Corbin watched as Psycha mounted her white mare.
The horse, named Yesha, snorted as she chewed on the bit in her mouth, tasting the metal while patiently waiting to head out. She was a beautiful beast, her naturally crimped mane and tail washed clean by Psycha the night before. The white of her coat glimmered against the cold sunlight as her dark, marble eyes focused warily on the king. She pawed the ground with a slight shake of her head, never once moving her gaze away from Corbin.
Yesha was a free and wild spirit. Psycha was one of the few people that she let saddle her, and the only person she allowed to sit upon her back. Corbin had seen the two together many times during the panic of battle and he knew the Native trusted no other horse. Yesha was fast, brave, and strong during times of crisis, but more importantly she was trustworthy. Often, the Native had been knocked from her back, left to fight alone, and Yesha would not abandon her to run with the other dumb beasts of her kind. She instead looped back until she found Psycha and stood at the woman's side until they both were able to leave.
The king mused at how much the horse and Native were alike; more like sisters born into different families than owner and beast.
Psycha leaned down and whispered a few words in her native tongue to Yesha, before looking back at the king. Her dark hair was tied into a braid, as it usually was, and her bow hung across her back. Dressed in all black while sitting atop her ivory mare, the dark Native looked like a forest spirit, a creature of myths. She was stunningly attractive and, with her weapons, shockingly dangerous. If anyone could gather an army on such short notice under such strange circumstances, it would be her.
"We will send you messages by bird," Akin promised as he mounted his own horse, a pretty brown mare. The beast was not actually his but was instead a loyal creature of Yeher. Corbin trusted her enough to keep the elf safe, even if they did not share the same bond that the Native did with Yesha.
The king nodded. "Try to keep things swift. It won't be long now before all chaos breaks loose."
Psycha smiled slightly. "Chaos is what we're good at, it's silence you have to watch for." She glanced over her shoulder at the nearby trees, then added, "When the time comes, we'll be prepared."
"I hope that's the case."
"It will be."
Akin turned his face toward the sun, which was just starting its downward crest toward the mountains. The sky was clear but crisp and a wind blew through the trees, whistling against rocks. The elf seemed to be listening to something. Nature, Corbin supposed. He looked toward the Native. Her ears, too, were perked and her brows furrowed as she listened tentatively.
For a moment, Corbin wondered what the two were hearing. Raised with the forest, both elves and Natives were able to detect Nature's warnings before anyone else. The king could only hope She was bringing good omens instead of bad.
After a moment, Psycha looked away from the trees. "We best be off."
Not asking what they had heard, afraid of the answer, Corbin nodded. "Be safe in your travels."
As he turned his horse to face away from the castle, Akin teased, "Don't strangle Raví while we're gone."
Psycha glanced at him and, despite the howling wind, Corbin was able to hear her mutter, "Why not?"
The king and elf shared smiles for a moment before Psycha spoke to Yesha. The mare needed little urging; she broke into a canter, flying down the dirt pathway with her mane whipping back against the wind. Akin took a moment to watch the Native, his lips still curved in a slight smile.
"If you don't hurry, she won't wait up for you at the crossroads."
Akin glanced at his king then agreed, "If she beats me to our first stop I'll never hear the end of it." The elf clicked to his mare, urging her into a run as he moved to catch up with his partner.
Within a matter of moments, both were but faint shadows. Corbin watched until they were completely out of sight before he hesitantly turned and went in through the doors of the courtyard and into his castle.
The brick floors were warmed by a hot underground spring and the air was kept comfortable, if a bit smoky, by the large fireplace in the throne room. All of the windows were sealed shut to keep the royal family warm, on the king's orders. He was not willing to risk his daughter getting sick from the winter air. He could not forget the previous year that almost took the delicate child from them.
Knowing that work and unending stress was waiting for him down the hall, Corbin took a detour to Chloe's play area where his family was resting. It was a large room, situated near the garden so the little princess could look out the window and see her mother's roses.
Magical illusions covered all of the walls. On the ceiling, the sun rose in a clear blue sky and twinkled down on the princess; it would change to two moons when night fell. The walls were decorated with trees, which were swaying gently. Little animals peeked out of their homes and wandered around the fake forest lazily, not noticing the princess in her playroom. In the distant background were mountains with large dragons perched outside of their caves.
Despite all of Chloe's dreams, the grand creatures were extinct. Yet she still wanted them watching over her as she played, so Corbin made sure they sat in the distance, keeping their golden eyes alert.
Sitting on the floor by her treasure chest full of toys, Chloe pulled out a dress-up boa, a crown, and a pair of low heels. She put her bare feet into the slippers, then stood up and clip-clopped over to her brother, who leaned against the wall watching her.
"What do you have there, Chloe?"
"Can I see?"
Chloe rolled her eyes, wrapping the boa round her neck. "Ryder, you aren't a princess. You need boy things."
