As I fumbled with the clasp on my necklace, servants bustled around me. They threw open the curtains, causing sunlight to stream in through my windows. The sun reflected off of the royal purple silk my dress was made of, making it seem like a lighter color than it was. A girl rushed over to me and made sure that the dress was properly fit, then scurried off again. They redid my bed as the clasp finally snapped into place. I dropped the chain, letting the coin attached to the end of it hit my chest. I knew my parents didn’t approve of the unsightly defiling of Camellia’s coinage, but it was a gift from my best friend. I couldn’t just not wear it, even if it was something my parents wouldn’t like. It was the way things went, and it was good for a princess to associate with her subjects… Or something.
I slipped out of my room, stepping into the hallway. Servants bustled around, and light flooded the halls as the curtains were opened. My bare feet passed over the marble floor tiles with practiced grace. I had had to practice that exact walk more times than I could count, basically since I was able to walk I was learning the correct way to put one foot in front of another. And I was fine with that. If I could be respected for walking right, I’d learn it over and over again if I had to.
I had a love-hate relationship with our family’s dining room. On the one hand, if I accidentally talked to myself in the middle of a family-only meal no one would hear. On the other hand, it was where a lot of “Be more like Coras!” scoldings happened. Coras was my older brother, the heir to the throne. He was already a master tactician, he was so good at wielding a sword too… At least in my eyes. I heard his instructors telling him a lot of things he could do better though. I knew I could never wield a sword like him, nor would I be allowed to.
All of this ran through my head as I padded into the dining room and took my place at the table. Despite the thoughts I crossed one of my legs over the other and set my hands in my lap. I looked across me to my brother, who was only two years older than me. I kept my eyes straight, knowing that I was a bit late. Coras glanced down at the tablecloth. The cloth was a pure white, scrubbed clean after every day.
“Finally you’ve arrived Lilliana,” my father said from his place at the head of the table. I simply looked down at my hands, the filed-down nails looking dull that morning. I heard father clap his hands, and the click of servants’ shoes on the marble as they brought our breakfast. Platters fell in front of us, and I lifted my head a bit to see what the food was. Mainly fruit, as usual. I didn’t really know what it was like to have a different breakfast, so I just accepted my morning routine. As usual the platters went around the table, and as usual we took little and left quite a bit. We always expected someone else to take more, and going back for seconds most of considered a bit rude, so we always ate less than our fill.
We waited as the servants came and took the platters away, then we were all excused by father. I didn't have much to do during the day, so I was preparing to head out into the town. I walked back to my room and took off my dress. I normally didn’t do things like this, but I really wanted to go out today. I wasn’t out much, but I loved doing it when I could. I didn’t have much to wear besides the countable infinity of formal dresses, but I managed to pull something out of the dark corners of my closet. It was a pair of… Pants? I didn’t remember having any pairs of pants, but I did remember the blouse that I had pulled out to go alongside it. The pants were black, and the blouse was a delicate silk one in a nice pink color. I didn’t hurry to put the pants on, but once I did I found they fit well. I put the blouse on over and tucked the bottom into the top of the pants. I looked a bit strange, especially a girl wearing pants, so I grabbed a skirt which I slung over my arm. I also grabbed some coins in case I needed to buy anything or bribe anyone. One never knows. Now came the hard part: sneaking out. I pushed my window open and looked down. I was on the second story, so I couldn’t just jump, if I did I’d break something. Looking around, I spotted a vine of ivy that wound its way up the building. It looked sturdy enough, but I knew that I’d probably have to take a leap of faith over to it. Not a very exciting aspect.
Despite the challenges I stepped up onto the windowsill and pushed the window open the rest of the way. I stuck one of my bare feet out, but before I could do anything else I remembered some other things I had to undo. I pulled out the pin holding my black hair in a bun and let it fall behind me. I also pulled the tiara I had equipped earlier that morning from my hair and discarded it. After that I wound my foot around the vine as best as I could, and readied myself for what was to come.
