The earl had given his permission, so Katherine saddled her new shire horse early the next morning. The mare was friendly and slightly curious. It's pure white fur was beautiful as if it came right out of a fairy tale. It was the ideal horse to take a princess home. Sadly, the matching prince was missing.
Petting the horse's forehead gently, Katherine said: "How have you been, Belladonna? Is your box comfortable?"
Not expecting an answer, Katherine knitted her brows. "Although I get why you're named like this - you are both beautiful and deadly after all - but it's a tad long. How about I call you 'Bell' instead?"
The nearly two meters tall horse rubbed it's head on Katherine's shoulder, sending her a step backwards in the process. Katherine giggled. "You like it? That's good. Here, this is for you, a gift for our first ride together."
In her flat hand, she presented an apple. Brown eyes with long, white lashes blinked at her, before Bell slowly bent down to eat the apple out of her hand.
"Good girl.", Katherine praised, very pleased with the choice the earl had made for her. She didn't expect him to be that generous, actually. Although shire horses were the main mounts in the Icelands, this one was especially tall and beautiful, most likely one of the best there was.
On second thought, maybe it wasn't the earl who picked it but Sam. The butler was quite nice to her and managed all matters of the mansion anyways. Yes, it had to be Sam.
"Is everything ready?", she asked the guard standing behind her without turning around.
"Yes, milady.", Pete responded trustworthy. Although he didn't act like it, he too was happy to get out of the mansion for a day. Normally, Jack and Pete would perform different missions every week, treating the mansion more like a headquarters instead of a place to stay. Since the lady came, however, that changed. When they first heard they had to stay with her the whole day, Jack had been quite depressed, because it meant being mostly inside and doing nothing but rotting in front of a closed door. Although they now liked the lady pretty much, it didn't change the fact that they weren't used to staying in one place for a longer period. To go to town now brought at least a little change with it.
When Bell finished her apple, Katherine gripped the rein and lead her out of the stables. Hazel, Jack, and two horses already waited for her.
Before Pete could go over to them, Katherine halted him. Early on she'd already realized that she would need help to get onto Bell's back. Although that was a bit humiliating as she was confident in her riding skill, Bell was just too tall, so Katherine's feet couldn't reach the stirrup on her own. Still, she didn't want another horse after seeing Bell for the first time. She fell in love with that snow-white beauty. "Can you lift me up, please?"
With her mind occupied with climbing her treasured horse, she didn't realize that there was another 'snow-white beauty' observing her through the window.
The earl didn't plan to watch her take off, but he just so happened to walk past one of the windows in the corridor when she exited the stables. As expected, Katherine and Belladonna matched each other, and she seemed to like her quite a bit. Finally there was someone to take care of this horse properly.
Belladonna was a little special to the earl, as it was the descendant of the stallion he'd raised by hand when he was a child. The stallion was dead now, so the earl had always been reluctant to give it's only child away, although riding her himself was too dangerous. Not for him, but for the horse, to be precise.
Looking at Katherine now, giving Belladonna to her was the right choice. The girl was overflowing with happiness whenever her gaze landed on her new horse. He had never seen her this happy before. Not one of her smiles in front of him had been this heart-felt.
The thought made regret invade his heart. It was no wonder. He hadn't been very nice to her, had he?
With a sigh, he intended to turn and walk along the corridor to his study, but the next move of the guard startled him. He was bowing down a little and gripping the lady's waist with his large hands from behind.
Suddenly, a fire blazed in the earl's eyes, and he took a step to the window, his jaw clenching. What was that damn guard up to now?
Katherine's waist was so small and Pete's rough and callous hands so big that the fingers touched themselves on back and belly. In the earl's eyes the contrast between them was wrong, nearly obscene. He could only imagine what that slim waist felt like, how soft it would be under his hands.
Although Katherine was fast with getting into the saddle, for the earl the seconds stretched to minutes, to hours. His fists balled.
