It had been a week since he had met Ari that early morning, where he shared the news that he would be betrothed to her and their talk of choice and freedom. he had hurt that night by telling her a hard truth. He wanted to make up.
He had organised with her handmaidens in secret, for them to take a ride into the countryside since she had been traped in walls in her whole life he thought he would take her out of them, even if it was for a brief amount time.
Stood outside the palace steps his horse behind him, with a wicker basket attached to the saddle. Someway back four praetorians were saddled and ready, there to guard the two on the journey. He was just waiting on the handmaidens to guide Ari here for the surprise.
Ahead, she could hear the giggles of her other servants, the rustles of their skirts and snatches of whispers. But she had been blindfolded, and brought down one hallway then the other, Vaela grasping her hand the entirety of the way there. "You'll see, my Lady," the woman merely hummed, triggering more giggles from the girls ahead. "You know I don't like surprises--" she started to mutter under her breath, when she heard a door opening ahead... and then they paused.
She could feel the warmth of the sun on her skin, the smell of grass... the blindfold fell away, and she gazed down the stairs. She could feel heat touch her skin, and a soft sigh left her lips. "Oh..." she uttered, then slowly crossed to Alistair, hooded head tilted slightly. "Pardon, my Lord, but what is this...?"
A smile came across his lips as she came through the doors and her blindfold was removed. he nodded in thanks to Vaela and the others for their help.
"I had been thinking of the night we met and how you wanted to be close to the woods as possible. So with the help of your handmaidens, I've organised an outing for the two of us, to a small forest just outside of the city"
He hoped the idea would bring her some measure of happiness to the lady, "I also asked the kitchen staff to prepare a picnic." He patted the wicker basket that laid attached to his horse.
She gasped, her hands pressed over her heart. "You... planned this?" she managed out, grey eyes sparkling. She slowly descended the steps, a hand pressed over her heart. "You remembered..." her voice trailed off, and a soft laugh touched her lips, as she dipped her head slightly.
"I don't know what to say," she whispered to him, reaching up a hand to lightly touch his own, her smile light in her eyes, "except thank you. Thank you, Alistair."
"Your horse awaits, my lady," came Vaela's voice behind her. She turned to see her handmaid getting astride her own horse, "as am I. It will not do to leave you unescorted," she glanced at the Prince with an amused smile, and Aralethe smiled and nodded. A step was placed up, and she stepped in, drawing her hood further over her head.
"Lead the way then, your Grace," she spoke quietly, cheeks tinged with a slight bit of rose.
He shyly smiled at her thank you, he wasn't used to people thanking him all too often except maybe his sister and the odd servent. "no need to thank me, your maidans were a great help."
Alistair mounted his horse and began bringing out of the place at a slow pace so they could talk while they made their way to the woods. The guards stayed back a distance liked they he asked he wanted some privacy.
"So how are you a justing to life in the palace, I hope you are being treated well, that nobody... has mistreated you" He didn't know how politically savvy she was, he wouldn't be surprised if someone had tried to pressure her to do be a spy for them or tried to get her to refuse to marry him.
She glanced over to him, a slight warm smile touching her lips when he inquired after her. If she didn't know any better, she would have thought him concerned. A touching thought, but she merely kept her eyes ahead, only glancing to him occasionally. "I like it here," she finally replied, her voice light, calm. "A bit lost, sometimes, but there are many to steer my way."
She continued on for a little while, finally speaking up once more when they were a little further down the path. "I've met your siblings; they both seem to care for the Empire as well, in their own ways. And your nephew, Theo, is a darling little one." She glanced over, gauging his expressions, before she spoke up quietly. A look of caring concern touched her features.
He was glad to hear that she was settling in and like it in the palace. "That's good to hear, I'm sure you'll learn way around the palace eventually."
His ears pricked up at hearing mention of his sibling, he didn't doubt they cared for the Empire, but they didn't it's problems like he did "Theo is indeed a cute baby, he reminds me of when the twins were his age" a smile curled on his lips on the though of Theo.
He paused for a couples seconds to think about the question, he honestly didn't know, it seemed these days the world was in a constant state flux, always changing. "A take everything as it comes to me." some might say that answer was a deflection but for him, it was just the truth.
"so what do you make of Lilith and Lionel?" he was more interested in hearing her opinion of lionel that Lilith as knew her better than anyone but lionel? That was a whole more complicated subject.
She nodded once, for a few moments quiet, contemplating. "I know we may not be particularly close..." she spoke quietly, grey eyes lowered demurely. "But if I am to be your bride, I want you to know, I want to be useful to you. You won't have to face anything... alone."
At the question of his siblings, however, a soft smile touched her lips, and she glanced back over at him, a faint smile still lingering on her lips. "Your sister, Lilith, seems kind-hearted, far more friendly and loving to those around her than many I have ever met in the court. Your brother.."
Her voice faltered for a moment as she paused, hands tightening on the reins ever so slightly. "He's a clever man, and a good conversationalist," she spoke carefully. In truth, he intrigued her. Most reports she'd gotten were ones of the soldier; but if he was a soldier, surely he knew some strategy of conversation, some ways to guide to get what he wanted.
