Day 015: My Country For A Horse
Summary: Cassandra seeks out Afaye for advice and possible training.
Date: 26 May 2016
Related: None
Cassandra Afaye 

Apple Orchard - Coesbur, Trikru
To call this an orchard is being a bit gracious. It is really nothing more than a stand of five to six trees tucked away behind the Seat of the village. There is a small, grassy lawn surrounding the trees, leaving them in a nice little clearing with the forests to the north and east. These trees are tall, with thick branches that divide off low along the central trunks. In the spring, they bear white blossoms which eventually shed in early summer. By autumn, they are heavy with red and yellow fruits that are gathered by the community and shared. Under one of the trees is a simple stone bench that bears the words 'In Long Memory of Summer Days' engraved on its seat.
15 Days After Landing

A cool evening breeze stirs the leaves of the few fruit-bearing trees in the "orchard." The sun is sinking slowly, casting orange rays through the leaves and illuminating a wide wedge of the grassy sprawl; the red and gold rays flicker with the movements of a Trikru walking beneath the trees. Afaye has a stick in hand, and she reaches up with it to tap the lower branches of the tree. An apple tumbles to the ground with a faint thud and rolls a foot or two before coming to a stop. This she scoops up into the basket sheltered in the crook of her left elbow. She hums a wordless tune beneath her breath as she works, collecting apples that are presumably meant as treats for the mounts.

With most of the Skaikru delegation having left Coesbur, the sight of a lanky, oddly-garbed teenager is becoming a rarer occurrence in these parts once again, and by tomorrow morning will be gone altogether, one way or another. Cassandra of the Sky-people is making the most of her final evening here, and full up on a hearty dinner courtesy of the Staheda's guestright, she finds herself heading towards the orchard both for a pleasant view and a bite of fresh dessert. But she has other reasons to be here, and she spies that reason amid the trees; at the sight of Afaye kom Trikru, the Delinquent pauses, calculating her approach, and then steps towards the strange woman with a wary yet curious gait. "Heya," she says, greeting the Grounder in the style and cadence of her own language.

There is a prolonged silence as Afaye concentrates on a higher branch, rising up onto her tiptoes to knock the stick against the branch with a faint *thwack.* She is rewarded with another apple, and she pauses to collect it and dump it into her basket. The tidy pile of fruit looks as if it might last quite a long time…unless the horses are pure gluttons. (Hint: They totally are.) "Mmphm," she replies in greeting to Cassandra, lifting up the hem of her shirt and using it to wipe the glistening beads of perspiration from her brow. Despite the breeze, the mugginess of the day is clinging desperately in its last moments before it inevitably succumbs to the coolness of the evening.

Turning about, Afaye sets her basket before a large boulder and takes a seat, sorting through the fruit absentmindedly while gazing up at Cassandra with a guarded expression. "If you looking for fruit, take this," she offers, tossing up an apple toward the girl. The produce appears to be whole and without damage - spots, bruises, etc. At least it seems an honest gift.

The scrawny teenager's hand shoots upwards to catch the apple, whereupon she nearly bats it downwards and sends its impeccable surface tumbling into the dirt. A small dance occurs between her and the fruit, but eventually, with a forward stumble, she manages to land it bouncing in her other hand, her legs precariously balanced. She smiles, embarrassed but satisfied, and from her bent position takes a bow before Afaye. "Mochof," she says in thanks, which appears to be the full extent of her Trigedasleng knowledge for now. "But I was looking for you. I'm leaving tomorrow morning."

"So I hear. All of the Skaikru leaves, eh?" Afaye plucks an apple from her basket, watching with a momentary flick of amusement as Cassandra bumbles the apple and finally collects it. She salutes the girl by pulling the knife from her belt, and the fading light flickers off the sharpened blade. She taps the tip to her forehead, points it toward Cassandra, and then sets about the business of peeling an apple in one solid coil. "What can I be doing, then? I have no provisions to give. See the kitchens for that, yes? Or the steheda. He will be seeing you make it back in one piece. Mostly." The knife snicks faintly through the soft flesh of the apple, and inch by inch the red skin is sheared away in a seemingly endless coil. She flicks it out of the way from time to time, ignoring the juice that trickles between her fingers.

