She arrived a the palace stables mid morning. It would have been quicker to Trump over to Eorthwick, but Oliver hadn’t been out in while, and she thought he was starting to look a little tubby. He took some offence at this when informed, after berating her for not being home for some time (spend 2 points on “Speak & Sing” upgrade for Oliver)

“For you it’s home.” She retorted while currying him over.

“Damn straight for me it’s home. Clean, warm stall, plenty of good food, grooms that actually take the time to exercise us.” If he’d been a bird, he might have preened.

“Gods you’re starting to sound a bit prissy, aren’t you?” She grinned a little.

“Prissy? PRISSY!” He stamped a hoof and flicked his tail in irritation. “I am NOT prissy.”

“You don’t hear Morgenstern going on about comfortable living arrangements…”

“That’s because Morgenstern is a taciturn bulldozer with no sense of humour or style.” Oliver sniffed and again tried for the chaff bag which Sioned had moved out of reach.

“What’s a bulldozer?” Sioned asked, pausing briefly to switch brushes.

“No idea. Binky seemed to thing it was something to do with recalcitrant bovines.” He resolved that he couldn’t reach the bag and began scratching his chin on a rail instead.

“And I thought you two got on well.” she returned. Oliver snorted.

“Look, you may have an in with the Warden, although if I were to chatter inanely at someone as much as you do, they’d probably just give up and put up with me as well…”

Sioned had stopped and tapped two fingers on Oliver’s muzzle.

“That was not a very nice thing to say, Oliver.”

The horse looked at her with incredulity, and realised that he had gone too far. What he’d said had genuinely struck a nerve, and he hadn’t meant to. He lowered his forehead and bumped it into her side. Sioned took a backwards step with the impact, but turned and let him rest his head against her chest.

“Sorry.” He muttered into her navel and she massaged his ears. She sighed.

“It’s been an….interesting couple of days. I know you don’t mean it, you big dandy.” She rubbed an itchy spot she knew on his neck just behind his ear. He snuffled happily and tried to groom her top.

“I’m not a dandy…or prissy.” he insisted, and licked her face.

“Course not.” Sioned conceded, rubbing the heel of her hand down his muzzle. “Do you want me to braid your tail?”

“Yes please.” he said without even a second thought.

But midday they had almost reached Eorthwick. Sioned had let Oliver have his head the entire way, hadn’t even bothered with a bridle; and when not galloping about like a mad bugger, he’d been imparting to her all the latest staff gossip. It appeared that in her absence, he had become an incorrigible dropper of eaves and information gatherer.

“You do know that there’s a pool running on you and Lara?”

“A what?”

“A pool. Bets, people are taking bets on you two.”

She couldn’t quite get her head around that. Bets on what?
“What on earths are they betting on?” she asked

“Parentage.” He replied.

“Parentage?” They were taking bets on her mam and da?

“How you fit into the royal family. Stop being obtuse.” Oliver admonished her.

“Oh! right.” she paused for a beat. “People are taking bets on that?”

“Well of course they are. Royal families always attract gossip. And, well, no one know’s where you two came from, so why not take bets on it?” He ambled around widened ditch so as not to get his hooves wet.

“Have you placed a bet?” Sioned asked, grinning.

“No,” he said mournfully “People actually on the family tree aren’t allowed.”

“We’re not related, Oliver.” She laughed.

“You wound me to the core, mistress.” At which she laughed again. “I’m not allowed because they think I might have an unfair advantage.”

“But you don’t.” She had never told Oliver. Only five people knew…well, possibly six. She suspected Erica also knew.

“I know that, but they don’t. Sometimes punters go through phases of visiting me to glean what I know. They usually bring apples, so I never object.”

“You cheeky sod! No wonder you’re getting tubby.” Oliver had definitely fallen into some mischievous habits.

“Well, go on then, who are the favourites, you may as well tell me.” She was enjoying this. The sun was out, it was warmish, there was little breeze and she had a good travelling companion. It took her mind off…other things.

Oliver gave a little jig step and forgot to be annoyed about her jibe at his weight.

“Currently Corwin’s sitting at 2 to 1 odds on favourite to be Lara’s link into the family. Servant’s gossip has it that even the Queen thinks so. 5 to 1 on Caine and 8 to 1 it’s actually the Queen. After that the odds are long on it being one of the red heads given all the brain mojo she has, and even longer on Delwin or Sand.”

Corwin? Could he be Lara’s dad? If she knew, she was keeping that very close to her chest. Sioned kinda liked the idea that Lara’s dad would be someone completely unexpected, just to rain on all their parades.

“Betting on you is much tighter.” She snorted at that. “Even money is on Benedict, 2 to 1 on Hagen, 3 to 1 split on Caine and Flora, 4 to 1 on Llewella. After that it’s a jump out to long odds on everyone else.”

She grinned wryly to herself. A lot of people were going to loose a lot of money on those bets. At the same time she felt flattered. Benedict and Hagen, two men she had a hells of a lot of respect and love for. If anyone had actually stopped to think it through, the fact that she didn’t appear to have vampiric tendencies should be telling. Then Caine, Flora and Llewella. She could do a lot worse.

hiding in the nori beds

And then she thought about her mother. “Dad.” She said to herself. “We need to talk about mum.

Oliver continued on. A new tab had been set up on Talion, although that one hadn’t gained a lot of ground at the moment. Something about the set odds coming out of Arden and hadn’t been widely distributed yet. She wasn’t really listening any more.

They began the ascent to Eorthwick, and Oliver subsided into humming happily to himself one of the newer ballads to come out of Garnath recently. Something about Epona, fighting and horses. There was a surprise.

The gates were opened for her and they entered without issue. Oliver happily departed for the stables, no doubt to make friends and influence “people” if he could. He swished his par-braided tail prettily as he went.

She was greeted by the chamberlain of the House and, after time taken for small refreshment, was escorted through to the rooms given over to Caine. She had been warned that he had sustained serious injuries, and had not woken since shortly after he had arrived, so the sight that greeted her did not come as too large a shock.

Sioned stood in the doorway and regarded the injured party. She’d only been joking with him via Trump some few days ago. Without waiting for assistance, she then noisily dragged a comfortable looking sofa chair over to his bedside, much to the chagrin of a few of the house servants who flapped about uncertainly not far away; sat and took his uninjured hand in both of hers.

“Ah, cuz.” She heaved a breath and kissed her teeth in annoyance. “You don’t look too crash hot.”

With a small circular motion of her thumb on his hand, she focussed her skill on the memories held in his skin, blood and bones; doing what she could to help.