I awake shaken, distraught because of a dream whose ephemeral presence on my mind has fled. I close my eyes and breathe out shakily before gathering my wits and getting out of bed. Stretching, I make my way over to the wardrobe and blearily pick out a gauzy tunic and slap it on. After taking a look at my messy hair in the mirror, I give up on trying to braid it for now and let it hang in waves to my waist. I begin to make my way towards the dining hall in order to make myself some tea, but a sharp call stops me.
“Lady Orage? I was just coming to find you. This is your task for today,” a servant tells me, handing me a piece of heavy parchment. While he turns and hurries away, I read it. My fingers trail down the thick, rich paper and over the elegant script, pausing at the seal of the royal family in crimson wax.
I groan audibly. Hunting? Definitely not for me. I shudder as the thought of cruelly killing an animal crosses my mind. However, I can hold my own on a horse. Since Zyle is a forested region, most people there know how to ride out of necessity. However, being a glassmaker, I haven’t rode a horse for years, and I’ve only rode bareback before. I sigh, my eyebrows furrowed. Turning on my heel abruptly, I stalk back into my room and close the door.
I pull the simple dress off and survey my wardrobe again, hips cocked and arms crossed. I bite my lip. To be honest, I had really only brought airy, pale dresses, tunics, and leggings. Nothing suitable for riding through a forest. I mentally chastise myself, biting down on the inside of my cheek with irritation. Not one to be deterred, I dig hastily through the wardrobe with vigor, flinging clothes every which-way. I make a noise of satisfaction as I pull out a pair of soft laurel green riding pants that have leather detailing on the thighs--a rarity in Zyle. They look a bit tight and small, but they’ll have to do. I squirm my way into them and then put on a sort of feldgrau colored top, with golden wrist and shoulder guards as well as embroidery around the neckline. Grimacing, I braid my tangled hair into a tight plait, but to my utter annoyance a few strands still fall free.
After slipping on tall black boots, I’m ready to leave, and my fingers inch towards my glass tablet before I stop. Surely there’s no way I can write while riding at the same time. I stand there for a few seconds, conflicted, but finally shake my head and forego it. I walk towards the dining hall, still yearning for a cup of tea.
In the stables, I began to get nervous, my fingers twitching by my sides. Not only am I riding a horse, a skill I am not as familiar with as I would like, but I have no way to converse but the Iande Empire’s sign language, and I’ll have to explain to Delt that I have no intention of slaughtering anything today. I pause when I think of Delt. I haven’t seen him around the palace much; how interesting it will be to interact with him one on one today. His mischief-lighted eyes and crooked smile fill my mind, and then I remember his almost lecherous smirk from when I arrived. I frown imperceptibly.
My train of thought comes to a halt when a stable boy comes over to me.
“Excuse me, miss. If I may ask, how comfortable are you with riding? We are trying to suitably match the horses with how skilled the participants are,” he explains, smiling kindly at me.
Fairly comfortable. Extremely rusty, but I think I’ll be able to ride without any major problems. Although, If I could request it, am I allowed to go bareback? I learned that way, I sign.
“Of course,” the stable boy smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I believe I know exactly which horse to put you on.” He leads me over to a dapple-grey horse with a dark mane. I stretch out my hand and pet its nose while it nuzzles into me. “This is Tempest. You’ll do well on him, I believe.” I nod and thank him quickly. I am about to mount him, but the stable boy stops me quickly.
“Here,” he says, and hands me an ornately carved bow, along with a quiver of arrows. I finger the fletchings in distaste. I had almost forgotten about the hunting part of this endeavour and I grimace. Thank you, but I will not be participating in the hunt today, I sign to the stable boy, and he smiles again before going to help another one of the girls. Instead of thinking about the hunt, I sit on my horse, my fingers idly braiding his mane, and watch the girls struggle in varying degrees to mount their horses. Some are being taught how to ride; others are too scared to even touch them. My cheeks flame slightly when I realize that most of the other girls are riding properly, sidesaddle, but I take comfort in the fact that Cyrilla is also riding facing frontwards.
