In her new burgundy dress and her brown hair braided, Kiera looked ready for the festival but her heart shivered as she looked down the road to town. Her mother had dropped a few pennies into her hand and pat her shoulder before nudging her off.
Kiera regretted how she whined that they missed the festival the last few years. She'd rather hide in the library like she did when her father worked at the castle. He'd been promoted to royal tutor and in a month, she'd have to take her lessons with the princes. No more lazy days.
The trees surrounding Cearbhall were a riot of red and gold. The large tents and carts clustered outside the castle matched the autumnal palette with maroons and burnt orange and gold trim. Throngs of people walked between attractions, buying hand carved wooden wolves and winter wool clothing. She spied a cider tent, an archery range, wrestling pit, and several carts of pies and cakes. There was even a stall selling evergreen wreathes for the upcoming winter.
She sought out the one thing she truly wanted and slipped between people in the crowd, her small size an asset, until she stood before the most popular cart at the festival. The most talked about and popular booth at the fair.
"Ah, wee lass, w'dya like a turnover?" A red bearded man stood behind a table laden with apple pastries of every sort. He wiped his hand on his apron and reached out his hand and waited. "Ach, they ain't free, lass. A penny each."
Kiera unclenched the coins in her hand, the imprint of the king's profile pressed into her palm from the pressure. She offered up one and accepted the stuffed puff pastry. She couldn't wait to taste the sweet treat.
She ducked away from the crowd and stopped between tents selling wares. The din of the festival was muffled and no one to crowd her. A temporary sanctuary. She lifted the turnover to her mouth only to have it dashed away.
"Your money's no good, freak." A boy her age had slapped her turnover onto the ground. It lay covered in dust and grass. He laughed, tugging on his lapels of his green and gold tunic. "You don't deserve that."
Kiera balled her hands but kept her fists at her side. She spoke between clenched teeth. "I paid for that."
"Eat it off the ground if you like, it's better than you deserve, mongrel."
Glancing behind the boy, people stood with their backs to them and more people walked past between tents. She stepped forward and swung her fist, landing square in his face. He fell backward, landed on his rear and yelped a high squeal.
Her hand ached.
An older boy pushed through the crowd, the people parting for him. He had similar copper brown hair to her tormentor and similar green and gold tunic. He looked between the two of them.
"What's going on here, Ayden?"
"Brother, she attacked me!" Ayden scrambled to his feet, slinging to his brother's arm. The elder shook him off and look at her.
Her heart leapt.
She pointed to the turnover, her words stuck behind her lips. His gaze followed and he nodded.
"Got what you deserved did you? Go tell father what you did." The elder pushed his brother back through the crowd. The king and queen, great with child, stood in the road and turned their way when Ayden slunk away. A third brother stood with the royal couple.
"Prince Lachlan." He bowed to her. "Sorry for my brother. I don't know what's gotten into him lately. Who might you be?"
"Kiera Clark." She fidgeted with the cuff of her sleeve. "Thank you for the rescue."
"Ha, you didn't need a rescue." He smiled. "Looks like you took care of yourself just fine. But I'll have to replace your tart."
Lachlan stepped closer and offered her his hand.
"Thank you, your highness."
Lachlan scrunched his nose. "Don't call me that. Lachlan is fine. Now I saw a gathering for a hayride, can the tart wait until after that?"
She looked down at his hand which was still waiting for her. He was just being nice, she thought, trying to make up for his brother being awful. No harm in letting him make amends. Kiera took his hand and he smiled. The world fell away for a moment; no fair, no bullies, no spoiled desserts.
"You won't regret it," he said.
And she knew she wouldn't.
Read more about Kiera and Lachlan in Stealing the Wolf Prince