FOR THE FIRST time in years, Violet felt resolve searing through her veins. She finally had a proper purpose in life, a new goal for her to work towards. Whatever desires she had previously were all fleeting intentions, short moments where she bore hope of escaping the grasp her family’s power had over her. While she was still, in some form, under their control, without Steinfield Asylum’s tall walls surrounding her, she was a little freer than she was before. That allowed her space to reach for the things that weren’t written in her stars at the moment of her birth.
Freedom from her family’s control was something Violet wanted most definitely. However, what she craved deeply in her bones, what she truly desired above all else, was the ability to carve out her name in the stars her way. She didn’t want it written by someone else’s hands if it weren’t her own. For what was the use in going down in history if it weren’t because of her own ability?
“Take the backdoor out,” Arthur instructed, gesturing to the hidden door concealed behind a curtain. “There is a carriage arranged for the both of you out of this town. It is still too near the asylum to call this place safe for refuge. Go to the next town over and see if you can find somewhere to lay low there. Or even better, hide in plain sight.”
“And you are so sure that if we stayed here, we would get caught? I would get caught?” Maddox retorted cheekily.
Violet could hear the smirk in his voice and imagine the grin on his face without even having to turn over to look. Instead, she stared at the paintings that hung on Arthur’s walls, her eyes trailing after the posture of the woman’s hands, following curiously after the direction her fingers pointed. Out of the corner of her eye, there she spotted an uneven bump on the rug that was laid over the wood.
The painting was a portrait of a woman that looked to be about her age. Her emerald eyes were layered with shimmering gloss, making it seem as though despite being a still image, she was weeping for the loss of something dear to her. Although the woman was beautiful, there was something eerie about the portrait that made Violet’s skin crawl in discomfort. For one thing, the dress that she wore was surely beautiful in its glory days but in the painting, it was portrayed to be tattered and torn the nearer it got to her feet, holes strewn all over with tears and frays. Vibrant colors were only used on the upper half of her dress and it was like the progression of the seasons— her collar held spring while her feet welcomed the frigid winter.
“I know for a fact you will,” Arthur answered. “Never underestimate the law, Maddox. They are all persistent pests. Difficult to shake off unless dead. Sadly, the nobility never dies, just like their cursed greed.”
“The truth is indeed unfortunate,” Violet muttered under her breath, chipping in her thoughts of agreement. Her eyes never left the rug, squinting at it with furrowed brows.
Arthur, who had noticed her line of sight, calmly said, “Curious about it, are you?”
On the other hand, Maddox snorted, folding his arms across his chest.
“There is nothing inside for a lady to use,” he added.
“Then what is inside?” Finally, Violet tore her eyes away, meeting the gaze of the nobleman that stood proud and tall. He, befitting of his status, never once backed away. Instead, his smile only grew enigmatically.
“Women love diamonds and pearls. Why can’t we men have our own joys?” That was all the answer he offered.
It left Violet with a pursed lip, curiosity still burning in her mind. However, she knew better than to pry. Although her heart begged to know the truth, her head understood that it was a secret of Arthur Cecil’s that she had no right to know. After all, she was nobody to him. With all the rumors that surrounded the Cecil family, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to say that if she dared ask, it could be the last question that would ever leave her lips again.
“We best hurry, then,” Maddox piped up, breaking the awkward tension between the two. “If they are really that keen to put me back behind bars, who is to say that they aren’t already here in town?”
“I hope we will meet under better circumstances next time, Maddox,” Arthur called out after his friend as the duo turned to leave in the direction as instructed. “Despite everything, it is good to see you are doing fairly alright.”
At his comment, Maddox barked out in laughter. A shimmer danced in his eyes, brightening his features greatly. However, the shadow that was cast onto his face still painted Maddox in an ominous light in Violet’s eyes. The same shadow could be seen cleverly hidden in Arthur’s expression as well. They both held a secret, something that was shared.
“‘Fairly alright’ seems to be the only way to live, nowadays.”
With that as his parting word, Maddox hurried away, completely disappearing from Arthur’s view as if he had never been there in the first place.
As Violet prepared herself to run after her companion, she was held back by the sound of her name from Arthur’s lips. She turned, looking over her shoulder in curiosity just in time to see an object being thrown in her direction. Instinctively, she caught it. When she looked down, in her palms set a velvety bag, heavy with what she guessed was the weight of coins. Opening the small pouch, her suspicions were confirmed at the sight of the glimmering silver pieces.
“Some small change to help the both of you on your journey. Make sure to keep it a secret from Maddox. That brat will spend it all on booze if you allow him to.”
Violet nodded blankly, still shifting the weight of the coins in her hands to see the entirety of the bag’s contents. What stood out was not the money Arthur had provided her with but rather something else hidden deep within the pile of coins. She reached in and pulled out a key, small and silver as well, almost blending in with the money if it weren’t for how Violet was almost searching for it. She didn’t know why but call it a gut feeling. A part of her knew that the bag didn’t just contain mere ‘small change’.
Fishing the key out, Violet immediately recognized it. The key was a pendant attached to a thin chain, nearly identical to the one Maddox had lent her when they were about to escape from Steinfield Asylum. On one side, the Cecil family’s house crest was indented onto the silver. That was the only difference it held when compared to the key Maddox owned.
When Arthur saw how confused Violet was, he began to explain, “In times of need, present this to any member of the Cecil family. This key will help you but only once. Use your chance well.”
“I use it to make any request?” Violet asked.
“Even if it were to take a life, as long as it isn’t one of our own or those above us,” Arthur confirmed.
Clasping the key tightly in her hands, Violet’s knuckles started to turn white. She held onto the key as if it were her final lifeline. At that moment, gratitude was all that rushed in her veins. To have the backing of the Cecil family was more than enough to guarantee her freedom if she were to be apprehended. They were more powerful in name. Thus, the Cecils had more jurisdiction than her own family, the Harpers. As long as the Crown wasn’t the one after her life, Violet could consider herself safe.
She now had a safety net from a source she hadn’t even thought about before.
“Thank you,” she mumbled her thanks. With the bag of money and the key in her hands, Violet spared Arthur one last look before she dashed out the backdoor and into the open sunlight.
The afternoon sun was glaring, bright, and scorchingly hot. However, in a short distance, there Maddox stood without a single complaint. He leaned against the carriage leisurely, his posture as relaxed as ever. It was as though he wasn’t being hunted down nor was he currently the most wanted man in the empire. When he heard the backdoor opening, he looked over at Violet, a small smile bringing the right corner of his lips upward.
“After you, milady,” he crooned, holding the door open for her to board.
Warmth blossomed in Violet’s chest for at that moment, she had everything she ever wanted. Safety from her family, a friend, and a road ahead of her that was unblocked and uncharted for her to explore. The tune of adventure roared in her ears as she climbed on board with the help of Maddox. He followed soon after and the coachman began to lead the horses down the cobblestone stone path and back onto the road towards a new town.