The After Effects

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Night Visits

I made it back to my quarters and was relieved to see that Harper was showing Locke her cartwheels and not freaking out in a corner.

"Time for bed." I smiled at Harper. "Say goodnight to Locke."

Harper turned to Locke and I could see the internal battle inside her. She really wanted to hug him.

But, not quite that comfortable yet, Harper just mumbled a goodnight before scurrying off to her room. I followed her, waiting until she was under her covers before I turned off the lights.

"Goodnight Harper."

"Goodnight Ivy." Harper smiled at me before she covered herself with the huge white comforter and rolled over.

I shut her door and turned to find Locke staring, mouth agape.

"What?" I asked my shocked brother.

"I have captains and soldiers that complain about their teenagers not going to bed when told... Let alone a ten-year-old." Locke explained.

I chuckled and rubbed the back of my neck. "It's insane. She's such an easy keeper."

Locke watched as I made to leave the quarters. "Where are you going?" He asked as he got up and made to follow me.

"I need to go check on my boy." I offered a vague answer.

"Oh great." I heard my brother mutter sarcastically. "More people I have to meet."

Locke silently followed beside me, thankfully, as I was listening intently for signs of the Prince's nosy self.

Once we were out of the castle, I was able to relax a bit knowing that he wasn't hiding in the rafters above us.

"So the Prince?" I suddenly broke the silence between Locke and me.

"What about him?" Locke quirked an eyebrow at me as a smirk pulled at his lips.

"How well do you know him?" I asked.

"We've spoken a couple of times. The first time was after a council meeting in which he was introduced to most of the King's advisers." Locke shrugged. "Why?"

"No reason." I tried to play it off, but my brother knew me better than that.

"Spill. What happened?" My brother started walking backwards in front of me as he spoke. "Did you see him while you were in the kitchen?" His questions made me scoff.

"I didn't see him in the kitchen. The bastard is sneaky. But," I watched as my brother's eyes widened. "I did see him in the library."

"The library?" Locke asked as he returned to walking by my side.

I went on to explain the whole thing to Locke, the rafters, the questions, the threat... everything. He listened intently, obviously loving the drama between the Prince and me.

By the time I had finished talking, we were at the stables.

"A barn?" Locke asked as he studied the building and questioned why I brought him here.

"That's exactly what Harper said." I pointed out as I held the door open for him while walking into the stable.

Locke followed me in, still searching for why I brought him here, until he laid his eyes on the final stall in the barn.

Ragnar let out a deep whiny as soon as he saw me, while also pawing at the door of the stall.

"Is that the boy you were talking about," Locke asked as we approached the stall.

"Yep," I smirked at the look of amazement on my brother's face as he held his hand out for Ragnar to sniff.

Ragnar eyed me, mad that I'm only now visiting him for the day, before he turned to my brother and sniffed him.

"What's his name?" Locke asked, his voice still in awe.

"Ragnar," I said. While I talked, I felt around in my pants for a couple of coins to leave the stable. After placing the coins on a small table leaning against the stall, I opened the door and allowed Ragnar to step out.

"Whoa, what are you doing?" Locke ran his eyes up and down my horse, marveling at the muscles and size of him.

"I'm taking him to the castle stable." I gave Ragnar a pat on the shoulder. Apparently that stable hands gave him a bath. I noticed Ragnar's shiny coat.

"You don't think that's a bad idea?" Locke asked, making me feel dumb.

"Why would that be a bad idea?" Ragnar stuck his nose in my stomach, already forgiving me for leaving him in the stable alone.

Locke rolled his eyes and scoffed. "Everybody knows the tales of the Acer and his black stead." His emphasis on his made me remember that I was trying to hide my identity.

I nodded, realizing his point. "I doubt the Prince would stoop low enough to search the dirty stable for a specific horse. He's better than that." I said in a mocking voice. I talked as I went to the front of the stable and opened the huge door.

Locke chuckled. "Fine, whatever, you're the one on the line here." He held up his hands, surrendering.

"If you're going to continue to be negative, I'm going to have to ask you to leave." I sighed, walking back to Ragnar and my brother. Signaling for Ragnar to crouch, I jumped on to his back and stared at my brother. "Negativity makes Ragnar sad," I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm.

