Kasser had finally finished signing off documents he had been working on since the morning. He had had difficulty concentrating on his work today, thus taking more time than usual to finish. Even so, this long day had drawn to a close.
He leaned back in his chair, rubbing the tension from his forehead, finally able to relax.
The chamberlain, standing by his beck and call, took this as his cue. He quickly rushed to the king and asked, “Shall I bring some tea, Your Majesty?”
With a bow, the man exited the office in hurried steps. Kasser slowly rose from his seat to stretch his stiff legs. He had been glued to this chair all day and wished for a breath of fresh air. So, instead of taking the usual route of going through the door, this royalty climbed through the window and stepped onto the balcony.
The sky was clear, without a speck of cloud. He stood there looking at the walls lining the city.
There could be a signal flare at any moment.
The active period meant that he was always on the edge. With his mind always on the lookout for the slightest signal or disturbance, it was so hard to concentrate. Working from sundown till the crack of dawn, taking short naps during the day, just to get his usual amount of work done. To Kasser, the active period had always been so.
But ever since he began spending his nights with the queen, things had changed. Working during the day became inefficient, and the papers he had to tend to, kept piling up on his desk. Now, they had even formed a small tor in his office.
This was precisely why he had gone back to his routine of working through the night, postponing his nocturnal rendezvous with the queen. He had to! And now that he had done so, the pile was beginning to become manageable again, but even so, he hated every second of it.
For now, Kasser just needed to enjoy a break. A few minutes without care… letting his mind wander to where not. He took a deep breath and looked towards the clear sky… he felt calm within. He then shifted his gaze to the serene garden below. But somehow, he couldn’t find the peace he was expecting to see…
Perturbed by the sight, he clicked his tongue in disappointment.
Abu had the form of a stallion, but in essence, was still a dangerous Lark. Every member of his staff knew this, explaining their fear for Abu. He had ordered Abu not to walk freely around the gardens, but never did Abu take his orders seriously. This beast was as unrestrained as its master.
Also, Abu and enclosed spaces were a big no-no. He was a creature suited to wander unbridled and haunt the desert. This mischievous beast, however, was wise enough to never cause trouble. Thus, the man and the beast had come to a tacit understanding- Abu would wander unhindered, Kasser would turn a blind eye.
Standing in the balcony, Kasser had spotted Abu. Right now, he fixed his gaze on Abu, following as he trotted around the spacious garden like he owned the place. His attitude and demeanour didn’t lose to the monarch himself- majestic and gallant. Though Kasser did not fear Abu himself, he became worried when he saw two people approaching the beast.
Kasser’s brows knotted as he recognized one of the two figures. Of all the people, he had least expected it to be her. He was piqued. Finding her in the garden was in itself a surprise, to say nothing of what she was doing right now.
Oblivious to the eyes tailing her, Eugene was gingerly walking towards Abu, slowly getting nearer and nearer…
No one knew that Kasser had vowed he’d never forgive Abu if he were to ever hurt a human. Therefore, Abu had always avoided people. It was another matter that people themselves steered clear of Abu, but for his part, Abu had upheld his share of the bargain up until now.
Which was why it was so out of character of the horse to remain still in his place as if waiting for Eugene to get closer.
Anxious that Abu might hurt Eugene, Kasser wasted no time and started heading for the door, but instantly stopped upon a passing thought. To go down, he would have to walk through several corridors and cross flights of stairs. That was indeed a long way! Besides, the sight of a sprinting king would draw attention, which was the least he needed right now.
Kasser glimpsed behind him, checking for presence. If he just jumped down the balcony, it would be quicker. There was no one near the window and servants would never dare to obstruct him. He was about to leap.
Suddenly, at that moment, Marianne’s face resurfaced in his mind. The woman had raised him and instilled in him the conduct a king must abide by. And using Praz for personal reasons was not one of those…
After years of teaching, he had grown up to be an obstinate, principled man. He never allowed irregularities in anyone, much less himself. But three years ago, he had violated his strict principles for the very first time and struck a secret agreement with a woman. His excuse for this was that he desperately needed an heir to the throne. He had used the same excuse when he hid the news of the missing national treasure.
The king gripped the balcony railing, let out a short breath, and jumped off. And but naturally, a blue force enveloped his rapidly plummeting body.
A rare breed of horse, indeed!
As she sank deeper into her trance, she noticed another unique feature- two tiny horns sticking out next to its ears. The more she looked, the queerer she found it.
Hence, Eugene was giving the horse a thorough look, examining it from head to hoof, when she caught its eyes staring back at her.
Surprisingly, Abu was equally curious about the delicate human who was daringly approaching him.
The horse did not have the calm nature of a herbivore. Eugene felt as though she were dwelling on the eyes of a person, not an animal.
“Hi, there! What is your name?”
Eugene cooed to the horse as if it were a harmless stray cat. But the horse tilted his head as if he were responding, which tickled her curiosity further.
“Do you understand what I am saying?”
The horse blew his nose as he bobbed his head up and down.
Eugene couldn’t believe what she was witnessing.
“Oh my goodness, Zanne! Did you just see that? The horse just answered!”
When she received no reaction, she turned to look behind her, only to see Zanne’s startled, pale face.
“Do not get any nearer, Your Grace,” the maid said nervously.
“I thought it didn’t hurt people?”
“It is still a dangerous animal, Your Grace.”
“The servant is right.”
Recognizing the owner of the voice, Zanne jumped in surprise and bowed her head. In cue, Eugene’s head jerked to the source of the voice and met Kasser’s blue orbs.
Taking big strides, Kasser now stood between the horse and Eugene.
“You-Your Majesty.” Eugene stammered.
Kasser seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. Eugene had never bumped into him unplanned before. She had heard that he usually didn’t step out of his office during the day. He didn’t eat his meals at a set time, so she would often spend time eating alone in the vast dining room. At nightfall, she always met Kasser in the confines of her dark bedroom. She had sometimes wondered if he even lived in the palace.
But in the daylight, Kasser presented a different sight altogether. His eyes and hair were of bright color, a clear stand-out from the normal dark mane and eyes of people. It was like a pop of color in a black-and-white photo.
For some reason, Eugene couldn’t bring herself to look directly at him. Instead, she locked her gaze on the horse over Kasser’s shoulder.
“I heard it’s your horse.” She continued. “Am I mistaken?”