Summer was relentless like the attacks from my queen's enemies, the snarling wolves and their slavering sycophants, eager to take my lady down from her pedestal. She was the old king's daughter, a copy of his tenacious fury. The lioness reborn, tawny, glorious, orange-scented, fiery.
This deep into the months of heat, drought had crept in, followed by her sibling, famine. As I rode past the farms, I winced at the sight of parched fields, cracks as deep as wrinkles, and as painful to see.
The castle too suffered. Food tributes were slowly trickling in. The inner farms were running out of water, no matter how much we dug. Of course, we could hear the hissing mocking laughter from the enemy clans.
On my horse, I suddenly longed for the crisp mountain air... and his touch.
My queen pulled her stallion off the path, veering into a secluded lane. I shouted after her and kicked my steed. He broke into a gentle canter, slowly catching up after my lady and her feisty beast. We ran through a tunnel of low branches. It did not seem to end. Shadow, light, shadow, light, shadow, light. The earth was dappled, the smell of the loam strong, with a hint of... the sea.
We emerged out into sunlight and into the sound of the sea crashing against the shore. My stallion whickered, stamping at the soft sand as if in frustration. My lady was already out of her saddle and striding purposefully off in one direction.
I cursed. My boots sank into white fine sand. It was a warm day, the skies blue and the songs of the sea-birds drifting in the air. A flock of tiny brown birds scattered as I jogged down the shore line, following my lady. Oh mercurial lady, what are you doing?
She paused in front of a patch of green plants, her hand shielding her face from the sun's glare. Like me, she was dressed for riding: all leather and boots, her hair tied in a tight braid. I stood before her, staring at the green plants. They were clustered, like rosettes, the green-grey leaves cupping what were small flower buds. Some were partially hidden by slates of sea rock.
"Sea kale," my lady said, bending down to caress the leaves with her hand. "Father showed me once, when I was a little girl. We do not need to starve, my love. We have these... and others growing around us."
Standing up with a shrug of her shoulders, my lady glanced around her. "And the sea. We can fish for food too. We depend on the farmers who in turn suffer and cannot feed their own children."
"Ah," I smiled, remembering the berries I used to pick to snack on as a girl. Then I sobered. Enemies waited like snakes in the bushes.
"I know, I know," my lady said, kneeling down once more and pulling out a few of the rosettes by their roots. She dusted the sand off the tendrils and gathered the rosettes in her cloak. "You are going to tell me that our beloved House, the Dark Hounds, will not be pleased."
I raised my eyebrow, my skin prickling at the name of the chief-most enemy clan. "They think you might wilt in the summer's heat, like a flower without water."
"Let them think I am a flower," my queen scoffed, striding back to our horses. They whinneyed at our approach. "Let them think I am fragile and weak and faint."
"Lisbet," I said.
"Don't coddle me," she muttered, swinging up onto the saddle deftly. Her sea kale remained snug and wrapped in her cloak. "You, for one, should know that I am not, Morgan."
"I am not coddling you," I said, shaking my head.
Lisbet kicked her stallion and he trotted away. I was sure it was a subtle comment. Later, we had steamed sea kale for evening meal. They were delicious with a sprinkling of salt.