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The Doll-Like Maid

Chapter Text

It was common for the royalty of Leidenschaftlich to have personal attendants. Maids or butlers, they were called. But Gilbert Bougainvillea, second in line for the title of King after his brother Dietfried, knew that they were really slaves. Most of them now had been born into this situation- the daughters and sons of the generation after generation of families that tended to the palace and its royal occupants.

His mother and father were stuck in the old ways, used to treating people as tools. But Gilbert had never had the stomach for it. The punishments for doing something wrong, the controlling of other human beings…the older he got, the more he hated it. But being in the minority vote on the matter didn’t give him much leverage and no one cared for his opinion anyway. He would never be the king. And convincing Dietfried that he didn’t need slaves was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

So, when they brought in a new slave, Gilbert had to stop himself from punching his brother in the face.

“You need a personal attendant. Trust me,” Dietfried said, slapping a hand on Gilbert’s shoulder. “It helps. And when she’s not working for you, she’ll help around the palace. Our other scullery maid fell ill and died last week. Use her, Gilbert.”

Gilbert knew that his brother was just trying to be helpful. He knew that he just wanted him to see from his point of view- who wouldn’t want someone waiting on them hand and foot? And for all the stars, he hoped that his brother didn’t have another meaning by the words “use her”.

“If you don’t, I’ll give her to someone else,” Dietfried continued, his stern green eyes boring into his.

Gilbert stared back. “Where did you find her?”

“In the forest. She was alone when we attacked. I’m still not sure if she speaks, but she certainly understands. If she had family, we slaughtered them all.”

Gilbert felt his stomach flip. Usually, Gilbert was the one that led their army’s missions, as he was the Major and was honestly more disposable than the heir to the throne. But Gilbert hadn’t gone because he had been ill for weeks. He had only gotten back on his feet a day ago and he still felt shaky. Perhaps if the scullery maid had the same care that he had she would still be alive like he was.

He supposed Dietfried was trying to make this girl a slave to save her. To give her another chance at life instead of ending up on the streets, a beggar or a whore.

Gilbert finally let his eyes slide past his brother to get a good look at the girl. He frowned. She was filthy. Her hair was long and unkempt, tangled and visibly knotted in places. She was skinny, her dress slipping off her shoulder, the hem sweeping the floor and covered in dust.

But he’d be a liar if he said she wasn’t beautiful.

Her eyes were a deep blue, and even though she was looking down at the floor he could tell that she could break a man’s heart with just a look.

She couldn’t have been much younger than he was. Would it be appropriate to take her under his wing? Royals’ maids were expected to help their master dress, to wash them if the master so pleased. Gilbert got the feeling that even he would have a challenging time keeping his lower-half from reacting if she was standing next to him while he was unclothed, though he was used to beautiful women standing next to him in the bath. He had stood still, unbothered by the maids running soft clothes against his shoulders and back as they stood wet in the shower beside him when he was a teenager, before he had decided against letting slaves tend to him.

But it was that very thought that spurred Gilbert to decide. This girl would be fed to the woods if he didn’t do what his brother asked. Anyone else would surely take advantage of her. He couldn’t let that happen.

He let out a sigh, ran a hand through his dark hair. “Fine, I’ll take her,” he conceded.

Dietfried smirked, a hint of evil and mischief that set girl’s swooning but just annoyed Gilbert. “Good choice. I’ll see you for dinner, then?”

“Of course,” Gilbert grinned, “And welcome back, brother.”

Dietfried smiled and waved a hand as he walked away, surely to bathe and rest after returning from his journey.

That left Gilbert to stare at the girl, who hadn’t moved the entire time. He cleared his throat and moved his hand to the back of his head. He let out a nervous chuckle. “Well, I’ll try not to overwork you. What do you say we get you settled in?”

Realizing she was being spoken to, the girl’s eyes slowly roamed upwards until she was looking into Gilbert’s eyes. He couldn’t help but gulp. Heartbreaker, indeed.

“Do you…do you speak?” he asked warily. He moved towards her, half expecting her to flee, but she didn’t. Her eyes remained fixated on him, intense but somehow shielded.

Gilbert wondered if she had truly seen her family slain by his own men. If that was the case, the girl probably hated his brother and him. She would probably kill him in his sleep. But no…he was too well-trained and Dietfried knew that. If she so much as tiptoed towards his bed at night he’d hear her.

“Do you have a name?” he asked. When she still did not answer, Gilbert crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. Anyone else would have struck the girl or grabbed her by her hair, demanding respect. Demanding that their slave obey. But it wasn’t in Gilbert to do so and anyways he wasn’t sure if the girl even knew how to speak at this point. Perhaps she was deaf and only knew what he was saying because she could read lips…but no, she had been looking at the floor when he had first spoken to her. Perhaps she didn’t have a voice. Or maybe, most likely, she just didn’t want to answer any of his questions.

“Nod if you understand,” he said.

She did. A small bop of the head, but that was something at least and Gilbert felt a surge of pride. A point for him, surely!

“Great,” he said, slapping his hands together. “Then let’s see to it that you get clean and a change of clothes. After that I’ll show you some of your duties.”

He began to walk, but when she did not move he turned back to her. “Follow me,” he ordered and found that she immediately began to walk. He continued, “I’ll give you some things to do to keep you busy during the day. If you still have time before sunset, you’ll work around the palace with the other sla—maids. Then you’ll go to the maid quarters to rest and you’ll come to the castle after sunrise each morning to awaken me.”

They entered a grand sitting room, where Gilbert knew the maid he was looking for would be. Cattleya Baudelaire was one of the few maids that were paid for her services. She taught the newer maids how to do their jobs, assigned jobs and went home at night. Rumor had it that a certain redhead friend of his, his second-in-command, had met her on a day out and begged the king to allow her to work in the palace as he didn’t want her out on the streets.

“Cattleya,” he said, causing her to turn around from her chore of arranging a vase of flowers on the furntiure, her long black hair swinging behind her like a cape.

Her uniform fit snugly against her curves, her amethyst eyes bright and curious the moment she took sight of the girl beside Gilbert. “Your Majesty,” she said with a slight curtsy. ‘How may I be of service?”

“This new maid needs to bathe and be given fresh clothes. Spare what you have for now, have her measurements taken so that the seamstress can make clothes for her. She is to be my personal attendant.”

He didn’t miss the way Cattleya’s eyebrows rose up. She opened her mouth to say something- ever the outspoken one, but for once decided against it and instead looked to the girl. “And does this girl have a name?”

“I’m not sure, actually,” Gilbert admitted. “She doesn’t seem to be able to speak.”

“Ah,” Cattleya said, eyeing the girl, “Then perhaps you should name her, Your Majesty. Everyone deserves a name, after all.”

Gilbert nodded. Cattleya was right- but what name could be worthy of a girl of such beauty?

His eyes roamed around as he thought, but just as he was about to say that he would give it more thought later he noticed the vase of flowers that Cattleya had been arranging.

Violets.

He looked back to the girl. She was beautiful on the outside and he had the feeling that she would turn out to be just as beautiful on the inside. All it would take is a little encouragement. Once she saw that he wouldn’t be a cruel master, that he was already formulating a plan to have her released into a happy life as soon as he was able, she would be something more than what she was.

“Violet,” he said. “Her name is Violet, and she will one day become a woman as beautiful as the flower.”

Cattleya smiled and nodded. “I love it.”

Violet looked at him, her eyes intense, her hands bunched in her skirts. “Do you like that name?” he asked, hoping upon hoping. “If you can speak, then please answer.”

Violet’s eyes widened and Gilbert’s heart pounded, anxious, as he watched her lips part for the first time.

“Yes,” she answered. “That name is acceptable, Your Majesty.”

Gilbert laughed, relief and surprise making him giddy. At least he wouldn’t have to teach her to speak! “Violet it is then. Welcome, Violet,” he said, placing a hand on her head and causing her to close one eye while looking up at him.

Catching himself, he pulled his hand back. Dietfried and his parents would have a fit if they saw him touching a slave in such a way. He looked to Cattleya, trusting her to help him. “Take care of Violet for me, then. I’ll be in my quarters.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Cattleya said, pulling Violet’s loose dress up onto her bare shoulder.

Gilbert walked down the hall, not sure why his heart was still racing even as he left Violet. He wasn’t excited about owning a human…but he was excited to get to know her.

Perhaps that was the worst part of it all.  

Chapter Text

The rest of the day and night had gone quickly for Violet. She had followed dutifully behind Cattleya, taking in the sights of the castle before heading outside to where the maids were housed. Their quarters were on the west side, past a large rose garden and statue of the king’s late mother, hidden from sight from those who might go outside the castle for some fresh air.

There was four people to a cabin, and the girls that already occupied two of the beds in Violet’s smiled sadly at her. She committed their names to memory- Iris Cannary, spunky and tan. Erica Brown, reserved and wore glasses.

Cattleya showed her their single tub on the left side of the room, which they filled with water from the well behind the cabin that they warmed by fire in the single large cauldron that they used for both their bath water, clothes, and sometimes food. When the marble tub was full Violet didn’t hesitate in taking off her dress and slipping into the water before it had the chance to cool down.

Iris laughed, nudging Erica, “well, at least she didn’t act all embarrassed like you did the first time.”

Erica blushed and let out a small “hmph”, turning her head away.

She brushed her skin with a cloth Cattleya handed to her, watching as the dirt and grime slid off her and into the water. She hadn’t realized how dirty she was. She had stopped caring. She had only been worried about food and shelter, going through life like a zombie.

She closed her eyes as Cattleya scrubbed at her back, poured fresh warm water over hair.

A feeling began to stir in her chest, clawing up her throat. She couldn’t remember the last time she had cried. Blinking, she rubbed her face.

When Violet got out of the tub Cattleya handed her undergarments and began to measure her as the prince had asked. “Tomorrow I’ll show you your duties. I’ll spend the entire day with you, so you don’t have to be nervous. Ask me anything you want, okay sweetie?”

Violet nodded. “I will try my best,” she decided to respond, if only because three pairs of her was looking at her so expectantly.

Truthfully, it had been so long since Violet had had to converse with anyone, especially other females her age. She was an orphan, had practically raised herself. She stole to survive. Sometimes fought to keep herself safe. She hadn’t had many friends and the friends she did make she always ended up leaving, as she was a traveler, never having a permanent home. She didn’t like to depend on people, but no one would give a girl with no credentials and no steady schooling a job that wasn’t questionable or immoral. In that way, it hadn’t taken long for Violet to realize that life wasn’t kind. So, she stopped expecting it to be.

She got into the only empty bed, the coarse sheets scratching at her skin. But it was better than sleeping outside, and when Iris slipped behind her with a comb and hairbrush in-hand Violet stilled herself. She let the girl begin to gently work out the knots and tangles that she hadn’t bothered with in weeks.

When Dietfried had found her, had burned the village that she had taken shelter in, she had tried to flee. She had only wanted to escape, but there were too many soldiers for her to get away and a man with a dark ponytail had been leading them. She hadn’t known that she was looking at the heir to the throne at the time, but things had come together for her when they rode in his carriage.

“Follow orders, and you will have a decent life,” he had said, sat across from her, his gaze strong as he looked her in the eye. “Don’t speak unnecessarily. You will do as you are told, or you will regret it. I am being generous, commoner.”

She hadn’t known just how generous he was being until the sight of the castle had caught her eye.

Not speaking unnecessarily wasn’t going to be a problem because she couldn’t remember the last time she had spoken more than one sentence to anyone. Nowadays, she did all of her speaking in her head or the bare minimum it took to order food. She hadn’t spoken to Dietfried for the entire ride after that and when she met Gilbert she had decided not to answer his questions, hoping he would think the same as his brother and just label her a mute. She had no social skills so what was the use in speaking?

Perhaps she never would have spoken to him if he hadn’t gone and named her something so wonderful.

She knew that she had a name when she was a child. But when her family had died, she had become a ghost of her former-self. She had long ago buried who she used to be, set herself in a grave with her parents.

But when he had suggested that she could be as beautiful as a violet, why, she had felt something she had never felt before. More than one emotion at the same time, surely. A flutter in her heart. Something like pride mixed with happiness and embarrassment and hope all at once.

Violet let herself fall asleep trying to hold onto that feeling. Any feeling other than the stagnant emotion that had been festering inside of her for months now. Bathed, clothed, surrounded by people, she felt a bit more human.

She even technically had a job. What seemed like a good one, for once. One that she would try to do with perfection so as not to anger Dietfried or Gilbert. She didn’t care if they didn’t pay her if she could sleep and eat here.  Perhaps…she could finally stop moving.

***

They woke up with the sun, the light shining into the cabin and casting a warm, golden glow over them all as the girls moved swiftly in various states of dress. Cattleya gave Violet a dish of bread and cheese, warm milk and berries which Violet ate hungrily.

“I hope these fit until I can get the seamtress your measurements. After that, you’ll get your official uniform,” Cattleya explained, handing Violet a stack of neatly folded clothes.

Violet finished putting them on just as Erica and Iris wished her a good day, leaving the cabin in a blur of skirts.

“Oh! They fit so nicely,” Cattleya said, clapping her hands. “One thing though. Let me pull back your hair.”

As Cattleya tugged her hair back into a low ponytail, Violet took a second to inspect herself in the mirror. She wore a long green skirt that fell to her calves, her legs covered in thick stockings. Her shirt was pristinely white and buttoned up to a stiff collar. Her shoes were brown, short and folded over at the top. Once Cattleya finished her hair, Violet was barely able to recognize herself.

She had never been one to marvel over looks- she hadn’t been shocked by what she was sure was the incredibly enticing beauty of Cattleya. But even she thought that she looked more presentable this way.

Human.

Not the ghost of a child who had lost her parents, not a girl who had nothing and knew no one.

Violet swallowed thickly, dismissing the thoughts as soon as they came. She didn’t know if she should thank Cattleya or not, so she said nothing and instead followed behind the woman as they left.

Outside was still cool, the grass still holding onto its morning dew and its smell still pungent as they traveled through the garden. Violet saw other females and a few males coming from each direction. They all filed through a back door where two guards eyeballed them as they entered. One stopped Violet as she stood before them, but Cattleya explained that she was Gilbert’s new personal attendant and the guards let her through.

They entrance led into the kitchen, where life was already bustling. She could smell breakfast cooking- the heavy scent of coffee, the floral hot tea, the smoky sausages and buttery biscuits. Violet’s stomach rumbled even though she had just eaten.

“Your first duty of the day, every day, will be to bring Prince Gilbert breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day, after all,” Cattleya said, placing a heavy tray of food into Violet’s hands, already covered by the chef. “Don’t spill the drinks.”

They walked out of the large kitchen, past two living rooms, up two flights of stairs, down a hallway filled with many doors on each side. Finally, they came upon a door that Cattleya stopped in front of. Cattleya whispered, “you didn’t seem shy with the girls, but with Prince Gilbert you must remember to be respectful. You must only look at him unclothed if he asks you to, perchance if you are washing him. Keep your eyes to the ground until he is clothed if you are not cleaning. Most times, Gilbert is an early-riser, but he’s been under the weather lately and waking up later.”

Violet nodded. She had never had a problem with nudeness, but she understood that modesty was sometimes a must.