From the captured apple to the the gleam of the Grounder's knife, Cassandra's brown eyes soon glance back to Afaye's. She makes a proud show when she meets the woman's gaze, bolstered by the subtle threat to remain stubbornly undaunted. "The Staheda has been feeding us generously," she says, moving to the bench, where she props up a boot and leans on her knee rather than sitting down. "But I can feed myself. I helped Roose kom Trikru and Spirit," his hound, "bring home a deer to feed my friends. Watching her hunt was impressive, but he told me that if I wanted to learn about horses, I should speak to you."

A hare darts out from beneath a bush nestled between two trunks, stopping briefly with its nose twitching wildly. If one ignores the fact that its snout is split wide - whether by mutation or battle is undetermined - the animal looks almost cute. Afaye glances toward it briefly, intent, as if perhaps she might toss her knife and peg it right between the eyes. The moment passes, however, as the animal scents the humans and immediately flees across the orchard, kicking up grass in its wake. The Grounder heaves a sigh as the final pass of the blade completes her project, and the string of apple peel tumbles onto the ground. "What is there to learn?" she inquires, now cutting the apple into slices and flinging seeds and bits of core about. "You ride them. Feed and water them from time to time. Brush them clean. Care for their hooves. This is not a question for girl without a horse."

Cassandra has rarely seen hares in her life; she can count their sightings on one hand, and all of these sightings happened in the last two weeks. A split-snout hare is something truly special, and one should not count the many she's seen on old videos on the Ark. Naturally, it draws her attention for a fair bit longer than it intrigues Afaye, the apple she's holding idly turning in her hand upon her knee. It's only when the Grounder mentions her lack of a horse that she glances back up and smiles. "Maybe some day I will have a horse," she says without real commitment, toying with the idea. "But first I would have to find one, and if I found one, I would need to know how to care for it and ride it so it doesn't run away." She cants her head, then wonders, "Are you going to give my friend Asher back his horse?"

"It is not my horse to give," Afaye replies slowly, working her way backward through the questions. She pauses to take a bite out of an apple slice, slipping it from the tip of her blade with her lips. She chews it thoughtfully, considering the other questions, but finally offers Cassandra the faintest shake of her head. "If the steheda grants the return of the horse, then it will go back to this Asher. Otherwise it stay. But you - to learn about the horse takes time, more time than you have here. You find a horse, it is probably wild. Wild horses hard to break, to train. Train to listen, train to carry you, train to keep calm when there is danger." She gestures about the orchard with her blade casually before spearing another apple slice. "And danger is everywhere. You find a horse, you bring it to me, and then we talk. Before then, talk is useless. I will give you advice for free: do not ride a wild horse. It will ride you, and that will hurt." She barks out a brief laugh at her own jest, paltry thought it may be, and resumes eating.

here's a touch of pity in the teenager's eyes at the statement of Steak and New Boots' uncertain fate. She does not have a knife, and so she bites into her own apple with her teeth — something which she looks to relish a lot more, anyway, savouring thoughtfully while Afaye takes her turn to speak. "What if you trained me before then?" Cassandra soon asks. "So I don't get ridden. Or so I know what it's like, at least, and then I can decide if to try it or not."

Afaye laughs quietly at the question and shakes her head as if her answer would be anything but a negative. She finishes the last of her apple, tossing away the remnant of the core, and carefully wipes her blade clean on a pant leg. "You leave tomorrow. What time do I have to train you in training, riding, grooming, shoeing, feeding, healing? It took me a long, long time to learn all of this. I cannot teach you even the basic knowledge in one night, if I even wanted to." She pauses to sheathe her knife and casts a glance to Cassandra from beneath her lashes. "And I do not want to. Perhaps if the steheda is saying 'Share your knowledge, teach the birdlings our ways' maybe I will. But your Com'run is saying you are all skilled, almost equals, you know the ways. You hunt, you fight, you farm, you heal. You will figure it out, then, if you are all so smart as he says. Otherwise, bring me a horse, and then we will work. Walk, then fly."

