Maxim tossed and turned all night, haunted by a pair of crystal blue eyes and hair that gleamed like gold. The Raven danced through his dreams, teasing and taunting him until he could take it no more. At dawn, he threw off his covers and pulled on his clothes before making his way to the stables.
A young servant boy was nodding off at his post, but the moment he heard the heavy footsteps of the prince, he was wide awake. With a nod from Maxim, the boy set straight to work readying his horse, Bee. He leaned against the stable wall while he waited for her to be saddled and dried not to think about the Raven and her blue, blue eyes.
Once saddled, he climbed onto the beasts back and rode her into the crisp morning air. They rode through a gate at the back of the castle wall and into a vast field of tall grass, wet with dew. It was easy to forget everything that bared down on his thoughts when the wind was rushing past him and clearing his mind. He felt free and exhilarated as he let all thoughts vanish from his mind, because it was only he and his horse.
It was well after breakfast time when Maxim returned to the stables and turned Bee back over to the stable hands. As he walked back to the castle though, he found that his mind was yet again occupied by a very beautiful thief.
A week had passed since he’d first laid eyes on the Raven and she’d defeated him, something very few men had accomplished. There was a sense of awe as he thought about how she had caught him to off guard and had managed to surprise him. He felt ashamed at himself for being so easily distracted and vowed that it would never happen again.
Part of him thought about returning to the woods and seeking her out, even though he had promised his mother that he would not take that road again. He had not wanted to worry his parents with the story, but Hanson had made sure to tell them almost the moment that they returned.
When he entered the castle, Hanson appeared almost by magic at his side, as though the thought of him had summoned him. Maxim glanced at the older man who had fallen into step beside him and raised his brow when their eyes met.
“Your father wishes to see you in his quarters after you have had your breakfast. I believe he wishes to discuss Princess Anne’s engagement ball this evening,” he said as the prince made his way to the kitchens.
“Why would his wish to discuss the ball? I am already aware that there will be a multitude of beautiful women and my parents wish for me to choose one of them.” He sighed and shook his head, taking the stairs down into the kitchens with Hanson close behind him. The smell of baked bread and fried ham met his nose and he increased his speed, realizing just how hungry he was.
Hanson’s eyebrows drew together. “You aren’t still thinking about that thief girl, are you?” When he didn’t receive an answer, he sighed. “Prince Maxon, it does not do to dwell on a pair of pretty eyes. That girl is a thief and a commoner, you cannot be in love with her.”
“I never said that I loved her.”
“But your eyes have betrayed your thoughts. I am not blind, your majesty, I can see the way that girl has affected you. Though you do not know more than her name and occupation and you have only laid eyes on her once, you are in love. But it cannot work and you will most likely never see her again, so just let her go,” he replied and then he disappeared almost as quietly and quickly as he had appeared.
The man was right, damn him. Maxim had somehow fallen in love with a woman that he only met for the briefest of moments. It seemed impossible, like something from the fairy tale book that he mother had read to him from when he was a boy. Love at first sight was something that couldn’t possibly be real, and yet he knew in his heart that he really did love the Raven, as impossible as it seemed.
When he arrived in the kitchens, he was given a plate of food and ate it all quickly, washing it back with a sweet drink. Once sufficiently filled, he made his way back up the stairs and to the kings chambers. He rapped thrice on the thick oak door and was allowed entrance moments later.
“You wished to see me, father?” said Maxim, stopping in the middle of the room. The king stood before an open window, a goblet of wine in his hand. With a flick of his wrist, he dismissed the servants and they were alone.
King Robert took a sip of his drink as he turned toward his son. “Do you remember the man I told you of, the power hungry Duke of Worthingham?” he asked, taking Maxim by surprise at the question. He nodded and his father went on. “Christoph has conspired for years to steal the crown of Harendale from me head, yet he has never come close to it. I had not worried about him for many months now, having been told that he’d gone into hiding. But I’ve just learned that he is back and a spy has told us that he plans to attack soon.”
“Then we will be ready for him. This castle has fought off many an attack before and can do it again, should it come to that,” said he with a tone of great determination. He began pacing the floor while his fathers eyes watched him wearily. “If this Christoph should come, then he will find that we will not be so easily defeated. Our soldiers will surely outnumber his own and when he sees all that we have, he will run with his tail between his legs.”
“You should not underestimate him, son. The Duke has a great many allies and though he is an evil man, many support him. I have made more than a few mistakes in my time as king and there are those who would wish to pay me back for it. They will join him against me, if they have no already. No, we must not think too highly of ourselves and take care to watch out backs. But that is not the only reason I have called you here.”
“What else is there, father?”
The king said, “There are whispers that Christoph might even attempt something this evening at the ball. The guards will double in number and keep greater watch, but I would ask that you keep close to your sister. If something were to happen, and I do not know that it will, your sister needs to be gotten out and you as well. The man is a monster and will take the throne regardless, but he is sure to try to marry Anne to strengthen his claim to the throne. And you, as my heir, are in a great amount of danger.”
“Do not worry father,” he replied fiercely. “I will do all in my power to keep my sister from the clutches of that man.”