Cattleya knocked twice before opening the door slowly. Violet entered behind her and Cattleya nodded to the other side of the bed, where a wooden desk was. Violet scurried over and sat the tray down carefully, thankful that she had managed not to spill anything. She turned back to Cattleya, who had opened the curtains and was now at the head of the large bed where she could see only the top of Gilbert’s head. She went to stand beside her, clasping her hands in front of her.

“Your Majesty, it is morning,” Cattleya said. A little louder she continued, “please wake up.”

Gilbert let out a groan that made Violet squint her eyes. She didn’t think princes made sounds like that. And she certainly hadn’t expected a prince to have such crazy bedhead, she realized as Gilbert sat up. His dark hair stuck up all over the place, he rubbed one eye with the back of his palm. He was shirtless, defined muscles showing in his arms, shoulders and stomach.

Violet regarded him with curiosity before his striking green eyes suddenly snapped towards her.

She looked at the floor immediately, remembering Cattleya’s speech outside the door.

“Good morning,” Gilbert said, swinging his legs out of the bed. Violet could see that he wore pants but nothing on his feet.

“Good morning,” she said with Cattleya at the same time.

“Breakfast is served,” Cattleya added.

“Thank you Cattleya. Violet.”

Violet blinked when Gilbert moved past them, his scent husky but pleasant.

She heard him rustling with the food, could smell it again now that it was uncovered. Cattleya nudged her and Violet raised her eyes from the floor.

“Now we make his bed. You will change the linen once a week and wash the old ones. I’ll show you where to get new sheets from later,” Cattleya said.

She taught her how to make the bed, making sure that the corners were pulled taut. They went to Gilbert’s grand closet, picked out clothes for the day. Cattleya told her that Gilbert preferred to tug on his clothes himself, but that she should stand to the side incase he asked for any help.

Gilbert watched them intently the entire time, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. It was hard for Violet not to look at him. His eyes, strikingly green, were like a magnet for her own. And she had so many questions! Was it more comfortable for him to sleep shirtless? Why didn’t he go get his breakfast himself? Why didn’t he pick out his own clothes?

She had always been a naturally curious person. The more she didn’t know, the more she wanted to learn. There was just so much to learn here. So many things that already didn’t seem logical that she wanted to pick apart.

As Gilbert straightened his collar, he looked at Violet, his eyes bright. “Did you sleep well, Violet?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Violet answered, hands clasped in front of her.

“And you had breakfast?”

“Yes,” she answered again.

Gilbert smiled. Violet kept her expression neutral, unsure of what to do or if she should speak again. He seemed to be expecting her to, but Dietfried has told her not to speak unnecessarily. She wanted to follow orders. She wanted to be perfect here.

She would not squander this opportunity.

Finally releasing her gaze, Gilbert turned and said that he didn’t have any orders for them and that Cattleya should continue to train Violet. They bowed, and Cattleya whisked her back downstairs. She spent the day learning where supplies were, which rooms she should enter, which she shouldn’t. Cattleya told her how to address each member of the royal family, though it would be rare for her to see them other than at dinner time, which she also served at by refilling Gilbert’s cup whenever it wasn’t full and delivering him his food personally.

They cleaned up after dinner, tended to Gilbert in his room by drawing his bath, which was more of a pool and a waste of water in Violet’s opinion. They retrieved parchment when Gilbert asked, went out to feed and groom his horse.

For lunch, Violet and Cattleya had eaten a small portion of the leftovers from the previous day’s dinner and Violet found that she was famished by the time they were ready to return to their cabin for the night.

As they walked through one of the main living rooms, Cattleya explained that she could leave the castle whenever she wanted, but that Violet and the others could not. She said this with a troubled expression, one that Violet didn’t understand. She didn’t want to leave the castle anyways, though she could imagine that Iris and Erica might want to.

“What are you doing?!”

Violet and Cattleya froze. A girl, younger than Violet, stood with the pieces of a vase in her hands. A guard seethed down at her before grabbing the girl by the hair, causing her to yelp. Violet took a step forward but Cattleya’s hand flew out, stopping her. She shook her head slowly back and forth, and Violet turned hardened eyes on the scene.

“I-I’m sorry! It was an accident,” the girl cried. Violet could see how she was shivering, her eyes glossy with tears.

“Do you know how expensive that vase was, girl? Worth more than your life for sure,” he spat, pulling her closer.

Violet clenched her hands in her skirt. She had seen it so many times on the streets. Big men picking on small girls just because they were stronger. She had fought herself out of many situations like that. She hadn’t had much tactic- she pulled hair, gouged at eyes, bit and screamed at the top of her lungs. She had tried to stay in public places, never allowing someone to corner her.

But Violet got the feeling that none of that would work here. The other guards would surely help this man.

“That’s enough.”

Everyone in the room turned to the sound of the voice- familiar now to Violet.

Dietfried.

He walked with his hands clasped behind his back. The guard immediately dropped the girl’s hair and she slumped to her knees, clutching her head. “You won’t do it again, will you, slave?”

She looked up at him, eyes wide and just as scared of Dietfried as they had been for the guard. She shook her head back and forth quickly. “N-no, Your Majesty! I’ll be more careful. I promise!”

Dietfried nodded, then looked back at Violet, his eyes steady. She felt her stomach clench. She saw now that though they were nearly the same color, Dietfried and Gilbert had completely different types of eyes. Gilbert’s were soft and even comforting, even as he watched her clean his room. Dietfried’s were stern and cold, calculating, angry. Powerful.

“I am a fair prince,” he said, though Violet got the distinct feeling that he wasn’t. His actions said so now, but there was something about the way the room had frozen when he walked in. There was something about the way that Cattleya’s eyes were wavering as she looked down at the ground. The way the guard that had assaulted the girl was cringing.

Violet couldn’t place it. Everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath. But when Dietfried finally left the room, the guard sneered at the girl before turning and leaving too. The girl quickly began to pick up the prices of the broken vase, tears streaming down her cheeks, despite having been spared from any more harassment.

Cattleya placed a hand on Violet’s shoulder and nodded, prompting Violet to begin to follow her again. When they made it outside, the sun was setting, the earth cool. It felt good, but Violet couldn’t enjoy it because she couldn’t stop thinking about the girl. She replayed the girl hurriedly picking up the vase pieces, saw her tears streaming down her cheeks.

 Cattleya didn’t speak until they had nearly reached their cabin when she let out a big sigh, running a hand through her long hair.

She held up a single finger, “your final lesson for the day. One: try not to mess up in front of guards. Most of them are idiots, but they can be cruel idiots.” She paused, held up a second finger. “Two: stay out of Prince Dietfried’s sight. If you give him reason to notice you, he’ll remember you forever and he isn’t as forgiving as he likes to think he is. He can be worse than the guards.”

Cattleya’s brow furrowed and she said so lowly that Violet barely heard her, “he thinks of us as tools and nothing more, Violet.”

Violet nodded, watching as Cattleya let herself into their cabin.

If Dietfried thought of them as tools, then that was just even more reason for her to do her job perfectly.

If she was a tool, so be it.

In Violet’s mind, she couldn’t help but think that being a tool was better than being the nothing she had been before.

Chapter Text

Violet wasn’t sure how she had gotten into this position. It didn’t make sense. She had done everything she had been asked to do. So, who was this guard to tell her differently?

He was the one that wasn’t following orders.

“Prince Gilbert said-” she started again but was cut off when pain bloomed across her cheek. She fell to the ground, hand to her stinging cheek. She didn’t bother getting up. Cattleya had said the punishment for harming a guard was getting your hand chopped off.

She would follow orders.

She followed orders so that she could stay here. Supposedly so that she wouldn’t get hurt here too…but that seemed to have backfired.

“Stop your lying, slave,” the guard spat. “I know what your duties are. You may have access to this place, but who said you could be in here so late? Now,” his lips spread out in an ugly, twisted manner as he leaned down towards her, his breath, the stench of him making her lean back the nearer he came. “What are you going to do for me so that I don’t have you punished?”

Violet didn’t get the chance to answer, not that she wanted to anyways. Her eyes widened as the man was flung next to her. He laid unconscious.

Violet threw herself to the ground, prepared to grovel at her savior’s feet.

*

Two weeks had gone and past in Violet’s new life. She finally felt as if she were starting to adjust. Cattleya had stopped accompanying her around the castle, deeming that Violet was ready to work on her own. Violet didn’t mind. She went about her work precisely how Cattleya had shown her. The early mornings at first were hard for her, as she had been adjusted to sleeping late into the mornings.

But the more she worked, the better she became. Even though the slaves were only allowed small portions, Violet found that it was still better than the lesser amounts of food she had managed to get when she had been on the streets. Sometimes she would go days with only scraps, if that. At least now she had two or three meals.

She cleaned, organized, served meals. She was constantly on the move, but she liked to be busy, and she was used to walking around for long periods of time anyways.

But she found that her favorite part was tending to Gilbert.

While the guards in castle regarded her with lustful eyes, disgust, or hatred, Gilbert had become a welcome presence.

He spoke to her whenever they were alone. He showed her the portraits that lined the walls, telling her the names of his ancestors and what they were known for. At dinner as he sat and ate with his family she stood behind him at the ready to pour him more drink. When he was finished eating she would take his plate to the kitchen, but after the third day he stopped eating his dessert, asking her to fix him tea to pair with it and to bring it to his room.

When she did, he ordered her to sit.

“Have you ever had blueberry-pie, Violet?” he had asked as she sat the tray down and began to pour his hot tea into a small porcelain cup.

Violet thought back, dredging up memories from her past. Sometimes it felt like digging a hole into hard earth. Hard- but not impossible. She could still remember the smell of her mother’s desserts filling their small kitchen. Could remember the feel of the dough beneath her fingertips when her mother let her help.

Sitting the teapot down, Violet nodded. “I did. It was a long time ago.”

Gilbert nodded and picked up the fork, slicing a small piece of the pie with it. “Then have some now. No one should go long without pie,” he said with a boyish, teasing grin. He held out the fork towards her.

Violet hesitated. Was that an order? Surely, it was inappropriate to eat from his fork. But he had asked her to. 

So, Violet leaned down and bit the pie from the fork, not missing the way Gilbert’s eyes widened for a moment as she chewed. The dough was flaky and light, buttery. The berries tasted as vibrant as they looked. “It is good,” she said matter-of-factly.

Gilbert laughed and cut a piece for himself. “I’m glad,” he replied, taking a bite for himself.

Violet stood stoically. She opened her mouth, then closed it, contemplating. Would it be rude to ask him a question?

As if sensing her hesitation, Gilbert set the plate down and stared at her. “Violet, you can speak freely when you’re with me. If there is something that you want to say it then say it, please.”

Nodding and feeling a bit lighter Violet said, “you are not like your brother.”

Gilbert’s eyebrows flew up and he stared at her. Violet stared at him impassively, not sure why he was reacting in such a way. It was only the truth. An obvious truth at that.

Then, suddenly, he let out a loud laugh. He covered his mouth and shook his head before running a hand through his hair. She watched his hair fall back into place, the way his eyes crinkled at the corners. When he opened them again and looked at her, his eyes were shining and watery. 

Violet couldn’t remember the last time someone seemed so happy around her.

A feeling came over her and though she didn’t realize it, the impassive expression left her face. Her eyes widened slightly as she looked down at him from her standing possession by his bed where he sat.

Gilbert rose to his full height and she followed him with her eyes until she had to lift her chin to look at him properly. He had stopped laughing, but he was smiling.

“Is that a good thing, Violet?” he asked.

“Yes,” she responded immediately. “Prince Dietfried isn’t kind.”

Gilbert nodded, not at all put off by her bluntness even though it was aimed at his own family. “I think there is something you should understand. But I would rather show you than tell you. Come with me.”

She followed dutifully out of his room. They walked to the West wing of the castle. Violet hadn’t had need to go here yet, as Gilbert’s room was on the East wing and most of her duties involved him. She knew that this wing was where his parents slumbered, along with treasury rooms. As such, this wing was even more heavily guarded than the East. Guards thumped hands to their chests as Gilbert walked past. Violet kept her eyes down.

Finally, they reached a room with two grand wooden doors. Gilbert wrapped his hands around the handles and pulled them open. The room was dark, and even as Violet walked in she could smell the tell-tale sign of a room that needed dusting and attention. She could even feel the stuffiness of the room.

But none of that mattered because of how beautiful the room was.

The outside had been deceiving- the room was huge. Filled with rows upon rows of books, this room was very clearly the biggest library Violet had ever laid eyes on. A spiraling staircase led up to the second and third floor. There were sofas and chairs scattered throughout. On the left were deep green curtains traveling up to the ceiling, its tassels strong and gold.

Gilbert walked over to the curtains and pulled the tassels, slowly letting the remnants of the evening sun in. Violet could see outside to the courtyard where a fountain spewed water below. He turned and walked back to Violet, who hadn’t dared moved from the spot where she stood.

“My mother’s library,” he answered her unspoken question, looking out at the stands filled with books. Violet eyed him as his eyes seemed to gloss over, a sudden melancholy washing over him. “When Dietfried and I were boys, we took our school lessons here while my mother would read her books on the window-sill. I think she watched us more than she read though,” he finished with a chuckle.

Violet saw Gilbert’s mother everyday at supper. She was a small elderly lady with white hair and the same green, kind eyes as Gilbert. She seemed to treat everyone with respect, but she seemed to be a forgetful person. Violet had also noticed that both princes watched her like hawks. They hung onto every word, as if every sentence the queen uttered was as valuable as gold.

Violet respected that. Perhaps if her mother was still alive she would love her just as much.

She tried to imagine the queen in her prime, and Violet smiled. As if imagining the same thing, Gilbert smiled too.

He nodded his head in the direction of the rows of books and Violet watch him skirt the aisles until he finally stopped, running his fingers along the spines of several. These books were skinny, the stands they sat on so dusty that when Gilbert moved a book the dust came with it.

“These books are documentation dating back to the time that my great-grandfather, King Louis, ruled these lands,” Gilbert said, his normally gentle expression becoming stern. “They explain every aspect, every occurrence that happened during his reign. But the most important event that happened in these books are what is known as The Revolt.”

He looked at Violet, but she knew that her facial expression hadn’t changed. The name didn’t ring a bell. Violet could read and write well enough, but it had been so long since Violet had any scholarly teaching and she had never been concerned with politics, so much of what she had learned as a child had been forgotten. 

“During his reign, two groups of people rose up against King Louis, stating that they wanted an end to his tyrannical reign. They held his daughter hostage, demanding that their voices be heard,” Gilbert sucked in a breath, closing his eyes.

 He continued, “The army eventually gained control of the situation, but not before one of the men killed the princess. As punishment, King Louis not only enslaved the people that had revolted against him, but their families as well. Generations later, those people are still paying the price. They are enslaved throughout the kingdom by wealthy families. We call them maids and butlers as a cruel, sick joke. It also sounds better when us royalty has company. But everyone knows the truth.”

Violet frowned, staring at the way Gilbert’s free hand was clenched.

But things were starting to click into place now. When Violet had taken shelter at the village that Dietfried had found her at, the people had been so secretive. They sent out scouts. They were afraid. Dietfried had thought that she was a descendant of the uprisers and were hiding with a group that had somehow ran away from their bondage.