I’ll be honest, that wasn't the best idea. It felt like forever as I swung farther away from my window and closer to falling every second, until I slammed into the wall and wrapped all of my appendages around the vine. By then I most certainly couldn’t get back to my window, and I knew that the vine wasn’t the most stable. I moved my legs from the vine and braced them against the wall. I slowly moved my hands under each other and let myself slide down the wall. Little by little I got down to the ground. My feet hit the grass, and I looked around for an easy way to get out. I knew there was always the front entry, but someone would probably catch me. I figured I could try to disguise myself, but someone would still recognize me. I noticed the forest beyond the flimsy fence on the edge of the grounds. I checked to make sure that no one was watching me and I darted off into the forest.
Okay, it was my first time in the forest, so running in with no idea where to go was a terrible notion. I just turned in the direction of the gate and started walking. I took my time, stepping over sticks and pushing other branches out of the way. The forest didn’t seem to be ending any time soon, so I turned back towards where I thought open land would be. More walking ensued. Finally I pushed my way past the final stubby trees and out into the world. The gate was still in my view, but it was behind me, and I considered that an achievement. The hill the castle grounds were built on had a cobblestone road going down it. I walked over to the road and started walking down to the village. I was alone on the road, but as the village came more into view I spotted people bustling throughout the streets. The forest lined the street the whole time, and just before I entered the village I ducked into the forest to change into my skirt. It was a typical skirt that ladies wore around Camellia, this one in a light pink color and running about two thirds of the way down my leg. Intricate lace designs wound their way down the skirt. I tucked in my shirt and walked into the village.
People bustled around me, no one knowing who I was. It was certainly different. I looked around at all of the merchants bartering and people running around. Women hung out clothes to dry above their houses. Little kids ran in front of me, laughing and cheering. In between shops and houses small flowers grew. The shops started thinning out and gave way to a residential area. Not as many people ran through the streets, leaving me mostly alone with my thoughts. Tunes filtered through the air from lullabies being sung to babies being given naps and kids singing those same tunes. The words seemed to harmonize as one big choir, and I wondered why no one would let me out here if everything was so fun and happy.
Those dreams were shattered pretty soon after. I walked out of the village itself and into the forest on the outskirts. After a bit of walking, the path that had already been cleared was mostly gone, leaving me staring out into the trees. And then suddenly I was being pulled to the side. The thing had an unnaturally strong grip on me, and I struggled, but I didn’t know what to do. My hands kind of just ran through my hair in an attempt to find whatever was holding me. My hands couldn’t find purchase on anything and I was dragged deeper into the forest.
I was thrown down onto the ground in a clearing, coughing. I blinked open my eyes and couldn’t see anything in front of me. I sucked in a deep breath and tried to calm down before I stood up. Before I could, I heard some form of battle cry and the sound of someone throwing themselves onto something. The sounds of struggle echoed through the clearing from just out of my vision. Eventually, Brendan staggered into the clearing, wiping a bit of blood from a split lip.
“Lilliana! What are you doing here?!” he exclaimed, rushing over to me. I let him help me up.
“I- I walked into the forest and this… thing grabbed me,” I said. Brendan’s face went pale, and for a split second he looked concerned, but he resumed composure.
“No one did anything to you, did they?” he asked.
“No, not that I know. I mean, besides what already happened…” I trailed off at the end.
“Good. Come on, we really need to get out of this forest.” He tried his best to look composed, but I knew him well, and I could tell he was concerned.
“Hey. Brendan. No need to worry. I’m just fine,” I said as we walked back towards the village. My voice shook a bit. I now knew why I wasn’t allowed outside much.
“No, there is need to worry. You’re important to the future of the kingdom, even if you don’t know how just yet,” he said.
“Way to get sappy on me,” I grumbled.
“Well, it’s true!” We walked back into the village proper.
“This place is really nice in this part,” I sighed as we walked back past the merchants. “I wish I could come out here more often.”
“This is just the village closest to the palace. The ones farther out are a bit more rough.”
“Are they? I never knew.”
“From what I’ve heard.” He shrugged his shoulders as we neared the top of the hill.
“Oh…” I didn’t know what else to say. I felt stupid for not knowing anything about the world outside the palace walls. I was hyperfocused on being a perfect princess, so I didn’t bother to be the rebellious princess stereotype. I knew nothing, and I was pathetic. We stopped at the gate.
