Though we're tethered to the story we must tell
When I saw you, well I knew we'd tell it well
With a whisper, we will tame the vicious seas
Like a feather, bringing kingdoms to their knees
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A total of six weeks had passed since the young woman, Alexandria, had left the royal grounds to travel with her father. She had never really seen much outside of London since that is where she had been brought up. Her mother and father were close to the royal family and for as long as she could remember they had held the titles of Duke and Duchess of Somerset. Due to their nobility, Alexandria grew up in the halls of the palace and had become close with the King’s daughter Catherine. While she was a few years older than Alexandria, they developed a bond that was unbreakable, and it remained that way into adulthood. In fact, this voyage with her father had been the first time she had spent so long away from her friend, and she could not wait to see her.
The trip itself was sold to her as an adventure when in fact her father spent most of the time introducing her to Dukes and Lords in hopes that he might find her a suitor. It had almost become a fixation of his lately and she knew that he would have had the full support of her mother behind him too. She was sure that she would be disappointed to see her return without a ring as a promise.
As the carriage made its way down the tree-adorned pathway back to the palace, she could almost feel her father’s stare piercing her skin. As she pulled back the curtain to take in their surroundings she could hear his sigh fill the silence.
“Say what you have to say and be done with it, Father.” She said, her tone encouraging.
“You’ve been of age for a long time now and I know our Queen may have certain views on marriage, but she has status and influence. A woman needs a man to take care of her and I’m not going to be around forever Allie. You cannot turn down every man.”
“Do not be so absurd, I have not met every man.” She responded with a smirk. Alexandria let her hand fall away from the velvet curtain and she leaned forward to take her father’s hand. “I’m just not prepared to marry a man for his wealth and title just yet. I still hold out hope for love. I promise, Catherine has not poisoned me against the idea of marriage. I just want a real one. Is that too much to ask?”
He shook his head slightly. “You deserve that Allie. You do. But your expectations may need to change before it’s too late. You need to be betrothed within a year. Do you understand?”
“Why the rush? Is there something you’re not telling me? You’re not sick are you? Mother?”
He squeezed her hand gently. “Nothing like that petal. But we’re not getting any younger and we are going to need someone to pass on our heritage and lands to when the time is right. Besides, you know how society views unmarried women when they get to a certain age.”
Alexandria looked slightly relieved at his reassurance and nodded. “Fine. By the next fall.”
With that, their carriage slowed down until it came to a complete stop and before she could even step out of their vessel, Catherine was already tearing back the curtain and tugging at her arm to pull her into an embrace. Clumsily, Alexandria fell out of the carriage but with Catherine’s grip she managed to stay on her feet.
“I missed you.” She said, squeezing her tightly. “I cannot wait to hear all about your trip.”
“Alexandria, Patrick. Welcome home.” The rather strong masculine voice of the Queen’s father was heard as he shook her father’s hand. There was something about him since the moment she met him that put her on edge. She was not scared of him, but she was unsure about him, yet she had no reason to be. He had always been good to their family and let her get away with a lot more than any other child would have been allowed to when fraternizing with a future queen. She eyed him briefly before turning back to her friend, tightening her embrace.
“Your Highness. It’s good to be home.”
The babe’s wailing was incessant and Aeliana was having trouble calming the poor thing. Marcus watched in despair and anguish as she tried everything to get his nephew to calm down, but no amount of rocking or singing or attempts at feeding him would placate him. He was four months old and Aeliana’s life had been turned upside down when the man who had been courting her took advantage of her and left her with child. Marcus wanted to challenge the beast to a dual, but Aeliana wouldn’t allow it, not out of love for the man, but out of love for her brother.
“What would I do without you?” she pleaded. “Where would we get our money? How would I take care of Julius?”
Despite how he came into the world, Aeliana loved her son with all her heart. And Marcus loved his sister and anything she created. So while they may not be able to bring themselves to resent their circumstances, Marcus knew he had to find a way to care for them. Especially since Julius seemed unwell and doctors were expensive.
Ever since their father became ill and handed over the business to Marcus, their income had steadily declined. Then he died and Marcus had no one to go to for advice. He had been an adventurous child who enjoyed playing with and riding the horses more than ferriering or making bridles for them. As a young man there was never a thought that his teacher and father could die so young. So, naturally, everyone took their business elsewhere. What a fool he was…
He did pick up a few jobs from those who had loved his father’s work and pitied him, knowing how good he was with the horses themselves. They would ask him to break some or train some others. He had no history with this work, but it always came naturally to him. The problem was this work was not steady and most people already had those they trusted for these servies.