He didn’t know that she had had a family. One that had lived in a small but quaint home in the center of Leidenschaftlich. She wasn’t a descendant at all, so she shouldn’t be here.

Still, even without knowing that… why take her and kill everyone else?

“What do you do when you have free time, Violet? When you aren’t doing a task that I personally assigned to you,” Gilbert asked.

“I clean the castle with Cattleya, or I help in the kitchen,” Violet responded.

Gilbert took her hand and placed the book in her hand. “From now on in your free-time I want you to tend to this library,” he said. “You may read whatever you like along the way,” he said with a sly smile. “This library is filled with Leidenschaftlich history, but it also has books of fiction. Perhaps you’ll come across my favorites. It may take you months to finish cleaning but when you do, we can bring my mother in here. Perhaps she’ll remember…” Gilbert trailed off, his eyes stormy.

“Perhaps she will remember your childhood,” Violet finished for him.

Gilbert blinked at her and then ran a hand through his hair in that way he had that seemed to always catch Violet’s eye. He chuckled, “now that I’ve given you permission to speak plainly, I see that you are very outspoken.”

Feeling chided, Violet clicked her heels together and prepared to curtsey and apologize as Cattleya had taught her to do, but Gilbert quickly placed a hand on her shoulder. His eyes were stern when Violet met them. “I like it,” he said. He cleared his throat, his hand falling from her shoulder. “I like that you say what you mean, Violet. It makes it easy to talk to you.”

Violet couldn’t help but feel pleased at that.

/-/

The library had become Violet’s favorite place in the castle. She would come after dinner, often after partaking in Gilbert’s dessert. She was fond of lightly sweet treats- mostly puddings, while Gilbert seemed to have more of a sweet tooth. They both enjoyed tea.

She started at the far right of the library. Every day she took down books from the shelves, dusted both the shelves and the books before she put the books back in alphabetical order. The books already seemed to be in some type of system by genre. She would go row after row, shelf after shelf, skimming through each book. Much of it was too hard for her to comprehend and she would sit reading it slowly but diligently, sometimes reading the sentence more than once. She supposed that years without reading and only having a child’s education was the cause. Still, she persevered, keeping a dictionary by her side.

Since Gilbert had said she could read anything she wanted, she did. She read as much as she could every night after her chores, sometimes copying the words on parchment that Gilbert had provided her and stashing them in the pockets of her dress until she could read it to Gilbert and ask for clarification if she did not understand.

Gilbert was always an open ear. He praised her questions, conversed with her.

But with the knowledge, came the dreams. She would dream that she would plant the flowers and food the books mentioned. She would dream of the dishes she could cook from the recipe books. She would imagine herself wrapping an injured man’s hand, rubbing the salve that she had made on it.

After her parent’s death, Violet had stopped wanting to be anything. She had simply survived because she was too scared to die.

Now, she toyed with the idea of being something.

But, she reminded herself every night, she was already something. She was Gilbert’s personal attendant and just a few weeks ago she had been thankful for that.

She had vowed to follow his orders and that was what she would do. She had nothing out there, she knew that. So, dreaming would be her only inkling into such a world where she could be something other than a slave.

“Why do you come back late every night?” Iris said, opening the door for her and pulling her inside and snapping Violet from her musings.

Violet blinked, looking around their small cabin. Cattleya wasn’t here tonight, and not for the first time Violet wondered where she went on some nights.

“I clean the library,” Violet explained. She sat on her bed, pulling off her brown boots.

Iris huffed, putting her hands on her hips. “We know that, Violet,” she looked to Erica, who suddenly found great interest in the floor. “It’s just that it’s dangerous for slaves at night. If you aren’t in the cabin when the moon is out, you’re breaking a rule.”

“I have permission from Prince Gilbert,” Violet replied.

Erica and Iris exchanged glances.

“That’s even more worrisome,” Erica said. She sat next to Violet, who was pulling her hair out of the twin buns she wore it in each day. “Prince Gilbert is so kind…too kind to slaves sometimes.”

“Others don’t like it,” Iris finished.

Violet stared at them. She had a vague understanding of what the girls was trying to tell her, but she couldn’t just leave Gilbert alone. He was her Master…and admittedly, he made the long days so much easier.

“I am his personal attendant. It is natural for me to spend so much time with him,” Violet said truthfully.  

Iris gave her a sad smile. “Just be careful. Don’t get attached.”

 

/-/

Violet knew she should have left the library earlier. Iris’ and Erica’s advice was steeped in truth. Being out too late past sundown was dangerous, but she was so close to finishing this row that she couldn’t stop.

Occasionally, Gilbert visited her past sundown, bringing her candles or lantern.

So, when Violet heard the doors open to the library she didn’t think anything of it. When she glimpsed a shadow being cast by in her direction by dim light she just kept working.

When a hand clasped around her mouth, fear gripped her so quickly her entire body went still.

“What are you doing in here,” a voice that did not belong to Gilbert said in her ear, hot breath tickling her skin. He twisted her around, pushed her into the bookshelf behind her. She looked up at him, a guard towering over her. She had seen him patrolling around the West wing often enough to know his face, know his eyes. Those eyes always followed her, but she had thought that he had been looking at Gilbert since she always followed him.

“I was told by Prince Gilbert to clean this library,” she said, keeping her voice as steady as she possibly could. She would not show this man her fear. Prince Gilbert had given her an order. She was simply following it.

He was the one that wasn’t following orders.

“He didn’t tell you to be in here at all hours of the day.”

“Prince Gilbert said-” she started again but was cut off when pain bloomed across her cheek. She fell to the ground, hand to her stinging cheek. She didn’t bother getting up. Cattleya had said the punishment for harming a guard was getting your hand chopped off.

 “Stop your lying, slave,” the guard spat. “I know what your duties are. You may have access to this place, but who said you could be in here so late? Now,” his lips spread out in an ugly, twisted manner as he leaned down towards her, his breath, the stench of him making her lean back the nearer he came. “What are you going to do for me so that I don’t have you punished?”

Violet didn’t get the chance to answer, not that she wanted to anyways. Her eyes widened as the man was flung next to her. He laid unconscious.

Violet threw herself to the ground, prepared to grovel at her savior’s feet.

She shouldn’t have been in here so late. She had been foolish, and now she would be punished for it.

“Violet,” Gilbert said, “did he hurt you?”

She looked up and when she did, Gilbert put a hand to her stinging cheek. His eyes were hard. Violet bowed her head.

“I am sorry,” she said, “I didn’t follow orders.”

He pulled her arm, tugging her until she stood. “Stop it. You followed orders. It’s scum like this that…” he sucked in air, put a hand to his head. “You don’t have to apologize, Violet. Why didn’t you try to defend yourself? You didn’t try to run or anything.”

Violet looked into his eyes. He was so kind, but he was being so foolish. “I would have been punished for retaliating.” He knew that. He just refused to believe it. That was what Iris and Erica had been trying to tell her.

“And you would have done something for him so that he wouldn’t punish you,” Gilbert asked, his eyes not losing their hard edge. For once, he looked like his brother. He was shaking, his anger evident.

“I would have accepted punishment,” Violet replied. She met him with her own stern gaze. She would never do any “favors” for a guard. She would rather have both hands cut off. Arms, even.

Gilbert raised his eyebrows. He seemed shocked, but in a good way. As if he were impressed. His eyes lost their edge and he opened his mouth to say something, but the guard groaned, stirring. Violet wished he would stay down longer.

“Go,” Gilbert said. “Tomorrow, you begin training. My personal attendant must be able to protect herself.”

Violet wanted to know what he meant by that, but she wanted to be away from this guard even more. She practically fled the room, navigating through the castle in the darkness until she finally made it outside, her skirts flurrying.

Tears blurred her vision.

Everything hit her at once, her conflicting emotions stirring in her chest.

She had a better life than she did on the streets, it was true. Here, she felt human.

But everyday that humanity was challenged. She was a slave more than she was human.

Trying to keep that in mind around Gilbert was the biggest challenge she had to face every day.

Chapter Text

It was the way she looked at him that intrigued Gilbert so.

Clinical and assessing, Violet’s light blue eyes followed him throughout many days. He had come to know that she was intuitive, a fast learner, attentive and serious. But she was also gentle and caring. She memorized every favorite food he had, the way he liked his sheets pulled down to the bottom of his bed, to how warm he liked his baths.

At first, he had believed that like many of the maids that had attended to him, she was only trying to get on his good side in hopes that he would take a liking to her and hold her above all the other maids in the castle. But there was something so sincere about Violet that the thought had been quickly whisked away. He didn’t even know if she was capable of such a thought. If she was, it would probably shock him.

After that, he had come to genuinely enjoy her company. Her questions were endearing, asked in such straightforward ways that he felt like he had no choice but to answer. Her innocence, the pureness of youth and inexperience was refreshing to someone like him, who was always surrounded by someone that was trying to get a one-up on him, or con him, or study him for the sake of their own profit. Her eyes were always challenging him to stand a little straighter in her presence.

And wasn’t that just something?

He was the prince. He had been around royalty, around the richest people in lands so far past this kingdom that most of the commoners wouldn’t even know how to pronounce their names. Yet here he was trying to prove something to her. Though he wasn’t quite sure what exactly.

All he knew was that he had somehow managed to form an easy friendship with Violet. He looked forward to seeing her every day. He could only hope that she felt the same.

So, when Gilbert had seen that guard towering over her he had quickly lost all sense of reason. Grabbing the nearest object, a lamp, Gilbert had smashed it over the offending man’s head. Sure, he could have hit him with his fist and most likely would have secured the same outcome, but there was something brutal and satisfying about this method.

Because Gilbert couldn’t remember the last time he had been so angry.

That man was a monster- but Gilbert couldn’t help but feel like one too when Violet had thrown herself to the floor, believing that now he would dish out punishment.

Head spinning, he sent Violet away. It was bad enough that he was going to have to deal with the repercussions for saving a maid in such a way, he wasn’t about to let her have to answer to the stirring beast at her side too.

“Get up,” Gilbert said to the guard, hauling him up by his forearm when the man finally opened his eyes.

“Your Majesty…what…” the guard started, but Gilbert didn’t give him a chance to speak further. He gave the man his greatest glare and he immediately shut up.

“Touch my maid again and I will have your head,” Gilbert neared the man, who took a step back, his watery eyes widening as big as saucers. Good. Let him be afraid. Just as afraid as Violet had probably been.

“Y-yes Prince Gilbert.”

But it wasn’t enough. Gilbert knew it wasn’t. He would continue to treat the maids like this behind his back and even if he didn’t, others would. He had to make an example out of this guard.

A public one.

“Walk,” Gilbert gave the man a push on the shoulder, urging him to walk out of the library. It was so dark that even Gilbert, who knew the library better than he knew any room in the castle, stumbled along with the guard. It didn’t help that his mind was churning, his thoughts piecing together slowly like a puzzle. He knew what he had to do, but he was honestly scared to do it.

“What is your name?”

“Klein Kajura, Your Majesty.”

Gilbert nodded. It wasn’t long that they were walking through the hallways until they came across two guards. They looked as if they were on their way to sleeping while standing up in the quiet hallway until they saw their prince coming down the hallway, illuminated by their lamps.

“You,” Gilbert said to one of the guards. “Arrest this guard, Klein, and have him put into a holding cell. I will personally stay to watch your post until you get back.”

“S-sir?”

“Don’t make me repeat myself,” Gilbert said. His decision had been made. There was no turning back now.

The man saluted while Klein looked sick to his stomach as he was cuffed and led away. At least he hadn’t caused a scene.

Funny, he had been so big and mighty when he had been demanding things of Violet.  

In the morning, when Dietfried would be made aware that one of their guards had been arrested and Klein questioned, Gilbert knew that he would have to answer.

But for now, all he knew was that for the first time in his life, he finally felt as if he had done something to help the many people who didn’t deserve to be enslaved by his family.

/-/

“Where are we going,” Violet asked in a whisper.

The air in the tunnel was cool yet stale as Gilbert maneuvered his way through, feeling along the cool walls until the mouth of the tunnel was in sight. Violet was behind him, her fingers gripping the back of his shirt as he helped her to navigate the dark, unfamiliar space. She had been silent when they had been in the castle. She had barely flinched when he had ushered her into the library and even when he had led her to the very back of the library. She had barely blinked when he had pushed the great Grandfather clock to the side, revealing a man-sized hole in the wall behind it.

But now that they were in the safe confines of the secret tunnel- the tunnel that his mother probably didn’t even remember anymore, she had finally cracked and asked a question.

“We’re almost there,” Gilbert replied softly. Sweat was beading and falling down the back of his neck, but he tried to appear calm for Violet’s sake. It had been almost a year since he had walked this path. It had been even longer since he had company here. He and Dietfried used to come here with their mother when she needed a break from the confines of the castle and the everyday hassles that came with being Queen.

He breathed in, the smell of salty water and the sound of its rushing evading his senses. Memories of childhood laughter swam in his head. He could hear his mother’s laughter as the tunnel suddenly opened wide, revealing the cave that he had missed so much.

In the center, a great fountain still churned water. He lit the torches that sat on the cave’s walls with his own, illuminating the open space, bringing it to life for the first time in months.

Finished with his task, Gilbert turned to see Violet’s expression. Though she said nothing, Gilbert knew by now to look into her eyes to tell how she was feeling. He was pleased to see that her eyes had widened and were wavering even the slightest. She turned until her eyes suddenly landed on his.

“Thank you,” she said.

Gilbert felt his heart leap.

She liked it. This place had to be the simplest place Gilbert had ever stood in- there were more sights even outside of the castle’s gates in the commoner’s land. But Violet thanked him for showing her a place that was so special to him.

She understood him.

He nodded and turning, swung the pack that he had been carrying over his shoulder. He took out the items, slowly placing each side by side. Two wooden swords. Canteens of water. Towels, bandages, and jerky.

He looked back up to Violet, who had come to stand beside him. She looked down at him curiously until she bent down, touching the wooden swords. She picked one up and he did the same with the other.

“You will learn stances and basics,” he said, looking into her eyes and checking for any sign of fear. Violet’s eyes were steady. “Your training will be swift and hard. I won’t go easy on you because you’re a woman. I…” he gripped the handle of the play-sword. “I want you to be able to defend yourself, Violet. Is that alright?”

Violet nodded, clicking her heels together. “I will do as asked, Your Majesty.”

“No,” Gilbert said sternly, holding his tone as steady as he could. “I want you to tell me what you want. What you feel, Violet. Do you want to learn this? You have a choice. You always have a choice with me.”

The thought that he sounded like he was pleading crossed his mind, but Gilbert quickly pushed it away. He had to be the open one. She couldn’t be at this point, so he had to set the example.

Thankfully, he caught the small, pleased smile that tugged at the ends of her lips.

“I want this,” she replied, eyes burning into his. She raised her head higher, her hair shifting across her forehead. “Please teach me.”

Gilbert nodded and took a step back from her. He sucked in a deep breath. There was no going back now.

Lowering himself, he said, “stance number one.”

