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Title: Inspection
Rating: gen
Content notes: none
Bingo square: AU - lord and vassal
Summary: Lady Raven wants to see what her new vassal lands look like.

”And this is the area you plan to cut down this year?” Raven asked and patted the horse's neck. They had stopped at the edge of a thicket that turned into a denser forest. The horse wasn't her own purebred, but a smaller, wheat colored mare with a steadier gait and calm temper. Henry had suggested it for her and it had been a good choice. They had ridden through some rough terrain this morning, and Raven was sure her purebred would've put up a mighty fuss by now. The mare didn't seem to mind the least. She patted its neck again.

”That way we can sow rye there next year, ma'am.” Henry shifted in his saddle, his eyes watery from the wind. He had the pallor of a man who spent most of his time indoors, and he held the reins of his horse clumsily. Despite his obvious discomfort, he hadn't objected when Raven had asked to see all the sites he had planned to improve. “Or perhaps barley,” Henry continued, in the careful way he tend to say everything. “I wanted to study the differences, to see what grain would give the best harvest in this soil. Turnip should do well, I've been told.”

Henry looked at her expectantly, the way she had learned meant that he waited to be rebuffed for his ideas. Apparently the former lord hadn't approved any changes made to the vassal lands. After his death, and the war, the King had seen best to hand these lands to Raven's care. She had decided to take definite interest what her vassals did or didn't do with the land granted to them.

Raven smiled. “Sounds reasonable. Are you certain you'll have enough work force to do it now?”

She had enjoyed her time with Henry. He was different from the knights and the nobility that swarmed in her court. Instead empty compliments and elaborate requests for more money and land, Henry had discussed with her how he planned to cultivate the land, the ideas for the new mill, how he wanted to support the rebuilding of the small fishing villages down the coast. His plans were excellent, but rather large in scale. Raven suspected that it was too much work for one man to oversee. Still, she wished more of her vassals were as passionate of their land and people as Henry was.

“I trust I have enough workers, ma'am. Since the war ended, there has been vagrant men going through here toward the capitol. We've hired those who had wanted the work. There are some farms left vacant, but I trust we will soon entice more farmers across the border. New families, or independent folk. This is good land, ma'am. It won't be unattended for long.”

“You don't fear any civil unrest? Plenty of new people moving into the area might cause some tension.” Raven ushered her horse back up the little hill, on the narrow road that would take them back to the castle grounds.

“Our sheriff is an intelligent woman, she is well aware what happens in the villages. I'm hoping there won't be much problems, ma'am, but we are ready to deal with them.” He followed her in leisured pace, his horse more interested about the tufts of grass than following his directions.

Raven heard the quiet scoffs behind them. The knights on her personal guard didn't think much of a noble man who couldn't control his horse, but no one had the audacity to say anything out loud. She didn't give them a single glance. She had heard their talk. The knights couldn't understand how a noble man was interested about studying and building things, inventions, and didn't know the first thing about battle. But Raven would've rather had few more visionaries like Henry, than more soldiers dumber than rocks.

“You take great care of your lands, I must compliment you,” Raven said, when they were back in the road. “I have visited most of the regions given to my care, and I belief that you have the most sensible plan to rebuild and improve the land. Very thorough.”

“Thank you, ma'am. I'm happy to hear you approve.”

They rode slowly on, the cold wind catching in her hair and pulling it free from the golden ribbon. They passed people on the field, old women and young children, pulling potatoes out of the black soil. The women straightened up when they passed, leaning in their spading forks and curtsying in quick bobs, the smaller children waving shyly. Raven waved back, smiling. It had been part of her agenda, to be seen, to give people idea who she was. The women turned back to their work and Raven turned back to Henry.

“You are a smart man, but I've noticed you are shy to ask me favors,” Raven said, teasing him. Henry blushed. “That is bit odd,” Raven continued. “Usually I've barely gotten inside the castle when I've been approached with a demand or a request. I've been here for several days, and you haven't come to me with any requests. Or have you asked me so cautiously that I haven't paid attention to it?”

“I did not know you expected me to ask something, ma'am. I only wish you have had a pleasant stay?”

“I have, thank you.” Raven smiled. “I understood you have no siblings. It must be lonesome living here, without a family. Have you had a chance to consider a marriage yet?”

“Father passed before he could think about the matter with any seriousness, ma'am.”

He said it with a calm, reasonable way, like he was still discussing the finer points of agriculture. But Raven picked up a glimmer of sadness in him, like he had had some hopes there, but now they were gone. She understood that. It would be difficult to arrange a proper marriage without some help.

“You are welcome to join my court come the winter,” Raven said. “There are plenty young and suitable ladies from good families who would be pleased to make your acquaintance. I'm sure we could find you a wife before next summer.”

“Thank you for the offer, ma'am, but I'm quite needed here. I possibly couldn't left my studies, and my home.”

“Can you study soil in the winter, since the ground is frozen?”

“Well, I thought I would take some samples, ma'am.”

“You could not spare a month for some festivities in the Midwinter? Bit of dancing? That will always put you in favor among the ladies. You would be a great success.”

“Thank you, ma'am. I'm not much of a dancer.” Henry blushed again. “I fear I would be a disappointment to the ladies of your court.”

Raven laughed brightly. “But that way there's room for learning! You will have plenty of willing teachers, I'm sure. Wouldn't you consider it? I would like to repay your hospitality.”

“If it pleases you, ma'am,” Henry said, sounding less than enthusiastic.

“Good, that's settled then. I will find you a wife.” Raven said and reached to pat his arm. “We will have great fun.”

She turned back to look at the road, and didn't notice the hopeful look that rose to Henry's eyes.


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