Shaking Amira awake when morning finally came didn't cheer me up, though her startled face as her wide eyes took in her surroundings was entertaining. Her mouth opened slowly, most likely to ask where she was, before she closed it. She bit her lower lip instead, and sat up.
"Here." I handed her my best set of clean clothes, but it still looked foolish in comparison to her obviously expensive dress. The dress I now presented as a substitute was simple, though I'd embroidered a few golden stitches in the neckline. The dull stitches were lost against the muddy brown color. She looked at it with a slight smile, but her hands remained on her lap, securing herself in the covers.
"I don't have anything better to offer," I admitted, "and it wouldn't be wise for you to wear a dress representing your rank in this castle."
"Oh, it isn't the attire, I meant no offence!" She gently took the dress from my hands and rested it on her lap. "You are being very kind. Thank you."
I bowed my head slightly, as I sat down beside her. I had a few moments to spare before I needed to leave for my daily chores. "It is the least I can do," I responded gruffly, though I didn't like having to help out a female friend of Braxton's. Her slender fingers traced the golden stitches, as if mesmerized by them.
"Did you do this yourself?" she asked.
I nodded. "I'm not the best."
Actually, Braxton was the only reason I knew what little I did of sewing. As a young boy, he'd turned to me several times with the little tears that'd 'mysteriously' appeared in his clothing. The first time he'd needed a shirt patched up, knowing I didn't know how to sew, he'd gone to Elloise. After that, he insisted I learn so he could depend on me when he needed an article of clothing stitched up. Ever since then, he turned to me for other problems as well. In fact, looking back, I knew where I probably went wrong and ruined any chance of him seeing me as more than a friend.
A long time ago, a princess had visited. Braxton had been ten at the time, and experienced, as he told me later, "love at first sight!" I supposed that was inevitable considering she looked like a pale, delicate flower as she rose side-saddle beside her father. Come to think of it, I didn't remember her name. Braxton didn't either, I was certain. Actually, I was quite certain he hadn't even bothered to learn it. Whenever he talked to me about it afterwards, he always called her Snow White - because of her pale skin, he'd informed me, as if I couldn't make the connection myself.
"Here," he'd said, and forced a beautiful ruby necklace into my palm. He gripped my clenched first tightly as he looked at me with pleading eyes. "You have to give this to her!"
No, he couldn't do it himself. At one point in time, despite his out-going nature, he'd been incredibly shy. I found it precious; he shudders to recall it, but inevitably, we all go through our awkward stage sometime or another.
"I don't want to!" I tried to give the necklace back to him, but his hand remained firmly wrapped around my own, making it impossible.
"You dare defy me? I'll have you hanged!" Braxton teased, wearing a light smile mixed with a desperate pleading in his eyes.
Like I said, he didn't always have the best taste in jokes.
"You wouldn't dare!" I'd told him. "Who would you run to whenever you tear your shirt if I'm dead?"
He'd looked so - innocent at that moment. So happy and desperate at the same time. I couldn't say no. I'd relented, and walked to the main courtyard. But the princess had already left, leaving no trace of her having ever been there but the marks of the horse's hooves ground softly into the muddy earth.
Braxton didn't speak to me for two days after that. He never asked for the ruby necklace back, so I kept it. Not for my own selfish reasons, although who could blame me for keeping it solely because I wanted it; it sparkled with beauty. No, I kept it because I'd hoped one day following that encounter, I'd see the princess again and I'd be given another chance to carry out Braxton's request. Maybe, in some delusional spark of hope, I thought giving her the necklace might make him see me differently. She hadn't returned though. I didn't even remember exactly what she looked like, except for her porcelain skin, contrasted by jet-black hair.
"Well, you did a wonderful job with it." Amira interrupted my little daydream. She smiled lightly at me, in hopes of earning my favor, I suppose. I found it odd she would make the effort to be nice to a kitchen maid she'd just met last night, when she herself was a princess, but -
A princess with porcelain skin and jet-black hair - could it be - no, it had to be coincidence. Why would the princess of Gallia have visited us? The king and queen of Gallia had always seen us as more land and power for them to take hold of eventually, so royalty from Gallia only graced us with their presence on special occasions, such as Braxton's birthday. I distinctly recalled it hadn't been his birthday.
I wasn't saying Princess Amira couldn't be Braxton's 'Snow White', but I didn't have any way to be certain.
