She crossed the busy town streets and followed the high stone walls encompassing the city until she could see the gates rising high above the rooftops. There she found a stable hand waiting for her, holding the reins of a noble-looking, red roan. As she approached, the horse spooked and leapt away, slapping its metal-rimmed hooves forcefully against the cobblestone. The sound of its high-pitched whinny turned the heads of others in the courtyard.

While the stable hand wrestled with the reins and bridle, Arliss stepped forward and placed a porcelain hand on the roan’s muzzle. After she whispered a few soothing words, admittedly laced with a small amount of magic, the horse gradually calmed. It stilled itself and ultimately allowed her to climb into the high saddle without protest.

“My apologies, Lady Faylore. He was behaving so well this morning, I assure you,” the stable hand said, somewhat flustered.

Arliss gently pat the neck of the horse and replied, “No need to worry. Thank you kindly for your help.” She tossed a silver coin to the boy before turning the roan’s great head toward the gates and spurring him into a canter, eager to be on her way out of the gates and away from the eyes turned toward her.

          The short journey lasted until midday, and by then the sun had begun to scorch the ground and boil the air. She made good time, however, and Arliss was happy to finally see the small town of Tendroh come into view, thatched roofs baking in the sun and the quiet titter of voices drifting up to meet her.

In truth, no limit of opulent living quarters could be worth the idyllic calm that a small cottage in the woods could provide. She chose to make her home in a densely-forested area just outside of the small town on Vale’s outskirts. Vale itself was a port city, open to the trade of the world and generously prosperous because of it. Tendroh, in comparison, could be considered rural, but possessed amenities that made it quaint and well-off by its own standards. At the very least, the people were happy, and interruptions from visitors were rare.

Upon entering the town, she climbed from the saddle onto somewhat unsure legs. She leaned on the horse as she walked, and smiled and waved to the people who greeted her return. A few high-pitched yells could be heard at the end of the street, and soon a group of children, ranging in ages, came bounding around a corner. Arliss laughed when she saw them, and they soon swarmed around the hems of her robes.

“What have you brought us, Lady Faylore?” they inquired excitedly between giggles and squeals.

Arliss opened her saddle bags, removed the drawstring sack delicately, and knelt down next to them. The children eagerly pressed closer, and when she opened the chords, they all gasped. Amused at their expressions, she handed a gleaming red apple out to each. One by one, they bounded back to their parents to show what they had received.

With six apples left, Arliss began to replace the sack, but a gentle tug on her robes made her turn. There stood a little boy with mussed brown hair that stuck out at every angle. In his hands was one of the apples, a large bite mark already gouged in the surface. Arliss bent down low and turned her ear to him.

“Miss Faylore, thank you for the apple, but I was wondering…” His quiet voice trailed off, and his cheeks brought on a hue of pink.

Arliss leaned forward. “Yes?”

“My friend. She’s working and isn’t able to get an apple. Could I have another? Not for me. For her? She’d really love to have one,” he insisted.

She smiled sweetly at him, then rose and procured another apple from the saddle bag. The boy accepted it with gracious thanks, then trotted off and disappeared behind a street corner.

Happier than she had been, Arliss once again climbed onto the roan’s saddle before galloping down the road. Though Vale was where she had been staying for the past three months, the capital city was not the home that she awaited to return to.

The End

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