Her brother smiled slightly, watching her pivot then dip, as if she was suddenly engaged in a dance with the imaginary partner whom only she could see. Chloe paused long enough in her waltz to stare at the largest dragon on her wall, studying his flicking tail then moving her gaze up his scaled flanks to his red-crested eyes. Unlike many children, who were frightened by the stories of dragons and serpents, the little princess was enthralled by them.
Watching her, a smile came over Corbin's lips as he recalled the story one of her maidservants told her a few years before. Fearful that the princess would wander away on their visit to the town, the woman had tried to scare her with tales of dragons morphing into humans to try and trick little girls. The handmaid insisted that the creatures would pretend to be the little princess' friend so they could get her into their carriages and then they would carry her away to feed their young, who remained in the mountains.
So delighted with the prospect of seeing a dragon's cave, Chloe tried multiple times to find someone who wasn't actually a peasant but was instead a dragon in disguise. Much to her disappointment, all Yeher residents appeared to be human.
Now the princess broke out of her spell and continued dancing with herself, spinning in a circle as she told Ryder that only princesses knew how to dance. That princes had to learn by their mothers, unlike women who had a natural knowledge of graceful movement.
Smiling softly, the king moved to sit beside his silent wife, who had been watching by the window seat. Once at her side, Corbin slid his arm around her waist. Celeste looked over at him and they met eyes for a brief moment that lasted an eternity. The silver surrounding her pupils pierced him like they never had before; a wave of fear touched him and he held her closer, listening to the bell laughter of Chloe.
Sadie watched the woman dressed in black mount her silver horse. Though she sat at a window located high above the ground, and though Psycha never once turned her gaze up to the single bedroom, Sadie was positive the woman knew she was watching. She wondered if the horse acknowledged her presence as well, but then quickly dismissed the thought.
Even from the distance she watched, the young girl could tell that the archer held herself with unquestionable confidence. Sadie didn't know if she was the only one who could sense the woman's strength, or if others noticed that the feel of the room changed whenever she stepped past the threshold.
Down below, the elf mounted his own mare as he glanced toward the sunset. He was a very different creature from the woman, but somehow equally as powerful. Sadie had seen him fighting and had therefore seen the horrors he was capable of, yet she still found herself relaxing when his dark eyes met hers. Like a child comforted by her father after a bad dream, Sadie somehow felt safe when he was in the room.
This day, he was too distracted by the mission ahead of him to pay attention to the once-slave girl, however. If he had noticed she was watching, he did not seem to care.
Startled, Sadie spun around in her seat and met a pair of green eyes. Quickly, upon recognizing the face of Raví, she calmed herself. As every day, he carried a plate full of food that he set on the nearby desk. Though she was not their prisoner, so they claimed, the king had requested that she remained in the left wing of the castle. For safety's sake. Why he would worry about people in his own castle hurting her, she did not know, but she also did not ask.
"I guess you could say that."
The man smiled a little, dropping any other questions he might have. He glanced toward the window where Psycha was speaking to the king, and then headed back to the door.
"Where are they going?"
Raví paused, turning toward her again. "Who? Psycha and Akin?"
Sadie wasn't sure why, but she felt comfortable around the man. In ways that she could not place, he reminded her of Christian. It was not anything he directly said or the way he looked, and it definitely was not his behavior that reminded her of the peace-loving peasant. It was something deeper. When she looked into both of their eyes she saw intelligence yet unexplainable simplicity. They both made her feel at ease without doing anything. In ways she didn't understand, Raví reminded her of a brother she never had.
"Yes. I saw them getting ready…" She glanced out the window again, and then looked back to Raví and repeated, "Where are they going?"
"They don't have an exact destination."
The young girl frowned slightly, the smooth skin on her forehead creasing. "Then how will they know when they get there?"
He shrugged. "I guess they won't, will they?"
The blank stare that covered her face apparently caused him humor because he chuckled and crossed his arms, looking almost as if he was trying to explain to a foolish child why the birds could fly when the fish could only swim.
Finally, he said, "Try not to worry about it too much. Things go as they're supposed to. If they're meant to arrive at their destination, then they will."
"I…don't get it."
He nodded. "I know you don't." They looked at each other for a moment before he continued, "The problem with most people is that they try to control Fate. Just let Her do what She will and things will turn out okay."
The creases on her forehead deepened. "…What does this have to do with Psycha and Akin leaving?"
"I guess nothing," he claimed, though his green eyes said differently. When she didn't ask anything more, Raví turned away once again. As he put his hand against the wooden planks, the hinges creaked with age and he said, "To be more direct, they're going to try and find help so mayhap we can win this war." He glanced one last time at her. "But, personally, I don't think that's the answer you really needed."
He stepped out into the hall and closed the door, disappearing from her sight. Sadie stared ahead for a few minutes before turning her gaze toward the food on the table.
Suddenly, she wasn't hungry anymore.
A/N: Sorry for the delayed updates. School's pretty rough.