Fable - Ask Among Strangers

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Rosaline

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The carriage creaked along the cobblestone road in a lumbering sway, though the groaning wood was drowned out by the dozen mounted knights escorting the small convoy. Not a single one of the knights was of Telrio, these men swore their loyalty to King Santiago Aguilar of Maricielo, Rosaline's new husband. She stared absently out the window, gazing at the land that was going to be her new home. It was far more mountainous than Telrio, snowcapped peaks jutted harshly up against the horizon.

If she leaned forward and tilted her head just right, she could see the towering walls of the city looming up ahead with the proud castle towers standing tall behind them. It was an intimidating sight, the city as stern and unyielding as its inhabitants.

From what she'd seen so far, the people of Maricielo were unerringly reserved. Even at their wedding, Santiago had stood stoically before her without so much as a hint of a smile in his eyes. Not that she could blame him, she'd barely been able to muster a smile herself that day. Santiago wasn't actually interested in her, only the position of power she enabled him to have. With a sanctioned marriage in hand, and no male heirs to the Telrio throne, he'd secured lordship over the City and her lands -- until a heir was born from their union.

A heavy sigh escaped the princess's lips and she leaned back into the cushioned bench, closing her eyes.

The entire situation felt stank of nefarious politics. Santiago and his men had "miraculously" arrived in time to put an end to unknown assassins who'd ambushed her father's hunting party in the wilds -- but not before her father had been grievously wounded. They'd escorted the King and his men safely home to Telrio. It was still unclear what happened behind those closed doors, but Rosaline had been told when her father asked what Santiago wanted in return for saving the King's life... he'd asked to marry his daughter.

Her father had agreed.

A week later, while her father slowly succumbed to the infection that ate away at his body, Rosaline was sent to Maricielo for her "protection". She didn't believe a word of it, but was powerless to argue against the will of two Kings.


They arrived at the city gates at midday. Her guards had strictly told her that she was to keep the curtains drawn as they made their way through the city, but she couldn't help but peak out through a small sliver. She was surprised to see the city streets lined with smiling people. The colors they wore were far more muted than her home, but they seemed happy nevertheless. Cheers and applause resounded through the city, white lilies tossed at the carriage as it passed them by.

For the first time since her wedding, Rosaline smiled ever so slightly. The joy these people felt was infectious in a way, though her guards seemed immune to the effects. They glowered straight ahead, ignoring the world around them.

One of the knights came up beside the carriage window, turning his gaze towards hers. She locked eyes with the man for a single heartbeat, before she quickly ducked back and closed the curtain.
 
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Nil

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Nil slowly turned his head back towards the streets ahead of him, gently petting Pips neck as they continued their ride towards the Palace.

Despite his off-putting eyes and stoic demeanor, none of the other Knights within the retinue seemed the least bit perturbed by his place there. All of them seemed composed, put together, eyes watching the crowd carefully as they searched for anything that might pose a threat.

He had worked with these men for as long as he could remember.

Some of them had even trained him when he'd first arrived in Maricielo.

Some in the crowd would have called him a demon, cursed. His name in many of the taverns was the 'Tainted Knight'. The one that the King sent out when the true work had begun. Reputation and rumors surrounded him, some true, some lies made up by those who wished him to be feared.

Nil never argued about any of them.

Slowly the retinue made it's way through the city, the cheers of the crowd carrying them further. Eventually the palace gates fell open for them, and slowly the carriage came to a stop within the gardens that the King liked to keep within the inner-walls of his manor.

The Tainted Knight slipped from Pips, drawing a hand over his saddle for a brief moment before he slowly made his way towards the Carriage. Rosaline would hear the loud sound of a metal click, and then the door fell open to reveal him.
 
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Rosaline

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For a heart-faltering moment, Rosaline didn't move from her seat. Not out of fear of the knight that stood before her, but because she was terrified of the future that suddenly awaited her outside the carriage. It was one full of uncertainty and loneliness, she didn't want to set foot into that life. Some where in the back of her mind, she desperately hoped someone would realize she didn't belong here and would send her safely back home.

It was a fleeting and foolish thought.

Her eyes met the knight's once more and she hesitated before she finally moved from the bench. The emerald gown that she wore stood out in stark contrast to the grey stone and walls. The long gown swirled around her legs in the chilly mountain air. She wrapped the silver furred shawl around her shoulders, biting her bottom lip as she took in her surroundings.

