I wanted to retell this part for me. To pluck the memory from my own mind and cast it upon every breath I took. To feel the words leave my lips as I envisioned the moments that bestowed mayhem upon every facet of who I was and changed the course of our lives forever.
Most of all, I wanted to remind myself that it was real. Once upon a time, it had happened. I was there and so was the stranger curled against the wall of his cell.
19 summers old
The snow had left, and in its place fell sunshine carried upon a crisp wind.
The grass crunched beneath his boots as he approached where I’d secluded myself with Van upon the second tallest mountaintop in the kingdom.
How he’d gotten up here, I’d love to know. I’d been here for hours, trepidation over what to do with the male who wouldn’t leave me alone, even when he wasn’t near, troubling me into needing utter silence. The kind only found on top of a wind-strewn field of grass, grass that was trying to coax itself back to life in the absence of the brutal cold.
Wildflowers had cracked through the earth this past week. Van was making a meal out of them, the sound of his huffing and slurping and chomping, and the faint whistle of the breeze the only exceptions to the otherwise deathly quiet landscape.
As the prince drew closer, a curious smile igniting green eyes that bounced between Van and me, I half wondered if he’d brought the warmth from the Sun Kingdom with him to ward off the worst of the chill.
For once, I didn’t mind. Usually, the coldest of days and nights were my favorite. The perfect time to curl up before a roaring fire and sip tea with a book or guzzle wine with a lover.
Maybe that was my issue. It had been a while since I’d found relief in the form of a suitable male. All thanks to Prince Raiden.
A snarl rippled from Van’s mouth, grass and wildflowers falling free as he speared his head in Raiden’s direction. An onyx eye took him in as his nostrils widened to the size of my head.
From where I was leaning against his side, I shushed him and patted his furry leg. “He’s not a threat.” I then eyed the prince. “Well, not entirely.”
Van stared another few seconds, then harrumphed and got busy licking up the wares he’d lost from his mouth, one eye still sharp on the male taking a seat beside me.
Raiden leaned around me, his expression one of unbridled awe as he studied Van’s gray coat, flecked with white and silver, the gray feathered wings, and the brown horns curling out of his head. “They’re even more magnificent up close.”
“And territorial,” I informed, joining a wildflower stem with the rest of the chain I’d been working on. “He can sense a large variety of helpful things, especially ill intent.”
We sat quietly for a long moment before curiosity got the better of me. “Pray tell, just how did you get up here?”
Raiden ran his hand over his close-cropped hair, squinting to the melting mountains nearby. “I asked around for the fastest way, and they reluctantly allowed me to borrow your stallion.” He turned to me, a glow to his eyes. “Being that you’re my betrothed and all.”
I tensed. “Wen? Where is he?”
Raiden pointed at the incline. “Tied to a tree some clefts down. It was too steep to have him come any higher.”
My shoulders sagged. “You have some nerve, Prince.”
He grinned, and I wanted to slap it right off his chiseled face. “Where you’re concerned, I’m constantly on my toes.”
“All the more reason for you to leave me be.” I adjusted my sapphire skirts over my crossed legs, the sun causing them to shimmer.
I peered up at his earnest eyes, the hard set to his jaw, and then averted my gaze to the flowers in my lap.
“Pretty,” Raiden commented after watching me weave them for a time. “What are you going to do with it when you’re done? Wear it?”
I snorted. “No, it just helps to quiet the mind. I’ll feed it to Van.”
“That’s his name?”
Raiden tilted his head, his arms wrapped tight around his bent knees. “You love him.”
I frowned at him briefly, then returned my attention to my ministrations. “Of course, I do. He was a gift for my fourteenth birthday.” When I came of age. “I’d been asking for years and was given the runt of the litter.” I smirked down at the violet flower in my hand. “For a time, anyway. He’s since outgrown his kin in every possible way.” I stilled my hands, looking up at him beneath my lashes. “Do you not think me capable of such a thing as love, Prince?”
He seemed to think about it, then that arrogant smirk returned. “Everyone is capable of it.” The sun haloed behind his head, illuminating his skin and eyes, the edges of his cheeks and strong jaw—stealing my next breath. “Do you need to quiet your mind often?”