Chapter two

"We're almost there." They'd crawled and stuck to tall hedges for cover, but so far, true to her word they hadn't been spotted.

" there, right there." She said, pointing to a brown small builing that resembled a barn, which stood only a small distance away.

"I don't think the caretakers are in there right now. In fact, I think they should be done for the day." She said when they got to the door. She opened the door quietly and raised up a hand, gesturing for him to wait before poking her head and surveying the surroundings.

"All seems quiet in here, come on in." She said, before leading them in, stopping at every stall to greet each horse.

The woman, he thought, had a word for each one of them. He wasn't sure if to Marvel at her when she made each stop or simply stop her and remind her of why they were there in the first place. But after horse number three, he realised that, he didn't want her to stop. He found her endearing, the way she would stroke and croon,and it surprised the hell out of him, how she tugged at him by simply being her, simply being Hannah.

"Now, let's see." She turned to him after she attended to the last horse, walking to a wooden door, and opened it, revealing a small dark room, bigger than the stalls, but small nonetheless. she walked to a small window at the other end of the room and opened it, letting in the light and cool air. It was tidy, but was otherwise empty except for a bucket and a saddle that sat on a chair in a corner.

He turned to her.

" what is this place?" He asked quietly,

"Well, this was once a supply room, then a bigger supply room was made and well this one was left alone. I come here from time to time, although I haven't in a while, come here that is." She looked away from him to look at the place wistfully.

"Mitch, the caretaker hardly comes in here. Except to clean from now and then. It looks clean though, so he might have been here recently. he won't be coming for a while yet." She said with a smile,

He went to the chair and picked up the saddle. "Is this yours?"

"Yes it is." She said still smiling.

"You ride well?"

"Well enough."

"You speak the truth?"

"God's truth." A smile played on his lips as he dropped the saddle back on the chair. He walked to Her and stood in front of her. She looked up and met his gaze evenly. she would not be intimidated by his height, or by how tough she he knew was, by the muscles she knew possessed underneath the shirt he wore. not on her grounds, not ever. But when the feelings in her stomach that erupted at his sudden nearness betrayed the unyielding courage she expressed, she quirked a brow.

" what?" She asked in a manner he supposed she used to put men in order. She was small, so small he had the strangest desire to hold her close. To cuddle. To warmly hug. To tell her she didn't need to defend herself against him. He meant no harm and surely no disrespect. But he did none of that. She would probably send him out of the castle, he couldn't risk that. Instead he asked something else that nagged at him.

"Tell me something. How is it that the princess of kingdom Brone slept outside the castle, with no guards around her?" He tilted his head and quirked a brow mirroring her expression, "Courage or just sheer foolishness?"

Her eyes grew wide at his question, Gone were the flutterings in her stomach, in its place was something close to anger. It took her a moment to calm that anger, it wouldn't help, wouldn't lead them anywhere. And so when she spoke, it was tempered.

"A warm way to thank someone who's trying to help you."

"A bit of both, I see." It struck him, the urge he had to reach out and caress her black curls, instead he turned away from her and look instead to the chair before turning to her once more. He found her, seething, like leopard ready to pounce.

there you Jasper, you've angered the small woman.

"Thank you, milady." He proffered, hoping to abate her anger. she quirked her brow, her anger dissipating, and it's place was confusion over his sudden change of demeanor. Arrogant one minute, somber and humble the next. This man was something.

New. That was the word that came to her.

And she found herself wondered where it came from, but didn't question it.

"you're welcome." she said finally. No, dwelling on anger would really lead them nowhwere.

He nodded once, and stood watching her, as she watched him. She was astounded by his audacity. shaken by his humility. humbled by his gratitude.

"How soon do you need to speak to my father?" She said when her anger finally dimmed, faded, a way to keep in check the warring emotions the man so easily caused to happen simply by being. And although he was rude, she wanted to understand his need to see the king, what was so important he couldn't await an appointment? And in spite of the fact that he tended to showcase the traits of a complete arse, she wanted to help him, and it had nothing to do with how handsome he was.