Soon, the Prince appears, and he leads us out of the stables and into the woods. Some girls are swooning, dismissing their bows and animals to gawk at his proud profile. He drinks all the attention in and satiates a few with smiles and fluid gestures, laughing most of the time. My thighs tense against Tempest when he takes a slightly quicker trot than I am comfortable with, but I force myself to relax. This horse does not seem the type to buck me off. To take my mind off the dull chatter that flurries around me, and the sounds of arrows whistling by overhead, I twist my fingers around the reins, winding them over the leather. It is something of a rarity in Zyle.
Suddenly I hear a shout, startling me out of my thoughts. “Ávra! Move to your left!” A chill of fear races up my spine as I quickly yank the reins, causing Tempest to turn and bolt to the left. Not a second later an arrow embeds itself in the tree I was near. I catch my breath and attempt to stop my thundering heart as a girl laments apologies to me, but I wave her off politely, my face still flushed. She shrugs and apologizes again before rejoining the rest of the hunt, who were gaping at me. They turn away and continue forwards.
“Are you alright, m’lady?” I jump slightly, startled. I twist my torso to see Prince Delt, smiling at me, though his eyes are worried. “Quite a scare, I imagine. Some of these girls are not as experienced with archery as they boast.” He laughs, mouth in a smile that stretches wide. I realize he was the one that called out for me to move, saving me from being impaled. I smile back at him, eyes trailing up and down his form. The Prince is loud, and boisterous, so unlike me, and I recoil a little whenever his presence is overbearing. Perhaps he is the viaióti̱ta to my katharóti̱ta. I shake my head quickly after entertaining myself with the idea.
It was certainly an excitement, I reply, my one hand moving fluidly while the other grips the reins loosely. Thank you for warning me.
“Impressive,” the Prince breathes, cocking an eyebrow while he watches the movements of my fingers. “Not only able to ride fairly well, but also while signing. And riding bareback, as well.”
My mouth gives the slightest of smiles. It is how Zyleians learn. We do not like to contain and restrain; rather, learn to adapt. Prince Delt nods in approval.
“I’m going to take a guess and say that is why you have chosen not to participate in the hunt,” he muses, and I nod. He smoothly changes the subject by saying, “I thought most people from Zyle worked with glass, not learned how to ride horses.”
They do, I respond, nudging Tempest to go into a slow, rough canter to match his. My breathing quickens. Including me.
“I see,” he says. He’s still smiling. I vaguely wonder if he ever doesn’t. “So tell me, Lady Ávra, how do you entertain yourself when you are not working with glass, or being shot at by archers on horseback with slightly less than stellar aim?”
I smile at his lighthearted jab. I often read, or take long walks. Mostly I love walking through the forests, listening.
“To what?” he asks.
The most lovely melody, I sign. Birdsong, leaves rustling, the gentle patter of rain, unrestrained and wild and beautiful.
“Then I imagine your favorite place is in these forests,” Prince Delt replies.
I shake my head, smiling. Only half right. There is a waterfall deep in the woods. I stumbled across it by chance while on one of my walks. The pool of water below is absolutely crystalline, like unblemished glass. It remains the most stunning place I have seen, and I go there to think. But I also find myself the most comfortable in my workshop, where I can mold those thoughts into anything I please.
“That sounds breathtaking,” the prince says, almost wistfully, but the subtle nuance in his tone is gone before I can assess if it was ever really there. “I must visit Zyle more often; I have only been there twice.”
The land would love to have you, I sign, which is the truth.
“I hope so,” he responds. “Well, it has been very lovely to talk to you. I wish you would share your thoughts more.” I flush. I guess he has seen how I barely communicate with anyone. “I must go now. Until next time.” He winks and smiles jauntily, before sliding into a gallop.