Gwyn is sent to Court to make a wealthy marriage but Fate has other things in store...
Gwyn started awake as the carriage hit yet another merciless rut in the path. Griping about the poor conditions of the road, the thirteen year old girl sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She stretched her arms and looked out the window. The green rolling hills extended to the horizon, dotted with the small forests nad met by a massive timber at the horizon. She smiled weakly. So different from home...
She had traveled for three days from her home manor of Troval to live at the Royal Court in Kinsecote, the Gleanmoran capital. Her father had senther to learn Court etiquette and to make a good and wealthy marriage. Gwyn rolled her eyes to all of it. She saw how prim girl acted at Court especially when they where romancing a lad, and she wanted nothing of it. A waste of her time; time that could be spent riding. Horses were her frst love and she had no intention of replacing them.
"A copper for your tthoughts, milady."
Gwyn turned and looked at the young woman who had spoken.
Her cousin, Joanna, at 21 was eight years her senior and her designated anny-maid/protector. With her piercrystal blue eyes and her fair glowing skin, Joanna ws the epitomy of Troval beauty. Her snady brown hair was straight and thick and lengthened to her shoulders. Her heart-shaped face and cute tiny nose gave her a girlish look and the small dimple in her chin accentuated that look.
She smiled goofily under Gwyn's gaze and laughed. " What, is there something in my teeth?" The older girl jutted her teeth out for Gwyn to examine.
Gwyn laughed and said, " No! There's nothing in your teeth, Jo. I was just thinking."
Joanna smiled and said, " That's why I asked. Why'd you look at me as though you'd been visited by the gods?"
Gwyn smiled. " You're so pretty, Joey. I could never hope to be as glamorously attractive."
" Oh, bah!" Joanna crowed. " I'm not nearly as pretty as you make me out to be. Besides, you'll come into your own soon enough."
Gwyn smirked, thinking of her own honey-hazel colored eyes and dark brown hair. She had always compared her dark brown, auburn-wisped hair to her cousin's light brown nearly blonde hair. She had always felt inadequate. The traits of the Troval line were crystal blue eyes and light colored hair. Gwyn assumed that she received her unusual features from her mother, whom she had never known. Her mother, named Aiyana, had died giving birth to Gwyn and Gwyn ahad never been offered any information on her.
" How about a nickel this time?" Joanna asked, breaking Gwyn's daydreams. She looked over at her cousin, who wore a concerned expression on her face.
Gwyn sighed. " Just thinking of everything about home. The first time you asked I was thinking of how much I was going to miss it. Now..."
" Now?" Joanna prodded gently.
" I was thinking......of how different we are and-and why." Tears came to her eyes as looked into Joanna's face. " I wish I had known her. Did you, Joanna?"
Joanna smiled comfortingly and came to sit beside Gwyn. She wrapped a loving arm around her and Gwyn wiped her tears on her cousin's shoulder. " I did," Joanna replied.
" Do you want me to tell you what she was like?"
Gwyn nodded. She loved Joanna's version of the story.
" Okay." Joanna played her fingers through Gwyn's hair. " I was seven years old when my Uncle Laurence- your father- came back to Troval from his travels and from Kinsecote. And with him he brought a beauitufl woman. Her hair, I remember, was as dark as the midnight sky and her eyes the color of Da's white wine. Her face was sort of squared-oval; it was hard to tell exactly. Her skin wasn't procelain as most Gleanmorans but rather an ivory tan. Uncle Laurence introduced her as his wife-to-be. Her name was Aiyana."
Gwyn sighed contentedly. " Jo, are there stables at the palace?"
" Of course," Joanna replied lovingly. " And when we arrive you can accompany Bernard to the stables and see that Barrohdun is settled in."
As the carriage halted before the stables, Gwyn was still in compete awe of the city. Her jaw, she thought, must've dropped to the ground and her eyes the size of saucers.
Coming into Kinsecote for the first time was like seeing the kingdom of the gods; Gwyn thought the two were comparable. They had come over a large hill and the first thing that met Gwyn's eyes was an enormous white wall. It towered to the sky and extended as far as Gwyn could see. Just visible about it were the turrets of the palace itself, set back a ways from the wall. When they drew near it, she saw that it was about 15 feet tall and five feet thick of solid white stone. On the equally thick steel doors was the wrought-iron crest of the royal family: a three-leafed flower with four stars making a box around it, inside a circle.
