(1311-12-04) I Can't Wait To See You Ride
Summary: Philomène takes in a show. (Warning: Some casual nudity.)
RL Date: 03/12/2019 - 04/12/2019
Related: Cheap Date, We’re All Barbarians. An Excess of Chalasse, Round Four, Giving A Fig.
athenais philomene 

Le Cascade — Eisande

Taking a smaller path that splits from the main one, following it through the trees and down a small slope, and a person would find themselves in a large glade at the foot of a waterfall. Entering the glade is like stepping into another world; for no views of the city, or the sea that can be heard in the distance, are possible from here due to the trees that surround it. It's here that the river which has wound its way through the Eisandine fields, tumbles over a fifty foot cliff and into a pool at its base before continuing on its way. Over the centuries the rocks surrounding the pool have worn smooth, and the natural hollows and formations of which they comprise allow for sitting or bathing in the sparkling clear waters, or for stretching alongside the pool in the warmth of the Eisandine summers. Trees around the edge of the glade offer respite for those that prefer to seek shade when the sun is high, and one large flat rock that overhangs the pool is a popular spot from which to dive.

At some point in history, someone carved a small grotto into one of the rocks behind where the water cascades, and lovers will often place a devotion to Naamah here, asking her for blessings.

When at the height of a clear autumn afternoon Philomène de Chalasse reins in her best friend, Hirondelle, to enjoy their customary breather and a gulp of water (for the horse, not the woman) at Le Cascade, an apparition greets them in the glade at the foot of the waterfall.

From Khebbel-im-Akkad, or perchance out of a dream, has come this intolerably handsome dark bay fellow with lavish black points and high black stockings, who answers in every respect to the description given by stablehands of the only mount of Lady Athénaïs de Belfours. To her certain knowledge Philomène has glimpsed him a time or two in the street — she’s heard enough about his outings from gate-guards chatted up with crafty casualness on her way in and out of the city, albeit nothing in the last several weeks — up close he’s resplendent with youth, health, and grace, though his hooves are hobbled to keep him confined to the glade and he’s grazing but upon close-cropped grass. Nothing off a silver plate at all.

His rider is evinced only by an untidy pile of clothes and boots on the rocks next to the still waters of the pool. Red and black, plain but well-made, Athénaïs’s usual.

Perhaps she’s drowned—?

And are there salvage rights for horses—?

One can but hope. On both counts.

Philomène takes her time to dismount, it being less than easy to make the transition from graceful rider to awkwardly limping, both physically and mentally. Subconsciously, she even dismounts away from the pile of clothing and the magnificent horse, turning her mare to shield her, but once she's back on Terra Firma she has the good grace to at least reward her faithful friend for her service with a handful of sugared almonds from the pocket of her jacket.

With one horse crunching away, she approaches the other, instinctively avoiding the blind side to avoid startling the stallion, and offering him, too, a handful of the sweets. Perhaps this is how Philomène ought to approach making friends with human beings too, as she would no doubt have more success.

"Hello there," she murmurs happily to the horse, marvelling at his lines and easing closer until she can pat his neck and get further acquainted. "You're a handsome boy, aren't you? She doesn't deserve you, I'm sure."

Horses are not like dogs. Someone makes the right approach, slowly and from an unthreatening angle, and offers a handful of something tasty— the stallion sidles away a step or two, decides to stop, condescends to sniff Philomène’s offering, and then, finding it good, eats straight from her hand and deposits a certain amount of his happy horse-slobber in recompense.

Only if she's looking the right way at the right time, i.e. up, and she’s not just lost in horsegirl ecstasy, will Philomène actually see the sleek nude figure that launches itself off a jutting rock high above and commences a confident downward arc toward the pool.

But there's a laugh, too, a loud and crowing and unashamedly joyous female laugh that echoes through the glade and breaks the quietude even before Athénaïs's fingertips break through the calm surface of the water, leading the way for her long body's plummet into those clear and frigid depths. She's down there a moment or two. She bursts up again amongst the churning white water at the foot of the waterfall, which drowns the sound of her renewed mirth as she runs both hands over her wet head to smooth back her short and dripping blonde hair.

The horse looks round and shifts a bit but doesn’t spook. He’s seen and heard it all before. Sugared almonds on the other hand are new, and a prospect worth further exploration.