Standing next to Nil, the top of her head barely reached the tops of his shoulders. She had to tilt her head back to look up at his face.

"Thank you." She murmured quietly, dipping her head appreciatively after he'd helped her out of the carriage.
 
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Nil

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"This way, My Lady." Nil said with a sweep of his arm, the sword at his side shifting just a bit as he ushered her towards the front of the Palace.

It was an ornate thing, far more a home for a King than it was a Keep.

Such things would have been scoffed upon in lands like Vel Anir or The Empire, but here in Cortos the Kings were a different sort. Being a King meant being audacious as much as it meant being stoic, a careful balance of politics and displays of wealth.

His Lord knew that better than most.

That was why Rosaline was here, after all. Part of that game.

Most of the other Knights seemed to drift away as Nil lead Rosaline through the Courtyard, only two others remaining at their side. A mark of what they were meant to be; not watchmen keeping a prisoner, but rather a guard of Honor.

Though it was difficult to discern the difference at times.
 
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Rosaline

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It was a fine balance between feeling like a prisoner and a respected guest. In the back of her mind, Rosaline realized that she wasn't necessarily a guest here... she was meant to live within the city walls. The thought made her uncertain and uncomfortable. This cold city was meant to be her home now.

She took a breath and raised her chin, looking up at the castle as it seemed to reach for the very skies themselves.

The massive doors to the Great Hall were pulled open by two servants as they approached. They bowed deeply to the Princess and the Knights, clasping their free hands to their chest and keeping their heads low. It was a far more submissive and yet militaristic display than Rosaline would have seen in Telrio.

She paused as she stepped through the doorway and looked to the servant on her right, offering him a kind smile. "Thank you, sir."

The man looked up at her in surprise, before he stammered a quick response. "It is my pleasure, your highness."

As Nil and Rosaline continued inside, a court page quickly rushed over to them with an array of scrolls clipped to a board he carried in his hand. "Ah! Ser Nil, I see you've returned to us safely. I trust your journey went smoothly."

His gaze slid from the Knight at her side to peer curiously at Rosaline herself. "And you must be the Lady of the Hour, Princess Rosaline. The entire city is abuzz with your name on their lips. His Majesty caused quite a stir when he returned from his venture with news of a bride! But he failed to put your beauty to words, my lady. Welcome to Castillo Nieve. I am Manuel, your most humble court aide." The man laughed boisterously and shook his head.

Rosaline quickly came to the decision that this courtier must not have been a native to Maricielo. He was far too jovial and he spoke far too much.

A faint smile crossed her features and she dipped her head in a polite greeting. "A pleasure, Marco."

Before she could say anything further, Marco turned back to Nil. "His Majesty has requested you report to the throne room, along with the Lady Aguilar."

It took Rosaline a moment to register that Marco referred to her when he said Lady Aguilar.
 
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Nil

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Nil only bowed his head.

His was not to question, only to serve. That was a lesson he had never needed to be taught. This was his role, what he had chosen to undertake after the King had chosen to take him into his court. He was forever thankful, and with that gratitude came obedience.

"This way, my Lady." Nil said as he gestured towards a hallway that lead towards another hallway with two large grand doors.

The Throne room was, surprisingly, a rather simplistic thing.

Whereas many would have decked out their throne in lavish gold trinkets and gilded statues Lord Aguilar was not as such. He was a man of the game, of ambition, not luxury beyond the scope of what was necessary. As the double doors snapped open, Nil stepped in front of Lady Aquilar and bowed deeply to his King.

"My Lord." He gestured. "I present you your Lady Wife, brought safe to her new home."
 
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Rosaline

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As the pair stepped into the throne room, Rosaline caught a glimpse of a serving girl scurrying out a back entrance. She couldn't be sure, but it looked as though the woman had been lacing up her top as she rushed out of the room.

Either way, the King did not seem perturbed in the slightest by their appearance. He pushed himself from his throne, striding towards Nil with his arms opened wide and a surprisingly warm smile on his face. His blonde locks were pulled back into an elegant knot, his beard neatly trimmed. The crown he wore was a simple silver band with small sapphires that matched his piercing eyes. He wore the title King with ease.

"Rise, my good man! It is good to see you." Santiago declared, clasping his knight fondly on the shoulder.

Rosaline stood quietly behind Nil with her hands tightly clasped together in front of her stomach. It felt strange to see Santiago smile and be so welcoming. Everything she'd seen of the man had pointed to the fact that he was incapable of such a thing.

