Violeta and the palace staff had completed the task of making the ballroom tidy, and the princess had finished writing her letters of gratitude. She was looking forward to rejoining Robert the next day, after the visit of Queen Alice, one of Mother's friends.

Currently, she was watching as servants rode out of the walls surrounding the palace, as they delivered her notes. She felt a sudden need to ride, herself. Calling to her parents to inform them of her trip outside, she ordered a servant to fetch her her mare, Sylvia, and all the equipment she would need in order to ride.

To her delight, the servant was a kind man and he prepared Sylvia for the journey for Violeta.

When he returned, the princess gave to him a gold coin and said she to him "If you have no other duties, you may visit a town or village nearby and spend the coin as you please."

To which replied he "I thank you greatly, Your Highness."

With a bow and a flourish, the servant returned to the palace to resume his duties.

Violeta smiled, mounted Sylvia, and departed.

The princess rode far, enjoying the sense of freedom and independence. Also, it was pleasant to escape the palace where she had almost been imprisoned for the previous twenty one years.

She shortly arrived at a small wood a little distance away from one of the towns in the immediate vicinity of her home. She returned to that village, gave Sylvia to an innkeeper in order that she could rest in stables, told the innkeeper she would return (paying him greatly for his services), and then set off back towards the wood on foot.

If Violeta had ridden through the forest and then continued for an hour, she knew she would have reached the kingdom in which Prince Robert lived. The temptation was too great so she had decided a walk in the woods was far more appropriate.

The forest was a truly enchanting place. The dappled sunlight cast a magical glow over all, and when the leaves rustled in the wind or one bird called to another, it was like the sound of woodland spirits, awakened from a deep slumber.

Suddenly, sweet music filled the air, drowning out all other noises. It was at once like the tinkling sound of crystals, a strange gentle humming, a rushing noise like that of a small waterfall and a soloist performing a soothing aria - except that there was something unearthly about the voice, as if it belonged to a sort of nymph like those described in myths and legends.

Intrigued by the music, Violeta followed it, trying to find the source.

She found not any wonderful orchestra in the clearing where the music was strongest nor indeed a single exotic instrument which could produce the beautiful sounds.

She sat upon a thick log, listening, utterly confused yet wondering.

A tall man with hair the colour of coal and eyes queerly like night stepped into the clearing.

He was lean but strong-looking, and his skin was a warm colour quite pleasing to the eyes. He had a mysterious, inviting aura, emphasised by the twinkle in his eyes and the smile he wore on his face.

"Hello, princess," said he.

The End

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