I have to say, Princess Zigra is an amazing rider. I’ve never before seen a lady ride side-saddle so fast, and she kept pace with us at a gallop.
Better yet, Lord Ilarion didn’t seem the slightest bit worried about leaving behind the sister as he didn’t glance back once as he galloped ahead of us.
Yes, I knew he was her brother now.
We had talked to the Queen after leaving Princess Zigra in her quarters. Queen Caitlynn had told us all about the true Duchess Stavita Wenceslava dying and how Duke Wienczyslaw Wenceslava had married Lady Radoslaw - or rather Duchess Imogen Wenceslava, now - to keep Mangandaall from going to war with Leselania.
She had told informed us that as the closest city - dukedom - to Leselania there was a huge chance of King Rafferty trying to win over Mangandaall. Mangandaall’s crops - as the Queen informed us - were worth a lot, as they were plenty and could feed many people. She also told us that there were plenty ornament makers in Mangandaall - and the many ornaments there were worth a lot as they were very unique and beautiful. According to Queen Caitlynn this was because of the Princess Zigra herself. She had an acquired taste and loved uncommon things.
Now, the reason Mangandaall wasn’t currently in war with Leselania, was because of Queen Evanesca Magridrif’s friendship with Duchess Stavita Wenceslava.
As soon as his wife died, Duke Wienczyslaw married Duchess Imogen due her resemblance of her sister - and the nagging of his in-laws (they had wanted to give their only living daughter a second chance in life as her own husband was dead).
So technically Lord Ilarion is Princess Zigra’s step-brother, but brother none-the-less. So I kind of understand where there sibling love comes from. They’ve been living together for Seven years now; of course they loved each other so.
Anyways, we got to mount Saamon in record time - considering we had a lady travelling with us.
Lord Ilarion stopped at the foot of the hill, but didn’t have to wait long for us to join him as Princess Zigra had Serinity gallop at a pace fitting for her brother, even though she was sitting side-saddle.
“We can go on horseback quarter way up.” I informed them, pulling back the reins and making Dundle to stop beside Serinity on the opposite side of Rousse. We had unplanned-ly stopped at each side of Princess Zigra, almost like guards.
Lord Ilarion’s eyebrows rose slightly, but he didn’t comment on our actions. “Then we go on?” He asked instead, turning his horse around so he could see the looming hill.
“Yes, there is a meadow half-way up if anyone wants to stay back.” I told, following Lord Ilarion’s lead and looking up at the hill. Though I didn’t say it, I truly meant Leo to stay behind in the meadow. It was safe enough that I could leave him unprotected and by himself there. That is, if Lord Ilarion opt for coming with us - which I highly doubt.
“Oh great.” Lord Ilarion said, sounding relieved. He shot his sister a glare. “See Zee, Sir Dwayne has more concern for my well being than you do.” He told her, and then had his horse gallop up the hill.
Princess Zigra sighed and looked at us.
“Are you sure you two don’t need a little rest?” She questioned us, but I didn’t miss his she looked at Leo when she said ‘rest’. Hmm... So I wasn’t the only one to notice that out of all of us Leo seemed the most breathless - never having ridden so far, so fast.
It was startling how Leo seemed slightly breathless where Princess Zigra looked like she could go on for much longer. She looked cool and collected the same as when we had left the Castle three hours earlier. She didn’t have a hair out of place despite having ridden as fast as we had.
“Let’s go.” Was all Leo grunted when he noticed that she had asked it more near him than near him. Then spurred on his horse without another word, following Lord Ilarion.
I smirked. Just like Leo to get defensive and not want to show that he couldn’t do something. In this case, I could turn it to my advantage and make Leo stay behind instead of lag us behind - if Princess Zigra is a good hiker as she is a rider.
“Did I say something to offend him?” Princess Zigra questioned me, watching Leo and her brother race up the hill.
“It’s not anything you said.” I told chuckling.
Her turquoise gaze turned to me.
“Don’t worry about it.” I told, and then spurred my horse onwards - knowing very well she wasn’t stupid enough to stay behind us. I was proven right when I soon heard the clopping of Serinity’s hoofs behind me as Princess Zigra soon caught up with me.
We were silent as we raced to catch up with Leo and Lord Ilarion - both of whom didn’t know where the clearing I spoke of was, might I add?
It wasn’t hard catching up with them and then I had to lead as I was the only line there who knew where this clearing is. Once we reached the clearing I dismounted Dundle and the other three followed my lead. I let the horses roam free and graze - Lord Ilarion and Leo would be staying back after all.
“Your one to talk Rion. It seems Prince Vasilios and Sir Dwayne thinks more for my well-being than you do.” Princess Zigra suddenly told her brother the moment she dismounted and tossed the reins behind Serinity’s back.
All three of us looked at her puzzled.
It took me a moment to realize that she was retaliating for his comment earlier. Lord Ilarion had ridden off before she could say anything and now that she finally caught up to him, she threw his words right back at her.
“Yeah well, I’m not the one trying to get us all killed.” He told her matter-of-factly, a smirk playing n his lips.