My brother made an audible sigh, apparently done with me already.

His jade green eyes flicked to Ragnar, almost asking him for permission before he looked to me. "Scoot up." Locke motioned with his hand as he stepped closer.

Deciding to have a bit more fun with my brother, I kicked my hidden foot into the back of Ragnar's front left leg. Our signal for defense.

Ragnar immediately responded, turning and snapping his teeth at my brother, missing him by an inch as my brother jumped back.

Locke's eyes grew wide as he stared at my horse, who was now stomping his huge hoof on the paved ground. I couldn't hold in my laughter at the look of shock on my brother's face, almost making me fall off of Ragnar's back in the middle of my laughter fit.

With a huff, my brother turned his gaze to me, glaring at me.

Once I was done laughing, I whistled for Ragnar to relax. Which he did, turning his huge head to stare at the floor in complete boredom.

Locke shook his head, "You have him so well trained." He said as I offered him my hand. Locke ignored my outstretched hand, instead of mounting up with no help. Which was admittedly cool, as Ragnar was 16 and a half hands (Adds up to about 65 inches), and tall for his breed, Shire.

Ragnar let out a huff as Locke jumped on behind me.

Once Locke was situated, I whistled for Ragnar to start moving.

"Geez, this horse is massive." Locke whistled.

"Careful," I warned. "Most of his signals are whistles, you never know which one you make and cause him to do." I reached forward and patted Ragnar's neck. Muscle rippled underneath my hand as I messed with his thick mane.

"What all does he know?" My brother asked, amazement evident in his voice.

"Why would I ever tell you that?" I turned to my brother with a smirk. "Surprises are way more fun."

"That doesn't make me feel good in the least," Locke muttered, making me chuckle.

Since Ragnar didn't know where we were going, I had to direct him using my legs. Squeezing my right leg into his right side signaled him to turn right and vice versa with the other leg. If I wanted to pick up the pace then I'd squeeze him with both legs to get him to trot, and a specific whistle would make him gallop.

"Why doesn't he have a saddle and a bridle?" Locke asked as he patted Ragnar's huge hip.

"Never needed one." I shrugged.

"He's amazing," Locke muttered, more to himself, though I still heard him.

"Careful, he doesn't need a bigger ego then he already has," I warned as I directed Ragnar to turn right around the castle, leading him to the huge royal stable.

A guard saw us approach and rushed into the stable. A few seconds later, three stable hands rushed out, hoping the huge doors and waiting for us to approach.

I whistled for Ragnar to stop in front of the stable hands, allowing Locke to slid off before I did.

"Lady Bjerke." The three stable hands and the guard bowed.

The guard then turned to my brother and saluted him before returning to his post.

"How can we be of service for you m' lady?" A boy close to eighteen asked me as he marveled at Ragnar.

I turned back to my horse and could've sworn he puffed his chest out a bit at all the attention and acknowledgment.

"I'd like to stable him here while I stay in the castle." I patted Ragnar on his shoulder. He responded by turned his head around and nudging my side.

The other two stable hands, also boys in their late teens, watched me and Ragnar with expressions of amazement.

"We can do that." The eldest looking boy cracked a smile as Ragnar swished his tail and hit Locke in the back of the head.

I watched as the boys looked for any gear. "He doesn't like halters, or bridles, or saddles." I listed them on my fingers. "Do you guys have any stalls that lead right out to the paddock?"

The eldest boy nodded and pointed to the closet stall to the door. "It's specifically made for stubborn stallions."

Ragnar snorted at the insult. The boys seemed amazed at the intelligence that he showed.

"Wonderful." I smiled and pointed Ragnar to the stable. With a whistle, Ragnar walked straight to the stable and waited while one of the boys opened it for him.

Before I left I told the boys to come get me if he causes any trouble, because Odin knows he's caused plenty.

Once Ragnar was settled, Locke and I returned to the castle. I offered my couch to Locke and he surprisingly took it. He justified his choice but explaining that he was glad to not have to hear his neighbors and their late night 'adventures'. I couldn't fault him for it either. So instead I threw him some extra blankets and a pillow before shutting my door and getting ready for bed myself.

Stripping down to shorts and an old sweatshirt I found in the bottom of my bag, I curled up in my soft bed and fell asleep.

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