Naturally, Philomène misses the best part of the show. Story of her life. It's not until that yell permeates her horse-fogged brain that she deigns to look first up, then over, then finally down to the water, to the lithe, fit blonde enjoying herself there. It's almost enough to interrupt her horse induced bliss. Almost. Still, she scowls out of principle and pulls out another sugared almond to make better friends with the bay, followed by another for an inquisitive Hirondelle who was by now feeling rather left out.

She can't complain at the woman for swimming, though. In contrast with the sensitive dispositions of the local southerners she was brought up to revel in the icy cold waters of mountain lakes, passing on the wisdom of generations of Camaelines that it's bracing and good for the blood. It's just that these days the chill of such a thing is far too painful for her already painful joints, and so she fixes in place another good hard scowl.

Were she feeling vindictive she might consider moving the woman's clothes, or throwing them in the water with her, but on the other hand that would be childish even for the Chalasse — and besides, riding naked through the countryside is Philomène's idea of bliss and what the hell has Athénaïs done to deserve that?

The waters are further churned by Athénaïs’s antics — she hasn’t even looked up to the bank yet, to see that her horse is making friends and influencing people — she does a roll and then another, and then charts a course along what she knows to be the pool’s longest axis — and backstrokes to the waterfall again, fast as she can, reveling in the cold, the wet, the exertion, the umpteen thrilling and bracing sensations of pushing her body toward a limit.

Her bay stallion runs out of sugared almonds and whickers meaningfully.

After another few laps Athénaïs is looking in the right direction at the right time, or something; anyway, she twigs that she isn’t alone. Her next underwater somersault brings her up into an easy dog-paddle along the much shorter axis which leads her toward clothes, horses, and Philo. “Are you not coming in, then?” she calls out. Wet and smiling, cheerful and loud.

"No," comes the abrupt response. Philomène, on being spotted, turns away from the bay to her own horse lest she be caught ogling. She pulls a blanket from the docile back of her Hirondelle, limping over with it to the edge of the water where she can set it, and then with that carefully frozen non-expression herself, down. "But I shall pray that a nasty undertow drowns you." This breaks the scowl into a more cheerful mood.

Athénaïs can just hear the other woman’s voice above the waterfall and her own splashing, since she’s listening for it. “In a pool this size?” she laughs, taking the idea of her demise in good part. “You’ll be lucky.” And, crowing again with the animal pleasure of her present pursuit, she pushes off from the rocks with both feet and finds her way back to the waterfall, to sport a while longer in freezing water that only a crazy person or a Camaeline could enjoy.

Eventually she makes a return to the rocks on that side and climbs out with infuriating ease, callused hands and feet making a nonsense of the water’s depth. She stands then before Philomène naked and dripping-wet, roped with lean muscle, alternately flushed and whitened by her body’s hard work in the bracing December chill. It turns out there’s a folded white towel, none too new and with a frayed edge at one end, buried beneath her discarded garments. She drips across the corner of the other woman’s blanket and bends down to fish it out.

Once again, loath to be caught ogling, Philomène deliberately finds a blade of grass to pluck and find hugely interesting, at least until Athénaïs is bent over and can't see her. And then of course she sneaks a peek, lips curving into a satisfied smile as though the other woman's physique is there purely for her own consumption.

"Just here to drown this afternoon, or did you need a break from riding?" Because there at least is something at which Philo knows she can beat the other woman.

In a crunch, she probably could; but Athénaïs has confidence enough in her own horsemanship that she doesn’t take it as an especial jab aimed at a weak point — and besides, she’s just had a very good time and she’s still feeling it in her muscles and in her blood — so she’s laughing again as she presses her face into her towel and then turns around to face the other woman. “Just here to rest in the sun this afternoon,” she says, drying herself briskly and without any impulse to modesty, “or did you need a break from getting into fights?”

"As though I'd ever take up the offer for a break in that," Philomène allows, leaning back on her elbows, in part to get more comfortable and in part so that she can continue to eye Athénaïs's back and rear, unspotted.

"And if I wanted a break from fighting, I wouldn't have stopped when I saw you. What's he called?" she asks, from nowhere. Because of course her mind would drift back to the horse. Naked woman. Horse. Makes sense.

To be fair to Philomène, the contours of the other woman’s unclothed form can hardly help suggesting these Godiva fantasies. Though the towel does occlude her, in shifts, until feeling dry enough in the main Athénaïs lifts it high in both hands to have a quick go at her wet hair. Then, with her head and more importantly her face buried in her damp towel, Philomène may enjoy a few more precious seconds of deniable ogling — and not of the stallion…

She looks up from the towel with a quizzical expression etched upon features framed by damp and rumpled blonde and white tresses. “Him?” she asks Philo, nodding to the Akkadian bay stallion now helping himself to a drop of water. “He’s called ‘Glue’,” she explains.

