“WAKE UP! WAKE UP!” A rude bossy voice bellowed, followed by a few sharp raps on the door, smashing into my peaceful slumber.
I opened my eyes groggily and pushed Eris’s hand off me; it was the crack of dawn and I could see the faint rays of daybreak streaming through the window.
“Whatsup?” Lyssa muttered sleepily beside Eris.
I groaned as I recalled, “It’s riding day,” I yawned and nudged Eris who stirred and continued to sleep blissfully.
“Greta is really getting on my nerves. I swear, one of these days…” Lyssa snarled as she climbed over both Eris and I. Reaching out for her uniform, she gave Eris a sharp jab in her stomach and pulled the dress over her head.
“Watch it!” Eris cried out and aimed a kick at Lyssa but missed.
“Girls! Hurry up, we don’t have much time,” I shouted as I inspected my still-bruised neck. Even after five days, the bruise had not faded. Clearly I had seriously underestimated Physician Ko’s strength.
“By the way, why are we up so early?” Eris yawned, stretched herself and settled back into the bed.
“RIDING!” Lyssa and I yelled at the same time and pounced on her.
“Geeup!” Eris cried out and tugged on the reins. The mare snorted, shook her head and continued to stand motionlessly, refusing to budge from her position.
“You need skill to tame an animal, to show her who’s boss….hmm, I wonder who she reminds me of, stubborn, disrespectful…..,” Lyssa commented airily as her mare cantered past Eris’s.
Eris glared at Lyssa’s retreating back and squeezed the mare’s flanks with both of her legs, hard; the action had no effect whatsoever on the mare, on the contrary it bent down and started nibbling at the grass.
“Move IT!” Eris shouted as she started bouncing up and down on the mare’s back, in response to which, the mare….
Continued to ignore Eris’s existence.
“Hahahaha!” Prince Changmin laughed as he flew past Eris on his brown stallion. Swerving his horse sharply to the left, the stallion turned and made its way back towards Eris.
“Women; they just can’t do anything right,” Prince Changmin shook his head and sighed dramatically as he grabbed the reins from Eris’s hands. Eris’s mouth opened in shock as Prince Changmin led her mare to a slow trot alongside his stallion.
I gave Eris a wink and rode past them towards Prince Yunho who seemed to be in the middle of an argument with Prince Yoochun.
“My horse is the fastest stallion in the entire kingdom!” Prince Yoochun boasted as he patted the back of his horse.
“Don’t kid me Yoochun; everyone knows that my black beauty is the fastest. He won the previous two Golden Horse Races and even beat Father’s stallion by a mile,” Prince Yunho said proudly and stroked his horse.
“Exactly! The previous two Golden Horse Races. That just proves how old your horse is,” Prince Yoochun grinned and nudged his horse to a trot.
“WHAT?!” Prince Yunho shouted as he caught up with Prince Yoochun.
“We can prove it,” Prince Yoochun said as his grin became wider.
“Hey! Let’s have a race to the great rocks and back!” Prince Yoochun turned and shouted.
“The last person will have to wash all of the horses as punishment!” He continued as his horse came to a stop.
“I thought we had stable boys?” Prince Junsu yelled out as he caught up with the rest of the group.
Prince Yoochun stared at Prince Junsu and gave him an I-can’t-believe-you-are-so-lame look while Prince Junsu smiled sheepishly back.
“Excellent! Blackie and I shall show you what it means to be the experienced ones,” Prince Yunho said to Prince Yoochun as he rubbed the back of his black stallion.
“The old ones, you mean. Hope your stomach can digest dust,” Prince Yoochun taunted.
“On the count of three everyone!” Prince Yunho shouted in return as we all lined up beside him.
“Prince Changmin, you wouldn’t leave a poor girl to fend for herself in the wilderness, would you?” Eris pleaded hastily in her most winsome voice.
“My mare might just throw me off her back if I push her too hard and you would lose a wonderful personal maid who would bring you breakfast,lunch,dinner…”
“YAHHH!!” Eight voices yelled out at once as all the horses charged forward. In the midst of the yelling, I was positive that one voice held a hint of exasperation in it. Laughing, I urged my mare forward and chased the tail of Prince Yoochun.
“Heeya!” Lyssa screamed out as she rocketed past me and cut across Prince Yoochun’s path.