“I’m positive Sir Dwayne can vouch for me that this climb, while looking impossible is anything but. Maybe not safe, surely I know that, but killed? I doubt it.” Princess Zigra said her tone empty of any emotion as she crossed her hand across her chest and gazed up at the rest of the hill we’ll have to climb if we want to go see this ornament maker of hers.
Staring at her incredulously - for she had sounded so sure that I could confirm what she just said (which, surprisingly I could) - I noted that her crossing her arms over her chest was her way of acting defiant towards Lord Ilarion.
That surely was something to see - especially because there was nothing in her tone or expression to give her defiance away.
“Are we resting before we climb?” Princess Zigra suddenly turned away from her sibling banter with Lord Ilarion to ask... me.
Huffing, Lord Ilarion turned away - in a ‘you all go on ahead, in wondering around’ way - and walked around the clearing.
“We might as well.” I sighed. I had to convince Leo to stay back before we could go. It wasn’t that I wanted to spend time alone with the princess. But rather because I don’t think I’ll be able to carry Leo all the way up if I have to. I’m sure I can manage the princess on my own though - for I was sure she wouldn’t climb all the way up without either whining or giving up.
Strangely, at my words, Princess Zigra flopped down exactly where she was standing and sat on the grass. Then she untied the ribbon that tied down her bonnet to her head and removed the bonnet - revealing her midnight black hair that was neatly pinned up in a rose shaped bun. Removing her bonnet, she later back down covering her face with the bonnet.
I looked at Leo to see him staring at the princess with a mixture of wonder, bewilderment and somewhat horror.
I almost laughed seeing his expression, but managed to refrained myself from doing so. Grabbing him by the elbow, I dragged him a few feet away from her, snapping him out of his daze.
Lord Ilarion was looking around and was far enough not to notice us talking in secret. Princess Zigra had her face covered with her bonnet and wouldn’t see us whispering among ourselves.
“What’s wrong?” Leo asked when we were away from both siblings. He sounded startled and kinda worried.
“Leo, I want you to stay down here while I accompany Princess Zigra to meet this ornament maker she’s being adamant on meeting.” I told him ponytail blank - there was no use skirting around the topic, as I wasn’t about to take no for an answer.
“Hear me out, before you refuse.” I cut across him, before he could refute. “We’ll be leaving Lord Ilarion all by himself if we all save as he makes it pretty clear that he wasn’t braving the rest of the hill. We can’t leave him alone can we? Than is not very nice. While I’d love it if you could accompany the princess alone - spend some alone time with her - I’m the only one who knows who to make it up to the peak of this hill, so do me this favor would you.”
Leo thought for a while, processing what I had just told him. ’Fine, you owe me one.” He said, agreeing with me.
I had to fight the smirk that tried to slip out. If anything he’s the one who owed me one. I had just saved his dignity by making him stay. But owing him one didn’t bother me much because I had already pleaded my life for his protection.
Agreeing with him, we settled down for a few minutes as well before I told Princess Zigra that we could start ahead if she was ready. She instantly got up to her feet. Her movement fluid and graceful. In a quick motion she had her bonnet tied back on her head and her parasol - which her Lady-in-waiting had given her just before we headed out - flared out, covering her upper half of the body from the glare of the late morning sun.
She glanced back at her brother before looking at me.
Oh! She wanted me to let Lord Ilarion know we were off - I wonder why. Still, I did as she had silently asked and informing him that the prince would keep him company, I held out my arm for her to take.
She looked from me to the hill and back again at me.
“No offence Sir Dwayne, but I think it’ll be easier for both of us if we don’t hang on to each other.” She said slowly, contemplating-ly - though her tone remained blank. Then she looked at me and cocked her head to the side, silently asking for my thoughts on what she said.
“That would be...wise.” I murmured, nodding my head at her.
She was more perspective than I originally gave her credit for - even more perspective than I gave her later after talking to her. Either that or she knew more about climbing than she needed to. Whichever it was, she was indeed right. It’ll be hard for both of us to make tea climb if I was being the gentleman and helping her as well. But...
“Will you be able to climb on your own?” I questioned her doubtfully. There was no way she wasn’t going to fall down and break her neck if she tried doing this with heels - and an inexperienced climber. She wasn’t a knight to have the proper training for climbing. At least I didn’t think so.
“Thank you for your concern Sir Dwayne, but I came prepared.” She told tonelessly, but not unkindly. With her words, she lifted her gown - which I noticed for the first time, while was rich and worthy for a princess at first glance, was made more to fit for travelling... on foot - and showed me the boots she was wearing underneath her dress.
My eyebrows shot up at the beautiful spectacle she provided.
And no, not her skin, by spectacle I merely meant how much she astounded me by coming so well prepared.
I laughed out loud, making her to look at me. Ur - stare at me would be more accurate. She blinked, like she was wondering what I found so funny.
“Is there anything that you’ll be unprepared for?” I questioned, but I meant it rhetorically, so shaking my head, I started climbing ahead of her.
We climbed for awhile silently, with me going ahead of her and helping her where the sand was either too slippery of a rock too high for her to jump on her own.