So Marcus and Aeliana sold the shop and the house and moved into a small hovel on the outskirts of town and waited for a miracle. They thought that miracle might be Aeliana’s marriage. Instead, they got Julius.
And Marcus was left wandering the streets and pubs asking for work. Any kind of work. He was desperate. And it wasn’t long before someone realized they could use him…
Marcus attached a bridle to a purebread mare. Her coat was so white he could almost see his reflection in it. The stables were stationed just inside the high wall surrounding the castle. He stayed in the small building connected to the stalls and he had not been permitted to journey any closer to the castle than this. He wondered how on earth he was supposed to do his job if he couldn’t get close to anyone important.
He overheard some important talk from the nobles that came to have him get their horses ready for a ride or a hunt. He hardly understood any of it, but he locked the talk away anyway to pass on when the next note came for him to meet up with his employers. He hadn’t seen any royalty since he started. Either something important was happening and they didn’t have time for riding or their horses were stationed somewhere else and handled by someone far more worthy.
New horses showed up that day as he witnessed visitors arrive. Or perhaps they lived here at the castle. He realized this might be useful information. He and another stablehand parked the carriage and undressed the horses. Marcus was sent by his boss to go fetch the riding horses of the new arrivals and he found himself leading back some of the most beautiful creatures he had ever seen. One in particular was so sleek and shining even after the long ride behind the carriage.
She was all black. Marcus noticed she didn’t have a speck of brown in her coat. It took a lot to get a horse this dark. The mare’s eyes studied him as he gently took off her bridle, making sure it didn’t get caught in her long mane. Then he brushed the dirt out of her coat, stopping any time she seemed nervous.
“You’re used to a woman’s touch, aren’t you?” he mumbled to her softly. He often talked to the horses. It had started as a child and he had never grown out of the habit. “It’s alright. I’m not going to hurt you.” The mare let out a puff of air as if doubting him, but lowered her head so that he could continue his work, anyway. Then he led her to an empty stall and filled up a bucket for her to eat from.
He watched her for a long moment, her ears twitching at him. Then her head jerked up and she made a short, startled whinny as Marcus’s boss, Bertram, called over to him.
“What did I say about ge’in distracted by the ‘orses? You’ve got shit to much up, so be abou’ it.”
Marcus pushed away from the stall door and grabbed a pitchfork, trying his hardest not to think about home where Bartram wouldn’t be yelling at him. He thought about Aeliana and Julius. He hoped they were doing alright and that the income he was making here, mostly from those who were paying him to keep his eyes and ears open, was helping. He was taking less than ten percent to keep himself fed. The rest he had sent their way to keep the house standing and to keep little Julius from falling too sick.
He sent up a prayer and got back to work.
That night, Alexandria's family were invited to dine with Catherine and her father and it was not long before conversation turned to marriage, both sets of parents trying to convince their daughters that it was within their best interests but they shared a knowing look with each other and took the first opportunity they could to slip out when their elders had fully bellies and a glass of wine too many.
"I've had to put up with this for the last six weeks." Alexandria said with a half laugh, revealing the bottle of wine she had swiped from the table. It wasn't lady-like in the slightest, but the two took it in turns to drink from the bottle. “I think I met twelve Richards and not one of them had a single unique quality about them. They were all so boring Catherine. I could not imagine my life with someone so... bland.”
“I will never marry. I will not have anyone try to use my femininity against me while I get to grips with ruling over my lands. But you, dear Alexandria, you need a love story - not an arranged marriage.”
"I'm surprised to hear you talk to lightly of a topic you usually avoid." Alexandria replied as she held out the bottle to her friend and Queen. “One thing I know for sure, is that my love story is not with one of the many Richards and those alike I've been introduced too. I do not wish for boredom to be the cause of my early demise.”
The two continued to talk late into the evening until they were merry enough to retire for the evening and over the course of the next couple of days, Alexandria went about getting herself readjusted to being in the grounds of the Palace once more while Catherine saw to some rising troubles from a Northern village who were unhappy with the current taxation rates of their Lord.
It was a good day for riding and so Alexandria made her way to the stables to visit her horse and take her for a ride through the forest behind the Palace grounds. As soon as she saw her mare she felt this overwhelming sense of love for her. She had been with her for many years now and they had a bond that meant she could trust this horse with her life and she knew that her mare felt the same way about her.
