The next morning, my head ached and my muscles were sore. My lips were bruised from the intense kisses I had shared with Merek the night before. After I thanked Millicent for the welcoming stay, I went outside to see if Merek was there. As soon as I stepped out, my foot hit the fresh snow and I knew my journey would be even more arduous in the coming days.
The wind was heavier as well and the sun was hidden behind the dark grey clouds. I heard Ulysses neigh and trot towards me, Merek was walking beside him.
“I hope you slept well.”
I had been kept awake all night by the tingling I felt everywhere on my body. I could not get the feeling to stop, I had no idea what to do with myself. I decided not to make anything worse and just nodded as a response.
“Ulysses can carry us both. We should try to ride the rest of the way.”
I couldn’t believe he had just offered me a place on his horse. I had not ridden in a very long time but I would remember how for the rest of my life. I nodded, trying to hide my excitement. He helped me mount Ulysses and started mounting himself before I
asked, “can I ride him alone for a moment to get accustomed to him?”
He nodded, not really knowing what to expect. As soon as he did, I was off in the snow covered fields with Ulysses galloping freely beneath me. He sensed that it was me and seemed to enjoy the ride out in the open. We circled around and made our way back to Merek, who stood with his mouth open as we came closer.
“You didn’t tell me you could ride.”
I wiped away the tears from my eyes and smiled. It had been a truly wonderful feeling to ride Ulysses so freely.
“Thank you for letting me ride him alone. He is a beautiful creature.” I gave the beast a close hug, he brought his head down to nuzzle me sweetly.
Merek nodded, mounted Ulysses in front of me and took the reins. I didn’t know where I should hold him.
“Place your arms around me and hold on tight.”
I did as he said and I felt his strong body under my hands. We rode slowly to begin, but I felt that Ulysses wanted to go faster. He felt that I was there as well and probably wanted to run free again.
“Faster Merek, please.”
I felt him change his way with Ulysses and off we rode at a much faster pace. I could sense that Ulysses liked riding this way much more. I held onto Merek even tighter and closed my eyes. I was having such a nice day already. I had almost forgotten about what had transpired only the night before.
As we entered the next village, I couldn’t believe it. We had already made it to Merek’s home of Lavenham. We had almost reached our destination. As we made our way towards the
village gates, we dismounted and walked past the guards. They acknowledged their Prince and eyed me suspiciously as I passed.
“We can stay in the palace for the night. Is that to your liking?”
I nodded, I had never stayed in a palace, yet I had always dreamed of doing it. As we made our way through the village, people stopped and greeted Merek any time they noticed who he was. It seemed to make a lot of the town folk uneasy when they saw me standing so close to him. When we reached the palace, it was everything I had imagined it would be.
“We have arrived at my home.”
He gestured for me to follow him through the tall gates.
As we walked inside the hall, I suddenly felt very small beside its high domed ceilings and large tapestries that hung across the entire room. I gasped when I saw the stone fireplace, it was big enough for three people to stand inside it. Merek laughed and kept walking. We passed by many more tapestries and some family portraits I presumed, before passing through a huge intricately carved wooden door. The room behind the doors was much smaller and intimate, yet still held the elegance and richness of the previous one.
“You can wait here. I will find my mother.”
I nodded and watched him leave the room. I missed him instantly and wondered how long it would take in such an enormous house. I looked around the room and something in the corner caught my eye. It was a small horse figurine that was shaped somewhat childishly, yet it retained a spot of honour on the desk.
“I hope you don’t intend to take that. It would break father’s heart.”
I turned around to see a young woman around my age staring at me.
“I would never dream of it.”
I recognized the woman from one of the family portraits. I heard footsteps behind me and turned to see Merek.
“I see you’ve met my sister Elspeth. Elspeth, this is Gwendolynn, our guest for the night.”
She nodded, linked her arm in mine and walked with me toward another room I had yet to discover.
“You and I only have today to become best friends.”
I smiled and we went on our way through the house, Merek following us.
Merek, Elspeth and I sat at the intimate family table, while we waited for the King and Queen to join us. I asked Merek how to speak and act when they would join us. I had never been in
the presence of such important royals. He laughed and told me to try and calm my nerves. Elspeth explained to me what needed to be done and once she finished, I understood that I was overthinking it. I breathed deeply and decided that all I could do was be myself.