Chapter 1: Escape
Lilliana ran through the halls of the keep. She had to get as far from the cathedral of the Adherent as possible. She needed to put as much distance between her and the altar she knelt at in that place. She could not take any more of their control, of how they continued to manipulate and be in command of her life. It was terrible to learn now that she was taken her from her family after her birth. That the Adherent were the ones that chose her and raised her to be a weapon for them and their war. The complete oddity of her upbringing now surrounded her on all sides, as realization almost knocked the air from her.
She pushed on, making up her mind not to allow them to control her life further. As she flung open another door, the new revelation reverberated throughout her being as she planned her next move. She would leave before they could stop her. Before they could make her follow orders, like all the times before, and force her to marry him.
Lilliana stopped to get her bearings and then continued towards her room. She would leave and do as she had always yearned. She would find her kind and learn from them the other side of the conflict and their history.
“If they want this war to end, and I am to have any part in it, then it will be because of peace not victory.” She muttered, pushing open the door that led to her room and sleeping quarters.
“Lady Lilliana, are you well? They told us you would not be coming back here and to move your things to the royal wing. Has something happened?” One of her servants asked, genuine concern flashing in her common brown eyes.
“I had to come back for something I had forgotten. I am going to my main quarters, if you would lock the doors, so I will not be disturbed, I would greatly appreciate it.” Lilliana said, with a forced smile continuing on her path. It was hard to hide her overall anger, but she did not want to alarm the servant as she went to her room, the skirts of her gown sweeping the floor behind her.
Once in her room, Lilliana knew what she had to do. She went to the wardrobe and pulled out the pair of trousers and boots she used for riding and changed. She grabbed an extra ribbon and tied her long curly blond hair up and out of her face. The doors down the hall began to bang, her time was almost up. She grabbed the last thing she needed, her satchel that held the few things she felt were really hers, and went to the window unlatching it in time to hear the soft knock of the servant at her door before climbing out.
It was not the first time she had escaped out onto this ledge, so the task of shutting the window in order to make the lock fall into place was nothing new. She turned and walked along the narrow ledge, the space allowed one to walk with one foot in front of the other. As she cleared the corner, she heard her door broken down. Stopping out of sight, she waited to listen to what the guards would say or do next. Glass broke as she heard the window thrown open and more shouting.
“Where is she?” The familiar angry voice of Sampson, a palace guard, shook her. Holding back an involuntary shiver at his tone, she strained to listen.
“She was in here, I swear. I saw her come in, and I’m certain she couldn’t have left.”
“The doors were locked! Are you attempting to aid her? Do you not know of her significance to the rest of us that she is kept here?”
Lilliana heard a slight scream followed by more sobs, “Please…” She felt bad for the servant, knowing all too well the anger and violence of the guard.
“Send a group to the stables and another to the boats. She’ll never be able to leave without a horse or vessel. The rest of you search the grounds, she couldn’t have gotten far.”
Lilliana smiled to herself, a plan forming as she took quick steps towards where the servant’s quarters were located.
When she reached the point where she would have to begin to climb down, she crouched along the ledge and focused on her breathing.
She usually went down at another spot, but it would over shoot where her destination lay and she did not have time to be wasting or to take such a chance. The castle grounds were still quiet, since it was early morning and most servants tended to the interior before working in the courtyards.
She held on to the ledge, still four floors from the ground, and swung her legs over as she held on. Her feet hung in the air. Lilliana realized that the spacing between the ledges here must be greater than normal.
Hesitating, she looked over and could see she had about half an arm’s length further to fall if she were to go down. Committed to this spot already, since she was dangling, she looked for any place to hold onto that was lower. Finding a loose stone, she pulled it out and set her hand in its opening. Without any further hesitation she dropped. Lilliana took fast steps to aid her balance before reaching a nearby sill, which she used to steady herself. Her quick breaths calmed, as she felt the sweat that had built slip down her neck for the first time.
