Adriana slipped out of the castle. There were no guards around to witness her exit, which was definitely convenient. I must say, the only (very minor) inconvenience was the fact that her way out was through her bedroom window. However, the brick tower posed no serious threat to the princess's safety. She had been doing this for years now, at first when she was twelve, and now at seventeen. Adriana leaped, slid, and scaled her way down the walls, and eventually landed nimbly in an unguarded alleyway.
Adriana waved to a few peasants that she knew very well. She had first come to know them by engaging them in trade, ten silver coins each in reward for keeping her little secret.
You see, Adriana hated the palace, and the cold-blooded royals that dominated all life inside of them. So once she was brave enough, Adriana started her own life outside of the smothering castle walls. Here, she was known as Ariel, a common girl, a face in the streets, one that no one paid a second glance to. For a long time now, Adriana had been bartering for simple garments at market stalls - a lovely change from those scratchy, tight dresses that her mother called decent clothing. Even before she had swung out the window, Adriana had felt freedom in the lose, breathable brown frock and darker brown cloak. She had combed out the elegant curls that her dressers had made, and then twisted her long brown hair into a careless braid down her back.
It was wonderful to roam the city without people bowing wherever she went. Here, she was in her element as a pleasant girl from city Roddór.
Well, not always city Roddor. Sometimes she would venture over to the neighboring kingdom, Dragur. Actually, that was exactly what she was going to do today. The rogue princess hastened her steps. It would take about four hours on foot, but Adriana had a lot of time, and it would be very much worth it.
Dragur seemed to always bring a sense of exhilaration into Adriana's gut. Although they were not located in the Whetherwood, they were the closest. It was in this city that Adriana would eavesdrop on the most fantastic tales of creatures and adventures that took place in the wild forest. With every visit there, Adriana took these stories home with her and wrote them down on parchment - the only castle luxury she enjoyed. Sometimes she would even weave stories of her own and imagine what she would do if she lived in absolute freedom. In fact, the abundance of paper was the only thing that kept Adriana from running away, and fully donning the person of Ariel.
Adriana pulled out a small loaf of bread she had bought from a vendor just an hour ago, and it was still delightfully warm. There was no use in sneaking loaves from the cooks back at the palace; people might wonder how a simple peasant like Ariel had acquired such fine bread.
The young girl savored the food as she strolled down the narrow dirt road, occasionally moving aside for carriages of nobles. All around her were vast plains of grasses, wild flowers, and crops. In the distance Adriana could see hills that then dissolved into woods. Beyond the Whetherwood lay mountains that pierced the horizon like arrows protruding from a splintered shield. Oh how the princess wanted to climb them and see what marvelous secrets they held. From the top of a mountain, one must certainly be able to see the entire world like a bird would. If only she was a bird...
A few more hours passed. Adriana could see Dragur now, and judging by the abrupt change in accent from the people walking the opposite direction, she had already passed the border. Only twenty minutes left of travel, and she would be immersed in the fanciful culture of the Dragurians.
Adriana pondered what she would do when she got there. She would probably visit the stables first, since they were closest to the entrance. From there she would go to their market, and then she would pull her cloak over her head, and go story-searching in the nearest tavern. Her spirits soared with excitement.
The dirt road started to transform into cobblestone, but before it completely changed, Adriana came to the doors of the stable. She didn't even need to look up, because she could already smell the telltale odor of horses.
Adriana loved horses, and although there were many in Roddór, the ones bred in Dragur were different. These horses were often used in long distance expeditions, and seemed to retain a different aura. Dragur horses knew the land, and they were the wisest of their kind. They were calm and gentle, and very friendly to Adriana, even though she never got a chance to ride them. They were not hers, but she definitely wished they were as she patted their muzzles and combed through their manes with her slender fingers. Sometimes she even brought them sugar.
As she spent a few moments with the large beasts, Adriana felt a blissful peace flow through her. Maybe the horses were magic.
An idea for a story crept into her head, and she was happy.
Ten minutes later, Adriana came across a beautiful light grey mare dappled with white splotches. She was tall, strong, and almost menacing, but when Adriana stepped forward, the horse immediately lowered her head to be petted.
But before the princess could do so, she heard a voice from the rafters above her.
"You really do love them, don't you?" It took a moment for Adriana to locate the youthful male voice. When she did, she saw him reclining on a thick oaken beam that loomed over the back door of the stable. He was around eighteen from what she could tell, with a tanned and freckled face and sandy hair to match. His appearance suggested days under the sun, unlike the refined, pale faces of the princes that Adriana knew.
"Who are you?" she asked, disturbed that someone had been watching her this entire time.
"Who am I? A stable boy. What else could I be?"
A lot of things. Adriana thought. After all, she was the princess of Roddór.
"So you don't have a name?" Adriana asked. Usually she would never keep up a conversation with anyone outside of the castle, lest they somehow recognized her. But this time she was not in Roddór, and this stable boy might have a few tales of his own.
