Chapter Twelve- Part One

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Aspen

I was awake before there were stirrings in the corridors.  Opening the curtains, I peered outside and watched as the large glowing sphere rose slowly into the dull morning sky.  Casting sunbeams in every direction, it illuminated the horizon.

  The colors were now growing more vivid with the passing time.  The gardens below were bustling with activity as the birds were awake and announcing the morning.  I could see them darting from one tree to the other, then gathering in groups.  I guess I was getting used to this new comfort zone and dreaded leaving for another unknown world. 

Hazel entered, stunned that I was awake already.
“Good morning Hazel, I thought it would be a good start to the day, being up early and mentally prepared for the trip.  Have you ever been to Aspen?”
“Yes, when I was much younger.  I was living there with my parents, but I can’t remember much of it.  When they died, I came here looking for work and here I still am.”
“You still have family over there?”
“No my lady, we have all split up.  My brother is in Auberon, working in the gold mine.  We hardly see each other.  We’re not very close.” Her soulful eyes were sad. 
“That is a pity.  I’m sure that you will enjoy travelling to Aspen with us.  To have a change of scenery is always good for the soul.” She smiled, but lacked in enthusiasm.
“My lady, may I take your luggage downstairs?  The driver of the carriage asked for it.” 
“Of course, yes thank you”

Darwin also passed my open door with Aland’s suitcases.  The corridors soon became a hive of activity with servants scurrying about, getting everything ready for the journey.  Aland travelled to the other cities, extensively throughout his life.  This time, though, it was a big undertaking.  Many dignitaries were included.  Accommodation had to be organized and lots of meetings scheduled.

I wasn’t at all sure why I had to go along.  I would love to meet his family, but I doubt that we would have time to even talk about the weather.  After a quick knock, he walked in.

“Good morning lady Stephanie, are you ready for Aspen?” He was dressed in casual wear.  He decided to ride Boaz all the way there.  It would help clear his head along the way.  I wished that I could ride with him.  I dreaded the long carriage ride with Aldrich, not having much to say to him.
“Good morning Aland.  Yes, I guess I am,” I admitted with reluctance.
“I’ll make it worth your while.” He came up to me and held me for a few moments. 
“I’d rather ride with you…”
“I know,” he said, “but you need to sort things out.”
Before he left the room, he turned back for a quick kiss. 

He leant down to reach my ear and whispered: “I so wish you could stamp your toe again.” A mischievous smile emerged from the corners of his mouth.
“I’m wearing shoes now, remember!” I was blushing and tapped him on his back.  He left for the stables.  Downstairs, I made my exit through the castle doors.  There was a whole convoy of carriages outside, some, ready to depart, others, equipped with trailers for the necessities on the road.  I heard a choir of men greeting me from the coaches.  I nodded kindly.

Aldrich stood waiting at one of them, looking nervous.  Both of us tried to flash a faint smile.  At least that made me feel better.
“Morning Steph,” he greeted, trying to break the strained silence.
“Morning Aldrich, is this our carriage?”
“That’s what they told me.  Can I open the door for you?” He asked, as I came closer.  Before Aldrich could touch the door, the driver leaped in front of him and opened it for me.  “I guess not,” he sighed and got in on his side.

I glanced out just in time to see Boaz’s big head appearing next to the carriage.  The horse was so massive and solid, that I had to extend my neck outside the window to catch a glimpse of Aland.  He sat upright and looked as noble and proud as he was.  Boaz was like an extension of him.  He gestured a greeting to Aldrich and looked at me compassionately. 

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