She looked in and was happy that it was one of the stained windows of the main halls, depicting the old religion, as she watched him stop a group of guards. She breathed easy, since his back was to her, and moved out of immediate view. She leaned against the glass, ear pressed to its cool surface, straining to hear.
“Has there been any sign of her?” His commanding voice was sharp and to the point, no feeling touched his words.
The soldiers saluted, as one took a step closer. “Lord Adair, she was not in her chambers.” She recognized Sampson’s voice again, as he continued, “Her servant told us she was in there but there was no trace of her when we searched. We believe the maid is lying since the room was sealed.”
“The window was sealed as well?” His shoulders set back as he took a step towards the guard. She assumed he had crossed his arms as she continued to watch. Even with the glass between them and only a view of his light brown hair, she could tell he was not pleased with the guard.
“Yes, everything was sealed.” Sampson repeated with a nod.
“And did you open the window and send a man out to look?” Adair’s hand motioned in the air to his side.
Lilliana did not feel sorry for them. They deserved his annoyance and to be ridiculed for their failures, even if those failures had been to her advantage.
“Sir, she could not have gone that way, since it was locked from the inside.” Another of the guards spoke then.
“The incompetence of your soldiers is exceeding expectations. She is far more trained than any of you. It would be an easy task for her to escape the same way she has in the past.” He did not attempt to temper his response, his deep voice echoing within the hall.
“My lord, I am sorry, but we were not briefed-” She recognized Sampson’s temper beginning to show in his tone.
“Of course not,” Adair sneered, “You continue your search and I will continue mine.”
“Lord Adair.” The soldiers saluted again, and then moved past him and out of her view.
Lilliana continued to watch, as he still stood with his back to her. “What are you doing?” She whispered to herself.
She watched him another moment. As she was about to continue on her way, he turned around and looked towards her. Startled, she moved back before remembering her position on the ledge and reaching for the sill again to steady herself.
“You can run as much as you want my lady, but you cannot escape your destiny anymore than I can escape my own now.” Adair’s voice reached her through the glass, before she steadied herself and was off.
Lilliana ran. When she reached the next corner, she lowered herself down onto the third floor. She was still high enough to be out of immediate sight, but she was still careful to be quieter in her footing and lean closer to the wall to avoid standing out.
When she reached the wooden frames of the servant’s quarters, she did not check before tossing herself in the first open window. Startled gasps reached her ears, as did the sound of feet moving closer to her. She jumped up to meet them and assessed her surroundings.
In the mornings, all of the servants were out doing chores, leaving their quarters empty. What she found though were two young women and an older man in the small room. The women looked to be sisters and were close in age. One was very pale with light blue eyes, as the others complexion was more rosy and speckled with freckles with brown eyes.
“It’s her.” The crackle of the old man’s voice brought her back to her situation.
“I need to borrow a set of your skirts and I need a guarantee of your silence about any of this.” Lilliana was quick and to the point.
“Eliza, bring her what she asks for. Sarah you must help her, she needs your assistance.”
Both girls stared at him. “But father-”
“You must assist our Lady Lilliana. It does not matter why they are after her, but that she wants to leave. It is important that you give her reason to believe, trust, and be happy with you. Now do as I say.”
The girls then separated to follow his instructions. Lilliana watched as the blue-eyed girl went to the doors and locked them before coming back over to her and starting with her hair.
“It is not necessary to fix my hair.” She tried to move, but the girl already had a hold of it.
“But it is,” the old man began, “They know what it should look like and will not have expected you to change it. My daughter will put it in a peasant’s style and fasten the appropriate bonnet for you, so that you will look like one of us. Eliza, be sure that it is not a newly washed one and grab some soot.”
“And what is the soot for?” Lilliana questioned him, as her eyes followed the brown-eyed girl’s movements now. The one he called Eliza.
