Keilos and Keltyr have decided that Ysani should enter the Argent Crusade's jousting tournament to keep her busy, so she doesn't sit around the city all day stewing and jumping at shadows.
I should note that Ysani has little to no affinity for animals, and harbors a phobia for bird-like creatures since a dragonhawk tried to eat her face in a bit of a wrangling accident years ago. She has permanent scars and a blind eye from it, but it isn't a good enough excuse to get her out of the standard rules for the tournament. She must use the chosen mount of her faction until they permit her to move on. This means she will have to suck it up and deal.
Fortunately for her, Keilos is happy to help.
"Okay, I think that's enough jousting for me," said the redhead, turning abruptly and walking away from the arena. A hand grabbed the back of her tabard and she stopped short with a strangled grrrk.
"You haven't even started yet, love." Keilos put his arms around her reassuringly and she pressed her face into his chest. His tabard was freezing cold on her cheek and smelled like their room at the Legerdemain. She picked a cat hair off of it. Keilos cleared his throat. "Ysani, you're stalling."
"But Kei..." Light help me, I'm whining. What a baby! Just go over there! ... oh no no NO, they want me to ride that? A squire holding the reins to an exceedingly large, black hawkstrider was closing in on them. Ysani watched him approach with saucer eyes and whimpered, clinging more tightly to Keilos. She made no move to extricate herself, and pretty soon both squire and elf were looking at her. Waiting. "Ummmm... see, I kinda feel sick to my stomach. I think I have the flu. Maybe I should start this another day."
"If you really can't do this today, I'm not going to force you to get on that bird. But are you sure you can't? Look at me. Are you really ready to give up so soon?"
Ysani pouted into his white mageweave front. "Well... noooo." Yeeessss. She clung to him. He reached out his hand and patted the bird's flank. It squawked cheerfully, and her eyes widened even more.
"This is one of the hawkstriders I used when I started jousting. I asked for him specifically... he's the most gentle and good-tempered of the lot. Don't let his size scare you. He's a sweetheart." The bird looked at Keilos pleadingly, making the blonde knight chuckle. "I see he still remembers me. I always brought his favorite treat, and he's expecting it now. Wait here."
Detaching himself from Ysani's fierce embrace, Keilos trotted over to the troll across the way and quickly returned with a small stack of honey buns. "Here we are. Give me a hand with feeding him, love. There's a trick to it, though...he can't just have them. If he could, he'd be fat as a pony by now. So he has to work for his treats." Kei quickly broke one of the sticky cakes into quarters and held out a piece to the red-haired knight. "Here. Take this and hold it up where he can see it. Then tell him to "down." He can't have the cake until he does what you tell him to."
She held the treat gingerly between her fingers. It trembled at arm's length for a moment, and she cleared her throat. "Down..?"
The bird didn't move, only kept his eyes locked on the cake in the girl's fingers. Keilos chuckled and rested his hands on Ysani's shoulders. "Say it like you mean it, love. It's not a question. I'm right here. If it looks like anything's going to go wrong, I can shield you. You're safe."
She wanted to close her eyes, but she didn't dare with the huge bird's attention glued to her and the sticky bit in her hand. She tried to find a little courage under the big lump of scared sitting in her gut. A lot of digging yielded a tiny red lick of pissed-off, and she ran with it, setting to work on stoking the fire. You aren't the boss of me, you big idiot. You're a bird with a brain the size of my thumb. Your cousins drown when it rains. I'm too strong and too smart to let an oversized dustmop keep me from success. You hear that, big tall 'n ugly? You aren't going to keep me from winning. I'm going to win, I have to win, I WILL win, and you are not going to stand in my Light-forsaken way! "DOWN!" she bellowed, garnering the stares of everyone within fifty yards.
Keilos kept his silence, only grinning as the hawkstrider dropped into a crouch on the ground promptly. The bird's eyes, he noticed, were still fixed on the treat, and if a beaked creature could drool, he suspected the 'strider would be. "Don't forget to pay him," he said softly. "You can toss the cake to him if you don't feel like letting him eat from your hand yet. He's good at catching."
A gentle underhand toss was caught handily by the beast's long yellow beak. Ysani managed a smile, a tiny dimple surfacing at the corner of her mouth. Keilos kissed it. It deepened. "See? That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"It was okay." Her smile faded a little as he watched her, expectantly. "I need to do more than feed it, don't I?"
Ysani sighed and looked at the overgrown crouching turkey. It looked like it would be a simple matter to hoist one leg over its wide back, and she took a small step in its direction. It cocked its head to the side, no doubt scenting out the cringing fear that oozed out of her pores. For a wonder, it sat still. A moment later she was in the saddle, and it hopped up on its feet, nearly bouncing her off in the process. "Waagh!" She clung tightly to its neck, the toe of one boot scrambling wildly in search of the stirrup. For a brief and awful moment she was sure she'd slip right over the polished saddle and into Kei, who stood close by and looked as though he was trying desperately not to laugh. Finally her foot caught and she steadied herself, rocking with the creature's bobbing motion. She wondered if it might make her puke again, and decided she was too little removed from hangover territory to speculate on the matter.
"Are you settled?"
"Uh... I think so."
"All right. Now. This really isn't too terribly different from riding your charger - just a tad bouncier." Keilos took the hawkstrider's reins from the squire and handed one of them up to Ysani. "Here...just hold on to that with your left hand, and make sure it stays loose. I've got control of the featherhead here with the other one. Don't switch hands with your reins, because you won't be able to do that when you have a lance in hand. I'll start slow and walk the two of you around the arena a few times so you can get used to each other. Just relax, all right? And don't fret. You're past the hard part now, it's all downhill from here."
I really, really want to believe you. I'd also really like some of my dignity back. Pony rides are for little kids, not fully-grown women. Fully-grown women who can look an old god in the face and say boo. "I guess I'll try not to fall off." He nodded. She smiled sweetly, assuming an air of bravado she didn't really feel. "If you laugh, I'm going to draw a mustache on your face while you sleep."
Keilos looked at her solemnly. "I don't laugh at people who are being brave and doing something I know scares the hell out of them." Without giving her time to reconsider, Kei clucked to the bird and began to lead it forward at a sedate walk. She was almost too touched to remember she was afraid.
How did I get so lucky?