We were quarter way up, still within eye shot of the clearing, when Princess Zigra lost her hold on her umbrella reaching out for my hand. In turn, speed down the hill and blew off course. Princess Zigra turned around, not very sharply - she would have lost her footing had she turned too fast - and watched her parasol tumble down with a detached expression.
It just so happened, that Leo was watching us ascend up the hill and saw the whole thing. Springing up to his feet him, watching the parasol too. Then he shouted up to us, “No worries princess, I’ll get it for you!”
I noticed Princess Zigra’s shoulder relax very slightly at his words. There had been nothing in her posture that she had even been tense, and had I not seen her shoulders relaxing slightly, I wouldn’t have found it strange than she seemed uncharacteristically attached to her parasol.
“Are you alright?” I asked when she turned back to me, being very mindful of where she placed her feet.
Her turquoise eyes met mine and I was surprised to see tears rimmed them. She blinked, looking down and nodding her head.
Trying not to show that I noticed her tears, I held out my hand for her to take, low enough that she’d see it with her lowered gaze.
Again she lifted her gaze up to meet mine, lingering a moment longer on my outstretched hand. Then, lightly lifting up her skirt, she took my outstretched hand and pulled herself up to the same rock I was standing on. I felt my muscles pulling taut as I supported her weight and pulled her up at the same time she pushed off.
Once she was safely next to me, I let go of her hand and proceeded up the hill. Casting a final look back at where Leo was running after her parasol, she followed me.
Going up a little way, minute glanced back just in time to see the princess keep her foot on a loose rock. I quickly grabbed her and thankfully, caught her at the very moment her foot slipped so she didn’t fall. Unfortunately, in my hurry, I grabbed her arm a little too hard and her body jerked forward, pitching into me.
With a gasp, and clutching my jacket tightly, she glanced up at me. Her eyes were wide and though the shutters were drawn down, her panting gave away the shock she felt. She held on to me tightly for a moment too long, but it seemed an unconscious gesture, unknowing.
Taking a deep breath, she glanced behind her, down the slope she surely would had slid - or rolled down, depending on his she’ll fall - down, had I not caught her.
“Are you alright my lady?” I asked softly, helping her stand straight.
Let out a stuttering breath, she slowly nodded her head. Her hold on my jacket loosening considerably.
“Thank you for saving me Sir Dwayne.” She said, then casting a look back down added, “I guess Rion wasn’t very far from his assumption of me trying to get us all killed.”
I laughed, stepping away from her just as she let go of her hold on me altogether.
“Is that how you thank the man who just saved from gravely harming yourself?” I questioned her, mocking offence. She must’ve believed me, as she looked at me confused, not catching on to my act. “Sir Dwayne, why my lady I thought we were past such formalities. Don’t you consider me as your friend?” I asked her, keeping my offended tone.
Princess Zigra cocked her, though her face was as expressionless as always, but I could tell she was wondering what I meant by my words. Slowly, she nodded her head at my last question. She started out slowly, but her head grew more vigorous in its nodding, with more conviction.
“Good, then would my lady please stop addressing me as Sir Dwayne?” I requested near her, gently tucking a lose strand of hair behind her ear. “You make me feel like a stranger.” I added, gazing down at her eyes modestly.
Her eyes met mine, but there was nothing heated in our gazes.
“What would you have me calling you then?” She questioned. Her voice soft but detached. We were standing close enough that I heard her fine before the wind carried her words away.
“Vincent, just Vincent.” I murmured, leaning closer to her so she would hear my soft voice.
She looked at me and I noticed a flicker of emotion cross be withdrawn eyes. Contemplation. She was thinking over my request.
I know I asked much of her. Asking her to call me by my given name isn’t something I asked lightly of anyone. Unless they mean something to me, was close enough that I knew them well, I would never say such a thing. But with Princess Zigra everything was different. She respected everyone around her, no matter their status.
Besides, I’d she were to marry Leo, I’d have to put up with her a lot longer and it was always better to start friendly.
“Only if you stop calling me princess.” Princess Zigra’s monotonous voice broke me out of my review. I focused once again on her turquoise eyes that were naught but a few inches below my own.
Now it was my turn to look at her, puzzled.
“Will you call me Zigra, just Zigra? I would even prefer it if you call me Zee, but not princess, my lady, or at other formality. Would you do that... Vincent?” She added my name as an afterthought, but face scrunched up slightly at the unfamilliarness of my name - used to addressing me Sir Dwayne.
The caress of my name on her tongue felt sweet, and for the first time I saw an emotion cross her face - which was quickly, replaced with her blank look, that made me wonder did I imagine it. No... I’m sure a look of uncertainty courtesy across her face. I’m positive it did.
“Zigra.” I said firmly.
Her eyes lit up as the word left my lips and this time, she did nothing to cover it up, pull the shutters closed and block me out.
Could it be possible, just possible, that she was starting to let me inside her towering wall that surrounded her and kept everyone out?
Could it be possible that, for me, that wall was starting to crumble? Brick by single brick? Surely it’ll be a slow and riding process, but in the end... would it really be worth it.
After all, she isn’t mine to take.