Many years ago, in a kingdom far away, there lived a young prince. This prince was very handsome, and everybody in the kingdom loved him. The prince, being a good man, responded in kind and treated everybody fairly. But, much to his father’s confusion and his mother’s disappointment, there was one thing the prince would never do -- smile.
Finally, unable to tolerate his son’s dour expression any longer, the king sent out a decree. He dispatched messengers to every corner of his country, and runners to all the neighboring kingdoms. The first person to make his hard-faced child smile would earn the right to marry him.
Unfortunately for the king, things did not go as planned.
Leo had them awake and on their way before the sun rose. He looked good on a horse, even in the gray pre-dawn light. He was completely at ease, a result of learning to ride before he could walk, no doubt. Dexter, on the other hand, was far from comfortable. The horses in his village were almost exclusively used for farm work. Nobody had the luxury of riding a horse anywhere. Dexter could count on one hand the number of times he had been in the saddle. He just hoped Leo didn’t think him ridiculous.
“Do you hunt?” Leo asked once the lodge was out of sight.
“Do I hunt? Well, I eat, don’t I?”
“I just meant ...” His brow furrowed. “I guess it doesn’t matter what I meant. That was a pretty stupid question.”
“Just a mildly stupid question. My older brother used to be responsible for hunting, but once he married, that job fell to me. I try to get as much good, fresh meat for my mother as I can. I think it makes her stronger.”
“You hunt with a bow?”
“When I have arrows. Sometimes, I just have a knife and a few snares, for rabbits and other small game. What do you do with the game you kill here?”
“Jax will put it in the smokehouse. By the time we leave here, it’ll be properly cured.”
“So you actually use the meat?”
“Of course. What else would I hunt for?”
“We’re not wasteful. Besides, we have to eat, too, right?”
“So I guess it was my turn to ask a stupid question.”
“Not that stupid. I won’t deny that the royal family can be known for its…excesses. I guess mindlessly killing animals for trophies would fit in well with that reputation.”
“I don’t know much about the reputation,” Dexter admitted. “News and gossip tend to not make it that far west.”
“Really? So what do you know about me?”
“Just what you’ve shown me. You’re kind. You’ve got a good heart.” You have an amazing body and great hands. “Where are we going? A specific place?”
“There’s a salt lick not far from here. It attracts deer. The pond attracts a number of other animals. If we get there before the sun rises, we should have a few clear shots. We’re almost there, too, so now we’ve got to be quiet.”
Dexter nodded. He didn’t mind finishing the ride in silence. That gave him more time with his own thoughts. His own rather heated thoughts. Just because he had never known another person physically didn’t mean he didn’t know what he wanted. He wanted to feel Leo’s long legs wrapped around his body. He wanted to smell Leo’s skin at the crook of his neck. He wanted to feel Leo’s weight holding him down to the thick, plush mattress.