She also noted that none of his warmth was directed to her.

When the King's gaze slid from his Knight to meet hers, the difference was startling. The fondness vanished from his eyes and left behind utter indifference. He looked her over once and clicked his tongue. "And the pretty little bird from the South has finally arrived."

Santiago stepped closer towards her, clasping her chin between his thumb and index finger, tilting her head back and slightly to the side in a cold inspection. "Mmm... you did well, Nil. She's unharmed and unsullied, just as I asked. It wouldn't do to have my doll damaged, would it?" He chuckled and turned away from her, looking back to Nil.

A shiver ran the length of Rosaline's spine once she was released. The King's touch had been far from gentle, it'd be a subtle tell of how easily he could snap her neck if he wished it.

"Did you run into any trouble on the road?" He asked, clearly addressing the Knight.
 
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Nil

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Nil remained utterly impassive as the King handled his new prize.

His role was not to question, that was another lesson he had learned long again. The knight simply held himself at attention, waiting to be addressed and staring straight ahead as though his King and his Lady was not even there. She could have been forced to strip bare and Nil would not have seen it.

"A group of Bandits, your majesty." He told the King.

"Likely exiles cast out by the Radiant Church." Nil and the others had slain them before they had come too far. "The carriage was never disturbed."

A mark of just how quick and efficient Nil and his men had dealt with the problem.

All of them had trained hard and well. Protecting the King's new wife had been an important duty, and the task had been taken as though a glaive were resting over each of their necks. Daily scouts had gone out, and when one of those scouts had reported the camp of Brigands Nil and the others had road out and slaughtered them before they could even get a chance to strike.

His head turned. "I also have the other item you asked for, your Majesty. Delivered to your chambers."
 
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Rosaline

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Rosaline bristled, but she stayed quiet. It wouldn't do to make a scene in the middle of the throne room. Fading into the backdrop was far easier and drew less attention to her.

Santiago nodded and turned to a nearby table, pouring himself a glass of wine and offering one to Nil. "As always, Nil, you excel in your duties." He swirled the wine in its glass for a moment, before continuing.

"Before you venture off to enjoy your reward, take our little doll to her chambers in the west wing and post two men outside her door to ensure her rest is not disturbed. She must be weary after so many days on the road." The King polished off the glass of wine and clicked his tongue.
 
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Nil

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"Yes, your Majesty." Nil said with a nod of his head and a short bow.

There was no objection, no arguing that she would need no guard to stop her from being disturbed. Nil knew better than that of course, he was no fool. Neither was she, if he had to bet. The Guards were not for her benefit, but to keep her from wandering.

His head slowly turned towards Rosaline. "If you'll follow me, My Lady."

He asked.

"The Palace is rather large." Not to mention built like a maze. Though his King had followed tradition of splendor, he was no fool. The Palace was it's own sort of fortress, built to confuse and entangle any would be assassins.
 
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Rosaline

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The King said nothing more to either Nil or Rosaline. It seemed that he had no real desire to interact with his new wife in any real regard.

She felt her heart sink in her chest as she was led off down a corridor by the Knight. Anger and hurt churned in her belly. Her father had condemned her to a life of isolation and loneliness by marrying her off to Aguilar. A princess locked away in a tower like some precious trinket to be kept hidden and used only when needed.

After the doors shut behind them, a quiet sigh slipped past her lips and her posture shifted. She looked smaller now and far more vulnerable. Walking alongside Nil through the cold corridors felt as though she might as well have been alone. The Knight never spoke out of turn or offered his thoughts or opinions on matters.

She'd expected something similar to her chambers back in Telrio -- enough space for her to comfortably live in while having access to multiple rooms to bide her time in. What she arrived at, however, was a room that would have been allocated for servants in her old home.

It was a quaint space with a hearth and a small balcony. The furnishings were comfortable and modest. Rosaline quickly realized that her bedchamber had been hastily thrown together, as if an after thought.

She took a breath and stepped into the small room, biting her bottom lip as she glanced around. At least there were books, she wouldn't be trapped in this space with nothing to occupy her time with.

"Could you help me get a fire going before you leave?" She asked Nil in a soft voice as she crouched by the hearth, starting to place the split logs over the rungs.
 
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Nil

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Nil didn't seem to hesitate.

He was a Knight, a loyal one, but he was not some heartless monster. Many would have argued against that of course, claimed him to be some thing that simply wandered around court and did as he was told. Yet they all would have been surprised.