The carriage was stopped before the doors, waiting for them to be heaved open. They had then entered the lowest part of the city. Cobblestone streets told of the city's years. Pubs and inns lined the road as well as many necessity shops. This first area, Gwyn concluded, was meant for travelers, the poor, and the city rogues.
Next came the market district where colorful stalls lined the way, small makeshift shelters behind them. Children ran around barefoot, traders barteredin the streets and the aromas of many delicious foods filled the air. The following district had a small gate between it and the market, cutting it off somewhat from the Lower City. It was more of a town area with small homes, shops, healers, seamstresses and tailors, andmore reputable inns and bars. Gwyn hadnoted also that this district was much more clean than those preceding it.
The fourth district was separated by a small stone walll with a small team of gaurdmen and clearly marked the separation of the Upper and Lower city areas. Gwyn had tried not to gawk as they had entered this temple district, but failed. The magnificent structures stood side to side, in a circle uniterrupted, save by the road, atop their marble foundation. Made of copper, steel, granite and mica, and decorated with many minerals and jewels, the temples of Kinsecote were the most beautiful buildings that Gwyn had ever seen. Nothing in Troval was nearly as lavish.
The last section before the recepting courtyard was that of the wealthy. Aristocratic townhouses lined the streets with small shops here and there between them. Between the nobility's homes and the palace itself there was another small stone wall, this one with a wooden gate. They had then entered the main courtyard. Joanna and the servants had gone up to Gwyn's rooms with the luggage while Gwyn and the driver, Bernard, had gone from there to the stables.
Gwyn now led her fiesty young stallion, Barrohdun, to his stall and, after letting herself into the tack and feed room, gave him his evening meal. Double-checking that no one was around, Gwyn took out Barrohdun's favorite curry and began to brush all the dust from the road off of his silky, midnight-black coat. When she finished, she put the comb away and sat down in the stall while Barrohdun munched ont he sweet grass in his hay net.
" Here we are, Barroh," Gwyn said with a sigh. " Kinsecote with our whole future before us."
The colt snorted.
" It's true," Gwyn said matter-of-factly. " Da won't let us come home unless it's to present my new husband." Barroh peeled back his lips and whinnied. " Exactly. We won't be going home at all! So you had better get used to this place, Barroh. We'll be here for a while."
Gwyn stood and went to leave. Her horse craned his majestic neck around and rested his head on her shoulder, nibbling her ear. " Hey!" Gwyn laughed, pulling away from him. Barroh gave an offended snort as he gazed at her. Gwyn smiled. She saw more love in that horse's eyes than she had ever known. Nor will I, she added bitterly. She planted a soft kiss on Barrohdun's nose and then exited the stall.
As she turned to close the door, a sudden voice made her jump.
" Nice horse,"
Gwyn spun around, her eyes wide as she face the aisle. From inside the stall across the aisle, appearned the head of a boy. He came to the stall door, opened it, and stepped out into the aisle. " He's a beautiful animal."
Gwyn narrowed her eyes. " Thank you," she said shortly. How long have you been standing there?"
" Long enough, milady," he replied as he leaned against the stall door. Gwyn took the moment to examine him. His chocolate brown hair crowned his head in loose curls that fell just below the tips of his ears. He had a tanned, glowing face and a wesll-shaped nose. The deep brown depths of his eyes held her attention for a few more moments then necessary. He stood about 5 feet, 2 or 3 inches tall and looked to be around Gwyn's age. Wearing a worn white tunic and brown cotton breeches as well as black tie boots, he had clearly been working in the stables.
" What's your name, milady?" he asked.
Gwyn, eyes still slightly narrowed and voice still slightly wary, looked back up into his face. " I'm Gwyndoline of Troval. I've just arrived and I'm here to live at Court."
He nodded in approval. Stepping forward he bowed deeply, took her hand and placed a kiss on it. He rose and said, " It's a pleasure to meet you, Lady Troval. I'm Prince Michael of Kinsecote."
Gwyn swallowed hard as she took her hand away and then said, " Prince?"