/-/

It took a weejk more for Dietfried to finally find out that Gilbert had imprisoned Klein. Gilbert wondered what had taken so long. Perhaps the guards had been too afraid of provoking a fight between the two brothers, or perhaps they had simply been afraid of Dietfried’s wrath.

And with good reason.

“What is wrong with you,” he shouted, slamming into Gilbert’s room. He pushed the door open with such force that Gilbert’s desk and the teacup on top of it shook. It was all Gilbert could do to save his documents of war strategies and plans. Dietfried was absolutely seething, his eyes so fierce that even Gilbert was taken aback upon first glance at his brother.

“I beg your pardon?” Gilbert turned slowly in his chair, hoping approaching this calmly would help to diffuse Dietfried’s anger a bit.

Dietfried snatched Gilbert’s collar and pulled him to his feet, eyes burrowing into his brother’s.

So much for diffusing the situation.

“You imprisoned my guard for a maid,” Dietfried said through clenched teeth.

“Your guard attacked my maid,” Gilbert responded. “He was out of line.”

“So you bring him to me and we discuss the appropriate punishment. You do not make a fool out of our family by taking drastic, unnecessary measures.”

“He had to be taught a lesson immediately. I’m sure word has spread by now of what will be done when-”

Dietfried barked out a loud, bitter laugh, releasing Gilbert’s shirt. “When what exactly, brother? When a lowly maid is found in our mother’s library? Her people are being punished for the murder of our aunt. She may be beautiful, but she is nothing. Do not forget her place and do not forget yours.”

Gilbert was silent, his thoughts churning as his brother turned away from him, his long dark braid swinging.

They had had their arguments in the past, of course. But somehow Dietfried always got the last word in. He knew how to make his words pack a punch, and Gilbert only knew how to stand there and take them obediently and take them.

But not anymore.

Something had snapped in Gilbert when he had seen Violet and Klein in that library and it wasn’t something that was going to be mended back together easily. He knew that, and he wanted Dietfried to know it too.

“No.”

Dietfried stopped walking, his foot held in the air before he gently placed it down and slowly turned back to Gilbert. His scowl showed his displeasure that Gilbert had dared to speak back to him after he had ended the conversation. Gilbert knew that he expected him to stay quiet and do exactly what he had asked.

Heart pounding, Gilbert clicked his heels together. “I will not tolerate anyone touching my personal attendant.”

Dietfried’s eyes narrowed. Cold. Calculating. Gilbert felt a bead of sweat roll down his neck.

“That is fair. She is yours, after all.” Dietfried consented, nodding his head. “We must discuss things like this, brother. So that you do not make a fool out of yourself,” he said this with a small, joking smile at the end, though Gilbert couldn’t help but feel as if he had still taken a low-blow shot at him.

Gilbert let out a sigh when Dietfried left the room. He turned, running a hand through his hair. If this was how Dietfried reacted to a guard being put in a jailcell with three large meals a day and a comfortable bed put in, he would hate to find out how Dietfried would act if he found out he was training Violet or letting her read from their mother’s library.

Speaking of Violet, it was almost time for dinner. He would be able to see her, she would spend the evening cleaning the library, and then it would be time for their secret training.

With that thought keeping him content, Dietfried walked to his door, only to swing it open and see a surprised guard with his hand raised on the ready to knock.

“Ah! Your Majesty,” he said, quickly thumping a fist to his chest.

“Good evening,” Gilbert replied, “is something wrong?”

The guard nodded, and Gilbert could see his Adam’s apple move as he swallowed. “Your father has summoned you, Your Majesty. To Conference Room #3.”

Gilbert’s eyebrows flew up. The first thought that passed his mind was that his father had also found out about Klein and Violet. But he was certain that his father would have asked to meet him in his room, or perhaps even the throne room. Conference rooms were designed for meetings with large groups. Unless Dietfried was staging some type of weird intervention even after their talk?

Gilbert thanked the guard and moved past him, his legs moving quickly as his nerves began to buzz. Had something happened with his mother? Was Violet alright?

Reaching the designated room, Gilbert took in a steadying breath before entering. His eyes swept across the room at a host of familiar faces. Several highly ranked soldiers, Lieutenant Claudia Hodgins, Dietfried and finally their father. All wore grim faces.

“Come inside, quickly, my boy.”

Gilbert did as asked, closing the door behind him and walking into the room until he reached the long, rectangular table they were all huddled around.

“Please sit,” King Philip Bougainvillea said, and everyone did simultaneously. Though gray and particularly rounder than he was years ago, the king’s presence still awed Gilbert. He oozed authority and confidence in his old age that Gilbert couldn’t help but envy. He wondered if he ad acquired such a presence through years of experience or if he had always been this way.

Perhaps he would never know. It was Dietfried that had the close relationship with their father. First in line for the crown, Dietfried spent his days learning from his father. Soon, Dietfried would officially take the title. King Philip didn’t have much time for Gilbert, who did not have an appreciation for the old rules.

Still, Gilbert was summoned to meetings and was given the title of Major, as he had worked hard to learn to lead their army. Gilbert supposed he should be grateful for the acknowledgement and his father’s faith in him to do the job even if they did not have much of a personal relationship. Besides, Gilbert had always been closer to his mother. At least he had been fortunate enough to have one parent he was close to.

“As you all know, we have been in times of peace for the last twenty years,” King Philip said, scanning the small crowd he had gathered. “I do hope it can stay like that for more years to come.”

The group mumbled their agreement. King Philip roped his fingers through each other. “Aside from the occasional trouble from those who try to escape enslavement, we have complete control of the kingdom. Still, I would like to solidify our alliance with the kingdom of Brevirenth. Our trades with them have been beneficial to both kingdoms in the last ten years. As such, should war befall either kingdom, I would send forces to their aid and they would send their own to ours.”

Gilbert leaned forward in his chair when his father’s eyes suddenly landed on him.

“Prince Gilbert, I want you to take a series of two trips. The first, to rendezvous with the Brevirenth king and negotiate and write up the terms of what I have just suggested. If you succeed, the second trip will be the formal signing of the agreement, of which I will travel to,” King Phillip continued. “I am far too old to make this trip myself and your brother is too busy learning the rest of kingship. I am trusting that you can get this task done efficiently and promptly.”

Great. So, he was the errand-boy, the lackey…no. He couldn’t allow himself to think like that.

“Of course, father. I will see it done,” he replied. This was a big job, and his father was entrusting it to him. He knew that he had to stop this age-old way of thinking of his...that King Philip loved and cherished Dietfried more than he did his younger son.

But it was so hard.

The meeting ended soon after, though Gilbert barely listened. He heard that he was to leave in the morning. He answered who he wanted to bring with him on the trip. He answered how the soldiers were doing in their training.

But he couldn’t shake this sense of dissatisfaction.

Dismissed, Gilbert didn’t go to dinner. He went to his room instead and packed his things on his own, though he couldn’t fold them as neatly as Violet.

Violet.

Gilbert looked outside his window and found the sun already setting. She would be finished serving at dinner by now and was probably wondering why he hadn’t shown up as he did every night. She would have stood there wondering, but not allowed to ask while the royalty dined on delicacies that they would never share.

Gilbert dropped the shirt he had been struggling to fit into his case and hurried out of his room and made his way to the kitchen. When he peeked inside, he didn’t see her.

But when he turned around, there she was. He flinched back, surprised.

“Violet you…” he blinked, realization dawning, “you scared me.”

“Tactic two, Your Majesty,” Violet said, assuring him that yes she had been paying attention in their training sessions and yes she had snuck up on him on purpose.

Gilbert almost couldn’t stop himself from laughing. Sucking in a deep breath, he played it off since they were standing in between the living room and the kitchen, where maids and guards lurked.

He cocked his head and she followed behind him to the library. It was still too early for them to sneak to the tunnel- someone might come looking for him with a message from his father or brother. But the library had quickly become his favorite place to be alone with Violet.

When they arrived, Gilbert turned to look at Violet.

“You weren’t at the table,” she said.

Gilbert nodded. “Did that bother you?”

Her face didn’t give away much, but her words did if Gilbert was deciphering them correctly. “It was different without you, Your Majesty,” she said. He took that to mean that it did indeed bother her.

But how to be sure with someone that was so blunt to the point that misunderstandings became easy?

Not quite ready to tackle that yet, Gilbert could only tell the truth. “I was in my room sulking.”

Violet titled her head to the side slightly. “You are sad, Your Majesty?”

“I am,” he admitted. “Because I am leaving tomorrow for a few days on my father’s orders. But his orders make me feel…less-than.”

“Less-than?”

She stood so close, Gilbert had to wonder which one of them had gravitated towards the other. Most likely him. He took a self-conscious step back, afraid that someone would come into the library. “Less-than my brother. Or as if I could do more with my life. The army is important…but is it what I really want for my life or is it something that my dad thrust upon me so that the second son could have something to keep him occupied?”

Once the words started flowing out, they wouldn’t seem to stop coming. It helped that Violet never took her eyes away from him, never criticized him or looked as if he were out of his mind. He was a prince of Leidenschaftlich. He didn’t deserve to be sad while she lived in a shack and served others all day only to wake up and do it again day after day.

He chuckled bitterly. Surely, he was the worst kind of person.

“If you feel you can do more, then do more,” Violet said after a beat of silence.

Gilbert stared at her, his mouth dropping open a bit. He blinked, then chuckled, then finally let out a bout of laughter.

“Was that funny,” Violet asked, though she didn’t sound angry in the least bit.

Gilbert grinned and put a hand on her shoulder, shaking his head. “No, Violet. You are a genius. You are absolutely correct.”

She didn’t seem to understand, but Gilbert found he couldn’t stop smiling. “Take care of yourself while I’m gone Violet. Remember, you don’t have to bow down to the guards. They know not to touch you.”

 Violet nodded. “I will, Your Majesty.”

After reading a short book, the moon shone into the library. By moonlight, Gilbert and Violet moved the clock and slipped into the tunnel to have a final training session before Gilbert departed the next morning, feeling a bit lighter than the day before.

He could make a difference.

All he had to do was try.

Chapter Text

It was Violet’s job to put Gilbert’s belongings into the carriage that would take him to the train station that would give him passage to the kingdom of Brevirenth. Violet listened intently as Gilbert tried to describe what riding on a train felt like as she folded his last article of clothing neatly into his suitcase.

She had seen trains before, but had always preferred to travel on foot, though riding from town to town on the huge machine would have been beneficial for her when she lived on the streets.

Gilbert frowned when she picked up several cases at the same time. He reached out a hand then let it drop to his side, knowing that everyone would expect her to carry his items without help. But Violet, used to his conflicting mind by now, hoisted the heavy cases higher.

“I am capable of carrying these without struggle, Your Majesty,” she explained.

Gilbert blinked. He seemed taken aback, but Violet wasn’t sure why. The training combined with her everyday tasks had made her so much stronger than she had been when she had first arrived at this castle. She knew that she also looked different, as she cleaned the mirrors throughout the castle periodically. Surely Gilbert could see that her muscles in her arms and legs were becoming defined the more she fought with her fake sword and ran about their secret cave.

Still, he always looked so concerned for her. Sometimes she would catch him looking at her from across the room. Unlike his brother, Gilbert’s eyes were always filled with concern and even guilt.

When he looked like that, her heart would feel heavy. She was equally flattered by his attention and exasperated by it, as she did not want him to pity her.  She wanted him to know that she was strong.

“You’re right. You are not a fragile girl, are you Violet?” he asked.

Violet let his question linger in the air for a moment as her eyes ran down his frame. He was in complete uniform. The navy blue somehow contrasted sharply with his green eyes. His hair was combed back and neat, something that she wasn’t used to, but didn’t mind. He still had that roguishly handsome look that the maids whispered and giggled about.

“I am not,” she replied, turning and exiting the room. She carried the cases down the flights of stairs and out to the front of the castle, where other maids were already loading the solder’s luggage into the carriage.

As Violet waited her turn, she spotted Dietfried next to King Philip. His eyes brushed over her for a second and she quickly looked away, clicking the heels of her shoes together. She did not want to attract any extra attention from him if she could help it.

Still, he sauntered over to her because Gilbert was standing right next to her. Luckily, he didn’t spare another look in her direction.

He held out a gloved hand to Gilbert, who shook it. “Safe travels, brother. Return home swiftly,” he said.

Violet could practically sense the tension in Gilbert’s shoulders as he shook his brother’s hand and thanked him.

Dietfried still didn’t look at her as he passed by again, but Violet supposed that was a good thing in his case.

She stowed away Gilbert’s items into the carriage as quickly as she could. When she was finished, she found that Gilbert had already gotten into the carriage, the horses neighing when their reigns were jerked.

She should have known that Gilbert wouldn’t be able to say goodbye. She should have wished him safe travels back in his room, but she had been too focused on her job.

Now, as he rode away into the distance, Violet wished that she could rewind time.

“Come Violet,” Iris whispered from behind her. “Since Gilbert is gone, you will be tending to the castle with me.”

Violet nodded, giving one last look in the direction that Gilbert and his crew had headed off into one last look before following Iris back inside.

/-/

The first day went well. Violet tended to the castle with Iris and Erica, following them into rooms that she hadn’t had to go into before, including the Queen’s powder room and the King’s personal office.

Though she was used to working alone in quiet, she found that she enjoyed their chatter. Iris was funny, though Violet didn’t always understand her jokes. Erica was timid, yet intelligent and easy to get along with.

For the first time, Violet found herself wondering what Erica and Iris would be if they were free to live their lives however they wanted. As descendants of the families of The Revolt, they were bound to be slaves for the rest of their lives. The next generation would be the last to be enslaved, as Violet had read in the Queen’s library, but that did no good for these two.

Her friends.

The second day, the moment Violet entered the castle, the guards stopped her and told her to go outside, as Prince Dietfried had requested her.

Iris and Erica shot her worried looks, but Violet kept a passive face as she did as asked of her.

Dietfried did not scare her.

Upon finding him Violet promptly curtsied and cast her eyes to his feet, awaiting instruction.

“You will work with the soldiers until Gilbert returned,” he said.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Violet replied evenly, though Erica and Iris flashed through her mind. She had been looking forward to spending another day with them. Plus, she was used to cleaning. She had no idea what would be expected of her outside of the castle and the soldiers so far hadn’t been the nicest of people.

Still, Violet quickly scurried to the other side of the castle, where she knew the soldiers would be preparing for training. When she got to the field, she stood awkwardly at first, not sure who to ask for instructions.

She did catch the eye of a young boy, his hair striking blonde and his eyes bright and blue, but Violet knew that he was only a cadet when a man with red hair called his name and he snapped to attention.

“Violet!”

Violet jerked her head up, surprised that a voice had called her name. She turned in the direction of the voice and found a young woman with fair skin that was sunburned in blotches. Her long, straight hair was pulled up into a ponytail and held with a golden ban. Her freckles stood out to Violet as well.

It took a moment for Violet to recognize her, but she did. This had been the girl that had broken the vase on Violet’s first day as a maid. Violet hadn’t seen her since, and therefore she had almost forgotten about her.

Now, seeing her outside, it made sense. She had been moved out here as punishment. Slaving outside beneath the blazing sun probably really made you miss working in the castle.

