartfire knows that she met him at all.
"I told my friend to get the hell out of Taiga, but apparently she needs to learn the hard way."
She talks around the question, forgoing her usual bluntness with the knowledge that there is no subtlety to her body language. Knowing that Lilliana ran straight back to his clutches after disappearing into the Forest for so short a time fills her with concern, and the concern becomes anger, dark and boiling in her belly, gall rising at the back of her throat. Even if she weren't already wearing that sneer on her lips, the scars will always give her away, pink turning to mottled red in a rush of heated irritation.
It's possible that it is unwise to speak in this way to the spotted roan. Another horse might approach the subject more delicately, more diplomatically, she is his grandmother. Some might think she is being stubborn and jumping to conclusions, others might counsel care. The silver dapple is not concerned with either of these opinions. Instead, Neverwhere wears her dislike of him like a robe and makes no more attempt to hide it from Heartfire than she did from Wolfbane himself. Her half-ears twist back, the scowl giving way to the shadow of a smile.
Were she a woman prone to open displays of amusement, this entire exchange would have no doubt been humorously displayed on her features. As it is, only the faint gleam in her blue eye gives her away. And given Neverwhere’s state of agitation, it’s unlikely she’s paying much mind to her anyway.
Of course, she could have put Neverwhere out of her misery and told her she already knew exactly what had happened during her encounter with Wolfbane. But that’s hardly the point of this conversation, is it? In any case, the dappled mare seems hardly surprised by her knowledge of the encounter. The supposition that she knew everything already was likely not a hard one to come to.
Far from being offended by her obvious dislike for her descendent, Heartfire rather finds it entertaining. She’s not so willfully obtuse as to refuse to acknowledge just how brash and grating the blue and yellow stallion can be. Indeed, they’ve had their own share of falling outs. Not the least of them being the current tension between them over the self-styled comtesse of Taiga.
“He didn’t care much for me either, when we first met,” Heartfire replies after a time, her voice mild, as though she hadn’t just revealed a rather interesting fact about their relationship. “And I can’t promise he’ll grow on you either.” The last is said with a faint thread of amusement tempered by fondness. Despite the way he had hurt her, she does not dispose of her familial affections so easily. “But he is good to have in one’s corner.”
She does not push any further on the subject, instead turning her attention to the mention of her friend. The one who had caught Wolfbane’s interest. She had not thought her grandson’s connection to Lepis would be so easily broken. And so, this new mare is rather… intriguing in that respect.
“You should invite your friend for a visit. If you’d like to keep her from Wolfbane, I can assure you he will likely not be coming to Nerine any time soon.”
Her ignorance regarding the exact nature of Heartfire's touch on her sight bothers her less than the acrobatics she must go through to avoid being told about it, in part because if she were to understand the depth of it, she might be forced to do something. Maybe. If she truly understood it, there's an equal chance she might consider it a problem for others. Best to just continue ignoring, pretending, it seems to serve them both just as well. It may not be a shining moment, but the bald-faced mare has never tried to be, or present herself as, a beacon of moral character, so when Heartfire skims past the subject, it is met with a moment of unrecognized relief. Only a moment, though, she is back to petulant in an instant, grumbling under her breath like a child when Heartfire presses her grandson's case.
"I don't presently have a use for poisoned water, though I am sure there are those that do."
She remembers the words designed to manipulate, laid on thick with the ease of a practiced story-teller. And she remembers how distinctly she had mistrusted him and the sweet oil slick of his voice, instantly, instinctively, infuriatingly. There hadn't been a clear reason for it that she could explain, now, it would make no sense here atop the open sea cliffs with the wind whipping wild around them, but in that claustrophobic forest it had been different and she had wanted nothing more than to make Lilliana understand.
She had failed that, of course.
"Lilliana doesn't need a formal invite, she owes me a visit, now. Anyway, I think she may see it that way. And as for your grandson, I wouldn't hazard a guess on his plans, but I'm sure I'll hate them."
There is something almost resembling regret that flickers over her face, a softer touch to the scowl on her lips, so brief that it could almost be missed. She had handled it incorrectly, that day in Taiga. Not her response to Wolfbane, but the words she exchanged with Lilli. There is a reason that nearly a year has passed since the two spoke last, but Neverwhere knows - in a way only possible to someone who refuses to admit when they are wrong - that she had still been right. All is not well in Taiga, beyond the overblown egos of Heartfire and Lepis, something which has become increasingly obvious with every trip she must make through the territory on her way to other lands. She dispels that unrest with a snort and focuses again, scowl twisting into a sly smirk.
"Tell me, Heartfire, has anyone ever liked you at first?"
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