Rain Follows

Title: Rain Follows
Time Period: September, 134 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: In the wake of early autumn, a new arrival reaches Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie.

Hooves the colour of bruised nails crushes grass and dirty in the long, sedate strides of the muscled gelding. His hide is mottled like marble, overall a well-kept mount with his mane and tail both tied off, and his approach back towards the stables is as slow as his master allows. Although Aislinn has been given the reins since, Edmund's hands settled on her waist and otherwise content to let her have those the lead and the stirrups, thighs kept steady enough and a hold of her keeping him sufficiently balanced as they pace back for home. Recent rain permeates the air, but in its wake, with the clouds spent, the air feels almost dry against the skin for all that the ground is sopping wet.

It's getting on into the evening, with the sun pulling closed swifter and swifter. Edmund expects there to be one of his boys waiting out front to accept the gelding, put it away, and tell him one the chores completed with the anxious tone of a lad who wishes to go to the pub before it gets any darker.

This expectation is why he isn't looking, content instead to list his gaze off for the shape of the castle, a jagged token of horizon unique to Dornie.

Just before the gate can be reached, a throat clears to interupt the admiration of a stricking addition to the horizon. The young man that stands so close to the gate is not one of the stablehands. And Cas Blackburn looks as if he's seen better — and drier — days. Dark hair is matted down by rain and dirt, and his clothes are damp.

Mud cakes the dark pants up to the knees, obscuring what boots the man happens to have. Once he'd had a jacket that may have been fairly decent dark leather, but the sleeves have been torn off. The scruffy growth of black hair on his face is almost a beard, and a black sack hangs from his back, held well above the mud.

The man is unarmed except for a sheered branch that sticks in the mud, likely a walking stick. And most bandits wouldn't clear their throats.

"Good day, my Lord. My Lady." There's no bow, really, but his accent has crisp southern tones. His eyes glance over the gelding with a smile that seems both relieved and pleased. "I was pointed here by— " Brown eyes alight over to the castle as if trying to use that to remember the name. "They said I couldn't miss the place," is what he ends up saying. Whoever it was he's forgotten. "And they were right. There's a castle."

It is early autumn — that cool, crisp time that straddles the space between summer and winter — and although this isn't Aislinn's favourite season, the gold and purple colours smeared across the evening sky by the setting sun have her in a good mood. She'd been singing, but quietly enough that the stranger might not even realize he's interrupting more than Edmund's concentration; the song is not meant for all the world, only the man whose chest she leans back against, content in the circle of her husband's arms. It's her way of celebrating their rides together, even if the occasion isn't at all unusual.

A dress made of a dense fabric dyed pale rose with long sleeves and a neckline that ties together guards her against the chill along with a wool shawl and a patterned scarf worn over her braided blonde hair, knotted loose at the chin. At Cas' form of address, she looks up and back at Edmund, her small mouth curved into a wry but not unkind smile.

The look is met with the rare twitch at Edmund's own mouth that signifies smirk that shares sneaky, not unkind, sentiment. "An' these are stables," Edmund assets, without particular urge to get off the horse and away from the warmth Aislinn offers in her lean back against him. "There's a road that'll take you direct-like to the service way if that's what you're wondering. There's a few up there who'll take bein' called lord and lady." Lazy facetiousness staves off, and it's wont to do, and he studies the boy for a moment.

Swiftly realising he is in fact a stranger. "Name and purpose?" he asks, more direct.

The smile falters a bit, but recovers quickly enough, hand shifting to drive the sheered branch deeper into the mud, as if to show it's harmlessness. "Probably should've started with that," he says in a sheepish tone, looking from the man atop his horse to the lady with him. "Cas Blackburn— I'm… looking for a job."

There's a hint of questioning in his tone, but he covers it up by stumbling on with talking.

"I've been working with horses since I was old enough to walk. Family owned three'n I've worked with more since. Been travelling looking for a decent horselord since I left the last one— didn't like the way he treated his horses." The last comes off as a throw-away comment.

"But I heard you have a good herd and— I've been on the road most of the summer and I'd really like to… you know. Work." Then he gestures at the gelding with his free hand. "And I can already tell you take great care of your horse."

"He's a fine horse," Aislinn agrees, the leather loop of the reins relaxed in her bare hands. Edmund will be able to feel the absence of tension in her back and shoulders and hear the peace in her voice — if Cas is a threat, then neither she nor her magic recognizes him as one in spite of what she says next. "You brought the rain to Dornie with you.

"There's a cloud that follows wherever you go." Her eyes are gentle; this is no accusation. Reassurance instead. "Sometimes, it is a dark, snapping dog, but not here. That chain goes only so far."

Edmund's attention steers from the boy and then to watch the fraction of expression he can see on Aislinn's face. If dark clouds and dogs and chains were something to be wary of, he's almost sure he'd be able to read clearer signals than that. He decides, then, these words are not just for his benefit, and shifts oceanic blue eyes back to the prospect standing before them. "I took this year's hands durin' the summer already," he says, voice flat. "I hire'em at once so they stay even, y'know.

