Like I said in my last post, this part is one of my personal favorites!
Can you believe we only have one more post left after this?? I can’t!
Part Twenty-sixth: Returning
Penelope awoke with the rising sun. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, trying to process what was going on. Sir Richard was saddling Jael a few feet away. Cyrus was poking about in the grass. Short, unconnected memories slowly came together in her tired mind. I’m free—and I’m going home today! came of a sudden and snapped her out of her early-morning haze. She scrambled to her feet.
“Good morning, Princess,” Sir Richard said cheerfully.
“When can we leave?” she pleaded, without returning the greeting; painfully aware of how pathetic she sounded.
The knight smiled. “You don’t care about breakfast, do you? We’ll leave as soon as we can be ready.”
Penelope snatched her cloak off the ground, shook it out, and pulled it over her shoulders. “What does that mean?” she asked eagerly, fumbling over the clasp in her haste.
“Jael saddled and my armor packed, and Cyrus’ side re-bandaged,” he answered.
“You’re hurt too,” the Princess said suddenly. “Let me look at your arm.”
“I will be–” Sir Richard began, but she interrupted him, a feisty feeling bubbling up that she had not felt for days. “I am Princess in this Valley, and I insist.”
The Knight’s arm was re-bandaged and he was strapping the last pieces of his armor to Jael’s saddle. Penelope was just standing up from dressing the German Shepherd’s wounds again when she was startled by a loud whinny. The warhorse grunted softly at the sound of another horse. The Princess whirled towards the sound with a gasp, but then retreated hastily as the riderless, milk-white creature ran out of the trees at a full gallop.
“Snowflake!” she cried, as it pulled to a stop in front of her, not sure whether she was wanted to laugh and slap her neck, or bury her face in her mane and cry. “What are you doing here? Did you run away? But then. . . who saddled you? Did—”
“Snowflake!” A commanding, masculine voice—that was obviously slightly irritated—cut through the still, morning air.
Penelope stood her ground this time, as Captain rushed up, still unsure if she should smile or start sobbing. Henry swung himself onto the ground faster than the Princess had ever imagined was humanly possible without breaking a leg, but she did not have much time to think before her brother threw himself on her. She flung her arms around him, finally made up her mind, and burst into tears.
Snowflake stood (literally breathing down her neck) nudging her gently, obviously unsatisfied with the attention she was getting. Even Captain tried to nose his way in between them, puzzled.
The Prince shook them off. “Give us a minute,” he said, laughing but with his voice still thick with emotion. “She’s my sister, after all!”
His sister did not even try to laugh as she lifted her tear-stained face from his shoulder. “I missed you. I didn’t even realize how much. Of all the things missing, back. . . back there, missing you was the worst. You, and Mother and Father.”
“I missed you too,” Henry said. “Father and Mother are coming too. They’re just. . . not as fast. They could hardly help it, when I had to gallop to catch your silly horse.”
“And you didn’t even catch her after all that—I did!”
Her brother laughed. “Or she caught you.”
“And how was it that she was in a greater hurry than you anyway?” Penelope challenged. She bent down and picked up his hat, which had been knocked off (probably by her). The gray feather quivered slightly as she lifted it. “Still wearing this old thing?”
“’Still’?” Henry did his best to frown. “It’s only been three days.”
“It feels like forever,” she said in a low voice, her lips beginning to tremble. Her brother threw his arms around her again.
“Stop it!” she said, trying (in vain until he cooperated) to pull away from him. “Seriously, stop. Or I shall go on crying for hours when I have every reason to be happy.”
Henry let go of her and retrieved his hat, which had fallen on the ground again in his last violent hug. Penelope took a deep breath and rubbed her eyes.
The clatter of hoof-beats broke the silence again. Catching sight of the Queen’s chocolate brown mare and the King’s jet-black stallion through the trees, the Princess now threw all caution to the wind and ran towards the approaching horses.
King Cedric vaulted off his steed, and turned to his wife, who threw herself into his arms and ran towards her daughter as soon as he set her on the ground. Henry sighed as he grabbed his horse’s reins, and then groped for Snowflake’s. “So much for not crying.”