It's when Afaye says the words, 'if I even wanted to' that already Cassandra anticipates that what Roose told her is true — that the answer won't be too her liking — and when proven so, she bites at the corner of her lip. The apple is spun once more in her hand, but for now she focuses on speaking, rather than eating. "Cameron needs to mind his mouth," she opines with distaste more tart than the fruit she's been gifted. "If you decide to mind it for him, I won't mind." She pauses to consider, and her next word are pronounced and chosen with care. "And so if I found a horse, I could bring it to you to learn? Would I be sure that you would let me keep it?"

The question causes Afaye to laugh loudly and freely, as if she had no cares in the world at all. "It would be your horse, not mine, yes? You will work hard to learn, and it will not be easy. That is punishment enough, I think. If you want it, then you will keep it. I will show you some things." She sighs now and nudges her basket with a toe, watching as some of the precariously balanced apples tumble against each other; the few that try to escape are caught by the lip of the container. Her gaze darts upward beyond Cassandra as movement catches her attention (or perhaps a sound or smell), but she relaxes when she notes that the small group of people passing through the far edge of the orchard are hunters bringing in the results of their snares before the sun fully sets. "Com'run is prideful. Maybe not wrongly, maybe a little too much, but he will learn. Everyone learns their way, but it is a hard lesson. You will keep an eye out for horses, then? Carry with you some line - rope - to make a lead. You will not be able to ride the animal back."

People, unlike hares, are a common enough sight on the Ark. Even though these people are strange, they only grab Cassandra's attention for a moment before she moves to sit down on the bench, consuming half of her apple Afaye speaks. When a less fortunate, but equally sweet-toothed fly lands on her hand, she slaps it away. "The way the rest of my camp were walking after just one ride on the horses, I'm not sure I want to risk it," she tells the Housemaster over her thinning core, but with an eager tone that implies she probably will anyway. "How did you learn all this? And why? Is it a trade passed down through generations, like with my people, or did you teach yourself?"

Leaning forward, Afaye begins to sort through the basket of apples since she has nothing better to do. If she spots one that is bruised or damaged, she merely sets it aside for some alternate, unmentioned purpose later. "All trades pass down, and each new person adds and makes it new and better. I was to be a warrior, but I chose this instead. The horsemaster had no children to teach, and I had no desire for battle, so it worked. I learned from him, I learned from mistakes, so I learned both ways. Everybody learns both ways, you know." She pauses to scrutinize an apple close, and on a whim pierces the skin with her thumbnail. With a little digging, she manages to open up a hole wide enough to reveal a worm. Her lips curl back in disgust, and she pinches it off with her thumb and forefinger, squishing the hapless vermin. "Be wise to pick a female horse, not a male. And no young ones still traveling with their mothers. That is a cruelty, and you will be better than that." The assumption is, of course, that Cassandra will do as she says 'or else,' but the implied threat is intentionally vague.

The sight of Afaye's wriggling find has Cassandra raising both eyebrows, then looking down at her own apple intently to be certain that she isn't getting more protein than she bargained for. Fortunately, the apple gifted to her was a good one, and she soon finishes it. The core, she in turn gifts back to the earth with a toss towards the foot of a tree. Compost. "Your people really have a lot of respect for animals," she observes, and twists her lips as if to say something else, something less pleasant, but leaves it at that and takes a different route. "Why did you want to be a horsemaster and not a warrior?"

"Because I did." The reply is brusque, revealing nothing, and it seems after a moment of silence that Afaye has no intention of expounding upon her life story. Instead, she shifts in her seat and then rises, stretching her lengthy arms above her head. Her spine pops in several places, and she exhales in pleasure before leaning down to swipe up her basket. This she tucks against her left hip and hugs closely with her arm. "It is time to be getting back. The sun is nearly gone." She lifts her chin briefly toward the horizon gone purple with dusk. Only a faint gleam of red lingers above the trees, and the insects of the night are beginning to hum and chirp their evening cadence. "You should rest. Long day tomorrow, yes? And tell your healers we are thankful for the lives they saved."

Cassandra tilts her head at Afaye; the short response only seems to spurn her curiosity further, but she accepts it with an engaged smile. "I will," she replies. She glances up towards the darkening sky, waving away a mosquito as she rises from the bench. "Reshop, Afaye kom Trikru. May we meet again." One farewell in Trigedasleng, the other in the style of the Skaikru, she dips her head to the woman and turns to trudge back to the Seat, wrapping her jacket tightly around her torso for warmth.

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