As soon as the door closed behind them, Princess Crystalina looked up and down the hall and then up the staircase. Dropping all royal pretences Crysta faced the Prince. ‘They’ll be in there talking with Bernard for Ages,’ she bemoaned. ‘Do you want to rest, or do you want a tour?’
‘Um,’ was all Mathew managed to say before she grabbed his hand and began leading him to the right.
‘Come on, we’ll start with the stables.’
Mathew followed a bit reluctantly as they quickly walked down the empty halls. Crysta was listening at a door when he finally found his voice again, ‘um, Princess?’
“Crysta is fine,’ she said as she cracked the door open and peeked through it.
‘Where are all the servants?’
‘Oh, everyone is busy pampering themselves to get ready for the Ball this evening. Monica and I have our routine down to two hours,’ She gestured for him to follow her outside. ‘That way we have more time for our secret society.’ She stopped and clasp her hand over her mouth. ‘Opps,’ she turned toward Matthew. ‘can you just forget I said that last part?’
‘What part?’ Mathew asked, perplexed.
‘Good,’ Crysta led them on, ‘anyway, it just seems a shame to spend a gorgeous day like this inside preparing for a ball.’ Crysta stopped at a large long building that smelled of horses. She went up to a small door in the back and knocked on it in a complex rhythm. ‘You do know how to ride, don’t you Matt?’ He shook his head, ‘No? Well you’ll just have to learn on the go then. Pinecone should be,’ but her statement was interrupted by the opening of the door.
A head of brown hair poked out and whispered, ‘Password?’
‘It’s me you silly goose,’ Crysta stated, ‘we got rid of the password thing when we started the knock.’
‘Oh right,’ the head tilted up. He was about to say something else, when his mouth stopped open at the sight of Mathew.
‘Don’t stare Tom, this is Prince Mathew, he is my guest. Is Monica here yet?’
‘She’s running late, as usual,’ Tom muttered, opening the door wider so Crysta and Mathew could enter.
“Well that gives you time to get Pinecone ready for Matt to use.’
‘Pinecone can’t be saddled, she’s due to give birth in a few weeks.’
‘Damn,’ Crysta snapped her fingers, ‘What other horses do we have for a beginner rider?’
Tom pushed his hair out of his face to study Mathew, ‘how much of a beginner rider are you?’
‘Very,’ he said quietly.
‘Two years, one year, a month?’
‘Never,’ Crysta cried, ‘you poor boy, you’ve slept in the stables but never ridden a horse!’
‘Who’s never ridden a horse?’ a more mature female voice asked.
‘Monica,’ Crysta said, greeting the young woman, who ducked under hay bails to enter as Tom left. ‘this is Prince Mathew, of,’ Crysta paused, ‘oh never mind, the where doesn’t matter, he’s here as my guest.’
Monica gave the startled Prince a slight curtsey, ‘a pleasure to meet you your highness.’
Crysta giggled. ‘What do you think, would using a saddle or going bare back be easier for someone who’s never ridden before?’
‘Neither,’ came Tom’s firm answer as he returned to their hideout in the hay, ‘and he can’t ride behind one of us with out a saddle.’
‘Lesson then!’ Cyrsta exclaimed. She turned to Prince Mathew, ‘how would you like to learn how to ride?’
‘I doubt I’d ever get the chance to ride again,’ Mathew stated.
‘Which is precisely why you should take the chance now.’ Crysta smiled. ‘Beside my parent’s wouldn’t have agree to house you in a Royal Suite if they didn’t think you weren’t going to be here for a while.’ Monica gave Princess Crysta a curious look, which she chose to ignore. ‘You will teach him bareback riding won’t you Tom?’
‘Sure, Meatloaf is no worse for learning on, than any other horse I suppose.’