"Good morning girl." Alexandria said softly, allowing her hand to run over her muscular form gently. "These stable hands are taking real good care of you I see. You look beautiful as ever." She allowed her head to rest against hers and she stood in silence for a moment, enjoying the mutual affection. “How about we get you ready for a ride?”
Marcus was aware that if he didn't get anything good for his employers soon then everything, moving to the royal castle, getting set up here, going without seeing his sister and nephew, might all be for nothing. He knew that they could have him packing up any day now. He tried to take solace in his work. At least he enjoyed working with the horses and they distracted him from his hardships. Bartram, as hard and mean as he was, came to trust Marcus with the exercising of the horses, so Marcus got to know a few of them very well, the black mare among them.
It was several days after her arrival that her owner appeared. Marcus rounded the corner in the large stables and caught sight of the noble woman speaking to her horse in a loving tone. Marcus couldn't help but study the owner of such a fine creature. He knew the mare's breed was all thanks to money and power, but her temperament could very well be thanks to her owner depending on how many people looked after her. And watching the two of them, Marcus got the sense that this woman was extremely close to her mare and vice versa. It was easy to see the trust they had for each other. It was a trust that many nobles did not share with their horses because they only saw them as mounts and let people like Marcus handle everything else.
This woman was wearing a dress meant for riding, so Marcus assumed she had planned on making the trip down here. He made a small noise to let himself be know, but not startle the poor woman or her horse.
"My lady," he said softly, studying her face for far too long when she turned around. "Would you like me to saddle your mare?" he asked, glancing over at the black beauty and then keeping his eyes averted.
Alexandria always felt like she could communicate openly with her horse. There was an understanding between them that only those who had made an effort to form a bond could understand. There was an unspoken language they shared as they learned each other's tells and body language.
She smiled softly as the mare huffed excitedly and in response, Alexandria placed her forehead against her beautiful beast's.
"When we get back I'll treat you to a bucket of apples and I'll give you a good brush." She was about to speak once more but the sound of someone else's presence interrupted her thought and so she looked up to see who was there. She half expected it to be another rider but she knew that many of those who owned horses only did so because they believed it showed their status and they did not share the same relationship with their horses like she did.
When her eyes set upon the stable hand she did not recognise him. Perhaps he was new here and perhaps he was the handler of her horse since her return. She turned slightly to get a better view of him, taking in then way that he looked over her face. He was braver than most because most of the people who worked on the grounds wouldn't even look her in the eye, mostly because her status usually came with fear even though she had never given anyone any reason go fear her.
For a moment she was about to tell the stranger that she was capable of sandling her horse but she was curious about him.
"Thank you. That would be wonderful." She said as she took a step back from her mare, allowing her hand to stroke over her face as she did.
"You must be new here. I do not believe I've seen you before and I'm here often enough to remember your face if you were not."
Marcus bowed his head and went to get started on saddling up the beautiful horse. He was glad for something to keep him busy while they spoke. The others never spoke to him as he worked. If anything they complained about him moving too slow despite how quickly he could actually saddle a horse.
"I've been here a month, my lady," he said softly. "Am I addressing you correctly? I haven't been told who everyone is yet."
He glanced around, hoping Bartram wasn't in earshot. He knew he wasn't supposed to speak so casually with someone so obviously of noble birth, but he had no other option without knowing who she was first.
He tightened the reins and secured the saddle. If she was someone of importance, perhaps he could get something out of her... He hated that he had started to see people in this light. But his desperate need to help his sister had landed him here. And he had started to slowly get the notion that failure was not an option...
Alexandria watched as the man expertly saddled her horse, noting how she seemed to trust the man to do so. Perhaps he had been the one taking care of her over the last couple of days because she seemed to be entirely calm in his presence. A small smile tugged at the corner of her lips as she allowed her hand to rest on the side of her mare's face lovingly.
When she was answered, her attention went back to Marcus. "You are addressing me well enough." She said with a smile. "My name is Alexandria. My parents are Duke and Duchess of Somerset. My father and I have been away for six weeks, which will be why I've never met you. I practically live here, have done since I was a child. Queen Catherine is very much like a sister to me and since my parents are dear friends of the late King's we are here most of the time." She looked over her horse before looking back at him.
"Look at me rambling on. Accept my apologies.You've taken good care of her and she trusts you. I thank you for that." Alexandria watched him carefully for a moment, noting how his eyes seemed full of sorrow for the brief moment theirs locked together.
"Her name is Ebony. Might we know of yours? I care to know the names of those I'm acquainted with."
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