"It's Jakun. Yours?"
"Ariel." Adriana gave him a friendly smile, which he returned politely. Not knowing what to say next, She stroked the head of the gorgeous mare.
"Have you ever ridden a horse?" Jakun asked from his perch.
"Yes. But never one of these." Adriana instantly cringed at myself for giving information, but then relaxed. This boy might be able to tell her more about them.
"So you aren't from around here?"
The stable boy seemed very interested with my background, which shouldn't have made Adriana uncomfortable, but it did.
"Yes," Adriana said, nodding again. She turned the subject back to horses. "Horses there are different. They spook easily."
"I noticed that when I went to market there." Jakun seemed to be choosing his words carefully. "Ours are nearly fearless, especially that one you're with." Jakun's expression softened. "She is my favorite. I practically raised her."
Adriana looked thoughtfully at the mare, wondering what wonders those deep amber eyes had seen.
"I have heard so many things about your people." Adriana took her turn to monitor her words. "Has your horse been anywhere... exciting?"
Jakun smiled ridiculously at that last word, and it was contagious.
"Yes, yes she has." Jakun slid down from the rafters, landing lightly on his feet. He strode over to the other side of the grey mare, and tousled her velvety grey ears. "Galana has even been though the Wetherwood."
Adriana immediately snapped into attention.
"You have been there?"
"Of course," he said, as if everyone got to do so.
"But... isn't it dangerous?" Adriana yearned for detailed about the unknown wilderness, and I was no longer petting Galana.
"Well, depends on if you are looking for it. It is mostly quiet." Adriana could see both tranquil and thrilling memories flash through Jakun's deep blue eyes.
"You go there a lot, don't you?" Adriana didn't know what she was expecting for an answer.
"Every spare moment I can get." Jakun, answered, turning his gaze from the horse to the girl he was talking to, the one who he didn't know was a princess.
"That's... amazing. My mother would never let me go."
Adriana couldn't read the stable boy's eyes.
"Too bad." His lips twisted in a disappointed manner. "I was going to take you."
Adriana nearly jumped in surprise.
"You-you were?" The prospect seemed so incredible, that Adriana immediately hated herself for mentioning her mother.
"No one in the two kingdoms should live their life without seeing it," he stated plainly. "At least in my opinion."
There was no telling how badly Adriana wanted to believe that.
"Well, I'm not necessarily allowed here either," the princess hinted.
"Ooh. A rebel, eh?" Jakun c***ed an eyebrow. "And you've been escaping from your mother for, I don't know... four or five years now?"
Adriana froze, and knew her expression betrayed her shock.
"How do you know that?" she sputtered angrily.
"Oh, I've seen you come into the stables sometimes. But what I didn't ever learn was who you were." The mysterious stable boy's face didn't give away anything - a skill that Adriana wished she could learn.
"Well, if you want things cleared up, I am the daughter of one of the king's scribes. My mother is a cook, and I live in the palace." Adriana locked her gaze on the grey mare, knowing that the patient beast wouldn't be able to tell Jakun about my secret.
After a moment's thought, Jakun seemed to take the lie as truth.
"Well, if you are looking for a story to tell to your papa -" he suddenly jumped up and mounted Galana "- then you might as well mount."
Adriana's head spun madly, but she didn't hesitate. She mounted gracefully, but then noticed something odd.
"Don't need one, illegal to steal one." With that, Jakun leaned precariously over Galana's shoulder, untied the rope lead, and patted the mare's shoulder.
The horse responded quicker than Adriana was prepared for. Galana made an abrupt gallop for the back stable door whilst the young princess lurched dangerously backwards, and only managed to stay on because of the instincts she had honed by climbing castles. Adriana couldn't see how Jakun unlocked the door, but however he did it, it was done in a matter of milliseconds. Galana burst from the stable, and then leaped effortlessly over the rickety fence a few meters behind it. Adriana had never ridden bareback, and probably would have been lying unconscious in the mud if it was not for her strong grip on Jakun's torso.
The princess part of Adriana wondered if she shouldn't have urged this stranger on. Her other half was absolutely exhilarated.
Once Adriana got used to Galana's bone-wrenching pace, and was sure that she could manage speaking and clinging on for dear life at the same time, she asked Jakun a question.
"What was that all about? Couldn't you have just made Galana trot out of the stables and then run?" Her voice was just audible over the thunder of hooves.
"Yes, yes I could have."
Adriana could not figure out this young man.
"Well?" the princess was not totally sure what she was asking.
"Consider it a test of sorts."
Adriana felt herself becoming irritated with having to prod every single word out of him, but she prodded on anyway.
"By the king's pants, WHY did you need to test me?"
"To be honest, I really didn't need to do that either."
"For someone who is trying to do a favor, you would think that he would be somewhat polite about it."
Adriana wasn't sure, but she thought he was grinning.
"Or maybe you've just spent too much time in the king's halls."