She awoke slowly as the early morning light drifted into her room, causing her eyes to sting when it reached them. Sleepily, she rubbed them with the backs of her hands then froze realizing what day it was. In a bright red flurry she jumped out of bed and rushed to put on her favorite turquoise dress. As she made her way to her bedroom door she took a quick glance into the mirror; should she even make an attempt at fixing her hair? Not that she didn't love her fiery auburn hair with all its crazy curls, but her mother might scold her for not smoothing it down and trying to look nice for all the visitors that were bound to come today. That was the pain of being a princess; you had to care about the way you looked. Well, pretend that you cared as was the case when it came to Merida. Her mother, Queen Elinor, had tried to distill all the rules and regulations being a part of royalty came with, but it just wasn't for Merida. She enjoyed the outdoors, fairy tales, riding her horse, but most of all she loved archery. Unfortunately, in her mother's eyes none of those things were fit for a lady. She took another glance at herself in the mirror. Oh hell, it's not like her hair would stay down anyways. She huffed and quickly exited the room.

While making her way down the stone stairs she pondered on whether or not she should try to sneak past her family and skip out on whatever they had planned for her that day. A light wind blew through one of the windows of the castle wall and the smell of the fresh air confirmed that she should ditch today's events. Before she could act on her decision, though, her three little brothers came tumbling down the stairs, taking her with them. They came to a crashing halt at the bottom of the steps, leaving Merida feeling slightly bruised.

She sat up and frowned at the boys. "Harris, Hubert, Hamish, come here you little brats!" She barked, and got up to chase down her squealing little brothers. As soon as she caught them, she started attacking them with tickles. Between giggles she shouted at them, "You ruined my plan, you numpty's!"

She heard the sound of someone clearing their throat behind her, and her eyelids unconsciously scrunched together. 'Oh dear, did she hear me? Please tell me she didn't hear me,' Merida silently prayed.

"What plan?" her mother's voice sternly questioned. Merida gulped and turned to face her mother. As she did so, she stood up and dusted off her dress. "I'm not sure what you mean, mother," she replied sweetly. Oh no. She had heard her. The triplets chuckled at hearing their older sister try to sweet talk their mother as they knew it was not going to go well.

"Do not lie to me, Merida," Elinor insisted.

"Mother," Merida started, wondering if she'll be able to get herself out of this one, "I was only going to go do today's chores since it's still early and I thought I could get them done before you all woke." She only hoped her mother didn't hear the quavering in her voice. When she saw the Queen's stern face relax and smile she let out a small sigh of relief.

"Nonsense, Merida, I will not have you doing chores. I'll get someone else to do them today. After all, what kind of mother would I be if I made my only daughter do chores on her sixteenth birthday?"

'What kind of mother would force their only daughter to be pent up inside on such a beautiful day, even if it was for the occasion of the princess' sixteenth birthday?' Merida asked herself. However, she didn't voice this question to her mother. They already weren't getting along enough. She'd like to say it was just because she had a nagging mother, but the events that were to start today were causing an even greater rift between them. She knew that now she was sixteen she was considered of marriageable age and that the gathering at the castle today was to basically make a show of herself to all of the potential suitors. She hated the idea of arranged marriage. Sure it had worked out for her mother and father, but the love between them had taken years to grow. Call her a hopeless romantic, but she knew she wouldn't be able to force herself to love someone. She wanted an exhilarating love that swept her off her feet, that could leave as quickly as it came, and that was capable of breaking her heart. She would play along for today, but she knew the second any letters came men requesting to court her that she would deny them permission. She held onto the hope that one day she would be able to find true love and that she would be able to make the choice to spend the rest of her life with that person instead of being forced to marry someone because it would bring peace between families.

Again she sighed, but not with relief. She was not going to look forward to today. She forced a smile, "Thank you, mother."

"Now let's go get you presentable for today," smiled Elinor, and Merida could swear there was a wicked glint in her mother's eyes.

She was right. Today was a long day. She looked out the window and saw that the sun was no longer high in the sky, but starting to creep downward towards where it would slowly set. Oh how she had wanted to go outside and enjoy the great weather today. She closed her eyes and imagined herself on her beautiful dark brown horse Angus, riding through the forest feeling the rush of cool wind blowing through her bright locks of hair. She smiled at the thought of how her day should have went, but her daydream was interrupted by her mother's voice.

"Merida, are you listening to me? I said you could go now," her mother repeated. "I know you better than you think I do and it's obvious you're itching to go for a ride."

'Is this really happening?' Merida thought, in awe. Her mother had just given her permission to leave the castle! She thought she was going to have to sneak out again this year. It wasn't often that she was allowed outside the castle walls on her own. Usually she had to be accompanied by a group of guards along with her father, King Fergus. Ever since Fergus had been attacked by the monstrous bear, Mor'du, and lost his leg in the fight he wouldn't let any of the family outside without extreme protection. She knew her mother was going out on a limb for her as she was sure that her father didn't know about what her mother had just given her permission to do. It was times like these that she was glad Elenor was her mother. She knew what it was like to feel the need to stretch your wings every once in a while, although for her mother awhile meant every few years and for Merida it meant every week.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," squealed Merida. She glanced back out the window at the ever lowering sun. If she wanted to have a long enough ride she would have to go now without changing out of her best dress. She looked down at the silver-blue silk gown that was supposed to 'bring out her eyes.' It meant nothing to her, but she decided to be extra careful today because she knew it meant a lot to her mother. It was, after all, the dress that her mother had worn when she'd first met Merida's father. She gave a quick peck on her mother's cheek as a thank you and rapidly walked out of the main hall and headed to the stables. She took off the ridiculous white cap she was wearing that went along with the dress and left it with her bow and arrow. She wasn't going to bring it today, all she wanted to do was ride quick as lightning and feel the cooling breeze that came with dusk. She gave Angus an apple and jumped onto his back as he began to gallop forward and out of the castle walls. Merida felt a great sense of freedom as she passed through the gate at the wall. She loved it out here in the open forest.

As they leapt deeper and deeper into the forest, she noticed the glowing blue wisps that seemed to dance in front of her. They made a trail through the forest as if leading her somewhere. A small smile formed on her lips. This was what she had been waiting for all day. The one thing she looked forward to every year, that just so coincidentally happened on her birthday. She got off of Angus and started to lead him while following the Will O' the Wisps, knowing that if she didn't do so he would run away out of fear. He should be used to it by now, it was basically a tradition for her birthday. They didn't frighten her, though, for she knew where, rather who, they were taking her to. Her heart leaped in excitement.

She was finally going to see him again.