‘Well let’s go.’ Crysta lead the group back out the door they’d come in. Everyone was quiet as they carefully followed a well worn path. Stopping at an wall, over grown with ivy, Tom, Monica and Crysta scanned the horizon. ‘Mathew should follow me,’ Crysta whispered, ‘put your back here, press gently and step back, don’t be alarmed you’ll drop down slightly.’ She disappeared through the vines. Mathew did as he was told, and nearly fell over when he dropped two feet. Monica then fell onto him, and Tom onto her and they all ended up in a pile. Princess Crystalina started giggling, as they sorted themselves out. ‘Sorry, I always forget it’s more than a slight drop,’ she helped Monica straiten out her skirts. Mathew shot her a scathing look. ‘Come on.’ The quartet made their way around the vegetable gardens, now and then ducking behind the shrub at the sight of someone. At last they made it to the horse pasture.
‘Couldn’t we have?’ Mathew asked pointing to the stables that opened into the other end of the very large pasture.
‘Nonsense, that would spoil the fun.’ Crysta smiled at him and whistled. Mathew looked at his other two companions, but Tom was busy pulling something from under a bush and Monica was feeding the three horses that had appeared apples.
‘No riding today,’ Crysta stroked the nose of each horse, ‘but at least you get your treats.’ She looked at Mathew and then back at the chocolate brown horse, ‘and an extra treat for you if you are good to our visiting Prince.’ She leaned near the horses ear and whispered something. She stepped aside as Tom came up with some blankets and reigns from the box he’d pulled out. ‘Saddles are too hard to keep out here,’ Crysta explained to Mathew as he watched Tom, ‘so we just use the blankets.’
‘Ah,’ was all Mathew had to say.
‘Ready,’ Tom said turning to them.
Princess Crystalina stepped back with Monica to let the boys climb through the fence. Monica opened the chest and pulled out some more blankets, which she and Crysta arranged in front of the box. They sat down on the blankets. As Tom began the process of teaching Mathew how to ride bare back, the girls began talking quietly.
‘It must suck to not have a horse,’ Tom said as he held Meatloaf’s reigns so Mat could mount.
‘I guess,’ Mathew stated brusquely. So the afternoon passed with Mathew practicing mounting, staying on the horse and dismounting. He found himself practicing the mounting most often, but Tom was a patient teacher, despite his youthful age. At one point the girls stood up in some sort of argument, which ended with Monica bowing her head to a very regal Princess Crystalina. The illusion dissolved when Crysta gave her lady-in-waiting a big hug and they sat back down chatting happily.
A clock tower struck four times and Crysta rose. ‘Tom,’ she called out, causing Mathew to fall off Meatloaf when he turned her direction. Monica covered her mouth, muffling a giggle. ‘Time for us to head back in and get ready for tonight.’
Mathew stood, dusting off his bottom, embarrassed. Tom lead Meatloaf back to the fence so he could remove the blanket and reigns. Once everything was packed away they began the return journey. At the opening in the wall which they’d steeped through, Monica and Tom split off, leaving Crysta and Mathew to continue in the Palace gardens on their own.
As they walked, Princess Crystalina pointed out various things, as if she was giving the Prince a tour. Prince Mathew followed along only half paying attention to what she said. They as they began to ascend the stairs to the Royal apartments Queen Clarion appeared a the top.
‘Oh there you are!’ she cried seeing them, ‘where in the world have you been?’
‘I thought I’d give Prince Mathew a tour. I didn’t think he’d need a whole half day to get ready.’
‘Yes well, Jeshua’s been reheating his bath water, two pots at a time, for the last hour!’
They had reached the top of the stairs. ‘I’m sorry your Majesty,’ Mathew mumbled.
‘Whew, and he smells like horses! To your rooms children, even Princess Crystalina’s bath ought to be ready by now.’
‘See you at the ball,’ Crysta called as she turned to the right and quickly disappeared into the third room.
The Queen sighed turned left. ‘This way Prince Mathew,’ her voice kind. ‘You must excuse my daughter, she can be quite wild at times.’ The queen stopped at a door and opened it, ‘at least for a princess.’ A tub had been set by the fireplace and an elderly man was pouring two buckets of water into it. ‘Go on in. Jeshua will help you with anything you need.’ She gave Mathew a gently shove into the room and closed the door.