That's enough for Philomène to form a fist and throw it at the other woman's calf. Not hard, but enough to make her point. "Don't be a dick, you can't call a magnificent beast like that… that!" No, she can't bring herself to repeat it. "Not even funny."

No good trying to knock a scion of Azza off her feet with a single punch she can see coming. Athénaïs’s stance shifts minutely and she absorbs the blow with no more reaction than a precisely enunciated, “Ow,” and a scowl down at Philomène on her blanket.

She takes a step back, and drops her towel in order to gather up a fine and crumpled white linen undershirt in its stead. Pulling it over her head puts an end to the show, unless Philo happens to be a leg woman, in which case— it goes on, and on… “He’s got an Akkadian name nobody can say,” she offers, and pronounces a few quick foreign words that start with a ‘g’ sound, “and I’m sick to hell of hearing them get it wrong, so we call him Glue. Gets him used to the idea, too,” she drawls, squatting down to fish through her clothing pile for other undergarments.

"You don't deserve him," Philomène insists, repeating her earlier observation in a surly tone. Possibly because she really does love horses, or possibly because the show is ending. Why not both?

"Sure, he's not a fighting animal," she adds, for a little loyalty to her best friend Hirondelle, "but I'll bet he flies like the wind itself. If he's ever unwell, don't you dare consider glue. I'll buy him from you." It's a spur of the moment thing, because where, short of selling a kidney, would the forever cash-strapped vicomtesse find the money. But then perhaps for something she's so adamant about, she'd find it somehow.

Dressing, briskly and unselfconsciously and with an infuriatingly sure balance upon the rocks at the pool’s edge, Athénaïs spares a moment to give Philomène a look as dirty (and as aristocratic) as any she has just received. “He was a present,” she declares, as though that settles in perpetuity the question of a sale. “… Used to ride an uncle of his,” is a muttered addition as she finally parks herself on the edge of one particular rock to shove one leg and then another into riding breeches of comfortably-worn, wine-dark red leather. “… And their owner,” she adds then, glancing up, “though on the whole he didn’t go as well.”

"Well, that's stallions for you," Philomène retorts, digging into her jacket for her flask, which she first unscrews then offers casually over. "Me, I've always preferred a mare."

Athénaïs’s next contribution to the debate, offered as she stands upon her stockinged feet and hikes up her breeches over her shirt-tails, is a huff of amusement and the notion that: “It depends what for.” She reaches down for the flask, takes a swig, complains that it’s, “Rotgut, you drink,” swigs again, wipes the mouth of it courteously upon her shirtsleeve, and restores it to Philomène. Then she gets on with lacing her breeches snugly about her sleek hips.

"I'm not the delicate flower you are," comes the easy retort, a long swig from her flask the perfect excuse to tilt her head back and enjoy the shapely view. "I like something with a bit of bite to it. Warms you up on a cold day. Gets the blood going, more even than dipping into icy pools."

The flask goes away and she leans back on her hands, asking idly, "You often come out here to swim? Or did you just decide you were done riding today?"

Athénaïs gathers her boots together and sits down again to shove her feet into them; tightening those laces next, she glances up once to give Philomène a dubious look and mutter, “Uh-huh,” in answer to her comparison of the relative merits of booze and cold water.

Then: “To drown, you mean?” she drawls. “Sometimes.”

"Call on me," Philomène suggests, shifting to roll over and prop herself up on her front, a leg folding up behind her. "I'll ride with you. Show you how it's done. And if you're a cunt about it, sure, I can drown you too."

“Uh-huh,” says Athénaïs again, absently, tying her second set of bootlaces and standing straight away to collect her dark broadcloth frock-coat— yes, as she pulls it on over her shoulders with casual masculine competence it turns out to be the one with the fine silver-grey silk lining threaded through with scarlet. She checks her collar, briskly, and then does up a few quick buttons. “You can ride back with me if you like,” she offers, saying nothing of the future.

She reaches next for the sword-belt uncovered when she took up her coat and, grasping it, flicks another glance at Philomène. “If you’ve finished your rest,” she suggests, straightening to wrap the belt about her hips and restore her favoured rapier to its proper place.

