Sarah soon discovered that riding a horse was like riding a bike, not that she’d say so, but the skills returned easily. She was glad to be in pants, as she’d never attempted side saddle. Still, she felt the sloppiest of the bunch, especially compared to the King and Prince. Sitting upon their saddles, they rode as if they were an extension of their horse.
Sighing Sarah tried to imitate her royal escorts to no avail. Even the lowest looking rank of the group was a better rider. Question is, she thought, is it me, or the horse? She looked at the men behind her, who led four horses. She presumed that the owners of those horses, and the one she rode on, were injured or possibly dead. How many had died in the attack?
Her thoughts veered from the morose as they crossed a wooden bridge. Instead she thought of her journey to the Training Barracks with Jason. It was a cooler day today, than that day had been then, but the sunshine warmed her. She wondered how typical this was of the season. The summer had seemed mild to her and definitely less hot than home.
Home; the thought brought feelings of sadness and Sarah once again felt herself spiraling toward the depressing. Trying to regain a happy mood, she thought of Jason’s promise that he’d heal. The question was, how was that possible when he lay under a Willow tree, rather in a hospital? Then again she hadn’t been taken to a hospital for her injuries and they seemed to heal faster than expected. So, she asked herself, what is the significance of the Willow tree if... She winced as her head began to pound.
Changing subjects again, Sarah began to compare the life style here with that of home. She’d told Jay it was very, very different, which felt like an understatement. Men and women had much more clearly defined roles, just as they had back in the old days of her world. The question was, what was her role to be? Heaving a sigh she realized she had a lot of questions; questions which she had no hope of answering herself.
“Come abreast of us, Hopeful Smith.”
Sarah looked up as King Demetrioso motioned her forward. Obediently she moved to ride between him and Prince.
“Yes Your Majesty,” Sarah tried to remember her manners.
“I presume that you are wondering why you are returning to Verdas with us,” he stated.
Sarah snorted a laugh. “I hadn’t actually gotten around to that line of thought yet... Your Majesty,” she hastily amended, though the King did not indicate he had noticed her mishap.
“There is a lot to think about right now is there not.” He nodded but continued without waiting for a response, “But let us discuss why you are returning to Verdas.” The King took a deep breath. “Firstly it seems my son has been the one to break your guise.”
“He did at least call me Smith,” Sarah stated glancing to the Prince who looked a little ashamed, “and Hopeful Marcus knew before Prince Theo, Theodoso,” she correct herself, “joined us.”
“Hopeful Marcus knew?” The King glanced at her curiously. “And how did he come upon this knowledge?”
“Well,” Sarah felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment, “Marcus and I didn’t exactly get along. Mostly because I found him to be a, um,” Sarah tried to remember the phrasing Jay used, “stiff shirt and pulled stupid sh*t on me because I wouldn’t follow his lead. Anyway,” Sarah shook her head to get her thoughts in place. “The day before the trials began we got into a fight, under a Willow no less. I wasn’t wearing my vest and my ring,” she lifted her right hand, “was on the, um, wrong finger so he kind of figured it out.” She shrugged as her hand fell back to the saddle. “He did promise not to tell anyone... Your Majesty,” she again hastily amended.
“Still, there were more aware of your gender than I would have liked.”
“I could not help it,” Prince Theodoso spoke up, “it just seemed wrong to call her a he when she was a she.”
“Thanks,” Sarah smiled at the Prince causing him to look oddly at her, “but I don’t think I was supposed to be discovered.”
“No,” King Demetrioso sighed and they lapsed into silence for a while.
“So,” Sarah drawled, “Your Majesty. Besides my guise being broken is there any other reason for me to return to Verdas?”
“The Grand-Pairents informed me that you are to be prepared for your betrothal to Lord Phoenix.” Sarah’s confusion must have been clearly plain for the King chuckled slightly. “I am sure the Grand-Moyther will explain it to you.”
King Demetrioso once again lapsed into silence and when he waved his hand, Sarah realized she’d been dismissed. Slowing her horse down, she let herself fall back to her original position.