“I am Luculia Marlborough,” she said, a first to her heart. “They told me that you would be here to help until Prince Gilbert gets back.”

Violet nodded. “Please show me my duties, Luculia.”

“I’ll try to carry most of the burden since I’m used to this. Tell me if you get tired, Violet.”

Violet wanted to tell her that she didn’t have to do that, but Luculia was already running ahead.  It was all Violet could do to keep up. They lifted the soldier’s heavy armor and Luculia showed Violet how to help them into them.

She didn’t miss it when one of the soldier’s squeezed Luculia’s behind, but the girl only put her head down and scurried away as soon as she could.

Violet waited for someone to harass her as well, her eyes hard, but no one did.

She knew it was thanks to Gilbert’s influence. Feelings of joy and relief passed through her but was quickly squashed when she looked over at Luculia. The girl’s bright eyes were now dull, cast down as she worked.

Throughout the day, they carried targets for the soldiers to shoot at and placed them. Violet didn’t think that was so bad.

Then they began to lug large sandbags and packing them together for the soldiers to hide behind.

Then Luculia placed a shovel in Violet’s hands so that they could fill old ditches and dig new ones several feet away beneath the blazing sun. They weren’t allowed to have water or take a break.

Violet had thought she had become strong with Gilbert’s training, but the pain that was in her shoulders and arms after a few lifts of the shovel was something she had never experienced before. Her back hurt as well, and with the sun beating down upon her she found that she could barely concentrate.

Her arms shook. She hadn’t had lunch and her stomach made sure that she knew it. She could feel a headache building.

“Pick it up.”

Violet squinted ahead of her, the familiar voice sending a chill down her spine. Dietfried stood with his hands behind her back, staring down at her.

He did not look pleased. He narrowed his eyes at her, the only tale-tell sign that his anger was spiking.

Violet stuck her shovel into the ground, pushed her foot against it to help the dirt onto it.

“Faster.”

Her muscles screamed as she lifted the shovel and dumped the dirt into her pile.

The shovel was snatched from her hands. Violet could hear Luculia continuing to shovel, almost frantically, and was thankful that the girl had not stopped to watch less she find herself in trouble as well.

“Not. Good. Enough.” Dietfried spit each word out. “I should have known that you were incapable of doing real work. Gilbert is too soft on you.”

He threw the shovel down and Violet quickly picked it up, grateful that Dietfried turned and left without another word. She hoped that he was finished harassing her for the day.

The worst part was that she didn’t even know what she had done to deserve such ire from him. He was the one that had brought her here. She hadn’t asked to be brought to the castle and she had done nothing but her job since being here. He was illogical in Violet’s eyes.

And that made him a threat.

She finished out the day without much hassle, grateful for when she could return to her cabin. Iris and Erica insisted that she eat the majority of their beef stew and water rations.  After bathing, Violet got into bed and tried to ignore her aching muscles while willing herself to sleep.

The next day she hurried to clean Gilbert’s room thoroughly before Dietfried summoned her. She wanted it to be fresh for his return, and cleaning was a bit harder when he was actually in the room. He tended to have a way of distracting her, and that was saying something because she had considered her concentration to be practically unbreakable.

When she was finished changing the bedsheets, dusting, organizing his desk and closet, she went to the table where he took his evening tea. She ran a finger over one of the beautiful porcelain cups.

Looking at the chair he normally sat in, she could envision him there now, the teacup in hand as he took a sip. He always seemed to melt into the chair, easing away the tension of the day. She was always fascinated by the way he would close his eyes after taking that first sip, as if he was feeling the warmth soak into his body. She always waited in anticipation- had she brewed it long enough? Too much? Did he need more sugar?

But he would always slowly open his eyes until two emerald orbs focused on Violet. He would always smile.

“Tea, Violet?” he would ask. 

She took her finger from the cup and sucked in a deep breath. Here, the castle was so quiet. Everything was so still that it looked like a realistic painting, as if time was frozen or captured just for her.

Except the picture just wasn’t complete without Gilbert.

She slowly lifted a hand to her stomach, feeling a strange feeling there, as if butterflies were tickling her stomach with their wings. Then she raised it to her heart, where it seemed to be beating a bit faster than usual.

Violet blinked, a thought forming her mind, but it was quickly whisked away when she heard a noise down the hall.

She didn’t have time to be standing around here. Dietfried, but more importantly- Luculia would be expecting her soon. So, she picked up the tea-set and quickly scurried from the room…leaving that almost-perfect picture behind.

/-/

The days went by so slowly that Violet could barely stand it. The days outside were frustrating and demeaning, not because she minded the hard-physical labor. She thought of that as training for her body. She would be stronger when Gilbert returned, ready to continue her fighting lessons.

But everyday the soldiers seemed to grow more comfortable with harassing Luculia. Violet was forced to watch as they would swat, pinch and grope her butt when they walked past. They would laugh when her face reddened or when she would look down with tears in her eyes.

One solider in particular seemed to press his luck with Luculia, going so far as to grab her wrist and pull her close. He had whispered something in Luculia’s ear, something that made the girl’s entire body tense up. But he had laughed and walked away a moment later.

Violet struggled to keep her normal passive face.

Gilbert would never stand for this. Had he not taught her that she shouldn’t take things like that from the soldiers? But did that apply to just protecting herself or did that mean protecting the other maids too?

It was the end of the day when Violet noticed that Luculia had disappeared, her shovel left abandoned next to her ditch.

Scanning the area, Violet did not see her anywhere. She also hadn’t seen Dietfried in the past two days.

She did, though, meet crystal blue eyes. The cadet boy she had seen days ago. He was walking towards her, his hands in his pockets. Violet stood still, her eyes catching on the nametag all the cadets wore. Benedict Blue. But when he neared her he only slowed down long enough to say, “she is in an empty cabin” before completely passing her. No one would have known he had said anything at all, so Violet fought her initial instinct to turn and look back at him.

The cadet had told her where Luculia was.

Violet moved as quickly as she could without drawing attention. No one would care if she left now, as all the soldiers had finished training for today and were slowly dispersing to go back to their respective homes or out to the bars for drink and dinner.

She walked briskly to the cabins, and with every step her heart began to beat faster until she realized that she was running from cabin to cabin, looking frantically through the windows.

Finally, she saw the soldier’s broad back.

She didn’t think. She was all fire, she was made of it- angry, desperate, unafraid as she slammed through the door and into the cabin. She was on fire. Burning up with her rage.

The soldier turned, shocked. Luculia’s eyes were as wide as saucers and one of her sleeves was ripped at the shoulder but she looked otherwise unharmed.

Good. She had made it in time.

“Get the hell out,” the soldier shouted, pointing to the door. He waited, seething, then snarled when Violet did not move. “I said get out!”

His fist flew towards her, but Violet was ready.

She grabbed his wrist and used his momentum against him, pulling him to the side until they had changed positions. He crashed to the floor a moment later on his hands and knees.

Violet backed up against Luculia and pushed the girl back an inch. Gilbert’s training was going to work. She would protect Luculia with her own life if she had to.

Because Luculia did not deserve to be hurt by this scum.

Because Gilbert had said she didn’t have to take abuse lying down. He had taught her that she- that all the maids, were worth more than what their masters would have them believe.

The man stared up at her for a moment and Violet could practically see the gears in his head churning. How had a lowly maid gotten the better of him, even for an instant?

He let out a mighty shout before charging at her. Violet deflected a few shots before delivering one of her own, straight to his nose. He stumbled back, blood gushing from it. He may have trained for longer than she had, but he was all fury where Violet was controlled.

But he was also stronger in brute strength and knew more about fighting than she did.

He also knew how to take a punch.

The moment he finally struck Violet in the eye, Violet fell to the floor on her back, her vision flashing a bright white. She tried to get up, but he was already upon her, raising his fist.

There was a crash and he slumped to the floor. Violet blinked her left eye, the only one that would blink. Luculia stood above them, shivering and sobbing. She dropped the shovel to the ground and took two steps back.

“They will kill us,” she sputtered out. “They will kill us, Violet! Y-you should have just left us alone! You should have just let it happen!”

Violet sat shocked when Luculia crumpled to the floor, covering her eyes with her hands. Her entire body shook.

At first, Violet did not understand. But she replayed Luculia’s words in her head. They had just hurt a soldier.

They would be punished.

“No,” she said. “I will be put to death,” she said. Violet stood, shakily. “Find Dietfried and tell him that I have hurt a soldier.

“Violet, no! You-!”

“GO,” Violet shouted. “You must go, Luculia.”

Perhaps it was the shock of hearing someone as soft-spoken as Violet yell, but Luculia ran from the cabin immediately. Violet stared down at the man before putting two fingers against his neck. He still had a pulse. Violet wasn’t sure if she was happy that he was alive or not.

Hopefully the soldier would be satisfied enough with only Violet being punished. Luculia had only reacted out of fear, of course, but Violet had been the one to start the fight.

Gilbert flashed through her mind. She wondered what he would say now, or how he would feel when he came back, and his personal attendant was punished in some sick, tortuous way. Or even dead.

Probably dead.

Violet’s head spun from that thought. She could feel her eye throbbing in time with her pulse.

It was only a moment later when several guards game to retrieve her and wake the soldier. They were rough with her and marched her out of the cabin. She didn’t see Luculia anywhere, but she did see Dietfried. He was impossible to miss. His green eyes were hard and locked onto her.

Violet had never seen so much hatred directed at her before.

She kept her head held high. Her face as trained as usual.

But her hands were shaking.

/-/

They stripped her of her maid uniform and put her into a dingy dress that resembled a potato-sack. Violet wasn’t sure if the dress was a light brown or if it was just that dirty. The crowd she was being marched through must have wondered the same thing as she was paraded before them.

She had spent the night in a cold cell with no bed. She had eaten only stale bread and water and she was still hungry, but she had long ago become used to ignoring the pangs in her empty belly. Now, she squinted in the bright sunshine of the morning. Her hands were chained before her, she was barefoot, and they had even taken the ribbons that she used to tie her hair back, so her hair fell all around her like a curtain. She was tempted to lower her head and hide behind her long tresses, but she did not want to give Dietfried the satisfaction.

It seemed that most of the town inhabitants were here. They stared at her with large eyes. She could hear them whispering while some dared to speak out loud. Stupid girl most called her.

She couldn’t say she disagreed with them.

Still, if given the chance to do it all over again, Violet knew she would have saved again Luculia every single time.

Violet recognized the place they took her. She slowly ascended the five steps it took to get up onto the platform where performers usually put on a show during holidays for the kingdom’s enjoyment or where the King made special decrees or where his advisors would sometimes give updates on matters that the commoners were allowed to know about.

It had been many years since this platform was used for punishment.

Violet felt sweat trickle down her back.

“We are here today to charge one Violet, last name unknown, for a grievous crime against the kingdom…” the speaker, one of the king’s advisor’s, spoke loudly.

Dietfried, who was suddenly standing next to her leaned a bit closer to her as the advisor listed her crime to the people. “Consider yourself lucky. Thanks to my mother’s laws from long ago, you won’t die. But you will wish you could.”

Violet stared straight ahead, not giving so much as a flinch or a blink to let Dietfried know that she was getting under her skin.

“Violet will be tied here for seventy-two hours with minimum water and food needed to survive. She will not be allowed visitors or shelter in that time,” the advisor finished.

The guards grabbed Violet again and directed her to the middle of the platform. They pulled her arms tightly down and bound her wrists behind her. They wrapped the rope around her waist, down to her legs, to the sturdy stick behind her so firmly that she knew there would be no chance for her to lean or sit down.

The inhabitants of the platform scurried away as if standing next to Violet would somehow cause them to be punished too. All except Dietfried that is, who eyed her with hard eyes until the crowd also dispersed, most likely bored with the lack of bloodshed or crueler punishment.

He rounded on her, tugged at her, making sure that there would be no chance for escape. Finally, he stood face-to-face with her.

“Why is it that you think you can do whatever you want,” he asked her.

Violet looked up at him. His head was directly in front of her view of the sun, so his features were darker and even scarier than normal.

“I do not think that,” she replied evenly, genuinely confused by his question. She had done everything that had been asked of her. How could he ask her such a thing?

“But you do,” he said lowly, his eyes narrowing. “You were in my mother’s library the first time one of my men was attacked. I gave you a pass for that because it was Gilbert’s fault. But this was unacceptable. You must not be so stupid that you can’t see that.”

Ah. This time it was Violet’s eyes that narrowed. “I understand your concern, Your Majesty. But I will not apologize for what I have done.

Dietfried’s nostrils flared, but it was the only indication of his spiking temper.  He stood straighter and clasped his hands behind his back. “Then you will be broken. I will make sure of that. You are nothing but a tool and you should act as such.”

Violet knew not to respond, though she wished she could have, as Dietfried turned and walked away. She was a tool to him, perhaps, but she knew that she was not a tool to Gilbert. She was a person. One that would not be broken for standing up for what she believed in.

She let that thought strengthen her as she cast her eyes down to her feet, wishing she could shield them from the sun. The hottest part of the day had not yet come, yet Violet was already sweating. By the time the afternoon hit the dress was sticking to her back, her hair was sticking to her neck and face.

Her head began to pound that night. The air was sticky and humid when the sun set, and then her skin was too chilled when the heat finally left the air, making it even harder for her to sleep, her chin resting against her neck.

A tear dripped from her face and down her bosom.

“You are not a fragile girl, are you Violet?”

“I am not.”

The next day a group of children thought it would be funny to throw rotten vegetables and fruit at her until a woman came to stop them. She gave Violet a look of apology and Violet forced herself to give the woman a small smile.

A guard came to give her water and food but left before she finished her meal because it began to rain.

Violet tried to be thankful that it was only a drizzle instead of a downpour. Her clothes dried soon after when the sun came back out to play.

Still, her head spun. Every part of her body ached, though she was at least glad that nothing had went numb. She did what she could to wiggle. A thought crossed her mind. When Dietfried had been inspecting the knots and he had tugged on them…had he loosened them even the slightest bit so that she would have proper circulation?

I am a fair prince,” he had said when he had saved Luculia back when she had broken the vase. That seemed like such a long time ago now. She had automatically felt as if Dietfried had only saved her to prove that he could flex his power whenever he wanted. But had it truly been an act of what he thought was fair?

Still, his line of thinking was messed up. Violet couldn’t ignore that. He approved of people being enslaved for something that their ancestors had done. How was that fair? She grew more confused at his sense of morality the more she thought about it.

She sang under her breath to pass the time. She wondered how Gilbert was doing. She daydreamed every action she would normally take for the day. She wondered what Erica, Iris and Cattleya thought about what she had done. Perhaps it was a good thing she was not allowed visitors. She didn’t want any of them seeing her like this.

She coughed. She ached. She could smell herself.

Time wasn’t passing quickly enough.

 “You are not a fragile girl, are you Violet?”

“I am not.”

Gilbert visited her in her dreams, as she seemed to be sleeping more often than she was awake now. Even though she wasn’t doing any physical activity, she found herself exhausted. He was always smiling, as if he knew a secret that she wasn’t privy to.

Until on the third night, she opened her eyes, and he was cutting away the ropes that was holding her to the post. Her eyes fluttered. Her heart sank, and she shook her head, sure that she was now delusional.