"Hirondelle is resting, I'm just enjoying the show," Philomène deliberately points out, along with an appraising look up and down the other woman's body. "But much as that's a lovely coat, it does rather ruin it."

She shrugs, then rolls over again to pull herself awkwardly to her feet, jaw set squarely so the pain remains invisible but for a flash in her eyes. Pointing one leg out to the side rather than bend it, she stoops for her blanket, taking a moment to refold it over her arm.

"Still, I can't wait to see you ride." There's a slight pause, before she clarifies, "On your horse."

A huff of amusement from Athénaïs. “Show’s over,” she informs Philomène, drawing her red woolly hat out of a pocket of her frock-coat and pulling it over her damp hair.

Then — it may relieve Philomène to know this — whilst she’s battling all over again with her war wound, Athénaïs is shaking out and bundling up her towel, and a few other odds and ends, and turning away to where their horses are grazing together without waiting for Philomène, but also without particularly looking at her. That last remark earns an idle, “Fuck you,” enunciated loudly enough to be heard though she doesn’t turn round to utter it — she’s busy shoving her things into a saddlebag left open to receive them, and then bending to unhobble her bay. Her tack is all plain, but well-made and well-maintained. Like her sword-belt and the rest.

"Also an option," Philomène allows pragmatically, returning her blanket to a curious Hirondelle, who, on seeing her owner rise, has come snuffling around for more sugared almonds. The mare, it might be noted, was never hobbled but the reins merely dropped, enough to keep her from running off. "But really, you should have offered before I put the blanket away."

It's an unusual manoeuvre, but a practiced one as Philomène mounts up, using her own momentum to avoid any strain on her bad leg, then she leans down on her horse's neck to pat her and offer a few murmured words of encouragement.

"I tend to take the upper route back, but I can understand if you'd rather take the road where you don't have to jump."

Philomène’s own equestrian rituals may spare her the sight of Athénaïs’s ease as she slips a booted toe into the stirrup and simply flows up into her Akkadian bay’s saddle— let us hope so, for her heart’s sake. She’s not a well woman, you know, after that punctured lung.

“What I can’t work out,” the Azzallese offers across to her Camaeline companion, who of course is still talking to Hirondelle, “is why you think you’re the only woman alive who’s ever ridden a horse. What,” she speculates as she pulls on leather gloves from her other pocket — young Glue is a little restive beneath her, eager to get going again, but her knees suffice to control him, “did you get a knock on your head and wake up thinking you’d invented riding—?”

"I've been in the saddle almost fifty years," Philomène points out as she walks her horse over to line up beside the other woman, calf to calf. "And I've beaten better women than you in a race, or a joust, pegging or hoops. But by all means, do please show me what you can do," she offers grandly, giving an elaborate bow from her saddle.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Athénaïs=Riding+Reaction Vs Philomène=Riding+Reaction
< Athénaïs: Good Success (3 7 5 7 1 3 3 5 7 1 5) Philomène: Good Success (6 3 7 4 8 5 1 2 5 1 5)
< Net Result: Athénaïs wins - Marginal Victory

Athénaïs meets her gaze with a deadpan expression. “So you’ve not noticed,” she speculates, “that we’re the same age—? Have your eyes got that bad?” And without waiting for an answer, or giving a perceptible touch upon her reins, she lets Glue have his head and do just what he wants to do anyway: stretch his gorgeous long legs over the familiar path ahead.

The trees here encroach too closely upon the path for Philomène to get past before coming into the open. She’s temporarily stuck behind, getting after a fashion her desired view of Athénaïs riding on her horse, as the bay’s trot gives way to a smooth and effortless canter and his rider’s natural Azzallese grace is once more blindingly apparent. Horse and woman move as a single creature, united, in the sort of poetry even a Camaeline can read and enjoy.

The first jump that launches them onto the upper route back to the city requires a demonstration of Athénaïs’s principles (we’ve heard about Philomène’s already today). Rather than slow down for it she urges on her fleet young mount to greater speed and they take it at a headlong gallop, Glue’s hooves easily clearing the hedgerow and meeting the game trail beyond it with an undiminished thunder. They don’t slow down to wait for the others. Show’s over? Sure.

