Chapter Twenty Three: The Ride

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(Excuse any typos! I can't go back and reread ATM!)

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(Excuse any typos! I can't go back and reread ATM!)

Queen Eliza sat with her head held high on top of a large polar bear. In fact, there were two bears in total, and the second one was surrounded by at least ten royal guards. Queen Eliza smiled when she saw me approaching, climbed off of the bear and made her way toward me.

She was dressed in riding clothes, and I was thankful I'd chosen to wear trousers and a shirt as well. "Hello, Lady Anya," she greeted, and I bowed gracefully.

"Queen Eliza," I said, careful to formally address her around her guards. "Thanks for the offer, today."

"It's my pleasure. After our talk, I couldn't let go of the idea of riding again. I managed to busy my son for a day so that so could steal you for a nice ride."

I smiled. "Thank you, your highness. I could use a day away from training to enjoy the outside," I told her, looking around at the beautiful morning view.

"That's good to hear

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"That's good to hear. Well, this handsome fellow here is Barkley," she said, walking toward the second polar bear. The guards dispersed so that she could pet him. "He's a friendly one, but never underestimate his power. He's the strongest of the bears kept at the castle." Queen Eliza turned toward me. "Barkley reminds me of you."

I smiled. "Thank you, your highness."

"Well come on over and meet Barkley. You'll be spending the next few hours riding him." I obeyed and slowly approached the large beast. He seemed just as curious of me as I was of him.

I lifted one hand and slowly placed it right behind his ear. The Queen laughed.

"Go on, he won't bite. The polar bears we train here aren't nearly as wild as the ones in the forest. They are used to us." The Queen took my hand and began moving it along the soft, white fur. "There. Not so bad, is it? He just loves to be petted. Isn't that right Barkley?"

I stared at the Queen in fascination. "I was wrong about you," I said out loud without realizing it. The Queen looked at me with a slight frown.

"What do you mean?"

I shunned myself. "Well, I...I..."

"It's okay," the Queen laughed. "I understand. Being Queen has its reputation. Most people think I'm arrogant and too sophisticated to even speak to them. Misconceptions are the norm around here. I wouldn't be surprised if you thought me to be a terrible person."

"Thank you for understanding," I told her, thankful I didn't have to explain why I had a misconception about her to begin with.

It was because her own husband spoke ill of her for his own namesake. He made everyone around him look bad so that he looked good. I couldn't believe I had once revered him and defended his honor.

"Are you ready to ride?" Her voice was cherry and full of excitement.

"I am, your highness."

"Very well. The guards will help you onto the bear and will accompany us as we ride. They'll stay quite a distance away so that we can casually talk." The Queen made her way over to her own bear and lifted herself onto it without the help of the guard. "Let's get started!"

The guarded lifted me onto the bear and I struggled as I positioned myself. Once settled, I sat up, feeling as if I was on top of the world. The freezing winds beat at my bare face, and for the first time I didn't mind.

"Hieett!" the Queen shouted, and the bears began to move, causing my weight to shift. I leaned forward to find support and had to settle with wrapping my arms around Barkley's neck. Bears weren't like horses with mounts and ropes. They were ridden bare, with only instinct. I apparently didn't have that instinct.

I looked over and saw Queen Eliza sitting upward with pride, truly enjoying herself.

We took to a picturesque pathway downhill and rode in silence at first. I managed to find my balance while sitting upright, and I'd glance over to find the Queen bathing in the glory of riding her bear. It made my heart melt, and it made me feel even more special to be riding with her.

"Eliza," I began, looking behind me to make sure the guards were indeed far enough away. "Why don't you ride anymore?"

"I had a son," she told me.

"You didn't take him on rides?"

"Oh, the King wouldn't allow that. Once I became a mother, my only job was to be a mother. There was no free time," she admitted. "I don't regret it though. My son was all the joy I needed."

"Why did the King treat you that way?" I asked her.

"It was his way of controlling me," she told me, looking out at the view. "He also wanted to keep me ignorant. If I was busy taking care of Sebastian, I wouldn't question the kingdom's affairs. That man began a war under my nose." The Queen looked at me with worried eyes. "I shouldn't have said that."

"Trust me, Queen Eliza, I know more than you think," I assured her, and her worried expression became a thoughtful one.

"Has my son told you? Or perhaps you've heard the castle's rumors?"

"The castle's rumors are that the Prince is the dark one."

"So then my son told you," she confirmed. "My son wouldn't have entrusted just anyone with that kind of information. I see that he's taken a liking to you."

"I suppose so," I responded, but he'd only told me because I had found the stone. Obviously that wasn't a conversation to be had with the Queen. "We have common interests."

"Common interests, you say?" The Queen cracked a smile. "That sounds very promising."

I frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Oh nothing," the Queen told me with a knowing smile. "Just a mother's intuition."

"

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