"Of course, My lady." He said as he crossed the room, not touching her but gently ushering her back from the fireplace. "Please."

Nil told her. "Sit."

There was a comfortable reading chair in the corner of the room besides the fireplace, and he motioned for her to take her place there so that he could set the fire.

Such things were not for A Queen to do.

Quickly Nil set about moving the logs into the fireplace, shifting some tinder beneath them and then gently holding up his hands. There was a sudden spark, a fire snapping into life as though from nothing.
 
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Rosaline

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Rosaline had started to protest when Nil ushered her towards the chair, but she simply lacked the energy to argue the point. Once she was settled in the chair, she watched the knight intently and then cocked her head to the side after his little display.

"Thank you for that." The Queen said quietly with a faint smile. "I never realized you were a mage before."

Something almost resembling a chuckle started to form in her throat, but never fully took shape. The sound that escaped was a slightly amused, "hmh"

"I'll have to find the matches soon, so I don't have to bother you every time the flames die down."
 
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Nil

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"I wouldn't title myself such." He said I'm a muted rebuke, his words more soft than harsh.

The magic he used did not come from within. He was no sorcerer no wizard. The fire had been born of what was put into him. He shifted slightly and pulled his bracer to the side, showing her a simple glance of his flesh.

Beneath the fur lined metal she would see his skin, line with thousands upon thousands of runes and etchings that seemed to stretch all over him. It was not Rune Magic, from what he understood, though something very close to it.

His father had put them there. "I am just a Knight with a little more."

There was no pride in his tone, there never would be.

The "gifts" his father had given him still caused him nightmares. He could remember the pain of the needles beneath his flesh, could still remember the torturous nights that had been spent within that laboratory. It made him want to vomit even now.

"I'll have the servants bring you some matches." He told her. "I don't think the King would object."
 
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Rosaline

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Rosaline could hear the pain in Nil's words as he gave the brief correction. He was a man of few words, she'd learned that over their short time together. She wondered if her constant prattling grated on his nerves.

Carefully, she rose from the small chair where she'd been seated and approached the kneeling Knight. Even though she wanted to reach out to touch him, she refrained from doing so. She got the impression he was not accustomed to such things. From what she'd been told, the culture in Maricielo was quite different from her home City. They were far more reserved with their emotions. Where touch was commonplace in Telrio, that was not the case here. In Maricielo, such contact was only expected among close friends and family.

As she knelt down next to Nil, Rosaline couldn't help but wonder if she'd ever feel the warmth of an embrace again. She had no close friends here and Santiago certainly didn't hold her in high regard.

Taking a breath, she gestured towards his arm and offered a reassuring smile. "I meant to cause no offense, Ser Nil." She spoke in a low voice and then extended her hands towards the warmth of the flames.

"But... thank you for the fire, and what company you've given me."
 
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Nil

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"No offense was made." Nil told her in a soft voice.

There was no reason to think him anything other than what he was, but he did not blame those who did. One could not be held accountable for ignorance, at least not in moments like these. Beside,s she was a stranger in a strange land.

That earned her some lee-way to say the least.

He nodded as she thanked him. "If you require anything else, you may ask one of the Guards outside."

Nil told her.

"They may not have much charm, but they are good men both." For a second he hesitated, and then added. "They will keep you safe."

Perhaps Nil truly chose to believe the lie, or perhaps he just wanted her to.
 
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Rosaline

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She glanced to the door behind her and then returned her gaze to Nil with a sardonic smile. It was no great mystery why the guards were being posted outside her quarters -- she wasn't permitted to freely roam about the castle.

"So far as I can tell, I'm only going to need protection from boredom more than anything else." She chuckled softly, shaking her head.

Clearing her throat, she rose back to her feet and dusted off her skirts. "I won't keep you, I know that you're released from duty once you're done here. If you ever wish to talk... you know where I'll be."
 
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Nil

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He offered her a smile. It was a rare expression from him, rare enough that most people never saw it. At least those who did not know it well. "It is no trouble."

Nil said with a short bow as he too stood.

She was his Queen, technically speaking. Though his King perhaps saw her as nothing more than a political tool...Nil had no such luxuries. He knew his place within the world, knew that it was his place to do whatever he could.

Though the truth was...he pitied her.

He was not fool enough to think that she truly was being kept safe, and thus he couldn't help but feel a slight tang of guilt. He did not like being a prison guard.

