Survival of Me
Away From ThereOne-Away From There
I pulled on a dark gray shirt and black breeches. Over the shirt went the black jerkin and cloak. I shoved my feet into a pair of sturdy leather boots and sling my quiver over my shoulder. Stringing my bow easily, I slung the yew bow over my pack. I opened the shutters on the window of my third story room and climbed onto the windowsill.
I dropped carefully onto the roof below me, grabbing the sill with my hands to stop my fall. I lowered myself onto the slanting roof and slid down to the edge. Grabbing the roof with my hands, I lowered myself to the railing of the balcony of my sisters' rooms. There, I ghosted across the railing to the edge where I could drop to the wall of the inner courtyard gardens.
I stepped down from the wall, slipped into the shadows of the house and padded along the walkways to the wall that would let me into the forest.
Here, I jumped into a tree from the ground and climbed through the branches until I could drop to the other side. I let go of the branch and landed in a neat crouch. With a sigh I straightened and headed into the forest, ignoring the small voice saying how angered Father would be with me.
It was his fault for trying to marry me off to some lord's son. The lording was an arrogant airhead, spoiled and bossy. Yes he was handsome but that was all. I refused to marry him three times before he went to Father and the Duchess.
When the first Duchess, my mother, had died, Father took a new wife, one who enjoyed being nobility far too much. She looked down on our people and I wasn't going to live that way any longer than I had too.
I'd go to the palace and become a hostler or huntsman. The king and queen were fair and kind, serious rulers beloved by all their people. Their oldest son and second son were both kind hearted knights as well. Their two daughters were beautiful and kind and made good wives to the princes of several friendly kingdoms.
All of the royal family was beautiful or handsome, kind and fair, loyal and proud. Everyone was loved for their steady way of ruling. They were patient and good leaders, willing to listen and knowing when to speak.
In their kingdom, men and women were equal. Women could try for shields and knighthood, join the army or the navy and even start her own business. Women were more common in the Rangers; men and women trained with short sword, all kinds of bows, staff, and spear, mounted on sturdy ponies that could run forever. The Rangers acted as the police of the kingdom; each of the fiefs had a patrol of six to ten riders. Women didn’t often go for the King’s Riders; men, or women, mounted on battle horses, trained with all sorts of weapons to act as a group. They acted as the protectors of the kingdom; if there was a problem the locals couldn’t handle even with their lord’s help, the Riders went in. The Riders were the step between knights and the army.
Women could inherit lands as well as titles, but being the youngest of five meant I had very little of my father's land or money. My eldest brother, Taylor, was a knight, a good one. He inherited first. He would receive the title Duke of Silverwood, as Father's fief was in fact Silverwood. My eldest sister, Liliandell, would not inherit land, as she was married to a good knight with a wealthy fief, but her dowry was Mother’s inheritance, Lakeside.
Christiananna, Chrissie, my second sister, was to inherit the small fief from my mother's dowry, called Lakeview, as her dowry. My second brother, Ian, was to inherit Father's townhouse in the Royal City. The townhouse was lovely, it was once a royal guest house given to my grandfather from the King's father, the king before him.
I however, would not inherit. My stepsister would inherit my stepmother's dowry, another small fief called Seacliff. The only land I'd yet was from marriage and I disliked every one of the suitors Stepmother picked.
Stepmother was not a bad woman, but she disliked my enjoyment of the outdoors and animals and archery. She insisted I learn embroidery and stitching, the way a proper lady did, so I did, to please my father. I wore the stiff petticoats and heavy skirts, the tight corsets and pinching shoes. I wore the face paint and eardrops and rings and thick necklaces. I hated every minute of it.
Night was my escape. I slipped out after Father's curfew and returned before the servants rose at dawn. I met Jon and Kurt and Jace. Jason was three years my senior but nobody cared. In the dark hours of freedom we went about the village around the castle, dressed as merchants' children.
In the day hours, Prince Jason would visit the Lady Isabella with Lord Raul's son, Jonathan, and Lord Philip's son, Curtis. Nobody knew we met outside the formal meetings. We often went riding or visited the city. In the winter we went skating. Things were better when we were young, we could get dirty and muddy and swim and sled and race and wrestle and have fun. Things were different now that I was turning sixteen soon. I knew the whispers now; knew everyone hoped their youngest prince would marry the second daughter of Emperor Jakun of the Pioni Islands. The princess was sweet, but I knew the real Jason; she'd make a terrible wife for the prince.
"Izzy?" that was Jason’s deep whisper, I'd know it anywhere. I unfurled myself from my perch in the oak and dropped beside the prince. Kurt and Jon, standing nearby, whirled, hands on their swords. All three were young knights, assigned to the castle for now.
"Relax, it's me," I hissed at them.
"Izzy, you've to come with me. Please, unless you want to be forced into marriage tomorrow," Jason whispered.
"Jace, do you have to ask?" I asked softly, taking his outstretched hand in the moonlight. He shook his head and pulled me after him. Kurt ran in front of us, Jon behind us.
When we reached the walls of the castle, I stopped and made the boys face me. "How'd you get out here?" I breathed into Jason’s ear.
"We climbed," he replied.
"Liar," I hissed. I slipped into the shadows and watched Kurt climb up to a guard and whisper to him. Jason grinned at me and started climbing. Jon waved me forward and I jumped halfway up the wall before I caught the edge and pulled myself up easily. Jon climbed after me as the guard starred at me.
"Izzy," Jason whispered. I followed him and Kurt off the wall as Jon handed a coin to the guard. Again, I took his hand and followed quietly. He led me to his suite of rooms.
The first was a simple sitting room. It opened to a bedchamber on one side and a study on the other. A dressing room and privy was off the bedchamber if memory severed correctly. On the other side of the study was a squire's bedchamber. "You don't have a squire, do you?" I asked softly.
"No. For now that can be your room, if you want it," he said. I raised my eyebrows and he shrugged. "You're not happy at home and you are with me, so I figured you'd like it here."
"Thank you, Your Highness," I replied.
"Don’t even think about it," he groaned. He hated it when I referred to his royalty.
"Am I to be a boy?" I asked.
"I don't see why we can't tell the truth," he told me.
"Because then Father will know exactly where I am," I replied.
"And if the Duke knows, so does that lording," Kurt mused. I nodded and the boys grinned.
"And if I court you?" Jason asked. I raised my brows again and his grin widened. "We always said someday we would. Why not now?" he added.
"Do I have to wear a fancy dress all the time? You know how much I hate petticoats." I said opening the door to the spare bedchamber.
"No, but once we announce that you're here, Mother will insist on giving you proper rooms," he reminded me. I nodded and closed the door behind me.
I unstrung my bow and set it against the wall. I hung the full quiver of swan feather arrows on a peg above it. My pack contained a night dress, three shirts, a tunic, a pair of breeches and a pair of leggings. They went in the chest of drawers against the far wall with the shirt, breeches, and jerkin I wore now. The cloak I draped over the back of the chair in front of the desk. I set my boots beside the foot of the bed, pulled on the night dress and slipped into the clean bed.