One of the chambermaids woke Leopold up during the early hours of the morning. Well, early for him. It had been dawn for several hours and he was not used to arising before afternoon unless he went the day without sleep.
The maid delivered the Hand's orders, that Leopold was required at the stables immediately after dressing.
"What? No breakfast," he complained at the maid, a sour old woman who was oblivious to his charms. He supposed his uncle meant business when he employed this particular one. This made his curious, so he dressed himself quickly and headed to the stables.
The stable boy was ready with the horse when he entered them. Leopold looked upon his stallion's shiny black coat with a sense of pride. It reminded him of his victory at the Jousting tournament. He reached up and stroked his slick mane.
"It's been a while, old friend," he said and then mounted him in one fluid movement. The stable boy stared at him in awe. He flashed the boy a winning, but mostly arrogant, smile.
"Where are is my uncle?" He asked the stable boy.
"Outside, waitin' for you by th' palace gates," the boy managed to croak out the response. Leopold grinned again, this time to himself. He loved it when he found another admirer.
Without a glance back at the stable, or any consideration of others who might be in his way, he put his horse into a gallop and surged forwards to the palace gates.
When he reached them, he noticed his uncle and Nieneve waiting for him. She was sat upon a delicate-looking mare. With its soft caramel coat, silky blond mane and large doe eyes, it looked fit for a future princess. She was brought to the stable only a few weeks ago and had attracted a lot of attention from the stallions. One of the stable workers, from a small Southern Island called Krinah, had nicknamed the mare Tee Koona, which in his native tongue meant Little Whore. Apparently, if what the servants said were true, Nieneve had immediately taken to that name when the mare was given to her as a welcome gift.
Apophis glared at his nephew.
"Are you trying to trample on someone?" His tone would have sounded snappy if not for his voice always being smooth. "Do try to be more careful in the coming weeks when we have nobles arriving for your wedding."
Leopold grinned, then turned to Nieneve. She was wearing a plum coloured dress with which seemed to have a thousand buttons. His fingers twitched on the reins as the thought of unbuttoning them all entered his mind. Perhaps he would not have the patience, and just end up tearing the dress open though it was very beautiful.
She seemed to noticed his eyes roaming over her and shyly looked away. Apophis cleared his throat. It was his way of letting his nephew know that he was aware of what he was doing and would not put up with his shenanigans.
"My lady, you and your horse both look spectacular," Leopold spoke the compliment smoothly, but his expression gave an edge of naughtiness to it. "May I ask, what is the name of your mare?"
Nieneve smiled back and scratched her mare's ear affectionately. "Tee Koona, your royal highness."
"Tee Koona indeed," Leopold responded, awarding another sharp glance from his uncle. "Apophis, dear uncle, may I asked why you gathered us here on such a glorious morning." He gestured towards the sky, which although held a few clouds, was mostly blue and invitingly sunny.
"For a ride," replied Apophis simply, not bothering to hide his intentions. "So that you two may get to know each other a little better in a proper, supervised environment."
"And you, you're coming along with us," Leopold enquired, surprised that his uncle took time out of his busy schedule to watch over them. "Not the Shadow?"
He nodded. "I have given Silver Star a day off from his duties." He spoke the lie as honestly as the truth. Leopold knew that Apophis would never give one of his servants a day off unless they became a liability. The question was, who had Apophis employed the Shadow to watch this time?
"Shall we?" said Apophis, interrupting Leopold's thoughts. He gestured towards the gates.