The two Royals dismounted, much of the grounds draped in quiet, the garden's unmoving, lights coming from the windows above in the palace towers, a warm glow also radiating from the stables. Cassandra guessed at this time of evening, many of the stableboys would be up playing games in the attic, Sam listening for any approaching hoofbeats so that he may come down to gather their horses and tuck them away for the night.
They stood in the expanse of green that lay between the garden's area and that of the stables. It was a good place to ride and an even better place for summer festivals. But at the moment it was empty and the only song that filled the air was that of the approaching night, crickets chirping and frogs croaking, bats crossing the lavender sky. The last rays of sun were slipping over the horizon, and velvety gray twilight was overhead, a cool breeze tugging at her hair and washing over her face, warm from the extended ride with Alezander.
Both of them angled toward the stables, guiding their horses by the reins. "What a beautiful evening," Alezander murmured, breathing in the fresh, clean air. "The weather here is turning finer by the day even as I am leaving."
"How early do you plan to depart tomorrow?"
"At the break of dawn," the Prince answered, looking up to the sky. Stars began to twinkle in the fading light.
"Well, I shall be there to see you off," Cassandra said, also following his eyes upwards. It was indeed such a beautiful night. If only she was not required to return to bed she would ride on for hours more, or sprawl out under the stars and remain there, forgetting the world. It seemed everyone was leaving. Although Alezander was only a guest, he seemed to be departing as quickly as he came. Marie was gone now, with her husband, and it would not be long until Cassandra set off on her future herself.
Alezander took the opportunity to glance at her, quite beautiful in what little light was left. "I have enjoyed my few weeks here."
"Have you?" she replied, almost looking slightly surprised as she turned her eyes to meet his. She wondered if he was simply saying that because courtesy demanded such a remark, or he actually meant it. She restrained herself from saying such a thing, though Alezander could clearly see she wished to say more, her thoughts gone unsaid.
"Yes," he smiled slightly as they stepped into the barn, Sam, as well as Caleb, coming forward to take their two horses and their reins. Sam gave Cassandra a slight glance as she handed the reins to him. It had been a while since she had sat down with her oldest friend and just talked, though there was nothing in his eyes that made her guilty, even though she was, as if he was trying to tell her through a glimpse that he understood.
Alezander gave his horse a pat before he allowed Caleb to guide him away. He offered Cassandra his arm and the two set off on the path winding back towards the palace. They were silent, unspeaking, as they walked, stopping only as they came inside.
"I suppose this is where we part for now, Prince Alezander," Cassandra said. "I hope you find sleep well, as you have a long journey home."
"Thank you, Princess," he bowed slightly, taking her hand and lightly kissing it as was custom. He paused, still holding her hand in his own as he straightened. Almost cautiously, he bent nearer, stepping the slightest bit closer. Lightly he brushed his lips over hers, gentle, light, and for the shortest of moments. He stepped away, inclining his head slightly. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," murmured Cassandra, a little stricken as the Prince turned and walked away.
Alezander took a final look behind him as they left the Aedryn captial, the palace towers rising high above all else in the city. The carriage driver was well and up in the seat again, and his guards were stationed regularly around him. They headed East, heading for home.
In less than a year, Cassandra would follow him.