Chapter 5

The next few days flew by, from visiting dignitaries coming to congratulate me on my birthday to preparing for the balls I would now be expected to attend. And I couldn't be more exhausted. My mother was able to balance all these events, see to all the matters of the palace and still find time to be a mother to us. I shook my head in disbelief. She makes it look effortless. And of course Dmitri was always there, in the shadows, doing his duty.

We haven't spoken much since he came to my room the other day. Tense didn't cover the way our relationship was now.

I needed something to take my mind of all things social. I headed to the stables to ride my mare, Dousha. She was a gentle horse, all white except for the small black star on her muzzle, just between her eyes. She was beautiful.

I remember when my father first brought her to the stables. I was convinced she was one of the horses of the Chariot of Immortality. I was told the legend when I was young by a Palestinian nursemaid. It was one of my favorite stories as a child.

I walked up to her pen. She reached her face out to nuzzle my hand as I slipped her some sugar. She neighed playfully. I always felt at peace out here. The woods were colorful with their changing leaves and I was almost always alone when I came out here. It seems most people don't have time to ride anymore.

I led her out of her stable and put my saddle on her. It had been a gift from my late grandmother. It was beautiful brown leather with an intricately embroidered saddlebag. Every time I used it I thought of her.

I straightened my riding habit and leapt on her back. I took the reins and we galloped off into the woods. There was a beautiful area I loved to ride through. It was so untouched my people you just had to wonder what the rest of the world could be like. I had never been out of Russia, and only to various palaces around the empire. I had always wanted to go far beyond the borders, past the snow and to other cities and countries.

It was a dream of mine. My grandmother made sure of that.

She had traveled around Europe after my father became Tsar. There was no need for her to stay in Petersburg and I think she liked it that way.

I sighed. I missed her a lot. She and I understood each other in a way that the rest of my family really didn't. For a long time I thought no one else could. Except for Dmitri. But that was something else altogether.

Dousha patiently galloped through the forest as I mused.

And this mix of feelings for Dmitri's return is just complication things. I thought to myself. I have no idea why we can't have a normal conversation with each other without getting mad at one another or getting scared of this strange change in our relationship. But the most frustrationg part was that I don't know what changed it.

Yes, we have both grown up. But that means we can still be friends doesn't it?

I had made my resolve and turned Dousha towards the stable. I needed to find Dmitri.

(Flashback)

The princess and the son of a soldier sat side by side in the stables. The girl's father had just given her a gift. A young mare to ride through the Peterhof forests.

The two of them sat, trying to figure out what to name her.

"What about Blanc? The boy asked.

The girl shook her head. "To plain."

"Artemis"

She wrinkled her nose in distaste. "This is an Arabian horse, not Greek. And besides I get enough of that in the school room."

He smiled. "Snow"

"Too cliché!" She said.

The boy was starting to lose patience with the conversation. "Well, what do you think is right?" He said.

The girl sat there for a while, thinking. "Do you know what she looks like?" She asked. "My old nursemaid used to tell me the story of the Heavenly Horses of Ferghana. The Emperor Wu-Ti thought that they would take his soul up to heaven. He would ride in the Chariot of Immortality up to Peace." She told him. "I had loved that story." She whispered quietly.

"That's it." The boy said, looking at the horse. "You just said it."

The girl looked at her friend confused.

"Dousha" He said with a grin. "Soul"

I smiled at him and went to pet the horses mane. "Dousha is perfect."