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Trace knew they were on a dangerous journey, she really did.  The wilderlands were nothing to trifle with—except they were so magnificently beautiful and vibrant!  Looking down on them from the top of Jerrett’s last safe hill had taken her breath away.

Oh, sure, she had heard names of colors before.  But she never imagined there could be so many different shades and hues of…brown?  Green?  And the sky, which had wavered between pale and dark gray every day of her existence, was such a deep, rich blue.

It matched his eyes.  Sir Lamarr.  That wonderful stranger who gave her colors and who, according to the good sorceress’s words, was the love of her life.

“Where are you from?” Trace asked, inexplicably shy.  She’d been Princess Noemi’s friend for years, which meant she’d seen thousands of boys and men.  Trace hadn’t felt self-conscious around a male in a long time.

Bur of course it was different with Sir Lamarr.

His face was weather-worn.  At rest, he looked almost haunted by all he had seen.  But he looked at her with his eyes that held the sky, and his lips—a warm color, like…she wasn’t sure what to compare them to—his lips softened.  “I grew up in a small village north-east of the castle,” Sir Lamarr answered.  “I haven’t had a home for the past six years, though, not since I left the headquarters of the Order of the Eagle.  I’ve wandered all over, wherever I find traces of dragons.”

Out of habit, Trace shuddered at the mention of the fire breathers.  “You would think they’d be nearly extinct,” she observed.

Sir Lamarr’s eyes scanned the land ahead of them.  Trace thought the action was habit, not a conscious decision.  “Within a day’s ride to the safe lands of Jerrett, they almost are,” he agreed.  “Further out is different.  Most people’s patriotism doesn’t extend further abroad than that, and the few of us who do venture there face more challenges than the foul beasts.

Trace was about to ask what sort of challenges they might face when their horses entered the forest.  Her eyes, already wide to admit as much color as possible, widened further.  “Sir Lamarr, look!” she gasped.  Thickets of flowers covered the ground between the trees, spreading the terrain with a myriad of new colors.

She heard Sir Lamarr’s soft intake of breath.  He pulled his horse to a stop.  Trace barely even noticed herself doing the same.

Beside her, Sir Lamarr breathed, “It’s…”

“Beautiful,” she finished.  The description was entirely inadequate.

“Magnificent,” he added.

The sardonic tones of Garrin’s voice rang out.  “Hey, lovebirds, why are we stopping?”
Of course, Princess Noemi was quick to answer him.  “Garrin, leave them be,” she scolded.  Trace recognized it as her trademark Garrin-scolding tone, which meant she was amused but knew he was being rude.  Noemi felt it her duty to get Garrin to behave in a polite manner.

Garrin’s response showed that Noemi usually failed in that endeavor.  “Sorry, Noemi.  I just don’t understand why we’re not moving.  She’ll catch us fast if we stand still for a couple of lovesick children to stare at flowers.”

“My apologies for the delay, Princess Noemi,” Sir Lamarr spoke up.  He nudged his horse back into movement, a look of annoyance on his face.

“Nonsense,” Noemi dismissed.  “You have every right to enjoy color with Trace.  Garrin’s just jealous.”

“Am not!” the Captain’s son protested.

Despite how distracted she was, Trace caught the wistfulness in Noemi’s tone.  “Don’t worry, Noemi,” she said just loud enough for the princess to hear.  “You’ll see it soon, too.  Only two more weeks at most.”

Noemi forced a smile at her.  The princess didn’t really believe that, and Trace had to wonder if she even should.  If an endless parade of all sorts of men hadn’t brought Noemi her true love, how could these last two weeks before she turned eighteen?
Trace sighed.  Worry pinched her forehead.  If only there were something more she could do to help Noemi!  Not for the first time, she wished they didn’t live in the land of the good sorceress’s curse.  She always thought that if it weren’t for the issue of color, Noemi and Garrin would have fallen in love a long time ago.  Then they wouldn’t be worrying about Noemi dying on her eighteenth birthday.

Thankfully, her thoughts were cut off just then.  An arrow sailed through the air and struck a tree next to the princess’s head.


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