Philomène would have been disappointed if she had slowed down. That is very much not how this game is played. With Athénaïs ahead of her and no space to bring her own horse up alongside, she’s content to match the pace and enjoy the view, even if it is now clothed. Where the Azzallese woman has the younger, faster horse and the natural, easy grace that comes with her blood, Philomène has years of getting the very best out of her mount, shaving milliseconds off every corner here and there, using her knowledge of the paths and condition in this weather, and making up in general for a stiffer body with a cunning mind and the sort of experience that comes with riding every single day.

By the time they’re over the third jump and the city walls are in sight, Athénaïs’s lead is barely perceptible. Perhaps a nose length, and perhaps Philomène is deliberately allowing the other woman ahead, just so she can watch, with a wide smile and a joyful laugh that only riding at full pelt through the countryside draws out from the woman.

After that last jump but some distance yet before their path joins the busier road that’s still bringing farmers and travelers into Marsilikos at a steady pace, Athénaïs finally slows her beautiful, lathered bay to a canter and then a walk. As Philomène passes her she glances over at the other woman, which she’s only done once or twice during a breakneck ride which drew out her crowing laughter again in counterpoint to the Camaeline’s— she’s flushed as she was from her swim, and not deadpan or scowling now but wearing an easy, unfeigned smile.

As Athénaïs slows, so Philomène eases back, trotting and then slowing to a walk beside the other woman, albeit just a little ahead, for the sake of her own pride. It’s entirely subconscious, though, as she meets Athénaïs’s eye with a gleam of shared understanding. There really is nothing in the world like the jolt of adrenaline through speed, or fighting, or leaping from a tall rock into a pool of icy water.

She leans forward over the neck of her horse, giving Hirondelle a little pat of thanks and encouragement for her hard work, before glancing back over to the horse unfortunately referred to as ‘Glue’, and his rider. Again there’s an unforced smile, of shared experience and the joy of a good, hard ride, and when a hand goes to a pocket of her jacket, it’s for once not to find her flask but to rescue the last couple of sugared almonds which she holds out in the palm of her hand for the other woman to take.

But Athénaïs was climbing and diving and splashing about in the water whilst Philomène was shamelessly making up to Glue. She glances down from the road ahead into the other woman’s hand and then up to meet her eyes, not with wariness or hostility but quizzically, and in the lingering glow of camaraderie. “What’s that for?” she asks.

“For your boy,” Philomène explains, with a nod towards the stallion’s head, in case it was in any way unclear. “He’s worked hard for it, carrying you all the way out and back with not a single complaint.” She folds her hand around the sweets, palming one of them before offering the remaining one back over. “I usually carry a few with me in this jacket.”

Which presumably means always, as when is she ever seen in anything but that jacket?

Athénaïs bites off another easy laugh. “That was his treat,” she explains, amused. “Glue was made to move — there’s nothing he likes better than being taken out for a good hard run. Which he doesn’t get every day when I’m in the city.” On which note she transfers her reins from one gloved hand to the other, and reaches out to accept the last almond from Philomène. She doesn’t say ‘thank you’ — but the speed with which the stallion hoovers it up when she leans forward over his neck to offer it, is surely gratifying enough to the donor. Athénaïs lingers a moment, perhaps, embracing him, before straightening and wiping the inevitable horse saliva off her glove and onto her handsome black broadcloth coat. Lucky servants.

“Hirondelle likes a companion to run beside,” Philomène tells her, shrugging one shoulder before leaning to offer the last nut to her own horse. “Come out more often. Let the boy have his fun. I take her out every afternoon, rain or shine, and there’s space for you to join us.” She wipes her hand on the saddlecloth absently, then eases a less claustrophobic distance from Athénaïs as they head for the road. “I will admit,” she allows, putting on a deliberately grudging tone which is belied by the smile that still plays at her lips, “that there aren’t many people who can keep up, and perhaps you might be one of them.”

“There’s space, is there,” echoes Athénaïs, gesturing to the openness of the countryside they’re passing through at this side of the city walls. She raises an eyebrow at Philomène. “And here I thought it was my sparkling personality that attracted you. Turns out it’s my horse.”

Though this is given good-naturedly, as they veer toward the turn onto the main road.

“Trust me, it’s certainly not your sparkling personality,” Philomène assures her with an easy laugh. “Combination of your horse, who is a particularly handsome chap, by the way, and your arse. You think I want to ride behind you to just take in the countryside?”

“Good thing you like riding behind,” Athénaïs drawls; “you’ll be doing it a lot,” and she nudges Glue a little ahead of Hirondelle, as their bickering takes them all the way home.

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