“I am so sorry Violet,” Gilbert said lowly, his voice husky. She lifted her head up when a teardrop fell on her cheek.

“You really here,” she croaked out.

He stopped cutting momentarily and put a hand to her face. He looked her in the eyes. “I’m here.” His brows furrowed. He took his hand away. “And you’re burning up.”

Violet stirred, stretching her arms when the ropes finally fell from them. He finished the rest quickly and she tried to take a step forward but ended up falling forward instead, her legs all pins-and-needles and wobbly. Gilbert caught her and held her as she buried her face into the crook of his neck. His scent was familiar and welcome, but it made her head spin even more.

He lifted her bridal-style. “You’re safe now, Violet,” he said, trotting down the steps of the platform. Violet’s body ached as she bobbed up and down, but tears streamed down her cheeks from relief more so than pain. She hadn’t been sure she was going to make it through this final night. She had wanted to cry out, to let the entire kingdom- to let Dietfried know that she was broken, broken, broken. Just like he wanted.

But she was not a fragile girl. She had made it.

She looked up at Gilbert, but couldn’t really see his face in the position that he carried her in. Still, the butterflies that she had had when she was in his room cleaning began to flap their wings again.

The thought that had escaped her that day came back just before she lost consciousness.

I miss him.

 

Chapter Text

Violet had been in and out of consciousness as Gilbert carried her in his arms. He could feel her rattling breathing on his chest. That combined with the rising temperature of her body, he knew that she was at least alive. He could at least be thankful for that.

Gilbert knew that he technically wasn’t allowed to go out into town without escorts watching his back, but he had no time, nor did he want anyone to know where he was going. Instead of exiting through the front gates, he slipped out through the tunnels that was connected to his mother’s library. The tunnels led to a cave out into the surrounding forest of the castle, though he had yet told Violet this.

He wished that the forest was closer to the one place Gilbert believed Violet would be safe in. He could not take her back to the castle. Not with Dietfried around. Not yet.

When Gilbert had returned home from his trip, he had immediately known something was wrong. Dietfried had not greeted him and when he had gotten to his room he had found a note waiting for him.

Go to the platform. Burn this letter.

-Claudia

The hair on Gilbert’s arms had immediately risen. He tossed the letter into the fireplace quickly before running outside, where he found Violet, her head resting on her chin.

His heart had skipped a beat.

Anger and anguish coursed through his veins as he ran, careful not to drop her. How long had she been out here? What had she done- no, what had Dietfried done?

Finally reaching his destination, Gilbert gasped in a gulp of air to his burning lungs. The building before him was the tallest in town, built of sturdy stone except for the large door that loomed before him. He could see the candle that flickered in its only window, the only sign that this temple as occupied.

He lifted the large knocker, a star at its base, and rapped at the door three times. It was so quiet outside that Gilbert feared he would wake up the entire town, but luckily no lights shone, and no curtains were moved. Growing impatient, lifted his hand to use the knocker again, but the door opened.

Behind it, an elderly woman peeked out. Gilbert could barely make out her grey hair, tied neatly back in a bun. She held a single candle in her hair and her hand clutched at her dark robe. Her brown eyes widened when she took in Gilbert and the girl in his arms.

“Your Majesty,” she exclaimed, opening the door wider. “Please, come in.”

“This girl is running a fever. Please,” Gilbert said, turning to her as he entered. “I cannot guarantee that there will be no consequences for helping her. I do not ask this of you as your prince, but as your friend. I will be in your debt Tiffany Evergarden.”

Tiffany put a wrist to Violet’s forehead, her brows wrinkling. “This is the girl that was made an example of the other day by Prince Dietfried.”

Gilbert swallowed, nodding. Tiffany may have been a guardian of the temple that believers came to worship in and had devoted her life to staying outside of the world, but she did not deceive Gilbert one bit. She always knew more than she let on about the kingdom.

“Follow me. First, we must cool her off in the holy waters. She may stay here until she is well or for as long as you wish, Prince Gilbert.”

Gilbert quickly followed behind Tiffany, who could move with surprising speed in her old age. They moved through the large temple until Tiffany finally ushered him into a room that was only closed by a curtain. He stepped onto marble floor, eyes growing wide. The room was dark, but it glowed a calming greenish-blue. Only five feet ahead of him, a pool of water encompassed the entirety of the rest of the room.

“The water is deep. Get in with her and submerge her body while I go make a tonic,” Tiffany ordered, giving the prince a small nudge on the back to get him moving before she disappeared behind the curtain again.

Gilbert wasted no more time in going towards the water. He slipped his shoes off before noticing that poor Violet wasn’t even wearing any. Stepping into the cool water, a shiver went up his spine, but he ventured out until the water came up to his chest and his clothes stuck to his form. Looking down at Violet, he was careful to balance her in his arms, thankful that the water was taking some of her weight as he didn’t know how long he had been carrying her so far.

He submerged every part of her except for her face. Her lips parted slightly, but her heavy breathing seemed to have calmed already. Her long hair was spread out behind her in the water. She looked so peaceful, as if nothing bad had ever happened to her.

He wished nothing bad had happened to her.

If only he had made it home earlier. If only Dietfried wasn’t being such a jerk or had waited for Gilbert to return or anything but this.

Taking a calming breath in and out, Dietfied’s eyes wandered downwards until they landed on Violet’s breasts. His lower half immediately betrayed him. He could see her nipples puckered against the thin, dirty dress they had thrown her in.

Gilbert swallowed and directed his eyes away. Now was not the time for lusty thoughts. As prince, many girls wouldn’t think twice about falling into his bed. There had been a few times where he had not minded the occasional fling as a rebellious teenager. But it had been almost a year now since he had touched a female. He just hadn’t had interest in anyone and he had been so busy working.

But he seemed that Violet could do something to him with just one look.

Gilbert could have leaped for joy when Tiffany came back into the room, distracting him from trying to find anything else to put his eyes on.

“That should be long enough. I have prepared a room for her where I’ll give her medicine and she can rest,” Tiffany said, handing Gilbert a towel as he stepped out of the water, which he wrapped tightly around Violet. “She will be fine, Your Majesty.”

Gilbert certainly hoped so.

/-/

 

He slipped from the temple, using the shadows as covering and entered the castle again before daybreak. He was exhausted, but his fury was so strong that he could barely sleep. It did not help when a substitute maid came to wake him instead of Violet.

Trying not to be rude to the poor girl that was only doing her job, Gilbert sent her away as soon as he was properly dressed.

His father would be awaiting his report from his travels. But his father could wait. Gilbert had more pressing matters to attend to.

This time, it was him that slammed into Dietfried’s room. He was prepared to go on some type of flaming rampage, he was prepared to tear his brother a new one if he had to- but Dietfried wasn’t in his room.

This only made Gilbert seethe more, as if felt that somehow his brother had bested him again without even trying. “Where is he,” he asked, a bit more sternly than usual, to the maid that was making his brother’s bed.

“H-he went to relieve Violet from her post, Your Majesty.”

Gilbert could have snorted at the phrase that the maid had chosen to use but didn’t dwell on it. He whisked away from the room, his earlier indignation turning into a sick sense of joy and petty satisfaction. Good. Let Dietfried walk all the way to where he had tied Violet up like a dog. Let him see the cut ropes that he had left on the platform. Let him know that his punishment had not been paid in full and let him dare try to make her complete it.

/-/

The day passed by sluggishly. Gilbert was all-too eager to slip out and go to see how Violet was doing, but his absence would be too noticed since he had just returned from such a long trip. Finally, though, he did see Dietfried. It was during the meeting with his father, where he reported that the mission had gone as expected. He had spent time with the Brevirenth king, developing a good rapport with him as they wrote out the terms to their agreement of alliance.

King Philip was pleased and had hugged Gilbert to his chest, while his mother clapped politely from her chair.

The small smile on his mother’s face was enough to heighten Gilbert’s mood. He was not even sure if his mother completely understood what was going on, but he was happy that she was having a good day. He owed so much to her, he couldn’t even begin to thank her for all of it.

Including the fact that so many years ago she had told his father that enough was enough. “This next generation should not be punished so brutally as their ancestors were. It is barbaric and I will not sit and watch it anymore,” she had scolded their father. “If you do not change the law, I will never speak to you again, Philip.”

True to her word, she hadn’t spoken to him for the next two weeks until he decreed that the poor slave that had had her foot chopped off would be the last to be punished in such a way. Of course, King Philip had pretended that he just wanted to be the first king to show that he could afford mercy, making him some type of fair, just king in the eyes of his people.

They had cheered him, not knowing that it was actually their queen that had put a stop to the sickening way people were treated in their kingdom.

It was thanks to his mother that Dietfried had not done something even more dastardly to Violet.

As if Dietfried could read his thoughts, he met eyes with Gilbert at the end of the meeting before going over and giving his mother a quick kiss on the cheek.

When the maids rolled their mother out of the room in her wheelchair, Dietfried finally turned his eyes onto Gilbert. The tension in the room skyrocketed.

“Where is she?” he asked, his eyes hard and calculating as usual.

“Nowhere that you will find her,” Gilbert answered, trying to sound cool and unaffected. This was his victory. He had to remember that, even in the face of his brother.

“You realize you have directly undermined my authority,” Dietfried said, “and yet you hide the slave, to embarrass me further?”

“This isn’t to embarrass you, Dietfried,” Gilbert clenched his hand. “You punished Violet without a trial, without consulting me. You chose the worst punishment you could think of, just shy of breaking the laws we’ve set for ourselves as the slave’s owners. And for what? To get back at her for making your solider look like a fool? This is the second soldier that deserved it.”

Dietfried clenched his hands behind his back, narrowing his eyes at his brother. “You are correct. He did deserve it. I will not argue you about it,” he took a step forward, “but know this, brother. She is on my radar. She has one more strike. And I will not be undermined again.”

Gilbert opened his mouth to say something- anything. But Dietfried was already exiting the room before Gilbert could get a word out.

Even though his hands were shaking, could he just have to count this as a small victory? Dietfried had acknowledged that his soldier had been in the wrong. Wasn’t that good?

Whatever the case, Gilbert could now go see Violet without drawing much suspicion. Upon arriving, Tiffany nearly tore his long sleeve when she pulled him inside hastily.

“She woke up this morning, full of questions,” Tiffany explained as they walked towards the sickroom Tiffany had prepared the night before. “She hasn’t eaten much but I did manage to make her drink plenty of water. She was parched after sweating so much.”

Gilbert nodding, his own hands sweating. He rubbed them against his pants in what he hoped was an inconspicuous manner. He was suddenly nervous to see Violet; his stomach was twisting with butterflies the nearer they came to the room. He was glad she was awake, excited to talk to her, but apprehensive to see what she would look like after a feverish night and being trapped on that platform for days.

Finally, the wait was over. Tiffany opened the door, revealing a small room, only accommodated with the essentials. Gilbert hadn’t even known they made rooms this small but held his tongue. This was no castle. Of course, the rooms would be modest. And of course, no offense to Tiffany, who had been a great help so far, but he wished that he could haven taken Violet to his personal doctors. But he hadn’t known what Dietfried would do at the time. Even now, Dietfried seemed cool and collected, but Gilbert was sure he was steaming on the inside. He wasn’t sure what his own brother was capable of, and that thought scared Gilbert.

Would he make her sleep in the dungeon to finish out her punishment? Would he make her a mockery in front of the entire kingdom?

Gilbert needed Violet to be in good health when he did return her to the castle. He needed her to be strong.

Now, looking at Violet’s sleeping form, Gilbert wasn’t so sure when she would be. He felt Tiffany slip from the room and heard her gently close the door behind her as he stared at her. Sweat was beading at her forehead, her hands laid against her chest. He would have thought she had passed away in her sleep had he not been able to see her chest was slowly rising up and down.

His throat going dry, he slowly walked towards her. He picked up the clean, white washcloth that was folded neatly on the nightstand beside her and wiped at her forehead. To his surprise, her eyes slowly opened.

Crystal blue eyes bore into him. He sucked in a small, surprised gasp.

“Prince Gilbert,” she said. She put her hands on either side of her body and began to push herself up.

He put a hand on her shoulder and shook his head. “You don’t have to get up. I just came to check on you.”

She tilted her head to the side, her bangs shifting a bit as she regarded him. “Ms. Evergarden said you brought me here, Your Majesty.

“I did,” he nodded, trying not to appear too proud.

“I did not complete my punishment,” she said this in a monotone, the voice she used when speaking to him around others, the voice she answered her superiors to.

 It was as if he had been gone for a year instead of just a few weeks. It hurt a bit, but Gilbert told himself that she was only using this tone because of the subject and not because she had forgotten that they were…what? He blinked, confused at his own question. They were friends, right? Not just master and slave. But they felt like something different than friends. He had friends. But none in the way that he cared for Violet.

“You don’t have to,” he finally replied. “It was unnecessary to begin with and Dietfried should be ashamed of himself for doing that to you.”

Violet looked down at her hands, now sitting in her lap. Her brows furrowed slightly. Gilbert reached out and put a hand on top of hers.

“Violet,” he said. She looked up at him again. “You did not deserve that.” He had hoped that would clear that troubled look from her face, but it didn’t. “Violet?”

“I missed you, Your Majesty.”

Gilbert’s eyebrows flew up. He took a step back, feeling his face heat down to his neck.

“Have I said something wrong?”

She had said it so casually. As if it were natural or wasn’t a big deal. Well, he supposed it was natural to miss someone. He had missed her too. But he hadn’t expected her to feel the same, nonetheless say it so suddenly.

Still, that was one of the things he liked about her. She didn’t pull her punches figuratively or literally.

“No,” he answered her, taking that step back towards her. “I was just…surprised…I…” he reached out to her hand again, his heart thumping against his chest. Here was the Prince Gilbert again. This girl was turning him into some type of blushing schoolgirl. Dietfried would blow his top. He had never said this to anyone other than his family. Now that he thought about it, had he ever truly felt like this towards anyone outside of his family? This didn’t feel like the type of miss you he felt with his family. He had thought about her nonstop on his trip. He had yearned to speak to her in that effortless way they had despite her pension for not quite understanding people the way that others did. He yearned to just touch her arm, yearned to see her. “I missed you too, Violet.”

Gilbert didn’t know if it was a trick of the eye, but the sun seemed to shine brighter behind Violet through the open window behind her as she smiled.

He couldn’t help but smile too.

“I will be back working as a maid tomorrow.”

And just like that, his smile vanished. Gilbert felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. Panic crashed down on him like a wave. “You can’t,” he said, his eyes pleading with her. “You need to rest, Violet.”

Violet’s eyes were like concrete when she replied, “Ms. Evergarden said that my fever is breaking and that I should be back on my feet tomorrow or the day after. I feel well enough to work, so I must.”

Gilbert shook his head. “No, Violet, you should rest until you feel one hundred percent. There’s no reason to rush.”

“Is that an order, Your Majesty?”

Gilbert blinked and took a step back. He stared at her, trying to read her mind. She only knew that she was his maid, that she was his property. She hadn’t connected what it meant to miss him. As far as she was concerned, that did not change their relationship.

But it changed it for Gilbert.