Both girls had blond hair, similar to her own but also different. The girl who worked on her hair, which she figured was Sarah, had hair that reminded her of wheat. Where Eliza’s hair was a darker and had strands of brown through it.
“We do not have the luxury of bathing nearly as often as you. Servant’s faces and hands are far dirtier. We will make you look the part, so that my daughter can lead you out.”
“Father, I cannot leave you now. You need more help than just Eliza or else they will punish you.” Sarah said, stepping from behind her.
Lilliana reached a hand to feel her hair. Her curls were brushed out and pulled into a braided bun. They only braided her hair for formal riding, but this was different. The bonnet was a cream color, which spoke of its daily wear for some time. As Eliza approached, Lilliana looked at the dress she held in one hand and the tin of soot she held in the other. This had worked out much greater to her advantage than she had expected.
Then she remembered the time she had spent avoiding the guards so far and how much longer she had before they really started their search for her. She hoped to be long gone by then.
“You do not need much for her to appear dirty, Eliza.” The older man said.
Eliza stood before her, fingers dabbed in the black powder. Eliza started by touching a few places on Lilliana’s cheeks and neck. Lilliana could feel the thick spots on her face and wondered how these spots would look natural.
“Use the back of your hands to rub it around your face. Then we can put on the dress over your clothing. We only need the smock and outer skirt. Sarah, if you would separate them.”
“Will you tell me your name, so I can properly thank you for your assistance, sir?” Lilliana asked, rubbing the thick smudges into her skin as instructed.
“My name is Alexander, my dear, but you need not have such respect towards a servant such as me. Even if I have assisted you, you will have assisted me as well.”
“How?” She finished with her face and began to rub her hands together, the grey-black getting under her nails.
“You will take my eldest daughter from here, so she can come for her sister after she has settled in a new life away from here. They would never be able to leave so simply if it was not for you and this situation.”
“Why would she be able to leave now but not before?”
“The guards are only looking for you right now and would let anyone else by without the need for reason. It is the perfect time for those who would leave undetected to do so.”
“I have created a distraction by attempting to escape that you are going to take advantage of and use to also aid me.”
“Yes, that is the tactic that I have chosen. I take it that everything they say about you is true then, my lady, and that there is even a greater gain in us assisting you now.” His face fell and Lilliana could see the struggle he had with what he wanted to say.
“And what is that?” She pushed him, interested in what he wanted, since he had yet to give any indication of hindering her.
“You will repay the debt and remember us when you are in the position you were meant for.”
She was wary as she continued, “What do you know about that?”
Not just any servant knew of her true presence at the castle, nor did they know what she really was.
His eyes fell to his worn hands, as he began his explanation. “I was the one who brought you here all those years ago, away from your family. Though, I did not know them. When it was discovered that you held the mark, an adherent priest had a midwife bring you to me. The responsibility fell upon me to see that you came here. It was my sworn duty, as a keeper of the light, to deliver you.”
He sighed before he continued, his eyes now shut. “After I arrived they reassigned me to be a castle guard, and my wife and daughter came to join me soon after. Since then, I have not left and age has lowered my status. My daughters are not supposed to be here, it is because of me that they are. I will live to see them gone and far from here.”
Lilliana nodded her understanding. She was not meant to be here either, now she was to be helped by the man that had caused her imprisonment. It angered her that everything came back to the prophecy and her being at its center. It angered her that the man who had robbed her of a life with her own family now needed her to give his family their own lives. Still, Lilliana knew what it was to have duty and honor to uphold. As much as she did not want to, she understood that he regretted being the one that had caused this to all of them. His daughters, after all, seemed to share in the repercussions of his decision, and he could not have known his choices would lead to this.
“I will see to it that your daughters are safe and removed from here. I can assist both of them to leave now, if you so wish it, and secure them in one of the further villages from here.”
“Thank you, Lady Lilliana, I did not want to burden you with both of them and I know that Sarah would come back for Eliza when she could.”
