The sound of hooves thundering against the ground echoed through the hills as the riders made their way across the countryside. As they passed by the small farms scattered across the land, the people in the fields would look up and call out greetings to the travellers. Small children ran along the lengths of the fields, hooting and waving at the Knights. Vyron waved back at them, a light hearted chuckle slipping from his throat as he smiled, remembering back on how he had been just like them when he was younger.
He remembered running alongside the parade of Knights when they rode into his hometown, his eager eyes searching for the only face that mattered to him: his brother's. A small ache filled his heart as he thought about his brother.
I miss him, he realized sadly. I miss all of them. It had been months since he had last seen his family and he knew that his relocation to the Palace would keep him just as far from them as his stationing at Lorn had.
"It just warms your heart, doesn't it?" the voice snapped him back to the present. Vyron looked at his neighbour who sat atop a great coal black stallion. His dark amber hair hung freely down to his shoulders when it was not flickering with the gentle wind. His bright blue eyes sparkled, his grin widening as he raised his hand to wave as well. There was a sense of peace and happiness about him as he watched the children. Though he was about five years older than Vyron, they had become fast friends, connecting through their love and duty to their families.
"How long has it been," Vyron asked softly, noticing how his companion stiffened slightly but then quickly relaxed.
"It's been almost a year since I last saw him," was his quiet response.
"So Henry would have been two the last time you saw him, eh?" Vyron asked. "Just think of how big he must be by now! Maybe he'll be as tall as his father!" This got a smile from his friend.
"I certainly hope not!" he laughed. "Can you imagine me having a three year old son who's taller than me?"
"Hmmm maybe not," Vyron laughed as well. "That would be quite awkward when it came to changing his diaper!" They chuckled for a couple of minutes before falling back into silence.
"She would be proud of you, Alec," Vyron said softly. "You know that, right?"
"I know," Alec sighed. "It's just hard sometimes, raising him without her, especially since I'm away so often..."
Vyron couldn't help but feel sorry for his friend. His wife, Marissa, had passed away only weeks after their son was born. She had been very ill throughout the whole pregnancy so it was a miracle that she and the baby had even survived in the first place. Marissa had even seemed to have been getting stronger and stronger but then suddenly, out of nowhere, she got very, very sick, sicker than she ever had been before, and that time it had been too much for her and she passed away. Alec, though overrot with sorrow and depression, somehow managed to think clearly enough to realize that he needed to find someone to care for his son, since he would not be able to due to his constant relocation as a Knight. That was when he had found Juliet... Or rather she had found him. She had heard about the tragic death of his wife and offered her services as a nurse or nanny for his child. She had lost her own child only weeks after birth as the baby had been too sick to survive. Having another child of her own was not an option as her husband had been killed in action very shortly after she had become pregnant. So instead, she offered to care for Alec's son, as that was the closest that she could ever get to having a child of her own.
"I'm thinking of marrying her," Alec said suddenly.
"Juliet?" Vyron asked, slightly surprised. It was not common for someone to remarry after the death of their spouse.
"Yes," Alec nodded. "She has been the mother that Henry has always needed. She has practically raised him all by herself. I would have done it if I could have myself, but I couldn't resign from service because I needed the money to support my son. And, to be honest, I do care about Juliet too. Sometimes when I'm home, it feels like she already is a part of the family. She has just always been there and she just fits in so well... So why not make it official? Why not have her become Henry's official mother? She's been playing that part for almost all of Henry's life, so why not? It just feels right..."
"But do you love her?" Vyron asked softly.
"I think that I could grow to love her," Alec replied after a moment's thought. "If I could spend more time with her... What?" He caught Vyron's slight frown and furrowed brow.
"It's just how you said that," Vyron replied. "Grow to love her. Shouldn't you actually love her before you marry her?"
"Ahhhhhhhh," Alec exclaimed. "You are one of those people that believe you should marry for love."
"And you aren't?" Vyron retorted.
"No," Alec replied. "I think if love is meant to happen, it will happen later, once you have grown used to your spouse. You grow to love them. I don't believe in any of that 'love at first sight' nonsense."
"It's not nonsense!" Vyron snapped. "I believe it's real. And when I find it, when I know that it is real love, then I will ask her to marry me. I will not just marry someone because I think that I could fall in love with them or because they fit conveniently into my life. No, when I marry, it will be for real, true love."
"True love?" a new voice laughed. "The Lion believes in true love?"
"So what if I do, Titan?" Vyron snapped at the dark haired man that had come up beside him. Vyron scowled at the large, all-brawn-no-brain Knight as he laughed at Vyron.