"Before sundown if you can manage it."

She weighed his words, before nodding slowly.

"We will need Ànemos." She said, looking at him.

"And what do you have in mind, princess?" He drawled the last word, but she took no care. She just smirked at him.

"You'll see." And she took great pleasure when she saw the hesitation in his expression.

*****

"Please, Ànemos, this is important." The elderly guard stood in the old supply room, eying Jasper cautiously.

"But he tells not what he has to say to the king. for all we know, he could be a threat." She looked at Jasper for just a moment and their eyes locked, and as quickly she looked away. The only threat she sensed was the one that came from the ripples in her belly whenever he looked at her the way he did.

"He is not a threat, if he were I would not be here right now." She remembered how he had met her asleep in the woods. If he meant any harm, couldn't he have done it right there, when she was asleep? Defenseless and vulnerable? He had a sword, he could have used it, or threatened her with it. So far all he'd done was annoy her and gotten her stomach in knots.

"What do you mean by that?" He looked away from Jasper, and turned to his side to look down at her.

"Leave that for now, Ànemos. Please." She added, when he looked like he would argue.

"I will help." She looked up at him and have him a toothy grin.

"Thank you." His eyes grew compassionate, then he looked towards Jasper, and a good chunk of that compassion fell away.

"Follow me." He said curtly. And they did, with Hannah at his side and Jasper right behind them.

****

"So let's go over the plan again." They stood before the doors of the throne room, and Hannah looked at Ànemos, and then Jasper.

"I'm the psychopath who acted a nuisance and made a noise about needing to speak to the king before the castle gates and was taken in by Ànemos." Jasper said with a scowl, not enjoying his role. Hannah snickered and earned a glare from him.

"And when asked who witnessed this?" She asked, ignoring his glare and turning to Ànemos.

"You and I, given that you came to me with a request about assigning you guards to go horseback." Ànemos smiled at her, knowing it was the last thing on earth she would ever do. The princess was a stubborn who would rather sulk than accept that guards were needed around her for her safety and the peace of mind of those who loved her.

But in truth, she really didn't like the thought her escorts, even if by nature of her status it was expected. It was the reason she took thrill in her escapades. But she was grateful, in spite of her sulks, she tried to remember to be grateful.

"Yes." She answered, with a small scowl of her own. "Now, Gentleman, let's get started shall we?" She knocked at the door and listened, pushing it open when she heard the king's booming voice,

"Enter." Was all he said.

Ànemos led them forth and bowed his head, both Hannah and Jasper did the same, And then Ànemos spoke,

"Your majesty."

The king took in his small crowd and turned to his Queen by his side, who gave an elegant shrug. They were both surprised by their daughter's presence in all of it.

"Hannah, come." She rose her head at her father's words and walked toward him, her eyes never leaving his. His eyes asking unspoken questions, questions which she had no answers to. She sat by his left and gave her mother a small smile when she turned to look at her before averting her eyes to the men before them.

"Ànemos, you may speak."

"Your majesty, this man, Jasper of the province of Moline, was found making a nuisance at the gates. He has made some endless noise about having something of importance to speak to your hearing, and would not be quieted when rebuked, the princess is a witness to this." He father turned to her and she gave him a curt nod, it was all she could do to not cower. She couldn't, they had already come this far.

King Asher averted his gaze towards Jasper, who stood stoically, his gaze which held the king's unwavering. Hannah shifted in her chair, her palms sweating, praying short prayers to heaven, when her anxiety threatened to take over. she was nervous, worried for the strange man with the black shoulder length hair and piercing gray eyes.

Her father wasn't a ruthless king, but yet, she feared. she feared the way he would receive Jasper and all he had to say. feared Jasper would not be welcomed, when she had alrewady welcomed him in so many ways.

"Speak, Jasper of Moline." And Hannah let out a breath she didn't know she was holding, relieved that the king would hear him out. But she was soon overcome with a sudden sense of apprehension over what he had to say.

"The dark one, he comes." He said without preamble, without trepidation.

But she trembled.

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