Introduction of Darhour
Darhour scowled deeper, but she saw the smile hidden beneath the scowl. “I’d hoped the late night would cause you to oversleep, Your Highness. You know how His Majesty would feel about this excursion.”
She laughed easily, as she always did with Darhour. “I suggest we not tell him. But don’t call me ‘Your Highness’ today. I don’t want people to know who I am. A simple ‘Milady’ will do.”
The stable lads brought horses for her and her bodyguards.
smiled shyly while he held Muffet for her to mount. He was a stringy boy of twelve
and gave the impression of having grown too fast. He was nearly as tall as she
was, but no bigger around than a fence pole. As always his hair stood up all
over his head and was full of bits of straw.
“Let’s ride,” she said, as soon as she was in the saddle, and took off. Darhour and the other men had no difficulty catching up. Unlike the princess, Muffet was far too much the lady to do something so undignified as race.
They rode out of the palace gates and through the city. As they left Murtaghan behind, Darhour pulled up beside her. “Did you enjoy the ball, Your Highness? Found that someone special yet?”
The princess shot him a withering glare, and he laughed until she finally joined him. Darhour was the only one who ever teased her. But she didn’t want to think about the ball, and she certainly didn’t want to think about the strange orange glow that had surrounded Count Pandaran. Darhour’s presence made it harder for her to push such thoughts away. He was the first person she’d ever seen surrounded by color. She’d been fourteen when she went to the stables, hoping the new Master of the Horse would be more reasonable than the man he was replacing. His back was to her as she entered, and as he turned, he’d suddenly burst into color—the green of a meadow on a spring morning. Part of her had been terrified by the strange colors, but the peace that accompanied the green calmed her fear. She’d known immediately Darhour would become a close friend, and unlike nearly everyone else, she’d never been afraid of him.
* * *
Darhour was happy as he rode beside the princess. He’d had little joy in his life, but every moment he spent in Samantha’s presence was a gift from the goddess, both unexpected and undeserved. “I want to thank you, Your Highness, for intervening to save
Vaughan’s job. His family
would have been hard pressed if he’d lost it.”
The princess laughed, her eyes full of the mischief. Holy Sulis, she’s beautiful. “
a sweet boy, and it was hardly his fault the older boys gave him so much ale he
puked all over Count Pandaran’s shoes. I wish I’d been there to see it.”
Darhour chuckled. “The count nearly fainted. He wanted
not only dismissed but flayed. You know how obsessed he is with his appearance.
Positively womanish, he is.”
Samantha’s eyes narrowed. “Why is it that whenever a man is weak, they say he is womanish? Look at these hands.” She held up a callused palm. “I can use a sword nearly as well as you. Pandaran is most definitely not womanish! Have you ever seen a woman give birth? Do you think Pandaran could do that?”
While Darhour knew the princess’s skills weren’t equal to his own, she was far better than Pandaran. “I apologize, Your Highness. How shall I describe the good count?”
The princess wrinkled her nose. “Rabbitish. Smooth, soft, and cowardly. I’d rather sleep with my horse.”
“I pray it never comes to that, Your Highness!” Darhour grew hot at the thought of any of those at court touching the princess. In another life he’d have castrated any man that tried. But he’d left that life behind, and intervening in her marriage plans wasn’t his place. In fact, he had no right to even take her with him today. If the king found out, it would cost him his job—or worse. But he’d never been able to say no to the princess, just as he hadn’t been able to say no to her mother so many long years ago.
The princess suddenly slowed. He reined in and followed her eyes. She was staring at Gloine Torr, which rose out of the plains less than a quarter mile north of the road. The mountain was formed from pure black obsidian and rose over five hundred feet from the valley floor. Shaped as an almost perfect pyramid with the top chopped off, its sides were as smooth as glass, which made climbing it impossible except by the staircase carved into one side. Wide ledges circled it at a third and two-thirds its height. It couldn’t be a natural phenomenon, but he couldn’t imagine how it could have been built either. “Have you ever been to the top?” the princess asked.
“No,” he answered. He didn’t tell her he was unworthy to approach the goddess’s holiest shrine. “The king still threatening to place you up there?”
Samantha laughed at the long-standing joke. “Regularly. And now I think about it, the old ways of choosing husbands for princesses might not be such a bad idea.”
Darhour raised an eyebrow. “You want to stand at the top and see which man can ride his horse up and prove he is the goddess’s choice for your husband?”
“Since nobody could do it, wouldn’t it prove nobody was the goddess’s choice? I wouldn’t have to marry at all.”
Darhour laughed. “I guess it would at that, Your Highness. Have you made such a proposal to the king?”
“I’m working on it.” Despite her light tone, Darhour could sense uneasiness in the princess. He wondered if it was merely because she didn’t
to marry or if something about Gloine Torr disturbed her.
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