Jaclyn had been shocked when the stableman had asked her such a question, prying into her personal affairs. Then she had felt relief at the opportunity to share her frustrations with someone. After she had finished venting and he gave no response, she felt fear. She feared that she had just voiced his own opinions of herself. Now as he finished speaking, she felt entranced, touched, and ready to burst with happiness.
"Forgive me, milady." The young man ducked his head, holding out his hand to help her mount. "It is not my place to say such things."
"What's your name?" she inquired.
"Daniel, milady," he stood in shock, pouring into her eyes with two brilliant emeralds of his own.
"Thank you, Daniel," she smiled as pleasantly as she could, hoping he would see the sincerity of her words.
"Anytime," he smiled at her. Such a dazzling smile, she thought, feeling her heart melt at the site.
"Daniel, would you honor me by acting as my escort for the day?" she asked cautiously, not ready to leave his company.
"The honor, your highness, will be mine," again he smiled, his eyes sparkling with excitement.
"Very well," she spoke as she stepped toward her mount. "If you would help me mount Guaire and retrieve your own ride, then we can head out."
"Yes, milady," he spoke as he helped her onto the saddle, before turning to inform the stable master and acquire a horse.
"And, Daniel," she called, causing him to turn back and face her. "For today, Jaclyn will suit just fine."
He gave a quick nod, and then continued on his way. She had yet to begin her ride, and Jaclyn already sensed her previous concerns fleeing. Replacing them, she felt a warm stirring of excitement and happiness to be spending her afternoon with Daniel the stable hand.
Daniel quickly saddled Rois, a new painted mare, and followed Jaclyn as they went racing out of the stables. From a distance, it had been obvious to him that she was a skilled rider. With a closer view, he could see why. She was completely focused, leaning close to Guaire's neck, encouraging him on. The site of her there, with a big smile on her face, that sparkle in her bright blue eyes, her hair flapping in the wind; Daniel was positive nothing looked could be as beautiful.
They made their way away from the palace, heading to the southeast coast, as Daniel knew they would. Princess Jaclyn always took her rides along the Cliffs of Moher; a beautiful site, but dangerous should the weather turn bad. But today was a bright and sunny spring day, so Daniel felt they had nothing to fear.
Once the cliffs were in site, the princess slowed her pace to a slow trot, Daniel took the advantage to pull to her side and make some simple conversation.
"Lovely, aren't they?" she questioned him as he approached. "I've been riding to this spot for years and they still manage to leave me in awe."
"Indeed. They are quite breath-taking, your highness," he agreed, glancing at her, from the corner of his eye.
Suddenly, something warm touched his gloveless hands. He glanced down and saw her delicate fingers pressed gently to the back of his hand. Surprised, Daniel looked up at her in question, to see her looking quite serious.
"Jaclyn," she emphasized. "I'd like to consider you a friend Daniel, but how can I do that if you stay stuck on such ridiculous formalities?"
"Hmmm," Daniel thought carefully about how to answer. "I suppose you have a point there, Jaclyn," he emphasized her name with a smile, which she returned with a stunning smile of her own.
"Thank you," she whispered, blushing slightly. "Why don't you go find a spot to water the horses? I feel like wandering around for a while."
"Very well, there is a stream just over there," Daniel pointed toward the west. "We can meet there."
"I won't be long," she answered, dismounting and holding Guaire's reins as she walked along the cliffs.
Jaclyn walked around with the cliff line, looking out towards the horizon. Yet, her mind was focused, not on the scenery, but on Daniel who was just a few yards away and the words he had spoken to her earlier in the stable.
She had always desired to prove herself to the court. She wasn't sure why, or how, but it had been a task she was determined to achieve. Maybe Daniel could give me more insight, she pondered, turning to see him, gently rubbing his ride while it drank from the cool stream.
Desiring to speak with him more, she turned to take Guaire to the stream as well. As she turned, her boot hit a rock. Trying to catch her balance, she fell backwards. Not realizing how close to the edge she had been, she released the reins that were in her hand and scrambled to grab anything that would keep her from tumbling to the water and her death. Finally she caught hold of an uprooted bush root, but everything below her chest was left dangling in midair.
"Help!" Jaclyn cried out as loud as she could. "Daniel, please!" She was unsure if he was close enough to hear her, so she went to call his name again, when she saw him running towards her. He quickly, slid to his knees and wrapped his strong hands around her wrists.
"I'm here, Jaclyn," he reassured her. "Just stay calm and I will pull you up."
Not sure if she was calm enough to speak, she nodded her head. Surprised at the strength he possessed, Daniel had her body pulled back onto solid ground in no time. Catching her breath at the terror she had felt, she remained where she was, her head against Daniel's shoulder, keeping her hands in his.
"Are you alright?" he questioned, gazing down at her face.
"Yes, thank you," she finally breathed out, feelin more secure against his strong shoulder.
"Perhaps, we should return now?" Daniel suggested. Once she nodded in agreement, he rose to his feet, pulling her up to stand as well. However, when she put weight on her right foot, she felt her ankle crumble under the pressure, putting her off balance. Luckily, Daniel's arms were there to hold her up, otherwise she might have returned to the position he had just rescued her from.
"Your foot?" he questioned, swinging one of his arms under her legs and the other around her back, holding her against his chest.
"It would seem I hurt my ankle," Jaclyn chuckled, partly out of embarrassment and to hide the fact that she was so aware of the strong muscles beneath Daniel's chest.
"With your permission, I shall carry you to your horse, Jaclyn." However, it wasn't really a question since he was already walking toward the two horses, waiting obediently nearby. "Do you think you can still ride?"
"Yes, I believe I can manage that," she assured him. "However a problem may occur when we return to the castle. I cannot walk to my room on my own, and I don't wish to cause a scene by you carrying me. The last thing I need are people hovering around me, fretting over a very simple injury."
"Don't worry, I'm sure we can think of something," Daniel smirked as he placed her on her saddle, then mounting Rois.
Once arriving at back at the stables, Daniel asked one of the other hands to see to their mounts while he assisted the princess to the courtyard.
After dismounting, Daniel walked to Jaclyn's side and whispered in her ear, "Lean on your good foot, I'll give you enough support to at least walk to the east wall, I know of a passage way there that goes straight inside the castle."
"I know the one you speak of," she replied. "It comes out right across from my bedroom."
Slowly and quietly, watching constantly to avoid watching eyes, Daniel helped Jaclyn reach her room, slipping inside the door to ensure no one saw.
"Don't you have any maids here to assist you?" he questioned, noticing the vacant room.
"Yes, but they must of assumed I would not return till later and took advantage of the time," she chuckled slightly as he set her down on a large chair by the fire. "But, it's no matter. They should return shortly and I can take care of myself until then."
"If you are sure, then I had best leave before anyone notices," he spoke quickly heading towards the door.
"Daniel," she called from behind.
"Can I see you tomorrow?" she asked shyly, blushing as she lowered her lashes. Daniel felt his heart soar at the sight of her.
"Of course, now that I know where this passage leads to, I may make more use of it," he joked, chuckling softly, thankful when she joined in as well.
"Tomorrow at noon then," she told him.
"Till tomorrow then," he smiled once more before exiting her room and returning to the stable without anyone noticing.