They were crossing through the mountain as a shortcut. The steep cliffs and bumpy roads had already transitioned into a smoother path. The forest around it was marked with scarlet, referring to the dangerous animals and magical creatures that hid among the woods feeding off the power left behind by the descendants of God.
However, there wasn’t a lone rabbit in sight, let alone a dangerous beast. They all hid when they felt Aymon nearing.
Of course, Belinda didn’t know that. She was happily humming, thinking to herself how smooth and pleasant the trip was.
“Aymon, let’s eat something.”
Dusk was approaching. Soon they’d be able to eat at their next resting place, but sitting on a horse all day had already made Belinda uncomfortable and hungry.
They sat down on a mushroom-like rock and spread out a handkerchief. The cool wind threatened to blow it away before Belinda put down the cookies, apples, and water.
“Do you want some jerky?”
Aymon shuddered at the sight of the dried meat.
Aymon shook his head in fright when she took out the dried meat piece.
「I’d rather hunt than eat that.」
He turned to Daisy. Daisy looked like a good chunk of meat at that moment.
Daisy blinked a few times, then sneered and instinctively stepped back. His pride seemed to have been hurt.
Belinda stood up, approaching the nervous horse with a chopped apple.
“Eat this. It’s a snack.”
Instead of dropping it on the ground for Daisy to pick up, she carefully held a slice out on her palm. She was still a bit scared, even after riding Daisy all this way. Unlike the pretty name suggested, she was standing in front of a very large, dignified animal. She tried to ignore the fear.
Daisy ate the slice, then the rest of the apple. Soon all the apples were gone. Belinda came back holding some sugar cubes.
“Try this too.”
Seeing Daisy so calm and accepting relieved her.
The sugar was gone in a single gulp, followed by the horse eagerly licking the remaining grains off Belinda’s palm.
Belinda’s laughter echoed through the forest.
It was a very different feeling from Aymon’s licking. That made her heart flutter, but this just caused a wet palm. Rather than pleasant, this felt strange, but not enough to push him away.
Aymon hadn’t moved from his spot on the rock. Observing them, he looked like he’d just witnessed an affair.
Belinda brushed the crumbs off the handkerchiefs and folded it up, getting ready to leave. As she packed up, Aymon followed her around, muttering to himself.
「Come on, don’t be so rude to Daisy.」
She turned around and saw Aymon toying with a peach pit.
「Daisy’s a male, too.」
“He’s a beast. Why would gender matter? I’m a human, and he’s a horse. It’s irrelevant whether they’re male or female.”
Aymon tossed aside the peach pit and looked up.
「I’m just as much of a beast as he is.」
「Does the same apply to me? Is it irrelevant for me too?」
Belinda was too busy with packing to answer, so Aymon went up to Daisy.
「You’re a horse. You’re meant to graze. Why do you accept everything a human gives you? So spineless.」
He seemed to be redirecting his anger to Daisy now. Daisy huffed.
Isn’t it this little leopard right here that feeds off human food?
“You like the cookies that human girl gives you.”
Daisy whinnied, stomping down on the grass.
It was Belinda who shut off the confrontation.
“Hold it in.”
She said to Daisy as she adjusted her saddle.
“Aymon’s certainly something, isn’t he?”
Daisy waved their tail, perhaps in agreement.
“He’s nice, though. Trust me. He’ll be more friendly when you get closer.”
She finally took a side. Daisy huffed in disapproval.
Belinda got up into the saddle and Aymon settled in her arms.
Motivated by Aymon’s snide remarks, Daisy galloped down the darkening forest path faster than usual. At this pace, they could arrive at the next village before sunset.
Belinda looked at Daisy’s mane flying in the wind as she struggled to hold her balance.
No matter how much she thought about it, she didn’t understand how a little leopard could provoke a huge horse. Surely Daisy could flatten him into the ground in a split second.
Rank was what mattered in the animal kingdom. Could Aymon really be stronger than Daisy? Even if he was a Shinsu, the size difference between them was really big?
Thinking about these mysteries, she stroked Aymon’s fur. It was amazing to consider that the small beast in her arms held such an important position.
They arrived at the small village around dusk, finally finding the torn signboard marking Hugo’s Inn among the cluster of plain houses.
Belinda got off Daisy’s back and stretched out. Her whole body was exhausted; she just wanted some rest.
「Take a rest and we’ll continue in the morning.」
Aymon said to Daisy.
Daisy hadn’t grown up in a stable, so he needed somewhere else to go.
Daisy was surprised at the leopard’s sudden considerate comments, but his niceness didn’t last long.
「I can smell you anywhere. If you try to run off…」
Then you’ll die, he meant.
Belinda quickly understood this.
“You’re really like a villain, Aymon.”
He crossed his arms.
「Breedee, as soon as we met, he tried to crush me with their hind legs!」
「If I were a regular leopard, I’d have died!」
「I’m not treating him harshly. We’ve been on bad terms since we first met, but that’s not my fault!」
“Your first meeting didn’t go well, I get it.”
Aymon tried to defend himself with empty excuses all the way up to their room on the second floor.
“Be nicer to Daisy. He’s giving us a ride.”
She responded, with a smile.
Aymon wandered around the room noisily. Belinda went up the creaky wooden stairs, afraid that someone would hear him talking.
Fortunately, it seemed like they were the only ones staying at the inn.
She absentmindedly dismissed Aymon, who was still talking to himself and opened the door. She was expecting something shabby, but the room was surprisingly tidy. It would only be Aymon and her today.
Belinda draped her clothes on a chair. Aymon was sitting on the sofa, nervously nibbling at his hat. He’d forgotten he was even wearing it.
Belinda stretched out her back.
“Oh, that hurts…”
No matter how carefully Daisy galloped, it was still her first time on a horse. It felt like her whole body had shrunk down. She opened the bathroom door to look inside.
“It’s cleaner than I expected.”
Of course, it wasn’t comparable to the palace, but compared to where she grew up, it was heavenly.
“Aymon, I’ll go shower first.”
She stepped inside. It was cool inside because of the open window, but the warm water soon fixed that. Her muscles finally relaxed and the heat turned her face pink.
After the well-deserved shower, she threw on a pyjama. It was made of rougher cloth since she bought it on their way here. It reminded her of her life before the palace, and strangely, she felt nostalgic.
Steam poured out into the main room, where Aymon was pacing to and fro. He was anxious, so he leaped up onto the windowsill and started scratching the railing.
“What are you doing?”
Belinda asked, drying her hair with a towel.
「I just…. Nothing.」
He replied in a nervous tone.