Brianna Erinn rode across the hills, her horse's hoof beats pounding underneath her. Below her lay a small, green valley, sheltering a marble palace and a glittering blue lake within its protective hills. Brianna was headed for the palace, riding hard, trying to stay ahead of her pursuers. She risked a quick glance behind her, and saw three riders coming after her on the trail.
The guards in pursuit wore dark-green uniforms under steel armor; a sword dangled at each guard's side. Brianna saw that they were gaining on her, and spurred her horse forward. Her chestnut mare gave a burst of speed, and Brianna began to pull away from her pursuers.
She knew, however, that her horse was tiring, and it would only be a matter of time before the larger, stronger horses of the guards overtook them. Brianna had been following a path that wound its way across the tops of the hills surrounding the Connemara Valley, soaring across the hilltops like a bird riding the wind, far above the valley. Now she was closing in on the palace. It was time to make one last dash—one final, desperate attempt to escape. Brianna gave the reins a sharp twist, guiding her horse from the path and onto the lush, green grass, heading downward.
Brianna silently willed the mare to run faster as they raced down the hill. The green blaze of color reflecting from the surrounding hills made it seem as though they were descending into a valley carved from pure emerald. Brianna looked back again, and what she saw quickly made her forget the beauty of the scenery surrounding her. The guards were also charging down the hills, and their horses were closing on her.
Brianna's mount had reached the valley floor, and continued to gallop toward the palace. Arching forward in the saddle, Brianna urged her horse onward. The marble walls of the palace loomed in front of them, and Brianna thought for a moment that they might reach safety within them. But she could feel the horse slowing beneath her. Brianna knew how hard she had ridden the mare in her attempt to escape her pursuers, and that she could push the horse no further. Pulling on the reins of her mount, she slowed it to a trot. She turned the horse to face the approaching guards.
Brianna sat calmly in the saddle, watching as the guards pulled their horses to a stop in front of her. She cast a glance over her shoulder, seeing how close she had come to reaching the palace. Brianna smiled, pleased with how far she had gotten before they had managed to catch up to her. The lead guard reached up and pulled the helmet from her head, revealing a woman with a slender face, and light-brown hair pulled tightly into a ponytail. She had an alert, vigilant air about her, and her bright blue eyes stared at Brianna with a reproachful look. Brianna detected a hint of laughter sparkling in the depths of those eyes in spite of the stern expression on the guard's face.
"You know you shouldn't try to lose us like that, Your Highness," she said disapprovingly. "Even though you might prefer to ride alone, the other Royal Guards and I are here to protect you.