"Thank you, your highness," I muttered as I stood to take my leave; if I arrived any later than this for my morning chores, it'd raise suspicion.
"Wait!" Amira looked at me with a worried expression, her eyebrows raised and her lips forming a thin line. "Am I to simply wait here then?"
I knew hiding her in my bedroom wasn't the most fool-proof plan ever orchestrated, but I didn't see another option at the moment. The traffic in this area of the castle was minimal, and I doubted anyone would poke their head into my room.
"For the moment. I'll be back as soon as possible, I promise."
"Fay!" Elloise threateningly waved a giant wooden spoon at me as she spat my name as if it were a curse. A stray drop of her saliva landed on my cheek, causing me to cringe. Disgusting. I moved my hand up as if to run my fingers through my hair, subtly brushing my palm against my cheek to wipe the spit away.
"You're late again!"
More spit; my subtle effort had been pointless.
"I'm not, though!" I stated. "I'm actually early."
Elloise looked even further steamed with my defiance. "Not today, Fay! Oh, no, no, no, not today. Have you forgotten? The messengers from Gallia are coming. Today. We can't afford any trouble, do you understand?"
I'd almost forgotten about the messengers - after all, I'd been preoccupied with the actual princess being in my room, but it appeared no one else had forgotten. No, the kitchen buzzed a frantic energy. Kitchen maids scurried, gathering whatever ingredients were necessary for today's first meal. Gertrude wore a look of panic as she kneaded dough, digging into the soft putty-like material harder than necessary. Some of the flour had settled onto her cheeks and forehead, emphasizing her furrowed eyebrows. Rosalba eyed the amount of spices carefully before adding them into a small bowl, to be mixed together and added to some food later, though I didn't know what. She remained uncharacteristically quiet as she carried out her task. Maybe she had no interest in gossiping today? It'd be a first.
"Do you think they'll stay the night here?" Rosalba asked, louder than necessary, as she dropped a pinch of garlic into her bowl. She brushed a stray lock of her curly blonde hair behind her shoulder, and wiped her forehead. Her hand left a few specks of pepper sprinkled across her brow. "I heard there will be two young men in the group, the sons to the king's advisor!"
Apparently I spoke too soon.
"I don't have the foggiest idea about the two sons, but I'd imagine the group would stay the night. The journey takes a full day on horseback, so of course they'd want to rest, I'd assume," Elloise replied as she shoved a hastily scrawled out list into my hand. "We're short on supplies. Go to the village and purchase these, and be quick about it, understand?"
I swallowed down the sarcastic remark threatening to escape, but just barely. "Yes, ma'am."
My feet pounded hard against the floor as I ran to my room. The door creaked as I opened it and slid inside, shutting it quietly behind me. Amira was tucked in a corner, asleep. How she could sleep at a time like this, I couldn't fathom, but then again, she probably hadn't slept well last night. Never mind that, it didn't matter anyways. I rummaged through my chest, pulling out a faded brown cloak I hadn't worn in a while. My finger slipped through a hole in the bottom of it - how long had that been there, I wonder? I thought I'd stitched it up. It certainly made it look extra ratty, but it didn't matter at this point.
"Wake up!" I demanded as I threw the cloak towards Amira. It landed in a heap besider her as she sat up groggily, slowly recovering. Her eyes widened as she fully noticed the presence of a person in the room. She took a steadying breath as she realized it was me.
"You scared me," she stated, as if I hadn't figured it out.
"We have to hurry."
I raced over to help her stand, as the disorientation of just waking up made her mind fuzzy. Or maybe her mind was like that perpetually.
Breathe, Fay, I reminded myself. Calm.
Amira grabbed my extended hand and rose to her feet, fully awake now.
"Here." I handed her the cloak, but didn't wait for her to take it before I swung it over her and started to tie the cloak's thin, silver cords loosely around her neck. In a quick motion, I smoothed the fabric over her shoulders. For a second - she truly looked like a peasant, a commoner no better than I. The fantasy shattered when her face lit up with a sweet, carefree smile. I doubt you'd ever see a peasant smile so genuinely. Life for us was difficult; we tried to appreciate the good times life offered, like everyone else, but good times were scarce and our burdens were great. If Amira had ever experienced a traumatic experience, I couldn't tell.
"Where are we going?" she asked in an almost sing-song tone.
"The village?" she whispered with a sense of wonder embedded in her words.