Pete suddenly felt a cold shudder run along his spine. He knew that shudders only from formidable enemies, so after helping the lady, he let go of her hastily, before turning around to inspect the vicinity, his eyes filled with a cold glimpse. Mind me, he was responsible for the lady's safety, so every suspicious thing had to be inspected closely as to not lead her into unknown dangers.
The cold gaze he'd felt, however, had already retracted and it was nobody in sight, except for a strayed chicken, picking for grains near the stables. Letting his gaze wander over the windows of the mansion, everything seemed to be normal.
"Something the matter?", Katherine asked curiously, as Pete was still standing next to the horse, his hand on the hilt of his sword as if ready to unsheathe it. With a short scan, she couldn't find an enemy.
Relaxing his stance as to not scare her unnecessarily, Pete gave one of his rare smiles. "No, milady. Nothing."
Walking over to the other guard, he stretched out his hands for the reins. "My horse please."
While giving it to him, Jack quietly muttered: "No worries."
Pete knitted his brows. If it was instinct, Jack was ahead of him. Still, Pete didn't expect him to notice this killing intent, which was only excluded for a fraction of a second, especially when it wasn't even directed at him. "You sensed it?"
Jack nodded, before showing a mischievous smile. "It wasn't directed at the lady, though, so I have nothing to worry about."
Pete's face darkened with anger. "Does this mean it doesn't concern you if I was ambushed by some random person?!"
That jerk had the nerve to laugh. "Of course it doesn't! I'll just stand by and pray they get more brains in their next life!"
The answer pacified Pete, letting his mouth curve upwards silently. The both of them mounted their horses.
Secretly, Jack's gaze wandered to a window in the second floor. There was nobody in sight now, but he was sure to have seen a shadow with white hair for a second when the killing intent was released. If it was who he thought it was, this enmity wasn't as easily solved as an attempt on Pete's life. However, it wasn't that bad. With a glance at Katherine, his lingering mischievous smile became a full-grown bandit grin. Was there someone jealous?
Not noticing the quiet conversation, Katherine realized a problem instead. They were four people, so why were there only three horses? "What about Hazel? Didn't I tell you guys to lend a horse for her, too? Don't tell me, the earl didn't allow it?"
"That's not it.", Pete corrected. "We wanted to apply for a horse, but, well..."
Reaching there, his gaze landed on the maid, who was flushed red again, trying to make herself as small as possible and lowering her head in shame.
"Hazel?", Katherine catched on quickly. "Don't you want to come with us?"
Hurriedly, and without looking up, the maid shook her head. Her hands were clutching her dress tightly. "I... milady... I'm so sorry!"
Katherine furrowed her brows. Sure, it was a bit inconvenient if her maid didn't want to go with her, as she'd liked to have a second girl's opinion on some of the things she wanted to buy. But it wasn't something this important, so why didn't Hazel tell her beforehand? And why did she sound like the world was crashing down again only because she refused to accompany her?
"No matter. You don't have to be sorry. But why didn't you tell me you didn't want to come?"
Hazel sniffed and finally lifted her head. There were tears in her eyes, her intense regret to not fulfill her goddess' request made her feel a bit numb and confused. "I want to go with you... I want to accompany your holy- ah, ladyship! I just... " She was fiddling with her dress nervously. "I just can't!"
Katherine was conflicted, because although she wanted to go down and hug that adorably sad maid of hers, she didn't want to go through that ordeal of mounting Bell again. Besides, Hazel's answer didn't clarify anything. "Why can't you go if you want to? Are there some other duties you must fulfill?"
Hazel shook her head and with the sleeve of her dress brushed her tears away. "I just... I can't..."
"Take a deep breath.", Katherine instructed. "Calm down. I won't be angry with you. Just tell me."
The maid nodded and composed herself before looking up to her lady again. The hope in her eyes fought with the trained insecurence. "Milady, I... I can't ride."