(Author Note: Had to break it at a weird moment, sorry. Kaspar has just ask Wallace if he's ready to go on the horseback ride)
And just like that, we were moving. Bucky’s powerful body shifted beneath me as he gently picked up speed. My whole body lolled backwards like drying linens caught in a breeze. Reflectively, I reached out and grabbed at the first thing I found to stable myself, which just happened to be the prince’s waist.
My throat instantly dried. In the back of my mind, I knew I should drop my hands to his belt. It was a much more appropriate place to hold. But my hands refused to move. I could feel the heat of his skin through his shirt; the strength of solid muscle.
The prince guided us out of the stables and out onto the palace’s expansive training grounds. Once we were free of obstacles and there was nothing but the stretch of empty grass before us, Bucky’s easy trotting became a controlled canter. My fingers curled into the prince’s shirt as our bodies rolled and bounced together.
The wind whistled in my ears, sending my long hair spiralling about my head. At one point my vision was completely obscured by the invading red tendrils, so I ducked my face, pressing my forehead against the prince’s firm back.
He called back to me several times, laughter in his tone, as he masterfully controlled the stallion. In all honesty, the jostling was so far in the back of my mind I didn’t even register I was on horseback. The prince consumed my senses. My fingers uncurled from his shirt and splayed his hips. His musky scent of wood and perspiration enveloped me like a welcomed hug.
Too soon, we were returning to the stables. I lifted my head and blinked up at the sun that had now escaped the clouds. Carefully, my hands reached for my hair to push it back and arrange it into some semblance of order.
The prince found the ground again with practiced ease and offered his hand to help me down. It wasn’t until I was alone on the horse, gazing down at him when I realised just how large Bucky was. Suddenly the ground felt too far away. My foot struggled in the opposite stirrup, but I awkwardly managed to slip it free. I am not actually sure what happened next, but something went wrong. As I lifted my leg to flip it over and slid down, I manoeuvred my body in a way it did not like and I ended up taking a tumble.
Crumpled on the ground, I coughed up dust and winced at the burning sensation tingling my arm. I had scraped it on the stones and bits of hay and dust had made home in the bloody mess.
The prince was beside me, helping me into a sitting position. Concern pinched his features and a laugh bubbled out of me.
“Are you all right? I tried to catch you but-”
“I’m fine. My body has a mind of its own sometimes. A puppet cut loose from its strings, as Mr Treager used to say.”
The prince’s lips twitched. “Ah, so that’s the excuse you’re going with?”
The knowing look in his eyes had me flushing from head to toe. My eyes drifted to his sides and then quickly to the mess of my arm.
“Come on, let me help you up.” The prince hooked his arm under my armpit and hoisted me up to my feet like I weighed nothing. “The court physician gave me a salve for stuff like this. It works wonders. It’s in my room.”
I chewed my lip to suppress a smile as the prince guided me through the palace. I noted that we passed the physician’s quarters and continued on in silence. If the prince wanted to take me to his rooms, who was I to argue?
Heads turned as we made our way through the palace. We must have been quite the sight. I was almost positive hay had worked its way into the nest atop my head. After climbing several stairwells and striding through corridor after corridor, we made it to the prince’s rooms. They were almost directly below mine.
I remember holding my breath when he swung the door open and gestured me inside. I’m still not sure why I did that. He swooped over to his bedside drawers with sudden immediacy, leaving me to wander about with my damaged arm still lifted and my other hand cupped beneath so the blood didn’t drop to the array of fancy rugs that covered the marble floor.
His room was surprisingly similar to my own. It was slightly larger and had an adjoining washroom, but was furnished in the same dark wood and feather cushions. The main difference was that my ceiling was vaulted to a point, being at the top of the tower, whereas the prince’s was high and flat.
“Ah, here it is.” The prince turned with a circular tin in his hand. He took my arm, his fingers feather-light against my skin. He frowned. “I’ll have to clean it.”
He guided me to the washroom and carefully wiped the dust and grime from the cut with a damp cloth. I watched his face as he worked, elation dancing so wildly within me it threatened to escape in ways I did not know. The prince was nursing my wound. We had walked straight past the physician’s quarters so that the prince could tend to me himself.
When the cut was as clean as it could be, he took me back into the bedroom, his hand loose on my wrist as if afraid to lose contact. He stood me on the plinth that his monstrously over-sized four poster bed was raised on and grabbed the discarded salve.
My nose scrunched at the sensation as he applied it to the wound. It was slimy and wet, cold but then curiously warm.
“How does that feel?” His eyes flicked up from my arm and found mine. It was then I realised I hadn’t spoken in quite some time. I opened my mouth to reply but words wouldn’t come. I nodded, a gratified smile filling my face.
A silence rang out between us. It swelled in my ears. The heat from his gaze was too much. I had to look away. My eyes landed on the dresser by the window and my heart stuttered. There, perched beside a stack of letters, was the little paper rose I had tucked behind his ear at the banquet.
“You kept it.” The words rushed out of me in awe.
“Of course, I did. You gave it to me.”
I looked back at him, a soft laugh escaping me. He watched me, face bright and open. What do you say to that? What was there to say? Under his gaze, I quickly forgot what words were. What everything was. The itchy pain in my arm, forgotten. Everything was nothing. There was nothing but this, here, with him.
A bead of sweat trickled from his hairline. I watched as it slid over his temple, tracing the strong lines of his face.
He took a small step towards me, closing the distance between us. Reflectively, I leaned back and my heart jumped at the press of the bedpost between my shoulder blades. His jaw clenched as his green eyes roved over my face. My pulse thrummed. I don’t know what came over me, where this sudden confidence came from, but I grabbed his belt and pulled him closer. His hip knocked against my own and then his hand was cupping my jaw and his lips were on mine.
The kiss was soft at first. As tentative as his nursing hands. I pushed myself onto my tiptoes and kissed him back eagerly, hands lost in the material of his shirt. The kiss deepened, fervent and hungry. Our bodies rolled together once more, chest to chest, heartbeat to heartbeat. His hands were on me, under my loose shirt, his palms burning my frozen skin. Fingertips running along my ribcage.
I felt on fire. Heat burning savage and wicked, thawing the ice in my chest I didn’t even know was there. I had always thought I felt alive on stage performing, that those would be the moment that paved my life, but I had been wrong. It is this moment right here that I hold onto with trembling fists as desperation and passion and terror courses through my soul.
It was this moment, in Kaspar’s arms, when I finally felt like I truly belonged.
When the kiss broke, the prince stepped back so quickly he collided with the bedside drawers. I reached back and grabbed the bedpost behind me, legs trembling and mind reeling. The prince went to touch his reddened lips but then ran his hand through his hair and looked about the room.
“I-I have a council meeting I have to get ready for,” he said, gesturing to his casual attire.
“Right.” I blurted, pushing myself to my feet and propelling towards the door. “I’d better leave you to it. Thank you for the-” I lifted my injured arm. “Can hardly feel it.”
He smiled, still looking dazed, and sent me an affirmative nod.
I shut the door behind me and stormed down the corridor, my mind separate from my body.
The prince had just kissed me. The prince had just kissed me. A sudden, hysterical laugh peeled out of me and echoed around the marble walls. A scribe stuck his head out of a nearby room. I waved an apology. He tutted and disappeared again.
I’m going to be honest with you, dear reader, I skipped around the whole bloody palace that day.