“I need you to stand, so I can secure the dress over your clothing, my lady.” Sarah said, holding the dress in front of her.
Lilliana stood from the seat she had not realized she had taken, and allowed the dress to be lifted over her head and pulled down over her. It was of a coarser and itchy material that was uncommon in her wardrobe, but she would not complain. It was all they had and were accustomed to.
The green material curved over her chemise and trousers, making it seem as if she wore it over the usual petticoat and leggings. The apron was next and then the shawl. As they tied the shawl around her neck, there was banging on the door. Eliza scurried to it and lifted the latch.
“Why was the door latched girl?” A soldier barked, pushing his way into the room.
They all bowed their heads as Alexander stood. “I asked them to lock it so I could talk to them about things I did not want other servants to hear. If I had known that it would need to be opened for you, I would have never committed the offense.”
The soldier grinned and a tooth poked from under his lip, “Yeah, well you should see to it. Have any of you seen one of the ladies running about here? She’s trying to hide and must be made to listen to the Adherent instead of playing silly games.”
“It has only been my daughters and I here for some time and we have not left the room. I hope you find her though. It is quite unbefitting for a lady to rush around when she has tasks at hand.”
The soldier grunted his concurrence, chuckling as he turned to leave. “Be sure to bring it to our attention, if you see her then.”
“Did you check to see if one of his daughters is her, soldier?” Adair’s voice came through the door soon followed by his form.
Lilliana lowered her gaze more at the sight of him.
“She could have disguised herself by now and probably would not be wearing her skirts so she could better elude you.”
She watched his boots, as he moved into the room to the side of the soldier.
“No my lord, I haven’t. I’m sorry my lord, I shall do so immediately.” The soldier began to turn again towards the girls, but Adair raised a hand to stop him and took a couple steps forwards.
“Come here you three and lift your chins. I will know if you are who you say you are.”
Eliza took a few steps closer, and then Lilliana and Sarah joined her. Lilliana watched from under her bonnet, as Adair’s boots grew closer. She wanted to run, to fight, but she stood in between these sisters in hopes to help them by avoiding discovery or giving away that they had aided her. He stopped in front of Lilliana and she wondered if he had already figured out it was her. She pushed the idea aside and reasoned that it was only because she was in the middle of the others.
“I need to see all of your faces.” His voice was low and level.
“My Samantha has always been the shy one, my lord. Lift your head girl, so lord Adair can be on his way.”
Lilliana lifted her chin and made eye contact. He stared at her for a long while and she found herself holding her breath, waiting for him to say something that would release her from his presence or this pretense. He lifted a hand to her cheek and she felt the ghost of its warmth against her flesh as her breath caught.
“No, your daughters are all of a much prettier complexion than our lady,” he breathed light, his voice soft for a moment before he continued, “We will continue our search, be sure to notify the guards if you do happen to come across her.”
As they walked out of the room and down the hall, Lilliana breathed in deep all the air her body had denied her. She was angrier now than before. How dare he treat her as such, or say what he did about her to others. She wanted to run after him, to tell him if he thought as much that he should call off their engagement and leave her be. At the same instant, she knew that he had only said it to see if he could get a rise out of them in the effort of truly testing if it were she. A small part of her, that she ignored, wondered if he had just let her go though given that he should have recognized her despite the months since they were last together.
Alexander’s voice drew her from her thoughts. “You all must hurry now. I fear that he will return or that the search will soon leave the palace and you will not be able to go so freely.”
“But father we cannot just leave you. I can come back for Eliza-”
“I fear that could result in a far worse punishment if it is discovered that we assisted Lady Lilliana. No, you must all go now. I shall be fine.”
After tears and many pleads they left, each carrying a basket as if they were going to market. No one bothered them as they left the keep, and the guard allowed them across the bridge at the river without question. Once out of sight, they left the main path to find their own.