Alys had been at the palace for two, uneventful months when she saw another, very familiar young person taking lessons. That night the boy was at supper, sitting opposite her. She gave the king a quizzical look, saying:Who is he, and what is he doing her?The king gave her a blank stare for a moment, then his eyes lit up and he said,
“This is Prince Matthew of the kingdom Solemn. He is your betrothed.” Alys stared at Matthew, then the king, then Matthew again. What on earth was the king thinking, betrothing her only a couple months after she met him? She was only just beginning to trust him and he does this! He could not possibly think that Alys would go through with it! The king saw this in her eyes and said,
“He’s living here with us for now. Please get to know him,” the king paused, stared at the table. He then said, “After supper you may go to the gardens. I excuse you from homework.” Alys stared at Matthew for a moment, and then quickly moved her gaze to her food. She ate slowly, trying to stall so she wouldn’t have to speak with him. However, she thought too soon when Matthew began speaking.
“So,” he said, “I here you grew up not too far from my capitol. Why didn’t you live here whit your father?” Alys swallowed. That was something she didn’t really understand either, according to history, she was the only princess that had been born into this family for centuries. She didn’t understand it, but she was going to ask her history teacher tomorrow. Alys shook her head,
“I don’t understand it either.” She replied, then turned back to her food, hoping Matthew would stay silent. No such luck. He obviously didn’t sense her discomfort, for he asked,
“What do you enjoy doing?” Alys gave the king a pleading look, but he turned away. She was left having to answer questions.
“I enjoy art and horseback riding,” she said, “I competed in the competition at your palace a few months ago and won first place. I would be training for the tri-kingdom races if I wasn’t stuck here learning about my ‘heritage’ and how to be ‘royal’ and ‘ladylike’.” Alys didn’t leave the bitter out of her voice. When she finished speaking the king said,
“You two run along to the gardens now.” It was obvious that he had heard the antagonism in Alys’ voice. She and Matthew both stood up and walked side by side out of the room. As they walked through the halls Matthew once again began to speak.
“You sound disappointed that you cannot ride in tri-kingdom competition. Why don’t you enter for Ondger?” he asked. Alys shook her head.
“You don’t understand. I won the competition in Solemn, so I either represent Solemn or I don’t compete at all. The king believes that since I’m the princess of Ondger I cannot represent Solemn. I, however, believe the king is mistaken” she covered her mouth, gasping at her last words. She hadn’t told anyone of her doubts, and now she was telling an almost complete stranger. Matthew, however, seemed to understand.
“I get that,” he said, “I would have a hard time believing it too, and as for the competition, I believe you should be able to represent Solemn if you wish too. After all, if all goes as the king plans you will someday be the queen of both. Why shouldn’t you be able to ride?” Alys liked this boy’s thinking. She nodded her head,
“I think that you’re right!” she said, her spirits lifting. “Want to ride?” Matthew shrugged,
“I guess.” he said, so they began walking towards the stables.
“Do you like to ride?” Alys asked Matthew. He shrugged again,
“I don’t really have time.” He said.
“Well then,” Alys said, “get ready for the time of your life!”
When they reached the stables Alys opened Bruno’s stall. Matthew stood in the doorway, unsure. After Alys had Bruno saddled and ready to go, she gave the reigns to Matthew.
“He’s better trained than any of the other horses,” she said, then opened the stall of a golden mare, Buttercup. After Buttercup was saddled, Alys mounted. Matthew, however, just led Bruno out.
Once they were halfway through the sunny garden meadow, Alys began to worry. Matthew still hadn’t mounted the horse, and Bruno was shying away from him. Bruno hardly ever acted cared. Only when there was danger or an inexperienced rider was he nervous.
“Have you ever ridden before?” Alys asked Matthew. He shook his head. That explained Bruno’s nervousness. Alys jumped off Buttercup and walked over to Matthew. “I’m going to help you mount,” she told him. Matthew nodded, and allowed Alys to place his foot in the stirrup, then held his waist as he jumped up. Once mounted, Matthew looked down at Alys and said,
“You’re very strong for your size.” Alys nodded, then remounted Buttercup.
“Hold the reigns like this,” she instructed, demonstrating, “and keep your feet in the stirrups.” Matthew obeyed her every command, and was soon riding swiftly through the gardens, right behind Alys. He chuckled, saying to himself,
“This is easy. I think I’ve got the hang of it.” He spoke too soon. Just then his head got caught on a branch, and he flew backwards off the horse. Bruno kept on riding, following Alys. Matthew sat in a daze on the ground for some minutes before Alys looked back and saw that he was no longer riding on Bruno’s back.
“Whoa!” she cried, pulling on Buttercups reigns. They turned around, walking slowly back until they saw him. Once he was seen, Alys jumped off Buttercups back and ran to him. “Oh my goodness!” she cried, “are you alright?” Matthew smiled up at her childishly.
“Yes,” he murmured, “Yes. I did not have the hand of it.” Alys giggled,
“No, you certainly did not!” then pulled him to his feet, “Let’s try again, shall we?”
Once again Alys hoisted Matthew onto the saddle, then mounted herself. They started much slower, but Matthew still hung onto the reigns for dear life. Gradually they sped up, and soon Matthew had slackened his grip. They returned to the castle with glee in their eyes, with a bounce in their step. Alys climbed into bed thinking of the prince. She still hardly knew him, and was still wary of the betrothal, but she knew that there was a strong friendship, a friendship that would last forever.