“HEY!” Prince Yoochun yelled out in surprise as he expertly swerved his horse aside.
“THAT’S CHEATING!” Prince Yoochun yelled out while Lyssa laughed gleefully aloud and sped on.
I grinned towards his shocked face and like Lyssa, raced past him towards Crown Prince Jaejoong and Prince Yunho who was in the lead.
“COME ON KER! WHERE’S YOUR RIDING SPIRIT?” Lyssa shouted and whipped the back of her mare.
That did it; a burning desire to win raced through my veins and I tightened my grip on my reins. Memories of the hellish horseback training I had endured flashed through my mind and I lashed out my whip in response. My mare neighed loudly and quickened her pace. Sweat trickled down my neck as I lifted my body slightly above the mare’s back and shifted my body weight forward.
Go!Go!Go! I shouted to the mare in my head and brought my whip down again hard.
The mare picked up her speed again and in no time at all, we flew past Lyssa and was slowly gaining upon Crown Prince Jaejoong.
I have to win; I have to be the best, I thought blindly in my head. There was only recognition and comfort when you are the best of the best, the cream of the cake; everything else is trivial, it will soon dissolve into oblivion. Only by winning can you be remembered, can there be any proof that you existed. No matter what I have to do to get there, I have to be at the top.
I shook my head as Prince Yunho’s voice penetrated my thoughts. Turning around, I realized that I had surpassed Prince Yunho already.
“KER! YOU ALREADY PASSED THE GREAT ROCKS! TURN BACK!” He shouted and slowed down.
What? I thought to myself and pulled on the reins. Turning around, I sped back towards Prince Yunho.
“You ok? I called out so many times but you didn’t respond at all,” Prince Yunho said as I came to a stop beside him.
He looked genuinely confused as I stared into his face; a sudden wave of emptiness washed across me as I nodded my head and continued on the way back.
I could not understand the sudden odd feeling within me; yes, I had felt empty before, countless times, but not this dull, empty, hollow feeling. Why had I not seen the Great Rocks? Why was I so engrossed in my memories?
Too many thoughts bring about confusion; a sudden clear voice called out in my head. Nyx’s voice. I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply, picturing that I was breathing out the wild thoughts that were running amok in my head.
“Let’s hurry and head back Prince Yunho, or else we might have to wash all the horses as punishment,” I said as he caught up with me.
Giving me another perplexed look, Prince Yunho nodded and picked up speed.
“What were you thinking about just then?” Prince Yunho shouted as we raced across the dirt road.
“Strategizing!” I shouted back a while later, the only excuse that I could come up with.
“HAHA!” Prince Yunho laughed aloud.
“Are you being serious?” He shouted again as we turned around a corner.
About a few hundred feet away from us, I spotted Eris with Prince Changmin.
“Isn’t that Changmin and Eris? Let’s overtake them!” Prince Yunho yelled and urged his horse to pick up speed.
I chased the tail of Prince Yunho and within a few seconds, we were nearing Prince Changmin and Eris. Even from a distance away, I could hear their loud bickering.
“ARE YOU IMPLYING SOMETHING ABOUT MY HORSEBACK RIDING SKILLS??? I’LL HAVE YOU KNOW THAT I COULD RIDE A HORSE BEFORE I COULD WALK AND I WON EVERY RACE I ENTERED.”
“WERE YOU RACING AGAINST PEOPLE YOUR SIZE, LIKE SAY, 12 YEAR OLDS??? OR PERHAPS IT WAS A RACE ON A WOODEN HORSE BECAUSE OTHERWISE, YOUR HORSEBACK RIDING SKILLS SEEM TO BE IN A VERY DEEP HIBERNATION, YOU SHORTY.”
“Oh really? I really am VERY impressed with your skills. My mare is TRULY coming along wonderfully under YOUR expert hands.”
“Honestly woman! If it was not for the sake of my meals and my stomach, I would not want to associate myself with you at all! Your mare is like a mule! I’ve never seen anything of its kind before in my entire life!” Prince Changmin complained at the top of his voice as he yanked at the reins of Eris’s mare with his right hand.
“Good luck training your mule!” Prince Yunho yelled as he zoomed past Prince Changmin.
“Bye!” I shouted as I followed suit.
