She rode hard through the woods, stopping to rest only when she noticed the flecks of foam flying from her horse’s mouth. She sat under a tree near a stream, picking at the grass irritably as her horse wearily lapped up the water. She hadn’t anticipated the need for a speedy return; this was supposed to be a routine visit, a mere errand to keep her busy and out of the king’s way. She made him nervous, she knew. Too dangerous, too free spirited. A troublemaker. These things and more had been said about her. But nobody ever doubted her ability to bully the commoners into giving her what she wanted. Or, more precisely, what the king wanted.
She stood and paced across the tiny clearing. What was so urgent about this new staff the king wanted? He had been particular in the details, wary of giving her any more information than she absolutely needed: solid gold, with space for a ruby in the center of the handle. What, she wondered, could that signify?
But more interesting to her was this man, this smithy. Where was he from, and why did the king choose him for this commission? What did he know? Would he tell anyone about her breach of conduct? It wasn’t the punishment that worried her, of course—twenty lashes was nothing to a warrior of the Crown—but rather the curiosity it would arouse. She kicked at a tuft of grass. Foolish. There was no excuse for it. She must be more careful in the future.
Her horse seemed to be breathing easy now. They must push onward. She must get to Gavin before the week’s end.