Fantastical Page 34

Even with this, Aggie had not made a turn for the better until that morning. He took his drops, he took his water, he gamely swallowed down the suet balls but he hovered at death’s door until that very morning when we woke to see him hopping around and chirping, partly, but not fully, back to his old self.

It had also taken us four days because Tor stopped in other villages and a small town. He did this so we could eat in pubs or, when we were in the town, a surprisingly rather cosmopolitan café that had great pastries. He also did this in the evenings so we could rent rooms in inns in order to have a soft bed to sleep in at night and, major bonus, hot baths (heavenly).

And in the town, he bought me another outfit. It was much the same as the first except the material was of better quality. The skirt and vest were pale blue with beautiful turquoise, silver and green embroidery around the hem of the skirt and all over vest and a flowy cream top that had intricate lace around the bottom of the sleeves. The petticoats were cream and dripped at the bottom with the same lace that adorned the sleeves of the blouse. And the satin slippers were green but had blue bows at the toes the color of the dress.

The whole ensemble was awesome.

The dressmaker, thrilled beyond belief to be outfitting who she thought was the future queen, upon hearing (from me, I was being chatty) that we were roughing it, also gave me a comb made out of bone, a brush that looked basic but its bristles were firm and felt freaking great on my scalp and turquoise satin ribbon to use in my hair, all at no charge. I thanked her with a hug and kiss on the cheek which bought me a short lecture later on princess behavior from Tor but I didn’t care. I was thrilled beyond belief to be able to comb my hair, it was nice to have something to hold it away from my face and the ribbon looked great threaded through my dark locks so if I wanted to hug someone because they did me a kindness, I was a princess and I felt I should be able to.

Sometimes when we were in these towns and villages, Tor would not take us to a pub for lunch or dinner but would buy cheese, bread and fruit and then we’d stop on the way by a lake, a stream or in a wildflower-filled field and we’d have a picnic.

On the third day, it hit me what he was doing.

He was taking his time. Allowing me to chat with townsfolk, window shop, smell the flowers, taste the foods and drink in the landscape.

He was giving me his world.

And in return he didn’t ask for a single kiss. He didn’t make me pay the debt I owed him for saving Aggie. Nothing.

We slept in the same bed every night, I woke in his arms every morning and I spent nearly every waking minute with him (except when I was bathing or trying on my new outfit). Even as future king, he was not a man who shied away from public affection, often brushing his lips against mine (in public and not), taking my hand, guiding me with his fingers at the small of my back, standing with his arm about my waist.

But other than that, he was the perfect gentleman (albeit an often annoying one, he could be a gentleman but that didn’t mean we didn’t still bicker, we did, though to all appearances, he seemed to enjoy it).

So that meant he gave his world to me without me asking for it or him making me earn it.

He just gave it, free and clear.

Yes, Prince Noctorno Hawthorne, I decided, wasn’t that bad at all.

And I also decided I loved every minute of being out on the road with him, experiencing this world, yes, even when we were bickering and yes, believe it or not, because I was experiencing it with him.

And therefore, as cool as a castle would likely be, I had to admit I was sad that our adventure was ending.

I noticed the sun was setting as I twisted in the saddle holding Aggie carefully. Dusk was settling. Soon it would be night.

Then I sat forward, lifted my eyes and stopped breathing.

Oh.

My.

God.

I stared.

It was… it was… indescribable.

It wasn’t just a castle. It was a castle and a city. An actual city.

I hadn’t seen one of those in this world and let me tell you, it was a-freaking-mazing.

The city started at the bottom of a steep, huge hill. Even at our distance (we were still quite far away), I could see flowers burgeoning everywhere. If my eyes didn’t deceive me, even some of the roofs had flowerpots.

But there were also colorful awnings on the front of some buildings, some solid, some in stripes, all in different colors. They decorated in lanterns too, also all different colors, dripping from the eaves and it looked like on the sides of buildings and even on the streets. They also fully utilized black wrought iron, there were iron whimsies shooting in the air, curlicues decorating the sides of buildings.

Magnificent.

A winding, blond, wide, clean cobblestone road led up the steep hill that was covered in what looked like adobe, terracotta tile-roofed buildings with their flowers, awnings, lanterns and iron whimsies. The road, too, was set with flowers liberally and lit with tall, curlicued, black iron street lamps.

And at the top of the hill was the best of it all.

A huge castle shooting straight in the air made of a mellow cream stone with an abundance of arched windows that blinked in the waning sun, high turrets piercing the sky with colorful pennants flying, balconies here, there and everywhere dripping with flowers through their contrasting ivory-stoned balustrades – the entire building made of smooth, rounded edges and circles.

To the left, there was emerald green sea (yes, emerald green) and I could see islands close and far and ships (also lit with lanterns) bobbing. To the right, fields of forests and rolling hills. Beyond, the landscape was a patchwork quilt of different crops. And to the front, a sea of wildflowers, ablaze with color even in the diminishing light.

Totally something out of an animated movie.

We had nothing like that at home.

It was unbelievable.

“My God,” I whispered as Salem clattered over a bowed, wooden bridge that spanned a wide, rushing, crystal clear river.

“Welcome to Bellebryn,” Tor muttered behind me.

“What?” I asked distractedly, still dazzled by the view.

“We just crossed the bridge into Bellebryn, my land,” he explained.

I blinked and even though I didn’t want to tear my eyes away from the sights they beheld, I twisted to look up at him.

“You own all of this?”

Tor looked down at me. “No, I own the castle. But I rule it all.”

I blinked again.

“Rule it?”

“It’s mine, not part of my father’s kingdom. Everything from the river to the sea to the forest is ruled by me.”

Holy crap!

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