Source: / George Hans artist
“So, you’re that Rin? I've heard your name. Not familiar with Issik, so...”
“Yes. And not being familiar with the ways of Issik, you thought I'd be a man."
“You lead a rebellion, but you take the knee before me?”
“Well, you…we…” she blushed. “I didn’t know it was you.”
“My prince," said Wit, now shivering,"let’s return to our shelter; it’s meager, but more effective than standing under the clouds.”
Cavik held up an 'in-a-moment' finger, and Wit rolled his eyes.
“I can’t let you go now, Rin. I’m taking you prisoner.”
“That might not be wise to try, Cavik.”
“So now we’re on first names?”
She grew flustered again; he had a bad habit of asking questions instead of getting angry. She put her hands on her hips, and her braids were dangling in front of her face, and her bi-colored eyes were flashing.
She's magnificent.
“I don’t know what we are. Dammit, you kissed me, a total stranger walking down the road! What kind of man are you? Are you that randy all the time?”
Cavik turned to Wit.
“This woman is a marvel, Wit. She’s gone from overthrowing my father, to kissing me, to taking the knee, to calling me ‘Cavik’, to calling me randy.”
Wit smirked. “Truth be told, my prince, it was a little overdone. I thought you’d try a subtler approach.
Rin smirked too. “Thank you, Wit.”
“To the rocks, my prince?”
Cavik sighed. “To the rocks. Come Rin, we have much to discuss.”
“My people are expecting me.”
“Then Wit and I, as I said before, will escort you.”
“You can’t. They hate you.”
“Because of you?”
“Not entirely; mostly because of your father.”
“What has he done that was—“
“My prince, please!”
They both stared at Wit in shock.
Wit muttered and walked away; the word ‘fools’ somehow carried back to them.
They watched him go, and when he was lost to sight, Rin looked back to Cavik, and shook her head.
“This is pointless, Prince Cavik. Let me go.”
“You know I can’t; talk to me, Rin. Let me see what I can do to convey your grievances to my father. I’ve known him to be a reasonable man.”
“Then you’ve seen a side of him we’ve not.”
“Exactly my point. Please, Rin.”
She looked at him a long moment; the fact that he said ‘please’ wasn’t lost on her.
“You’re serious…”
“I am.”
“You would really do that?”
“That’s what a good king does, listen to his people. My father’s a good king, as I will be when I follow him.”
She had no reply.
He gestured she should go before him back toward the shelter of the rocks.
She went.

She talked, and he listened, and questioned.
The rain stopped, but the sky was considerably darker with the waning day.
“We’d best return, my prince.”
Cavik looked at the sky.
“Very well. We should make the castle by nightfall.”
“Your mother will be worried.”
“She always does.”
“And what of me?” Rin said.
They looked at her.
“You’ve…delayed me. I’m late for my meeting; either they held it without me or canceled it. They’ll be looking for me.”
Cavik’s stomach sank, but there was nothing for it.
“Return with me.”
“Cavik!” Wit said.
“Decorum, Wit.”
“Sorry, my prince.”
Cavik gave a nod; Wit had been with him all his life, and took liberties sometimes, allowed and otherwise. Cavik had come to accept it as his due.
“That’s impossible.”
“Rin, it’s wet out here, and starting to get cold; things will be moving around in the woods that know them better than you. The sky is cloudy, so there’ll be no moon. Do you really want to risk being out here alone, with just a knife?”
“But my people…”
“I will send someone with you in the morning; they’ll have to worry until then, but they’ll see you returned safely, courtesy of the king they wish to overthrow.”
“But we’re on foot, and you’ve no weapons at all. We’ll be hunted.”
“Do you really think I would travel to such a place on foot? The horses are behind the rocks, in a clearing.”
Rin smiled. Truth be told, she was tired of walking, but had no money for a horse. A night with a bath and a soft bed and real food, and if she were honest, the possibility of another of his kisses, decided her.
“In this, I will obey you, ‘my prince.’”
They both laughed.
Wit was not amused at her impression, and went to get the horses.

Rin mounted up behind Wit, and the horses, eager to be out of the wet woods, took off at a fast trot.
They all thought about the king’s reaction to Cavik bringing home a stranger with a weapon, a girl he’d already claimed would be the future queen, though he had no idea how he knew that was true.
Wit didn’t even want to speculate on what the queen might do.
The ride passed in silence, save for the huffing breath of the horses.
The rain mercifully stayed in the clouds, which eventually broke to reveal a crescent moon; meager light, dim and not effective at dispelling shadows and illuminating dark recesses, but better than total darkness.
As it neared its zenith, they reached the gates, and the guards, recognizing Cavik and Wit, opened the gates, but stopped them just inside.
“You arrive late, Prince Cavik. Who is this you bring?”
“A prisoner, Captain Lio, one I wish to interrogate.”
“Interrogate? Yet she rides unfettered, behind your servant?”
“I’ve taken her weapon.” He instantly regretted the lie; the captain’s eyes had already scanned the knife at her side, and at first he looked at Cavik with suspicion, but then he gave Cavik a wink, and his frown became a knowing smirk.
“A ‘prisoner’ it is then; as you say, my prince.”
Rin bristled, catching his meaning, but wisely remained still.
Captai Lio waved them through, and a chuckle went up from among the watchmen as they passed.
Rin kept her head up, but could not keep the heat from her face.
“That was ill done, my prince.”
“The whole damn thing is ill done, Wit.”

Wit retired, bidding them good night, leaving the two of them alone.
The servants gave curious looks as they readied the prince’s room for the night, and cast surreptitious glances at Rin, saying nothing.
“Shall we prepare a separate room for your guest, Prince Cavik?” the chief servant asked.
“That…won’t be necessary, Irin, thank you.”
Irin smiled prettily, gave Rin a wink when Cavik looked away, and slipped out the door before she could react.
Gods help me, I’m in a castle full of alley cats…
“I’ll sleep on the couch, Rin. You can take the bed.”
“I’d like a bath, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“We’re in enough trouble. Another night won’t hurt you.”
He smoothed back his hair, and sighed.
“Neither will I.”
She gave him a small smile of gratitude.
“I appreciate the reassurance, Prince Cavik, but don’t you think it’s a little late to be protecting what’s left of my virtue?”
It was his turn to blush, and he gave a nervous laugh.
She went behind the changing curtain and changed into the night shirt they’d given her, and one of the prince’s own robes.
He was already sprawled across the couch, but he wasn’t sleeping.
“You’re worried.”
“I am.”
“You shouldn’t be. If you want, Prince Cavik, I can leave before sunrise.”
He looked at her. “Don’t you think it’s a little late to still keep calling me ‘prince?’
She laughed. “I suppose so.”
She walked over to the couch, and looked down into his eyes.
“I’d like to pick up where we left off, Cavik.”
She pulled her hair back, the turquoise stones quietly clacking under her hands. The robe opened slightly; she'd left the belt on the floor.
“You heard me. We might only get one chance at this; after this there’ll be all types of mayhem and consequences.”
Her eyes took on a gleam of mischief.
“Do you really want to pass on the opportunity?”
He sat up as she doffed the robe, and she straddled him, her knees on the couch, getting comfortable as he embraced her, and pressed her chest against his as her lips brushed his neck.
“Gods help, I don’t.”
She gave him a light kiss, said, “I didn’t think so.”
The next kiss was deeper, and longer, and led them down nature’s path, to fates not only intertwined, but destined to collide.