"Help the lady down," is added, despite this, his hands lifting off Aislinn's waist with one going out in offer for her to use.

"Pardon? Clouds?" Cas says, quietly, not seeming to understand the words or where they come from, but they certainly hit on something from the surprise in his eyes. His right hand lifts to scratch at his damp hair, even as he listens to the potentially bad news. "I see, my— uh— sir," he says with a voice deepening with tension.

Moving closer to the gelding, he follows the instruction and offers his hand up to the lady after checking for mud. A few smears of dirt and healing scrapes visible despite the dark glove that covers his palm and part of his wrist. The glove has a rough texture caused by strips of leather sown into the fabric and the gloves are fingerless, fabric jagged as if they'd been cut off, allow his fingers to remain bare. "Summer isn't quite over yet though, is it?"

"You could ask a swallow," is Aislinn's suggestion, "if you can still find one." She takes Cas' hand, braced against Edmund, and swings one leg to join the other on the right side of the saddle as she eases herself off it. Whether her husband chooses to hire the boy or not is ultimately his decision, and although her mannerisms and the sympathetic interest she takes in Cas' physical state make it clear that she's on his side, she does not attempt to influence Edmund with anything except her body's language and the gracious squeeze she gives his arm on the way down.

"Thank you," she tells him, or Cas, or the both of them.'

Edmund follows suit, once Aislinn is safely down — swings one long leg over the saddle and levers his way onto the ground, the gelding adjusting himself after this exchange of weight. The reins are held loose in Edmund's hand, tugging adjustment at his own clothing as he glances from woman to boy. "Summer or not, you'll be fortunate, then, that the Higgins boy's shown too late in the morn' for my taste one too many a time. How big a herd have y'handled? Do you work fast, clean and early? Repair tack?

"I won't be payin' you for the first fortnight 'part from shelter and food as you need it. The boats'll still be lookin' for deckhands," he adds, as a point of fairness, eyebrows raising. "In case you were after the last resort." The gelding snorts, helpfully.

The relief washes into an immediate smile that shows off his teeth, teeth that are far more white than one might expect from a stable hand. Cas looks toward the lady first, as if to share his relief, before he looks back at the man who stands a good couple inches taller than him. "Brilliant. Food and a place to bunk until I prove myself is so much more than fair." From the laugh, he's fairly excited by the whole thing, even shifting a little on his feet as if he's welcoming getting off them.

"'n I'd rather work with horses than boats any day— not a fan of boats. Legs are far more reliable." He stops to smile again, a dimple showing in one of his cheeks making him look even younger, despite the wiry partial beard. "But my family had a dozen— well, only three horses at a time, but jacks and mules for the rest— and the last herd I worked with had more than that, almost all horses. Only a handful of mules and he borrowed the jacks to sire those."

Cas is not the only one who is relieved to hear this news. Aislinn moves around the front of the gelding to soothingly stroke her fingers down its long nose and whisper praises to it in her native Irish. Just as she thanked the men for helping her down, she thanks the animal for an enjoyable ride and reminds it of how handsome it is. Did my son brush you this morning? she asks the gelding, moving to smooth her palm over the side of its thick, muscular neck and admire Colm's work with a flat palm. What a wonderful coat you have.

She seems oblivious to the interview happening at her back a few feet away, but she is paying as much attention to Edmund as Cas as she is to the horse, and is glad that the Higgins boy has a mother who does not wake him when he sleeps too much. If he didn't, Aislinn would spend the rest of the evening and tomorrow worrying for Cas, because Aislinn worries for everyone.

It's the excitement that Edmund would rather look for than the boy's credentials, and though he doesn't have his wife's gift of intuition, it's readily apparent in all the cues of body language, subtle and otherwise. Chin lifting, Edmund listens before he bails out the reins a little bit, looping it once and offering out the length of leather for the taking. "His name's Hamish," Edmund states, gruffly. "But he'll answer more to whether y'look at him or not than his name. Stable him and see to him - he's had a long day.

"Then if you're hungry, go by the service way to the kitchens at the castle and say you're one of mine."

"I'd love to," Cas says with that same excitment in his voice as he shifts to shove the walking stick between the backpack and his cut off jacket. So much of his clothing seems to be patched together, which is no doubt why many of his things are missing whole pieces. Even one of the knees of his pants has a leather patch on it.

"Hamish…" he repeats the name to himself as he approaches with hands free, keeping them visible. Not slow, but not sudden, either. Eye contact is made and there's an odd instictive clicking that can barely be heard in the back of his throat. "He seems to like you, my Lady," he adds, breaking eye contact to first look at the master's wife, then the master himself, all while gently stroking the gelding's nose. "Thank you my— sir." Sir seems safer if lord is out of the question.

With that, he shifts his attention back to the horse, hand moving to the bridle so he can lead, and be led at the same time. "I'm sure you're eager to get out of this saddle, and you know the way better than I do. Let's get you out of this saddle and let you rest your tired legs, Hamish." His tone is slightly different as he talks to the horse, softer, gentler, fonder.

And as he starts to move the horse away he can be heard adding, "Name's Cas, by the way… I'll be taking good care of you."