Chapter Two

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~ Roninhythe ~

"Faster, Ember," Rhen called, urging his horse onward, leaving only the echo of a carefree laugh behind him on the breeze.

Free again.

Rhen grinned, relishing his narrow escape. Adrenaline punched through his veins, fiery and intense, urging him to run as fast as possible. That nobleman had been inches away from gutting him. Of course, he couldn't blame the man. Rhen had spent the night in his daughter's bed, and it was a father's job to protect her virtue after all. Lucky for him, the old man's sword arm was a little slow.

He did, however, feel slightly uneasy. It really wasn't the girl's fault that he had slipped into her room just before dawn. He had a reputation to protect—and he needed a reason to be run from the city. But the fist's worth of gold arriving at their door later this afternoon should be payment enough for that, Rhen assured himself. That was assuming Cal, his loyal friend and future Lord of Roninhythe, was on time with the delivery.

Rhen rolled his shoulders, loosening the knots court life left, ridding his body of the weight of nobility.

Despite the cost, there was no question in his mind. Now, riding Ember—carefree for a few minutes of peace—everything had been worth it. There were few things he wouldn't do to just be Rhen again.

Not Whylrhen, son of Whylfrick.

Not Whylrhen, Prince of the Kingdom of Whylkin.

Not Whylrhen, blood of Whyl, the great conqueror who united the lands.

No, just Rhen, a nineteen-year-old man with no strings attached.

As the walls of the city faded into the horizon, Rhen slowed Ember, patting her soft muddy-red hairs until her breath calmed, and she understood that the urgency had passed. Aside from his mother, she was the only female who had ever held his heart, and though she was old, she had never failed him. Not as a foal, when she had kicked down the stable door, saving his older brother Whyllem from the blazing flames. And not as a mare, when she had saved his life time after time, never demanding more than a light scratch along her neck.

Well, sometimes demanding more…okay, often demanding more, but Rhen was soft when it came to his horse.

He dropped the reins, trusting Ember to keep the pace, and reached into his saddlebag to grab the plain brown tunic resting inside. Stripping off the bright red silks of the crown, he let his bare chest soak in the sun before donning the less noticeable, but also less comfortable, common shirt. His boots and pants were still of the noble variety, but he wouldn't be able to fully hide his station without leaving Ember—and that just wasn't an option.

She neighed.

"Alright, alright," he said, grabbing hold of the leather straps again. "I suppose you deserve it." He pulled back, bringing Ember to a slow halt, and jumped from the saddle.

"Here you go," he said, slipping an apple from his bag. She greedily stole it away from his hand in one bite. A minute later, she stomped her foot, twisting her neck to look at him with distinctly pouting eyes. Rhen rolled his own eyes and reached for another.

Stroking her neck, he felt a sigh rumble down her nerves and knew she was satisfied.

"Okay, Cal, what did you find?" He muttered to himself, unrolling the parchment he had stashed in his belt just before sneaking out of the castle.

Whylrhen, the note began. Rhen sneered at the use of his formal name before continuing. I feel it is my duty as your friend and loyal servant to first advise you on the idiocy of your current plan to pursue…

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