“You think that you are just a tool to me,” he said slowly. He did not cower, he made sure to look her in the eyes, knowing she would be looking right back.

“I am your tool,” she replied, not missing a beat. “That is why I am able to work in the castle and live with Iris and Erica. It is why I am not on the streets.”

Gilbert sucked in a breath and let it out. As much as he hated to admit it, she was right. There was no way she would be here if it weren’t for her position in the castle. No matter how much he wanted to change that, he couldn’t.

“I want to stay with you,” she said. “That is why, I must continue to be your tool.”

Gilbert’s eyes widened as he looked at her. He nodded, running a hand through his dark locks. This girl was going to be the death of him- the way she could make his heart race with just a single sentence was testament to that.

He thought about saying that he wanted to stay with her too, that he wanted to be by her side. But something told him not to say that just yet. Violet was blunt, yet her words had still puzzled him. Was she feeling what he thought she was? Or was he pushing his own emotions onto her? Did she mean that she only wanted a place to sleep?

He opened his mouth to ask her, afraid of her answer, but was cut off before he could say anything when the door suddenly slammed opened.

“Excuse me Prince Gilbert, but Violet needs food and to rest,” Tiffany said, giving him a look that only an elderly lady who had no fear of a prince could. She held a tray in her hands and Gilbert could see steam rising from the bowl on top of it.

He held in his sigh and nodded to Violet. “I will see you tomorrow then,” he said before taking his leave, patting Tiffany on the shoulder as he went by.

His heart ached, wishing he could just spend the night talking to Violet…knowing that he never would be able to.

/-/

True to her word, Violet returned to the palace the next day. She was disappointed when she did not get the chance to spend much time with Gilbert alone. As she cleaned, there was another man in the room briefing Gilbert. Then Gilbert asked if she could retrieve paper for him before her services were needed elsewhere, as the king was having company from an old friend and required a maid to look after them.

The day went by quickly, but though Violet hadn’t done much physical labor, her muscles still ached at the end of the day. She was all too thankful when she could finally return to her cabin.

As soon as she entered the dwelling, Iris and Erica slammed into her.

“You’re okay!”

“We were so ready!”

“Violet…”

Violet looked up, surprised to see Cattleya, her eyes misty with unshed tears. Iris and Erica relinquished her from their embraces and Cattleya quickly took their place, pulling Violet into her bosom.

She rubbed Violet’s hair so gently and lovingly that even Violet couldn’t help but to lean into her. She had missed them terribly and was glad that they seemed to be sharing the same sentiment.

Finally, Cattleya let her go and led her to her bed. Violet didn’t miss the looks Erica and Iris shared before Cattleya took in a deep breath.

She said in a whisper, “run away with us.”

Violet clenched her hands in the sheets.

She could not have heard them correctly. “Please repeat that.”

Cattleya squeezed her hand. “Violet, we are going to run away from here, to a different kingdom. If we can make it, there are respectable jobs for women. We could change our identities. We wouldn’t be slaves anymore.”

Violet looked past Cattleya, to Iris and Erica, who were sharing the same hopeful expression until Iris’ expression suddenly changed into one of unbridled fury.

“How can you even hesitate,” she shouted, resulting in a hiss from Cattleya. She spoke quietly next, but her anger was still evident. “After what Dietfried did to you, I would think you would be willing to run out of here the first chance you got!”

“I do not fear Prince Dietfried.”

The girls stared at her like she had two heads, but Violet simply folded her hands in her lap and stared back.

It was true. She was not afraid of Dietfried and she would not allow anyone to think so. She feared no one. What she did fear was never seeing Gilbert again. Even now, she wished that she could have leaned into him back at Tiffany’s temple. It had perhaps been her only chance to be truly alone with the prince and she had wasted it. But seeing him every day was something to look forward to, even if she could not touch him. She could settle for that.

“You may not fear Dietfried, but it would be wise to fear what he could do,” Cattleya responded, her eyes downcast. “He will be king, and his mother’s health is fading. If he so chooses, he can change the laws. He can make it so that his punishments could be cruel like his father’s and grandfather’s.” She looked up, eyes smoldering. “And whatever is going on between you and Prince Gilbert will come to a horrible end.”

Violet flinched a bit, letting Cattleya know that she was on the right track. Her eyes softened. “Violet, you know that you can never be with him, don’t you?”

“If I stay in the castle, I will be able to see him every day. That is enough for me.”

“It shouldn’t be,” Cattleya replied, “you deserve better than that.”

“She’s right, Violet,” Erica spoke up, attracting Violet’s attention. “It is dangerous here, even with what little protection Prince Gilbert can offer.”

Iris continued, “don’t you want to be able to live your life for you? To one day have a family? Or a profession? None of us can do that here.”

Violet felt cold and achy. She wanted to yell at them, to tell them to stop speaking like this, but she knew they were only telling her the truth.

“Just think about it, okay?” Cattleya said with a small, sad smile. “We are still formulating a plan that hopefully won’t get us killed, so you have time.”

Violet nodded, and the girls all slowly went to bed, the room quickly filling with a heavy silence. Violet closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep, wanting to forget for even a moment the past couple of days.

The only shining light had been when she had opened her eyes to find Gilbert standing above her. She clutched at her shirt and bit her lip as tears welled up in her eyes and fell down her cheeks. She didn’t want the others to hear her crying, even as her body shook, and her throat burned.

Images floated through her mind. Her eye was still an ugly color from the guard’s punch, though the swelling had thankfully gone done. Still, she could feel it throbbing in time with her heartbeat now. She had been paraded through the streets in a flimsy, dirty dress and no matter how much she told herself that she wasn’t embarrassed she could still see all of those eyes on her. She had spent the night in a dirty cell with no bed, tied to a post like an animal, nearly starved then hidden in a temple with no one to keep her company as Tiffany had to keep up her daily activities so as not to seem suspicious. She had soaked the bed twice with her sweat as she fought in feverish dreams here guards chased her and had done unspeakable things to both her and Luculia. She had thought for a moment that death would be welcome.

Even when she had been an orphan on the streets, she had never contemplated death.

Being here, even with Gilbert had done that. Even though Gilbert meant so much to her…

How could she stay?

Chapter Text

It was the next day as Violet scrubbed the largest ballroom floor of the castle, when she got the news. Gilbert had been in meeting all day, so she had barely gotten the chance to speak to or even see him. Her body still hurt from being strung up on the dial not but a few days ago and the skin around her eye was now a sickly yellow color and still quite tender to the touch. To make matters worse, her mind was muddy with the decision she had made.

She had to run away with Iris, Cattleya and Erica. She had to take that chance simply because if she didn’t, she would surely die here a slave, forever watched over by Dietfried.

Still…the one thing- the one person that made her hesitate…she would never see Gilbert again.

As if on cue, she heard the soft tapping of his shoes against the marble floor. She didn’t bother to look up until his shoes was in her vision and when she did look up his soft smile was so brilliant it made her stop what she was doing, letting the oval-shaped brush that she had been scrubbing with fall out of her hand.

Should she tell him that she was planning on escaping? Would it make a difference even if she could say goodbye? She couldn’t help but think it would just hurt all the same.

“Violet, how would you like to get out of this kingdom?” he asked, reaching down a hand to help her off her knees.

Her heart skipped a beat. Did he somehow already know? But before she could respond, he squeezed her hand a bit.

“I will be leaving back out to Brevirenth tomorrow morning and I will require a party to travel with me,” Gilbert’s smile grew, “and of course I must take my personal attendant.”

Violet’s eyes widened slightly, but Gilbert continued on in a hurry. “I know that it’s not much. You’ll still be expected to wait on me, but Brevirenth is beautiful and no one will dare to harass you there. All the soldiers will be on their best behavior. They will host us for a week, and you won’t have to see Dietfried. How does that sound?”

It sounded like a vacation.

Well, it did at first. But Iris’ words came floating back to her, like a bee that came back no matter how many times she swatted at it. “Don’t you want to be able to live your life for you? To one day have a family? Or a profession? None of us can do that here.”

She would still be traveling as a slave.

But Gilbert looked so excited. She couldn’t crush his heart right here and right now.

“That sounds wonderful,” she answered.

Yes. She would spend one more week with him. She would tell the girls that she would go with them, but that it would have to be after their trip to Brevirenth. She would be able to enjoy a few final days with Gilbert before she said goodbye forever.

Gilbert stayed with her for a few more blissful moments before leaving.

She stood in place, feeling how truly empty the room felt without him, wondering if this empty feeling would become a norm for her in the future.

/-/

The maids were all busy as they quickly prepared Gilbert and his party to leave. Violet personally folded and packed Gilbert’s clothing, being sure to pack his most valuable fabrics and adornments. She washed his horse, a large white beauty, and slung a royal blue drapery over his its back. In the morning, she carried all of Gilbert’s items down the flights of stairs and out to his carriage while he looked on, his eyes conveying unspoken apologies that she ignored. She would do her duty to the end without complaint.

Standing behind Gilbert, Violet noticed Iris, Cattleya and Erica boarding a separate, unadorned carriage for the maids. She began to follow them but felt a hand brush against hers. Startled, she turned her head towards Gilbert.

“Stay,” he whispered.

Violet blinked at him, preparing to question him, when a man with shocking red hair walked towards Gilbert. Their eyes met, and Violet remembered him from her days working beside Luculia. He had been one of the men that were training the cadets. To her surprise, he winked at her and smiled, as if they shared a secret between the two of them. Violet made sure to wear her signature blank expression when speaking to a soldier, but she noted that she felt an instance liking to the man.

“Claudia,” Gilbert nodded in greeting. “Are you ready for the trip?”

“As ready as I’m going to be,” Claudia responded. “But I’ve come to deliver a message to you. Your father can’t make the trip. He isn’t feeling well.”

Violet watched Gilbert’s smile turn into a frown. Claudia confirmed both of their fears.

“Dietfried’s will meet you there before the official signing. He will go to sign the documents in the king’s stead.”

Gilbert nodded, as if he had been expecting this. “Thank you, Claudia. Can I expect you to be apart of his traveling party then?”

“Yes. Your carriage awaits,” Claudia put a hand on Gilbert’s shoulder. It was the first time Violet had seen someone touch Gilbert so casually. “I will see you there. Don’t have too much fun without me,” he laughed lightly, then glanced at Violet. “Take care of His Majesty, Violet.”

“With my life,” Violet replied immediately, putting a fist to her heart.

Claudia opened his mouth as if to say something but decided against it and nodded to them both instead. “I will see you there, then.”

As Claudia marched away, Gilbert turned to Violet. “I want you to ride in my carriage with me. No one will be suspicious, so don’t make one of your quick retorts,” Gilbert said quickly with a chuckle.

Violet shut her mouth and blinked, stopping the response that Gilbert had saw coming a mile away. Instead, she let him lead her to the carriage and made sure not to look behind her, for fear of drawing the attention of someone else.

Carefully seated in the carriage, Violet sat opposite Gilbert. She could hear the coachman behind her shuffling before the carriage lurched and they were on their way.

“This carriage will take us to the station, where we’ll board a train the rest of the way to our destination,” Gilbert informed her.

“I’ve never been in one before,” Violet said. Excitement bubbled in her chest. She folder her hands in her lap and looked out at the world from the carriage’s small window. Even riding in a carriage was something new to her, and of course since this was the prince’s carriage it was roomy, richly upholstered and cushioned. 

“I hope you’ll have a lot of firsts with me,” he replied, his eyes on the outside world as well.

The ride was smooth even as they passed over cobblestone in the village. People came out of their houses, waving as the prince and his entourage in the other carriages passed through. Violet watched Gilbert smile and wave back, exciting a group of young girls, before leaning back into the carriage and resting his head against the cushion once more.

Violet knew that Gilbert would have made a good king, if fate had made him the eldest son instead of his brother. He was kind, always focused, always thinking of what was best for others, almost without regard to what was best for him. His personality was something that Violet admired, something that attracted her to him.

Something she would surely miss.

Fighting past her aching heart a few hours later, Violet boarded the train with Gilbert. She did not miss the glares of several maids and the worried look Iris sent her as they helped to load the luggage onto the train.

Violet was shocked by the inside of the train just as much as she was shocked by its massive exterior- by the narrow hallway, the seats on each side, the smell of coffee and baked goods coming from somewhere she couldn’t locate.

One of the hostesses led Gilbert to a private section of the train, separated by a door. They could still hear the occupants in the other sections, but the noise was nothing compared to what it once was. Again, she sat across from Gilbert, pleased that she was having so much alone time with him.

“They probably think you being back here with me is inappropriate,” Gilbert said, settling into his seat. “But I find myself caring less about what people think nowadays.”

Violet’s heart hammered as she looked at him, shocked at his boldness. He smiled and patted the space next to him, raising on unspoken question. Sit beside me?

She couldn’t say no. She slowly made her way towards his seat and sat beside him. He covered one of her hands with his and closed his eyes.

When they finally took off, she waited for Gilbert’s breathing to grow heavier- a telltale sign that he had fallen asleep- before she did the same, her head falling gently against his shoulder, the weight and pressure of constantly being watched around him finally melting into the background where she wished fervently it could stay.

/-/

 

The castle of Brevirenth was even more beautiful than Gilbert’s own and that was saying something. Its high arches were old, but they had character and class that came with age. Made of grey stone and decorated with gargoyles and ancient figures, Violet wondered if it startled children at night. Still, she appreciated the history that the towering castle held.

Meanwhile, it seemed that the King of Brevirenth, King Louis had spared no servant when it came to meeting Gilbert and his entourage. They fanned out on each side, bowing respectively the moment they laid eyes on Gilbert. King Louis, to Violet’s surprise, captured Gilbert in a bear hug.

She also did not miss how the maids giggled behind them at their king’s antics. Even the atmosphere around them was playful and relaxed, as if they weren’t servants awaiting the next call. She found herself envying them as she stood stock-still along with her companions. She was so focused on the opposite maids that she almost missed Gilbert calling for her.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” she said, fully expecting him to ask her to get his bags and follow whoever would show her to his room to set them down so that he could prepare for dinner with the king. Instead, his next words made the hair rise on her skin.

He looked straight at her and said, “This is Lady Violet Evergarden, my friend. I hope you don’t mind that I brought her along, but she wanted more than anything to see your beautiful lands,” he turned back to King Louis, all princeful-charm and smiles, “I pray that you can accommodate her as well, Your Highness?”

Violet felt the world rock. Or maybe she was fainting? No, she was thankfully still standing upright. But her heart felt like it would beat out of her chest at any moment. Worse, she could practically feel the stares at her back. The soldiers that Gilbert had brought along, the maids, the butlers…they were all flabbergasted and just as dizzy as she was but none of them could say anything to speak against their prince.

“Of course. It would be an honor to host such a beautiful maiden,” King Louis was saying. Violet tensed when he smiled at her and then laughed joyfully when she did not respond. “I see she is a lady of few words. Come. Antoinette will show you to your quarters.”

Gilbert’s entourage stirred.

Violet tried to meet eyes with Gilbert, begging him to stop this. What would happen if this king found out that Violet was nothing but a lowly servant? What if he didn’t sign their agreement? Gilbert would be in trouble and perhaps King Philip would rethink his ruling on not killing his slaves.