“Ker! WAIT FOR US!” Eris screamed out as I caught up with Prince Yunho.
“Guess we won’t be washing the horses after all!” Prince Yunho turned and laughed.
The mare snorted as I ran a thick brush across her mane.
“Stunningly horrendous egoistic creature! Why of all mares did I have to pick you?”
“Why indeed!” Prince Changmin hissed and wiped his hands on his overall.
I bit my lips and remained silent as I continued to comb my mare’s mane. It was rather unfair of me to drag Prince Changmin along with me during the race, that I had to admit was my fault. However, strategically speaking, two was much better than one when it comes down to the actual washing of horses.
“Pass me the brush,” Prince Changmin said as he carelessly dropped the cloth he was holding on the floor.
“Prince Changmin! Please throw away the cloth properly!” I sighed exasperated and bent down to retrieve the cloth.
“Who’s the Prince here?” Prince Changmin asked in a bored tone and dropped the brush he was holding.
I growled quietly and picked up the brush that he dropped. Nudging him to one side, I prepared to comb the horse that he was cleaning.
“Seriously, don’t you ever read? You comb horses like this!” Prince Changmin said and grabbed the brush roughly from my hands.
“Mmmm.. I see…” I said enthusiastically as he continued to demonstrate the ‘correct way’ of combing horses.
“What about cutting their manes? What would be the best way to do that?” I asked in a curious tone.
“Done! Finally!” Prince Changmin exclaimed extended his arms into a stretch.
“Ha~llelujah!” I chirped from my comfortable position on the floor.
Giving me another glare, he sank into a chair and pointed towards his back.
“You owe me this much,” He said and leaned back.
Rolling my eyes, I flexed my fingers and began massaging Prince Changmin’s shoulders.
“Can I stop now?” I asked after what seemed like a long time as my muscles screamed for me to stop.
“Prince Changmin?” I asked and peered over his head.
He had fallen asleep on the chair without even realizing it. I sighed and prodded him gently on the shoulder. Like the first time I tried to wake him up, it had no effect whatsoever. Sighing again, I settled myself comfortably on the floor beside him and rested my head against the wall.
The after effects of the entire morning and afternoon were slowly catching up with me. In the silence, the past came crashing back down on me.
The straw, smell and scratching of horses were all so painfully familiar and bone chilling. I hugged myself closer and began slowly rocking back and forth to calm myself.
Looking up, I glanced towards Prince Changmin’s sleeping face.
He looks so perfect, like the living dead. I thought as adrenaline raced through me. I traced the vein on his throat with my eyes and clenched my fists at the thought of puncturing that delicate skin.
Was my father this peaceful before he died? Probably not. I thought to myself and tilted my head to one side as I continued to observe Prince Changmin.
I was running. But I couldn’t tell if I was chasing after something or escaping from something. It was foggy. And I wasn’t going anywhere. It felt like my legs were just pumping air. I pushed harder….
“WILL YOU STOP THAT???”
Huh? I opened my eyes to find myself looking up at a VERY annoyed Prince Changmin. And the reason for the air beneath my feet was that he was carrying me.
I felt something slipping off my body and grabbed for it instinctively. It was his jacket. A lump formed in my throat as I stared at it.
What kind of Prince gives a lowly maid his jacket? And carries her to her room, while he’s at it?
One that you’re going to kill. Don’t forget, his family killed yours.
I had thought that given the chance to avenge my father, no emotion other than hate would penetrate my mind. Then why this feeling?
“Eris…” Prince Changmin’s voice interrupted my self-beating.
“There’s something I wanted to tell you….”
Did they find something? Did they check our backgrounds? Did the families deny employing us? I knew I should’ve brought the katana to threaten the families; the wakizashi just does not have the same effect.
“What is it?”
“well…I’m not sure if I should tell you.”
He found something, didn’t he? Of course he did, oh god what is it? Relax, Eris. Just act normal. He can’t suspect anything.
I tried to twist the look of horror on my face into a look of innocent curiosity. It probably ended up looking scarier than ever.
“You kind of stink….”
WHAM!!! My hand connected solidly with the back of his head.
“OW!!! WHAT THE HELL???? THAT HURT!!! Why are you so strong???? You’re meant to be a midget!!!!”
Thank you to my lovely beta kiryu!:)
comments would be loved:)