“I’m gonna hafta stay here. I’ll see you tonight. Oh, and get that out of your face,” Brendan said, and brushed the dirt from my clothes and pushed my black hair from my face. He stepped back to admire his minimal handiwork. He nodded, his electric blue eyes gleaming in the morning light, and pushed me towards the gate. I waved goodbye with a slight smile as I pushed the gate open and walked inside. I kept my head down, hoping my scuffle with the forest floor made me less recognizable. I walked around the grounds towards the side with my window, trying not to run or attract attention to myself. I eventually got to my window, but then had the realization that I both didn’t have the strength to pull myself up and the vine would probably snap. That left me one option: Coras.
I grabbed my skirt and started jogging back towards the training grounds where I knew Coras would be. He was out there, swinging a wooden sword around, sighing as he did so. I ran over to him and tugged on his sleeve.
“Coras?” I asked. He kept swinging the stick around.
“Lilliana? Why are you out here? I thought you would be inside reading or looking for a nice gown!” he replied.
“Well, uh, there was a change of plans for today. I need your help getting me back inside unnoticed,” I said. He turned to face me, and he started when he saw how I was dressed.
“What did you do?!” he exclaimed.
“Went out into the village. Is that a bad thing?”
“Yes it’s a bad thing! There are rumors that there are casters living there, and I don’t want you to become one of them! They’re terrible!”
“Oh… There are? Woah. I shouldn’t have gone out then. Can you help me get inside?”
“No, you shouldn’t have. You should have stayed here. I can help, but I do want to tell Father what you did.” I bit back a comment about seeing Brendan.
“No, no please don’t! If you do he’ll lose all that trust I spent so long getting with him. I can’t have it ruined, I’ll never get it back.” I looked at the ground and shushed the dirt around with my toe.
“Okay, we’ll go in the back door. Here, hold my training sword. i can say you’re a servant. I’ll take you to your room, and then you can never do that again.”
“Mmm-hmm. Sorry. I didn’t mean to put myself in danger.” The dirt was becoming my new favorite thing to stare at. Coras handed me his sword. I fumbled with it for a moment, trying to figure out the correct way for me to hold it. I settled for setting it on my palms and carried it like I saw father carry ceremonial swords to knight people and such. We walked in the back door, and Coras led me to my room. Before he left me, he told me again to not do what I had just done and that I was a bad kid. I agreed that I was being bad, as I really hadn’t thought that through and was just looking for some cheap thrills, and he closed the door behind me. I watched the door, as if it would give me something to think. I sighed and walked over to the mirror. My hair had lost its shine, and my face and hands were covered in dust. A twig stuck out of my hair. I pulled the twig out and walked over to the door. No one was in the hallway, so I walked down the hall to the washroom. I dunked the scrap of cloth I used to wash up in the bucket of water in the room.
I cleaned myself up and walked back into my room. I changed back into the gown that was lying on the floor. I looked back at myself in the mirror once more. I looked a bit more fit for royalty, but something still seemed off. I now wished I hadn’t left. I felt like I should be there, instead of where I was. I laid back on my bed, filling my dress with wrinkles, and closed my eyes.
I jolted awake to a tapping on my window. I brought my hand yo my eyes, trying to figure out what was tapping my window. A shadow covered my window, blocking out the early fall light. More tapping. I hunted through my memories for who could be tapping, then I remembered: Brendan. I stood up and staggered over to the window, where I unlocked it and pushed it open. Brendan’s face smiled back at me.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hey Lilli,” he replied. He crawled in the window after I checked the door to make sure no one was looking. His clothes were in their usual ragged state. He ran a hand through his blonde hair and flashed me a smile.
“Sorry I was late getting you inside,” I said.
“It’s no problem. I knew you were asleep. Did you get dinner?” he asked.
“Oh! No. It’s fine, though. I’m sure they didn’t miss me,” I said.
“No, they never would. I’m sure they just wanted you to get your rest.” I shrugged.
“Maybe. Now, was there anything you wanted to say? I know you only come when you want to say something.” I sat down on my bed, and patted the space next to me. Brendan leapt onto the bed and laid back, staring up at the canopy.
“Y-yeah,” he said, his voice shaking a little. “I have something to tell you.”
“What? You can tell me whatever you need to.”
“Well, it’s a long-ish story.” And he began telling it.