Michael nodded tenatively.
" Apologies, You Highness," she smiled politely. " I'm but a brash country mouse."
"Oh!" Michael laughed and then said, " Come now, don't say that! Milady, you seem like a very lovely girl."
Gwyn frowned for a split-second; and then smiled testily. " Your Highness will see what a 'lovely girl' I am tomorrow."
It was Michael's turn to frown. " I'm sorry I don't understand."
" Do you ride, Highness?" Gwyn asked in sweet earnesty.
" Yes, that's my horse," he said, motioning to the chestnut behind him. " I've been riding for a while and I kow a lot about it."
" I wasn't calling you ignorant. In fact, all the better! Come out tomorrow morning and we'll ride...Good evening, Highness." With that, Gwyn took her leve, leaving behind her a prince with a furrowed brow, trying to sort through what had just happened.
Walking away with satisfaction at her own cleverness, the thirteen years old entered the palace and made her way to her quarters. Gwyn took her supper in her rooms as she helped Joanna unpack their things. Afterwards, she bathed and made ready to go to sleep. She had to wake early; she had a Prince to show up.
" Explain to me again why you're up so early?" asked a sleepy Joanna from her place on the chaise lounge.
" Becasue," Gwyn said as she pulled on her riding breeches. " First of all, I had planned to take Barrohdun for a small workout this morning. And secondly, I have to show the Prince that I'm not a prissy-girl. I can ride. I can fight." she added. She sat next to Joanna on the lounge and said, " First impressions are lasting."
Joanna smiled. " Indeed. So what actually are you trying to prove?"
Gwyn shrugged as she pulled on her boots. " Yesterday he said, 'I'm sure you're a very lovely girl'. I told him we'd see about that."
" Only you could make a challange out of a compliment."
" What?" Gwyn said demandingly. " It's not a challange. I'm simply showing him that I'm not a helpless flower."
" What ever you say, darling," Joanna said dismissively. She stood and stretched and then said, " I have to get dressed. So go on and show those boys, hon. Have fun."
Gwyn grabbed an apple from the bowl in her quarters' visiting room andmade her way to the stables. She retrieved her horse's tack and brushes, and then groomed Barroh, picked his hooves and saddled him. After she put on his bridle, she led him into the aisle.
" Are you ready, milady?"
Gwyn turned and saw a fresh, beaming Michael heading down the aisle towards her, brown curls bouncing. " As ready as ever, Highness."
" Good," he said as he stopped before Barrohdun and let the black colt sniff his hand. He motioned tot he orse with his head. " What's his name?"
" Barrohdun," she answered. " His dam was my mother's horse, Highness." Gwyn bit her tongue here, so she would not ramble on about personal things in front of the Prince. From the mslal time she had known him already, she had suspected that he tended to keep conversations formal.
He nodded, looing Barroh over briefly. He then looked back at her and said, " Shall we?"
Gwyn smiled, nodded and then mounted in one swift movement. She took the reigns in her hand and then gave Barroh a swift kick urging him into a trot. Michael told her to go to the corral and warm up; he would be there shortly. With a shrug and not bothering to inquire why, Gwyn rode to the corral. She was about to dismount and open the gate when a young man appeared seemingly out of no where and did it for her. His jade green eyes sparkled with interest under his loose copper curls. His physique, facial structure and hair were extraordinarily like to Michael's, Gwyn noted as she rode past him.
" Conner of Arphaxad, milady," he said with a polite nod, contradicted by his flirtatious smile.
" Gwyndoline of Troval," she replied slowly with captivated interest. She wrestled her eyes away from the curious Conner at the sight of the Prince coming around the corner with three other lads behind him. " What's this?" she demanded brashly.
" Milady of Troval," he said with a courteous smile. " I see you've met my cousin, Conner. May I introduce you to Nicholas of Deverell,"-he motioned to a tall, handsome youth with slick, raven black hair and probing hazel-brown eyes- " Rhys of Penleigh,"- he now motioned to a young man with shabby brown hair cut at his chin and dark, secretive green eyes-" and lastly, Dominic of Lachlan." The last lad he mentioned had short blonde hair cut above his ears and crystal blue eyes.