"I didn't realize that our grand Lion was nothing more than just a pussy cat!" Titan remarked, still laughing.
"That's it!" Vyron snarled, turning his horse so that it ran into Titan's grey stallion. He reached over the horses and grabbed Titan by his tunic to pull him closer.
Vyron honestly didn't know what he would have done if Alec had not been there. Somehow he managed to pull Spectrum away from the other horse, as well as pull Vyron out of his rage of anger.
"Vyron, that's enough!" Alec snapped, grabbing his tunic and making Vyron look at him. "Do not let your anger get the best of you!"
"But he-" Vyron began to argue.
"I know," Alec cut him off. "He's a jerk and probably does deserve to be put in his place, but it is not worth getting yourself in trouble. Think of your family!" With a sigh, Vyron reluctantly released his iron grip on Titan's shirt, but not without giving him a rough shove first.
"Don't ever call me that again!" he snapped under his breath. "Or next time I will not hold back."
"Shesh, it was just a joke," Titan exclaimed. "Lighten up, Lion!" With that he urged his horse forward, leaving Alec and Vyron to themselves.
"What happened there?" Alec asked once Titan was gone. "I've never seen you snap like that before."
"I don't know," Vyron sighed. "Maybe I'm just stressed about going to the Palace."
"Oh, because the Queen will be there?" Alec smirked.
"How did you-" Vyron gaped.
"Vy, everyone falls for her," Alec laughed. "It's not hard to see why. She's beautiful, graceful, and, above all, kindhearted, just like her father, King Terian, was." Alec drew his horse closer to Vyron's to place a hand on his shoulder.
"I don't want to sound mean, but it's pointless to try to court her," Alec continued. "For one thing, she's the Queen. It's not likely that she'll let just anyone court her, and I doubt that she will let a Knight court her. Probably has to marry a Prince or a King, or at least a Duke or Lord. But a Knight? No, we are her servants. She would never fall for one of us."
"You sound like you know from experience," Vyron commented.
"Yes," Alec smiled slightly. "My first year of Knighthood I thought that I was in love with her. But then I was put in my place."
"By who?" Vyron asked.
"Lord Penton," Alec huffed. Vyron remembered the grouchy Royal Advisor. Since Queen Arya had taken the Throne at the young age of fourteen, Lord Penton had taken on the role of her guardian and chief advisor. He often tried to match Queen Arya up with some Duke or Lord in what was called a Suitor's Ball, but they had been overall unsuccessful in the two years of her reign.
Vyron pitied the young Queen. She had lost her mother and father to the horrible Unforgiving Plague that had struck Keiento two years earlier, a plague so named because it did not matter who you were, rich or poor, King or peasant, if the plague got you, there was very little chance that you would survive. The only person who had ever survived the plague was one of the old Palace Chefs, who was left completely paralyzed from the waist down, leaving him unable to do his job anymore. The man's brother, a Chef by the name of Gaston, took over his place as the head Palace Chef after it was found that his brother had been infected with the plague. Gaston's cooking was praised by everyone across Keiento. No one could resist his mouthwatering delicacies. This was one thing that Vyron was especially looking forward to once they reached the Palace.
"Whoa!" Sir Harold's voice called out from the front of their parade. All of the Knights slowed their horses down to a stop, waiting for their leader's next orders.
"We will camp here for the night," Sir Harold announced. Vyron looked around at the clearing that they had stopped in. They were only a few feet from the edge of a dark woods, which would provided them with not only a place to find wood for their campfire, but also a place to run to for cover should they be ambushed. Strategically, it was the perfect location to stop for the night.
Vyron dismounted from his horse and led it over to one of the trees nearby, securing its reigns to one of the low hanging branches. He didn't worry about Spectrum accidentally getting loose, because he knew that Spectrum was a loyal horse and would not wander off if its rope became loose. Vyron then untied the saddlebags from the saddle, opening one to peer inside. In this bag he had a rolled up sleeping mat and a blanket. Setting the bag down, he looked in the other. Inside this one he had his water flask, some pieces of wrapped up dried meat, and most of his personal belongings, like his clothes and some personal items from home. His fingers brushed gently over a small wooden ball that sat in the bottom of the bag. It was a gift from Leopold, his younger brother. He had carved the wood himself, pride beaming across his face when he had presented it to Vyron just before he had left. Vyron smiled as he reflected on the memory.
"Vy," he heard Alec call his name. He looked over his shoulder at his friend and smiled when he saw that he was carrying his bow. "You up for a little hunting?"
"I'm in," Vyron replied, quickly untying his own bow and quiver from his saddle. He slung the quiver over his shoulder, careful not to spill any of the arrows inside it, then followed Alec into the woods.