The Boy Who Plaited Manes by Nancy Springer



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When a young man mysteriously shows up in the stables of Lord Robley and demonstrates an amazing ability to braid horse manes and tails, the Lord and Lady are quite taken with his abilities and have him stay on. Sure, he doesn't speak a single word and there's truly something odd about him, but his talents at braiding are second to none. When the Lady finds herself in need of the man's skills for her own head of hair, the situation is looked upon as a bit scandalous, but nobody is prepared for the outcome that befalls them as a result. A short story.

Excerpt:

Lord Robley was a hard old man; his old body hard and hale, his spirit hard. It took him less than a day to pass from being well pleased to being greedy for more. No longer was it enough that the lady’s palfrey should go forth in unadorned braids. He sent a servant to Wald with silk ribbons in the Auberon colors, dark blue and crimson, and commanded that they should be plaited into the palfrey’s mane and tail. This the strange boy did with ease when Wald gave the order, and he used the ribbon ends to tie tiny bows and love knots and leave a few bright tendrils bobbing in the forelock. Lady Aelynn was enchanted.

Within a few days Lord Robley had sent to the stable thread of silver and of gold, strings of small pearls, tassels, pendant jewels, and fresh-cut flowers of every sort. All of these things the boy who plaited manes used with ease to dress the lady’s palfrey when he was bid. Lady Aelynn went forth to the next hunt with tiny bells of silver and gold chiming at the tip of each of her mount’s dainty ribbon-decked braids, and eyes turned her way wherever she rode. Nor did the boy ever seem to arrange the mane and tail and forelock twice in the same way, but whatever way he chose to plait and weave and dress it seemed the most perfect and poignant and heartachingly beautiful way a horse had ever been arrayed. Once he did the palfrey’s entire mane in one great, thick braid along the crest, so that the neck seemed to arch as mightily as a destrier’s, and he made the braid drip thick with flowers—roses and lilies and spires of larkspur trailing down, so that the horse seemed to go with a mane of flowers. But another time he would leave the mane loose and floating, with just a few braids shimmering down behind the ears or in the forelock, and this also seemed perfect and poignant and the only way a horse should be adorned.

Nor was it sufficient, any longer, that merely the lady’s milk-white palfrey should go forth in braids. Lord Robley commanded that his hot-blooded hunter also should have its mane done up in stubby ribboned braids and rosettes in the Auberon colors, and the horses of his retinue likewise, though with lesser rosettes. And should his wife choose to go out riding with her noble guests, all their mounts were to be prepared like hers, though in lesser degree.


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