Not Really the Prisoner of Zenda

Not Really the Prisoner of Zenda by Joel Rosenberg

Book: Not Really the Prisoner of Zenda by Joel Rosenberg Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joel Rosenberg
    He didn’t even have to get down from the back of the overly spirited black gelding that the stableboy had picked out for him in order to spot bear spoor under, as far as he could tell, each and every one of the old oaks that held a beehive, as most of them appeared to.
    His mouth watered at the idea of smoking out the bees and sinking his teeth into a fresh honeycomb.
    As they cantered down the side of the hill, a covey of grouse exploded out of the bushes beside them, the fluppeta-fluppeta-fluppeta as they battered their wings together at least as hard as they beat the air sending him reaching for one of his pistols.
    It had been too long since he had been out in the forest. It was embarrassing that he hadn’t even spotted the grouse before he had startled them, although who had been doing most of the startling and who had been doing most of the being startled wasn’t at all obvious.
    She laughed, more at him than with him. “I appreciate your concern for my safety, but I don’t think a pack of grouse is very dangerous.”
    “True enough.” But he couldn’t help but keep his eyes from scanning not only the trail in front of them, but the brush to either side. “But it’s what I’m used to.”
    “I know.” She nodded, and as the trail widened, kicked her heels against her brown mare’s broad sides until they were riding almost knee-to-knee. “Still, you can get used to all this. Good food, clean clothes, a regular bath, and as much leisure as you’d like aren’t difficult tastes to acquire, are they?”
    He didn’t answer. “It’s … different. I’ve spent most of my life —”
    “Shhh.” She looked ahead. “I know we’re alone, but please, please don’t get in the habit of talking about … such things.” Her lips pursed tightly. “I can’t imagine that Miron would suspect the truth, but he’s certain to be looking for an opportunity to discredit you — and he is known to the local landholders, and has allies in Parliament. In fact, I think you ought to make an opportunity to court Lord Moarin — he’s a wretched old lecher, but —”
    “Please? At least when we’re alone, can’t I just stop pretending for a few moments?”
    When she didn’t answer right away, he angrily slapped his reins hard against his thigh. The horse misread that as a signal to break into a canter, and he was easily a dozen manlengths away before he pulled the horse back into a slow walk so that she could catch up.
    Ahead, the trail broke on a clearing surrounding a small pond. The ducks that seemed to glide effortlessly across its green-scum – covered surface ignored them, while a skinny heron, propped up on one foot at the far edge, paused for a moment to eye them carefully before knifing its long beak back into the water, emerging with a wriggling fish, its rainbow scales gleaming like jewels in the sunlight.
    Heron wasn’t the most flavorful of birds, but it wasn’t bad. Better than eagle and loon, and there was more meat on one than there was on a duck. Since he hadn’t been able to locate a proper bow boot quickly, and hadn’t wanted to take the time to find one, he hadn’t even strung one of the longbows in the Residence armory; he had simply taken a short horn bow and a small quiver from the armory and strapped them to the back of his saddle.
    It would be almost too easy to stop, string the bow, and shoot some supper — and it would have been the natural, the normal thing to do. The woods here were like an open town market without the incessant cries of farmers and merchants hawking their wares.
    “No,” she said, finally. “I don’t think you should stop pretending, as you put it. But we can make an exception, just this once. Since it’s just you and me.”
    “Thank you.”
    “Would you mind stopping for a moment? I’m finding that bouncing up and down on a saddle is beginning to tire me.”
    “Of course.”
    He pulled his horse to a halt, quickly bolted to the ground,

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