The Maiden's Request (Part 2)

Henrik held the lead horse’s bridle after securing the last of the equipment attaching them to the carriage. Everything was ready for its departure. He brushed the hair of the lead horse to pass the time. His mind wandered to Jing’s perfect hair.   Jing was often on his mind. She alone did not treat him as foreign trash who was disrupting honored traditions with these horses. Many in Chienhu had never seen a horse before, but Jing, like her father the emperor, was excited about the benefits horses could bring to their empire. Henrik was grateful that the people of Rikenvatten had a reputation of excellent horsemanship. It made his rapid accession in the ranks of servants smooth, but there were many who resented a foreigner given so much honor and respect.   After weeks of watching the emperor and crown prince receive riding lessons from afar, Jing came close enough to ask questions about the horses. The princess confessed she thought he and the horses were oddities. Henrik was quickly smitten with her beauty. Her raven-colored hair was common in Chienhu but rarely seen in Rikenvatten.   Henrik’s thoughts were shattered when Jing appeared, fleeing from the bamboo forest, clutching her hands to her chest and running as fast as her silk slippers could carry her. Their eyes met, and Henrik saw the terror within. She stopped as if to take a step toward Henrik but then continued her panicked flight to the palace.   “Oh, no,” Henrik whispered. He had a feeling he knew what scared Jing but hoped he was wrong.