The next day dawned bright and clear. Flitting rays of sunlight woke Rooen up, only to find her fiancé's chambers empty. With a sigh of relief, Ro got out of bed and found the change of clothes that had been left out for her. Her relief was furthered when she realized that she had been allowed a set of breeches, her old boots, and a tunic and shirt that were in Jakh's colors.
"I hope they don't expect me to just stay cooped up in Prince Jakh's rooms," she grumbled as she changed out of her nightshirt and into the day's clothes.
A voice echoed throughout the chambers just as she finished changing. "'They' don't expect you to do anything you don't want to do, though since you are at your king's mercy, it'd be best to show your hosts some dignity and be cooperative."
Rooen whirled around to find Archer Hale leaning in the doorway. Nearly stumbling in her efforts, Ro bowed deeply, barely keeping herself from pitching forward into the king.
"Your majesty," she mumbled, keeping her head bowed even after she had straightened.
"Now don't sulk, girl. It was my fault for not announcing my presence. After you get yourself cleaned up, come to the counsel hall, where you will take your breakfast."
Ro nodded, muted by the note of authority in the king's voice. Smirking, he gave her a wave of dismissal before turning on his heel, black cloak billowing behind him.
"He isn't making life any easier," Ro muttered, tugging at a stray lock of ebony hair.
Rooen attempted to make her way back to the counsel hall, but to no avail. First she found herself in the kitchens, startling surprised cooks who shooed her out before she could ask for directions.
"Servants do not like nobles," she observed before taking another corridor, hoping it would lead her to the counsel hall. Pushing through a weathered wooden door, Ro instead found herself outside, directly in front of the royal stables.
The scent of horse and hay filled her nostrils, dampening the sense of rising panic she felt at not being able to find her way to breakfast.
A horse's scream rang out, shocking Rooen out of her thoughts. Shouts rose from inside the stables, and a horse's neighing overshadowed all the noise.
GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME! yelled a voice.
Ro strayed into the stables and toward the commotion, against her better judgement. The scene before her was stunning. Half a dozen stable hands were yelling and brandishing ropes and whips at a massive palomino gelding. The horse reared, smashing his hooves against the stall door in an attempt to break free, though Ro was positive given enough space, he could clear the door easily.
"Get yourself down here you stupid animal!" One of the men shouted, attempting to throw a bit of rope over the horse's head.
The gelding ducked out of the loop, neighing in annoyance.
Don't try me, boy! I'm not afraid to smash your head in! The voice rang out again, though the men didn't seem to hear.
Ro shouldered her way through the stable hands, scowling.
"Will you all stop? You're upsetting him! He's going to put your head between his hoof and the ground if you're not careful. "
The horse rolled its eyes at her, whuffing in curiosity as he pranced a few nervous steps away.
Finally. Someone with reason!
"Yes, yes, reason. I'm sorry these idiots don't understand that," Ro muttered. The stable hands were looking at her in wonder, some with mouths agape. Ro turned on them, brows furrowed.
"Why are you staring at me like that?"
"Because you're talking to the horse as if he's a person. Which can only mean one thing," came a smooth voice from behind them. Turning, the group set eyes upon a tall, lithe figure clad in dark blue and white.
With a mix of yelps and apologies, the stable hands all bowed, backing away from the stall. Regal in his bearing, Jakh Hale took the necessary steps to come up to the stall, putting a friendly hand on Rooen's shoulder as he outstretched his arm over the stall door.
"Now Qwinn, why are you giving these men such trouble?" Jakh asked as the gelding stepped forward to nuzzle his hand.
Because they're pathetic and don't know how to groom a horse let alone saddle him up! The voice said again, though Ro noticed with sudden clarity that no one had actually spoken. No human, that is.
Ro swallowed hard, staring at the horse before turning her gaze upon the prince.
"What did you mean?" She asked, her curiosity piqued.
Jakh chuckled, shaking his head.
"Come, little horse whisperer. We're late for breakfast," Jakh interceded, looping his arm through Ro's and leading her away from the stall.
Ro looked over her shoulder at the gelding, an eyebrow raised as Jakh shepherded her away.
"Don't worry about Qwinn, Princess Rooen. He can handle himself. For now, I must beg the question of what you were doing in the stables in the first place?"
Ro peered up at the man, mouth twitching. "I got lost. I didn't know which way to go from your chambers to get to the counsel hall, and King Archer didn't help much either."
Without missing a step, Jakh glanced down at Ro, not bothering to mask his confusion. "Archer? What was he doing in my wing? After that stunt he pulled last night, I did not think he would have the nerve to come up and harass you this way."
Ro shrugged, still observing Jakh, and the nuances in his expression. He didn't seem angry, just confused and underneath that, strangely at ease with his surroundings. Beyond that, Ro took in his physical appearance in detail for the first time.
Clad in a dark blue tunic and a silver long sleeved shirt, Jakh radiated a royal air despite his loose, simple attire. A silver sash with blue stitching was wrapped around his waist, and a dagger poked out of the folds, letting Ro know that the seemingly docile prince might have a bite. Black breeches gave way to worn calf high leather boots, which weren't even polished. Rooen concluded that her fiancé didn't care for the livery that Archer seemed to sport.
Finally they found themselves in the counsel hall, where Archer awaited them at the end of a long table.
"Brother! Princess Rooen! Good to finally see you here!" The king called out, his voice dripping sarcasm.
Jakh nodded curtly, guiding Ro to a pair of seats to Archer's right. Placing himself between Rooen and Archer, the prince held Ro's chair out for her, waiting until she was seated to take his own seat.
"So little princess, what kept you? I expected you to come down as soon as I had summoned you," Archer murmured, propping his chin on his hand in a feigned gesture of nonchalance. His gaze and tone told otherwise, so Rooen chose her words carefully.
"I'm very sorry for keeping you waiting, sire. I inadvertently got lost, and ended up in the stables."
Archer wrinkled his nose, not believing that anyone could get that lost in the castle.
"I decided against sending the guard in lieu of my brother," the monarch explained, chuckling as though he'd done Rooen a great service.
Rooen and Jakh exchanged glances. The princess was decidedly grateful that Archer hadn't sent the guard after her, and instead she nodded to the king before straightening in her chair and unfolding her napkin into her lap.
Welcome to Cade, she thought as the trio began to eat their breakfast in mutual silence.