"Yes." Nil said. "And if You have need of me...just ask."

He said with a short bow.
 
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Rosaline

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She found his smile charming, though she figured he likely didn't think it as such, and it was impossible for her not to return the expression.

As he bowed, Rosaline gathered her skirts in one hand and then gave a curtsy to the knight, bowing her head. He'd seen her safely across the countryside and been nothing but cordial to her. If ever there was an exemplary Knight, it was the man who stood before her.

There was a brief pause as she considered something, before she decided to take him up on his offer.

"Tomorrow then... could you take me riding? It would be nice to see the countryside."
 
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Nil

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Nil stopped as his hand fell on the handle of the door.

For a brief second he hesitated. He knew that his Majesty did not want the Queen to venture far, nor would he want her riding alone. Yet this wasn't alone, she would be with him, and there were few people that the King trusted more than him.

Besides, the less she was inside the less she would feel like causing trouble. "Yes."

He told her.

"We will have to find you a horse." The Knight said. "But a Queen should know her country."

Nil thought he could make that argument to the King. The people would enjoy seeing her, and it would cement the alliance.
 
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Rosaline

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For the first time since they'd met, a bright smile spread across Rosaline's features. Her entire face lit up with genuine excitement and joy.

Relief washed over her and she expelled a breath she'd been holding. She wouldn't be contained to this room like some sort of prisoner. It was a small victory.

"Until tomorrow then, See Nil. I'm looking forward to it."
 

Nil

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Nil made a bow, and then pulled open the door.

The two guards were already standing outside, and he had a quick word with both of them before continuing down the hall. He would have to speak to the king, but he did not expect there would be much resistance to what he asked.

His Majesty had always been intelligent when it came to playing games of politics. He wanted Rosaline secure, but he would want to use her in the best form. Having her be seen would do the people good, having her be happy meant she wouldn't cause trouble.

Simple as that.

The next morning Nil found his assumptions correct. The conversation with the King was a brief one, and required little more than his personal guarantee of Rosaline's safety.

It was a mark of how much trust the King had in him, a show of what he had earned.

As the day began to grow hot, and the soon crested above the horizon Nil found himself knocking on Rosaline's door.
 
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Rosaline

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Rosaline answered the door shortly after, dressed in a simple linen gown and riding boots. Another one of her bright smiles lit up her face when she realized who was on the other side of the door. "Did he say that we could go?"

The answer was obviously yes, she doubted that Nil would have come all the way to her room to just greet her with glum news.

She glanced at the guards who stood outside her door. They were two new men, it seemed the shifts had changed.

After Nil had left, she'd taken the time to introduce herself to the guards that were posted, and even offered them some tea. If she was going to be locked in her room all day, she might as well try to make friends where she could.

Unsure of where to go, she had to wait for Nil to lead her out of the castle. The labyrinth of corridors was still unfamiliar to her. As they walked, she made every effort to commit the path to memory.
 
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Nil

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They did not move to the front courtyard of the Palace.

Though the King had approved this little field trip he had insisted that Rosaline nod be paraded through the city streets with only Nil had her side. According to him such was not proper decorum, and thus he had bade Nil take her out through the hidden gates.

It was a request that fell in line with Nil's own thinking.

He had no doubt that no one would try to hurt the new Queen, at least not any citizens, it was best to keep a small low profile. A few farmers and perhaps hunters they could deal with, an entire city full of throngs of people?

Best not tempt fate. "Here."

Nil said as they left the back of the Palace, coming to another massive garden which seemed to stretch towards an outer wall beyond, a small stable and a gate sitting nearby it.
 
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Rosaline

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Rosaline stopped short once the garden came into view. She wasn't sure what she'd expected, but such a verdant place hidden away behind the castle was not it. Such beauty stood in stark contrast to the impression she had of the King and his lands.

She walked towards the stables with a subtle smile gracing her features.

Inside, she found two horses already saddled and waiting for them. She recognized Nil's horse immediately, having traveled with the beast for a week to reach Maricielo. Tied to next to his horse, was the one she assumed was intended for her to ride -- which was simply the most gorgeous palamino she'd ever laid eyes on.

"Oh wow..." She breathed, approaching the mare to delicately run her hand along the horse's neck. "She's lovely."

Her gaze shifted back to Nil and she wrinkled her nose in a brilliant smile. "So, where are we off to? I assume we aren't going to go gallivanting through the city without a contingent of guards with us."
 
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