They meet by complete accident on the evening of Waverly's eighth birthday.
"Oof." Waverly hoists herself up into the saddle of the draft stallion, struggling to swing her leg over his flank.
"Need any help, babygirl?" Wynonna asks, trying and failing to hide a smile.
"Nope," the young girl grins, finally settling into the saddle. She pats the great beast's neck, giggling as it nickers softly.
"Hmm," Wynonna feigns hesitance, eyeing them both up and down. "Are you sure he's not too big? I could always ask Daddy for a different-"
"No!" Waverly interrupts quickly. "He's perfect."
"Remember, always keep one hand on the horn and your feet in the stirrups," Wynonna takes the reins from her sister and glances over her form one last time, noticing the way her legs dangle several inches away from the leather straps. "Maybe scratch that last part, though."
She leads them out of the stables and out towards the city gates, where they are met with the rest of the parade. Wynonna hands Waverly's reins to a guard before mounting her own steed, winking. "Enjoy yourself, Waverly. We're doing this for you."
They travel through the city, past the winding villas and down into the timeworn surrounding villages. Noblemen bow and toss gold into the streets, and cultivators cheer, offering the ripest vegetables of their harvests. A baker and his wife in particular approach Waverly, presenting her with a hearty loaf of cinnamon rye bread. The sweet bun nearly melts in Waverly's mouth, and she thanks them profusely, promising them they will never have another want for as long as they run the bakery.
As the sun begins to set and they are reaching the furthest outskirts of farmland, Waverly's eyes begin to droop. "Can we go home now?" she yawns, slouching down in her saddle.
"Yes, my lady." The guard tugs on her stallion's reins, leading the pair in a U shape back towards the castle.
Suddenly an orange blur darts out in front of them, causing Waverly's steed to rear up in fear. The princess screams and throws her arms around the neck of the stallion in a desperate attempt to hang on.
"My lady!" the guard steps in front of them, spreading his arms to calm the beast down. Waverly's heart is still roaring in her ears as the horse begins to soothe, her knuckles white on the horn of the saddle. Finally, she peers over the top of her steed's head.
The source of the ruckus, as it turns out to be, is a girl.
She can't be much older than Waverly herself, she thinks. The child is shaking like a leaf, eyes wide as she gazes up at the mouth of Waverly's horse. In her arms she grasps a small orange bundle.
"What's all this commotion?" the king comes cantering up from the rear of the cavalcade, followed closely by her older sisters. He stops just short of the girl with a glower cold enough to freeze hell. "Tell me, girl, did you not see the hundreds of soldiers and horses milling about?"
The young redhead swallows and sinks to her knees, head bowed in submission. "N-no, Your Majesty, I did see them."
"Then tell me," Ward eyes her smudged and tattered clothes, "what would compel you to hurtle into the street as you did?"
"I meant no harm, Your Majesty," her voice quivers. "It was my cat, sir. She ran into the street just as the princess was approaching." She unfolds her arms, revealing a tiny orange kitten. "I couldn't just let her get trampled."
Ward stares at the feline before running a hand tiredly through his hair. "A kitten," he echoes. "My daughter was nearly thrown off her horse for a kitten?"
The girl nods hesitantly.
"I could have your head for this." He towards towards one of the guards, who immediately steps forward, gripping the hilt of his sword.
Waverly breaks her silence, sliding off of her horse. Her boots land with a soft thud in the dust, and she makes her way over to the girl. "My name's Waverly," she greets brightly. "What's yours?" She offers her hand out to the girl, who stares at it for a long while before accepting it.
"Nicole," she answers, warily eyeing the king.
"I like your kitty," the princess smiles.
Nicole brightens at that. "Her name is Janey. She's only a few weeks old."
To the bewilderment of the adults, the two girls begin to make conversation, seemingly oblivious to the people around them.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Ward's eldest daughter huffs, rolling her eyes.
"Willa," Wynonna grits her teeth, glaring at the brunette. "She's eight years old. You could at least try to keep your voice down."
"Why should I? She should know better by now than to engage with. . .her like," Willa disdainfully gestures towards Nicole.
Thankfully, neither girl seems to notice, both too enraptured by the other's presence.
"Again, she's a child, Willa. Let her make some friends," Wynonna snaps before turning her attention to her younger sister. "Babygirl!"
Waverly looks up from her conversation, hazel eyes sparkling with delight.
"Tell your friend goodnight. It's getting late," she calls.
Waverly sticks out her bottom lip but begrudgingly obeys. She turns to Nicole and wraps her arms around her. "I guess this is goodbye."
Nicole nods, slightly dazed, and hesitantly returns the hug.
"Can I see you tomorrow?"
The redhead blinks in surprise and nods again, a grin slowly splitting across her face. "Of course!"