Briefly she wondered if he would want for the throne over his brother at all, or would pursue his right to it simply to spite him. Instead she kept her gaze ahead. "How much further?" she asked lightly, gaze panning ahead. "I have never seen this part of the palace before."
Alistair was unsure what to think on Ari words, he faced most of his problems only alone, he had only ever relied on his self. he wasn't sure how not to do things alone. unsure how to reply he simply said, "thank you."
It seemed she knew as much about lionel as he did and He honestly didn't know too much about Lionel. When he left he was still a boy and now he was a man, a soldier of the empire, guided by his duty, his father perfect replacement for him, he knew at one point Lionel looked up to him, perhaps that was the source of his resentment towards himself, though Alistair didn't know for sure.
"Not long now" They were approaching the outer wall of the city "That's because we're technically not in the palace grounds anymore, this route leads straight to a gate on the outer walls used for the delivery of food and other goods straight to the palace, also we sometimes use it to leave the city discreetly" he informed her, he didn't expect her to know, not many people did.
They finally reached a gatehouse, a small one though it was heavily fortified and had the praetorian barracks attached to it. the guards had been already informed of excursion and simply open the gates for them without a word. They revealed an open field that lead to a small woods opposite the gates a hundred or so meters away.
He lent close to Ari "I wager I can beat you to the edge of the woods" he said with a smile at the edge of his lips.
And just like that, the gate was open and there was a meadow ahead. Her heart pounded, her breathing deepened, and a happy flush tinged her cheeks. At his leaning close, however, she tilted her head to regard him...
And gave a wide, mischievous smile.
"In your dreams," came the low, amused response, and without warning spurred her horse to life, charging ahead with a silvery laugh, hood falling from her head.
He let out a laugh before he too spurred his own horse into a gallop following right behind her. Her head start naturally put here in the lead but he didn't care much, it was just nice for him to hear laugh for the first time.
She beat him to the woods though that's because he let her win, he merely just kept up with her and didn't actually try to beat her. "You beat me," he spoke as his horse slowed as they got the edge of the woods "and it was a wager, so what can offer you?"
He had purposely chosen any specific he thought it would make it more interesting.
An open, delighted smile touched her lips when she turned her horse to face him. Her hair was undone, her cheeks flushed. Grey eyes glittered with an almost childlike delight as she tried to force her heart to slow from its' pounding, taking in deep lungfuls of air as though she had been the one racing.
At his question of her reward, she tilted her head at him, giving a demure smile. "I shall think of one in due time, Alistair," came her own response, in truth because she felt like the one thing she would have asked seemed a bit too vulgar, perhaps, for a woman to ask of a man. But her eyes seemed to sparkle with mischievous delight. "Perhaps I may think of something soon."
She glanced back over her shoulder towards the woods. Though it didn't seem very wild, a softer smile touched her lips, a sense of peaceful calm settling over her shoulders. Somehow, it felt familiar. Perhaps it was the light, or the company... but she felt almost at home. He would have seen her poise relaxing ever so slightly, warmth touching her features almost akin to a mother to her child, or an old friend.
If she were to stay here... I may have at last found my personal sanctuary. I can't describe it but I feel so... at peace.
She glanced back over at Alistair, the full smile still warm on her features. "How much further?" she queried, almost an eager question.
He tilted his head curiously at what she would think to ask of him before giving her an understanding nod to her answer, though the mischievous look in her eye gave him a small pang of concern.
A small smile curled at the edge of his lips as he couldn't help but notice her relaxing posture, it seemed she was happy here and he was glad he could bing that that to her, especially after how he had hurt her on their first meeting.
"Not much futher" he dismounted his horse "though I recommend we walk from here, there are some low branches on the trees" he came to the front of his horse and began to guide it into the woods on a small trail.
The trail led to a glade in the middle of the woods, that harbour wild flowers and in the centre stood a very large and old oak tree. "What do you think?"
She stood there, wide eyed, almost childlike. A hand pressed over her chest, and the look of shock passed to a wide, bright smile, grey eyes sparkling with vivid delight. "It's... beautiful," she managed out, swallowing. "It feels so free here..." the forested path, the silence, it felt removed from any city she'd ever dwelled in. Knowing there was a place she could be alone was exhilarating.
She stepped in further, her hands reaching out to trail among the wildflowers, the smile softening, turning back to glance at him. She opened her mouth to speak, then flushed scarlet at the cheeks, glancing down demurely, hands twisting together.
"It... means so much to see all this..." she murmured throatily, then chuckled self-consciously. "To see a place without walls, I... Thank you." The last part was nearly whispered. For a moment, she regretted the fact they had an audience within earshot.
She had an idea what her prize would be, in this meadow.
He couldn't help but watch her reaction, he would probably never understand completely what this gesture meant to her. When she glanced at him, his eyes glanced away onto the glade before returning back to her.
"I'm... happy to hear that" he flashed a gentle smile before going to his horse and untieing the picnic basket attached to his horse. "Hungry?" he gestured towards the basket in his hand.