Gwyn nodded to them respectfully and then turned to Michael and said, " Highness, do you mean to make me a joke? Becasue your friends will be disappointed."
Michael laughed. Gwyn cringed inwardly. That laugh ran shivers down her spine and made her feel warm at the same time; that laugh made her angry and at the same time tingly. "Milady, quite the contrary! I mean to make you a, uh, point of interest. We've never met a lady wuite like yourself, Gwyndoline of Troval.
Gwyn wanted to scowl. She wanted to scowl unti she could never scowl again. Despite the use of her title, the Prince had used her first name to address her! Before he was so extremely formal and now he was practically at the other extreme. She controlled her tongue and asked, " How so, Highness?"
" Women here don't ride, milady," the Prince's cousin jumped in. " You're just different, that's all. And it's not everyday we see someone of our age ride, who is female. Does that clear the issue a bit, milady?"
Gwyn nodded mutely. She kicked Barroh into a brisk trot, tuning out the presence of her spectators. As the wind played at her hair, Gwyn relaxed into the rhythm of of her horse's gait. Barroh knew their morning exercisesinside and out. He could probably go through them with no orders at all from her! But just to be sure that nothing went amiss, Gwyn didn't let her mind wnader too far.
They had said that women of the palace didn't ride. Gwyn frowned at this. How odd! Or maybe she was jsut odd. She kicked Barroh to a canter. Well, she wasn't about to stop riding because women riding just wasn't done here. Pish posh! She let out Barroh's reigns a little. Everyone had to ride at some point or another. People at the palace must go around witht he idea in their heads that women were meant as a feast for the eyes and nothing else. Gwyn set her jew in defiance as she slowed Barrohdun to a halt before the boys. One thing was for certain; she would not fall victim to sucha stereotype. How awful!
Her head left the clouds of such deep thought- only to enter into a fog that was insanity. She all of a sudden kicked Barrohdun back into a canter. Ignoring the cries of alarm and surprise she heard from the boys, Gwyn drew her horse around to the back of the corral and then charged him straight forward at the fence. It was at that moment that Gwyn had a very awkward out-of-body experience.
A part of her was still maneuvering thehorse and yet that was only a small part of her. Gwyn watched as though she were another person, sitting from her spot on the barn roof. Gwyn saw a young girl, dark hair flowing behind her as the horse picked up speed, with an unreadble face. No expression of purpose or intention was there, only sheer overall determination. She watched as, in almost slow motion, the girl leaned down on th ehorse, brought her knees up, and took a chunk of mane in her hand. She waited for the moment. Then with a squeeze of her knees, the horse springed into the air and flew over the fence, landing gracefully on the other side.
And then she was back within herself, breathing hard from the effort and her head spinning with dizziness. In a swift, almost naseauting movement, she swung her leg over nad dismounted, groping for the reigns so as to keep her balance. She skept her eyes on her feet and the ground so she wouldn't be sick, but Gwyn was aware of the strong hands on her shoulders and arms, supporting her.
When she was finally able to see straight, Gwyn looked up into the deep brown eyes of the Prince. He smiled and laughed incredulously, almost to himself, before saying, " You are the single most crazy person I have eer met."
Gwyn blinked and heldher eyes open wide as she tried to focus her vision. " Is that so? Highness."
" Please," he said, " My friends call me Michael."
She looked at him and then craned her head around, blinking. "......Mmm....hmmm..."
" Call it what you will," he continued, caught a little off his gaurd. " But your riding was more of an informal initiation of sorts, milady."
" Welcome to Kinsecote, Gwyndoline of Troval!" Conner whooped.
" Thank you," Gwyn replied as she turned and focused on Conner. Her vision fast-returning, Gwyn turned back to Michael and asked, " So you're saying you want me to be your friend, Highness?"
" Milady, I would-"
" Call me Gwyn," she interrupted with a quirky smirk. " I accept."
" He wouldn't have it any other way," Nicholas said with a laugh.
" Nor would we," Dominic added as he came to stand beside Michael. " We need a tough gal in our ranks. I'm thinking you're just the one."
Gwyn looked into Dominic's kind blue eyes with a smile. Yes. Kinsecote with her whole future before her. It may not be so bad after all.