"Yes, the village." I stole a skeptical glance back at her as we crept into the corridor. No passerby; so far, so good. From here it was practically a straight shot to the door that led to the horse stables. The fifty-foot-yard hall had never seemed so long. I held my breath. On quiet tiptoes Amira and I proceeded across the stretch, our shadows dancing daringly against the empty space.
Footsteps - from the end of the hall.
Without thinking I throw my back against the wall, extending my arm out to grab the back of Amira's - my - dress and pulling her against the wall as well. A sharp gasp escapes her lips. With our backs pressed to the wall, all I can do is wait for the person to pass. Assuming they were busy with preparations for the messengers' arrival, they wouldn't need to go down this hall, they were most likely on their way to the butlery to check the wine inventory and make sure it was in place. Honestly the chances of them turning towards us was minimal, but nonetheless, my heart beat uncontrollably. It thumped against my chest so hard it hurt.
Breathe Fay, Breathe.
Now the figure of the person was in sight at the end of the hall.
The moment of truth.
Please, God, don't let them turn towards us.
Their shadow stretched into the hall, stopping a mere ten feet from the end of our own shadows. For a moment, they almost connected - thank the lord they didn't. The person's vision never once wavered from their destination. Their figure disappeared as they crossed in
The breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding escaped my lips forcefully. I felt the relief throughout every fiber of my body, but I knew better than to celebrate yet. Grabbing Amira's hand, I broke into a quiet jog, my eyes firmly set on the back door - my escape.
At the end of the hall I quickly glanced left to right before stepping outside, pulling Amira quickly behind me. The hard part was over.
"Fay!" Amira's voice sounded shaky as she struggled to catch her breath.
"What?" I said through gritted teeth. Her steps were uneven as she tried to keep up.
"No one knows who I am here!" Amira had caught up and now walked in even strides with me. Her right hand held up the hood of my old cloak. "And even if they did, I guarantee no one from your kingdom knows my face!"
I didn't answer her until we reached the stable, and I was securing the saddles on the first two horses I saw. No time to be picky about it.
"I don't understand," I finally admitted as I gave the saddle of the horse she was to ride another check to make sure it was secure. She mounted the horse awkwardly, draping her body over it before hoisting her leg over to the other side, but it didn't quite make it. One foot now rested on the horse's flank while her other foot dangled inches off the ground. Clearly she didn't ride horses on a daily basis. As fun as it was to watch her hang like that, I didn't have the time. In a swift motion I boosted her up, just enough for her to get her leg on the other side properly so she could sit up straight.
With her taken care of, I quickly mounted my own horse. The list wasn't long, I'd scanned it over on the way back to my room. Mostly is was spices that Elloise needed. I gripped my horse's reins tightly in my hands, ready to go.
Amira's horse trotted out of the stable as a leisurely pace.
"Oh!" Amira yelped in surprise, and pressed herself flat against the horse's back, clinging to it for dear life.
"The reins, Amira! Grab the reins!" I gave my horse a slight nudge with my foot, and it caught up with Amira in a few seconds. Once she assured herself she wasn't going to die, she lifted herself up slowly and took ahold of the thin rope that hung around the horse's neck.
She'd looked like a pale, delicate flower as she rode side saddle beside her father…
Then it couldn't be Amira. She couldn't be Braxton's Snow White.
"Listen, Amira." I said as she steadied herself, adjusting to the gentle up and down movement of horses canter. I took the lead, heading for the dusty path that connected to the village. "I don't understand why no one in the castle would know your face. Why are you so certain of that?"
"It is hard to remember a face you've only seen once," Amira mumbled shakily as she tightened her grip around the reins.
"Are you saying you've only been to the castle of Briarwood - once?" My throat had become sandpaper dry.
"Yes," she replied, with a forced smile. She still wasn't quite certain about the horse yet, whether or not it was going to kill her. "This was much easier with Braxton sitting behind me," she said. Ah, she referred to the horse ride back from the forest last night. Hard to believe it'd just been last night. I processed this, but another part of my mind was churning other, more prominent thoughts. Mostly, the fact that I couldn't deny the coincidences any longer; the jet black hair, the pale skin, the fact that she'd only visited the castle once. Just to be certain, though.
"When did you visit Briarwood?"
"Oh, I was nine. Or ten maybe. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I couldn't have been older than ten."
What other proof did I need? Princess Amira was Braxton's Snow White.A/N: Please review! :) Hope you like it so far - I'm assuming you do, since you've read this far, but :/