*This post was originally written on July 25, 2017 on a different blogging platform. I’ve since made the decision to move to WordPress and am bringing those early posts here for continuity.
I’ve been doing some background development for the novel that I want to write. It’s been in my head for quite a while, but only as a passing fancy, some future “wouldn’t that be nice?” I am enjoying having the mental bandwidth to start exploring the world in earnest and trying to link the details I have with the overall plot that has so far only been sketched out in disconnected dreams over the last umpteen years. One of the key things that happens to one of my main characters is a change in how they present themselves. This is one possibility of how that came about. I still haven’t figured out what her name is, but pronouns are definitely she/her. ^_^
The year she had been fifteen winters old, she begged her parents to compete in the riding competition held during the annual faire and was surprised when they granted her permission. This meant travelling for half a day with her brother Ainsle to Valden, the largest of the local villages and then waiting in the relentless sun as others demonstrated their ability to coax their mounts into canters and leaps over the various obstacles on the course. She would be the last rider to participate. Spending the entire day in the sun waiting and watching the others did nothing to help her maintain her calm or comfort. By the time they called her name she was a bundle of nerves and hoped against hope no one could make out her slight trembling and how the hair around her face was curling into tendrils, damp from sweat. The sea of indistinct faces and possible judgments that was the audience waited impatiently for her to mount and get through the course, releasing them from the same heat and tedium she had been part of until now.
She attempted to steel her nerves as she approached her horse. There was no point letting him get nervous, too. She quickly checked Wyrr over and finding everything in order, lead him out onto the course. Vaulting onto the riding pad settled her further; she had been on Wyrr’s back for many hours of her life and the feeling of being there now was a balm. The sounds of the audience faded as she matched her breathing with his, the final step she knew would clear her head. When the horn sounded announcing she could begin, instead of bolting for the first obstacle in an attempt to woo the crowd and judges with her speed, she lifted her knees, placed her feet carefully along Wyrr’s sides, and stood up on the pad with the reigns in hand. A click of her tongue and Wyrr started to move forward smoothly, heading to the first obstacle, a low bit of fence to their left. As Wyrr gained speed, she made a show of bending forward and tucking the reigns securely under the riding pad. She could faintly hear the crowd murmur, whether in excitement or consternation, she couldn’t tell. As Wyrr began the first jump, she gathered herself and jumped as well, looking for all the world like a tightrope walker negotiating a string. The crowd gasped and then began to applaud. She grinned, snapping the fingers on her right hand to indicate to Wyrr that the next obstacle was in that direction.
Together, they took all six of the provided jumps and she only sat properly on the pad for the two highest. By the time they were finished their performance the crowd was cheering the spectacle wildly and it was impossible to ignore the tide of noise. They certainly hadn’t cheered any of the other contenders with that much enthusiasm! As she pulled Wyrr up to the finishing markers, she was flushed with exertion and pride. She had meant it more as a joke when she’d said to Tre and Brisi that she intended to win first place, but given the exuberance of the crowd, perhaps that wasn’t such impossibility after all. As they walked slowly around the finishing area cooling down while the judges finished conferring, she found herself enjoying the sounds of the crowd that had unnerved her only a few moments prior. Funny how being on the other side of a moment changes perspective… Soon enough the head judge held a scroll out to the crier, who announced the results in a voice that rang through the competing field.
She had taken second place. Despite the challenging technical nature of her ride, the crier said, the judges felt that her flushed face and disarrayed hair warranted docking her points in the “presentation” category.
She was stunned. First, by the fact that she’d placed at all, and then by the dawning realization that she hadn’t placed first because of her appearance. As if what she looked like affected how well she and Wyrr worked together! What utter horseshit! The crowd was equally taken aback by the second place finish for their clear favourite. Sounds of dismay and annoyance echoed up from the stands while the crier summoned the sedate and well-groomed first place rider to the pavilion to receive his prize. When her name was called, she quickly dismounted and lead Wyrr to the dais. The crowd cheered loudly for her and she forced herself to smile for them, to return their waves after accepting the scroll and coin pouch offered by the crier. Then, keeping a tight smile on her face while she walked past the perplexed and disapproving visages of the judges, she left the field in search of Ainsle. They talked about the competition and her win on the way home. Ainsle didn’t seem surprised about the judges decision, and also wasn’t concerned by it, chiding her that she should have expected something like that, venturing into activities that were until recently reserved for men and boys. She grew frustrated with his inability to understand her indignation. Brothers. Ugh.
They arrived home quite late to a warm hearth and her family’s congratulations. They made a brief but merry celebration out of toast and cheese with cider where she presented half of her winnings to Brisi to put in the family coffers. As the family retired, she took the kitchen candle to her tiny room and closed the door. Kneeling with her head bowed, she shook out her braid and began to cut her hair with her hunting knife, cropping the wavy, pale blonde strands into a short, smooth cap following the contours of her skull. As the waist-long tendrils floated to the floor, she vowed her skill would never again take second place to her appearance.