But Gilbert said nothing as the servants gathered his things. He said nothing when the maid with blonde hair in a braid going down her back turned to Violet and said, “this way.”

He said nothing when Violet met his eyes as steadily as she could before she was forced to turn the corner and follow Antoinette down the hallway.

Violet slowly breathed out. Gilbert was an idiot. Passionate, kind, and thoughtful but an idiot nonetheless. She had no idea how to be a proper lady, she would certainly get caught. Perhaps she could hide in her room the entire time. Perhaps Gilbert only wanted to grant her rest and relaxation. Yes, she could feign the fragile, sickly girl.

“Your room, Lady Violet,” Antoinette said, opening the door for her.

“Thank you,” Violet replied, trying to look confident as she stepped inside.

But even the normally stoic Violet couldn’t control her facial features when she stepped into the room. The canopy-bed was enough to knock her breathless, larger than any bed she had ever slept in and draped with tapestry that she could close for privacy. A wide, tall window gave view to the courtyard outside. There were two separate doors on the opposite side that Antoinette explained were her bathing room and her walk-in closet.

“I shall go find your luggage, but you must be feeling quite restless from your travels. I can draw a bath for you if you would like and you can change into one of the robes that is in the closet. They are made of the softest material and are kept special for guests,” Antoinette said.

Violet felt as if she were in a play that she did had forgotten the words to. “I will draw my own bath,” she replied. Then, more gently she said, “thank you…for your service. Antoinette.”

The girl beamed. “I shall return, but I will try not to bother you much,” she said with a curtsey before taking her leave.

Violet felt her head spinning again. This maid seemed so relaxed. Or was she simply accustomed to pretending to be? Violet couldn’t tell. She had not read much on Brevirenth in the library, but now she felt as if she should have. She felt as if she were missing out on the joke that everyone around her knew.

Trying to calm herself, Violet went to bathe. It was the first time in a long time that she took the time to really soak. The soap smelt of vanilla as she ran it along her skin. The room became foggy with the steam. She wasn’t sure how long she took bathing, but her fingers became like raisins by the time she got out and slipped on the soft, fluffy robe. Finally, she went and laid on the bed and was pleasantly surprised at the soft powdery smell that floated from the cushions.

If she hadn’t slept for so long on the train, she would have fallen asleep then and there. But soon a knock on the door rescued her from her turbulent thoughts. But when she opened it Cattleya immediately shoved a large trunk into her chest and closed the door behind her.

“What is going on,” she whisper-screeched. “Violet, the slaves and soldiers alike are all in a buzz. Dietfried is going to be traveling here soon, he’s going to find out about this,” she said quickly, chest heaving. “Tell me you understand the consequences this could have. Or that Gilbert knows what he’s doing. Tell me something.

Violet wished she could. She wished she understood this just as much as Cattleya did.

“I can’t,” she said, moving past Cattleya towards the door, “where did you get this trunk from?”

“Prince Gilbert summoned me to his room and told me to personally deliver this to you,” Cattleya explained, looking irritated the entire time, but Violet was pleased with her answer nonetheless.

Violet saw the chest onto the floor and unlatched its hinges. She only spared the dresses and jewelry a glance before slamming it closed, gathering it in her arms again, and turning to Cattleya again. “Please show me to his room.”

Cattleya looked as if she wanted to protest but knew that it would be a losing battle. She led her down the hallway to Gilbert’s room and gave Violet one more withering look. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” she said and left without another word.

Violet steadied the trunk that was still in her hands and knocked twice on the door. A moment later, Gilbert opened it. As soon as he saw Violet he looked left and right down the hallway and snatched her inside.

“You’re in a robe,” he pointed out. “I sent you those dresses so that you could change before dinner.”

So, he was intent on playing this all the way through. Violet shook her head. “I cannot pretend to be…” she didn’t even know the word she was looking for. His friend? A lady? Anything other than a slave?

Gilbert placed a finger on her chin and tilted her head up so that she was forced to stare into his eyes. “It will be fine. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“Prince Dietfried will arrive,” Violet said immediately.

“My brother won’t say anything either. He wouldn’t be able to stand to bring embarrassment upon his name,” Gilbert said. “So, while you’re here, I want you to relax. Dietfried won’t be able to do anything to you, because you’ll be gone before we head back to Leidenschaftlich.”

Violet jerked back and stared at Gilbert, whose eyes had suddenly gone sad. They shone, and his smile was grim when he explained further. “Claudia, the man with the red hair that I spoke to earlier, is retiring from his position. When our party leaves here, he will be moving on to live elsewhere. He will give you work and a place to stay. You will no longer be a slave,” Gilbert squeezed her arm. “Violet, you’ll be free.”

A surge of emotions hit Violet hard. Here she had been planning on disappearing into the night with her friends, and Gilbert had been planning on giving her a sustainable future. How long had he been planning this? How long had he been thinking of her? Then her mind doubled back. Her friends. How could she accept this knowing they weren’t being given the same opportunity? She had been so intent at first on staying in the castle with Gilbert. Meanwhile, they had yearned for freedom their entire lives.

Her heart raced. “My friends…” she said, “Iris, Erica, Cattleya. I want them to come too.”

This time it was Gilbert’s turn to jerk back. He put a hand to his mouth, thinking. “It may be harder for Claudia that way. And even more suspicious. Dietfried most likely will count your disappearance as a blessing, but he’ll know something has happened if four maids went missing at the same time. He’ll see it as a revolt. It wouldn’t be smart,” Gilbert said.

Violet’s heart felt like it broke in two.

“But Violet, I will do something. It may take longer, but I won’t let your friends be harmed either. You are the only one on Dietfried’s bad side. I can’t stand to see you punished again…You have to go.”

Violet sucked in a breath, her throat suddenly feeling tight. She had not had a home for so many years. Then she found one, and a family, but it was as if her home were guarded by a monster named Dietfried.

“Violet.”

She looked up at him. His face was pained, his voice sounded thick, as if he were about to cry. But he looked determined at the same time. He moved a bit of hair from her face. “You feel it too, right? Whatever this is between us, it’s real. But we can’t be together. What’s best…is for us to be far apart,” he placed his head against hers, his bangs mixing with hers, his breath warming her face. “I can’t tell you I love you, because that would hurt too much.”

Her heart lurched. She knew that her tears were puddling into the hand that he had placed on her cheek.

“Please Violet,” he whispered, “follow this one last order. Pretend with me here and when Claudia arrives go live. Go live the life you deserve.”

She was shaking, unable to form words, unable to think or say or do because she had no idea what to think or say or do in this moment. She wasn’t used to anyone being so close to her, let alone Gilbert. She hadn’t heard the words “I love you” in any way that she could remember directed at her. And she did not want to leave him even though she knew in the deepest part of her that he was right and that she needed to.

And above all else she knew he was right.

It would hurt too much to say that she loved him too.

He wiped her tears away with his thumb and took a step back. “What will you do?” he asked. His hands fidgeted, he stuffed them into his pockets.

“I will follow orders,” she said, her voice low. She was still shaking.

“Meet me back here and we will go to dinner together. You don’t have to speak if you don’t want to, but you deserve a meal fit for a princess. No one will suspect anything,” he told her.

Violet walked back to her room in a daze, carrying the trunk that Gilbert had prepared for her. She was able to clean her face before Antoinette knocked on the door and offered to help her change. She selected a soft pink dress, lacy up top and full at the bottom. She cinched the back up for Violet and fixed her hair into gentle curls that fell down her back. She wore pearl earrings and matching necklace. She helped Violet put a bit of makeup on and led Violet to the mirror.

Violet was never one to care about looks, but she had never seen herself look like this before.

She hoped Gilbert would like it. After all, he had given this entire outfit to her.

Taking a deep breath in and letting it out slowly, Violet stepped out of the room and into her new life.

Chapter Text

Gilbert sat to the right of King Louis as his honored guest at the head of the long table. He could smell the food in the kitchens wafting into the dining hall and all around him Lords and Ladies sipped at sweet champagne and water. Gilbert tried to pay attention to their small-talk, especially when King Louis let out one of his bellowing laughs.

But his mind was elsewhere.

Perhaps he should not have invited Violet to the dinner. Perhaps he should not have introduced her as his friend at all. Between him and Dietfried, he had always been the one to jump the gun- to make decisions based off his emotions. He thought he had squandered that line of thinking when he had taken over the military duties. But now he had gone and jumped the gun again.

Still, he knew his reasoning was sound. Violet deserved everything he could give her, and a couple of nights living as the companion of royalty was something that he could give, along with her freedom.

He was so lost in his thoughts that he missed her come into the room, but he knew something was amiss when everyone suddenly went quiet. He turned his seat slightly and immediately put down his drink. It took everything in him not to let his jaw drop to the floor.

Gilbert had always thought Violet was lovely, but now he knew that everyone else could see it too. The pink dress he had picked out for her fit her well. She looked even more like a doll than she normally did, her long hair curled and falling down her back gently. 

She stood regally, her eyes scanning the room until they finally met his, sending a pleasant shock through him when he realized she had been searching for him. He stood from his chair and didn’t mind that all eyes were on him as he walked straight towards her. Let them watch.

Tonight, she was all his.

He extended an arm out to him. She stared at him for a moment before she realized that she was intended to hook her arm with his. When she did, he led her to the empty chair that was beside his own and pulled it out for her. When she sat down King Louis grinned at them both, as if he were looking at his son and his intended.

“Why Lady Violet, you look astonishing,” he said.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Violet answered, folding her hands demurely in her lap.

“And now that everyone has joined us,” the king said loudly so that everyone around the table could hear him, “let the feast begin!”

He clapped his hands together once and from the door behind him came flowing out maids and butlers, spanning out on either side of the tables and coming to stand behind each chair before setting the first course of Fennel salad in front of each person. Gilbert watched as Violet did not even hesitate in laying her napkin in her lap, picking up the correct spoon and sipped daintily at the soup.

It took him a moment to gather his shock before he remembered just how truly smart and perceptive of a person Violet was. He had no reason to worry about her. She wasn’t some young damsel in distress. She was more than that and he was sure she would keep finding ways to remind him of that.

Or, she would…if she weren’t about to step right out of his life.

The main course of beef fillet, braised cheek beignet, crisp potato terrine, creamed parsley and red wine was served soon after and even Gilbert had a hard time eating politely as he partook in the meal.

Meanwhile, the conversation around the table was heightened the more people drank from their wine glasses. Violet had barely touched hers and Gilbert wondered if she didn’t like to drink or if she just didn’t enjoy the taste.

“Violet, I must say your dress is just simply to die for,” one of the ladies said that was sitting not too far from them. Gilbert remembered that her name was Constance, only because she was one of the more pompous women in the group. Her face was caked with makeup and her bosom was pushed up so far that Gilbert imagined that if she pulled her corset any tighter her breasts would reach her chin. She spoke in an annoyingly fake high-pitched voice. “Who is your designer? I have had the great pleasure of meeting Sir Hans from your kingdom, that must be his design!”

Violet replied, “I have not been informed of the maker of my dress,” and then, she was quiet for a mere moment and Gilbert could practically see the gears in her mind churning, searching for a way to continue the conversation so that she could fit in better. When she did speak next, she looked straight into Constance’s eyes and said, “This dress is impractical. It restricts movement and the color is bright and too eye-catching.”

“I-impractical?” Constance squeaked out, putting a hand to her cheek.

“Well,” King Louis said with a snort as he slammed his cup back down onto the table, “finally a woman that speaks her mind!”

“I agree,” Gilbert grinned cheekily, amused and absolutely loving this as several people around the table laughed merrily and the other half stared in confusion and astonishment.

“Did I say something funny, Your Majesty?” Violet asked, looking at him with a curious expression.

Gilbert slipped a hand over hers beneath the table and gave her a light squeeze. “No, you said just the right thing.”

Violet nodded, and the evening continued as they finished their meal. For dessert, the King declared they should all convene in his largest sitting area and be served there for a more relaxing atmosphere. His guests wholeheartedly agreed, eager to see more of the castle.

The sitting room was luxurious, and the atmosphere completely changed as the guests settled in, growing more comfortable with each other as they continued to drink, and several men smoked from pipes. Both Gilbert and Violet marveled at the desserts. Baked yoghurt, poached pineapple, white chocolate biscotti, spiced plum with ginger and lime sorbet. With tea and coffee came homemade honeycomb, white chocolate biscotti and chocolate truffles covered in cocoa powder. They exchanged a knowing look with each other, both thinking of their secret after-dinner teatimes back at their own castle.

A pianist played endlessly in the far-left corner of the room, seamlessly going from one song to another without missing a beat. Gilbert’s hands sweat as Violet sipped at her tea and nibbled her treats. He felt like a young boy again, eager but afraid to ask a girl to dance with him at the grand balls his mother used to throw for the kingdom before she fell ill.

But Gilbert’s confidence boosted when another couple their age, albeit much more intoxicated, began to dance around the room, laughing merrily. Gilbert sucked in a breath. He wanted to spend every moment that he could with Violet, so it was now or never.

He reached out a hand the moment she sat her saucer and cup down. “Dance with me?” he asked.

She tilted her head to the side, causing her bangs to slip across her forehead as she blinked up at him with innocent eyes. “I have not been taught to dance.”

He gently pulled her by the wrist until she stood. “Well, we can’t have you going to the ball tomorrow unaware of how to dance, Lady Violet.”

He didn’t miss the way her eyes flashed when he said her name in such a way. As he walked her into an open area, the chatter of everyone around them fell away. He put a hand on her waist, their bodies barely an inch apart, her hand on his shoulder. They had only been this close when he had been training her to fight, and at that point they had been focused in training. Now it was different.

As he taught her the steps, as they began to sway in rhythm with each other, Violet only stepped on his foot twice and they laughed it off.

Gilbert wasn’t sure if he had too much wine, but the atmosphere suddenly became heady. Everyone was up and dancing now, slow and steadily. Those who weren’t were having private conversations in whispered tones.

It was as if the weight of the world was off his shoulder. If he could stay here, dancing with Violet forever, he would. Not wanting to waste the moment, as it would be improper to do so at the actual ball, he pulled her closer until their bodies touched and she gently laid her head on his chest. He breathed in her scent, stroked her soft hair.

“You look beautiful, Violet,” he whispered.

In response, he could feel her grip tighten on his shoulders. “You always look beautiful to me,” she replied softly.

Gilbert felt the weight of her words, because Violet didn’t say anything she didn’t mean and because her words always carried more meaning than what was on the surface. He knew that her saying he was beautiful meant so much more than his looks.

She felt protected, she felt safe. She felt like he mattered.

He put a hand beneath her hair, on her neck and slid up beneath her ear until her eyes met his.

“I want to be alone with you,” he whispered, “if that’s alright with you.”

She nodded, and he nodded back, dropping his hands. They quickly bid the king goodnight, but the man barely paid attention as they slipped away.

Gilbert’s heart was hammering away. Finally, they had all the time they wanted to be alone and no one could say anything. His traveling party where all in another wing of the castle, so their watchful eyes weren’t here to see Violet go into his room at this late time of night.

It didn’t matter if they did nothing- he wasn’t expecting to. Violet was inexperienced in many things, and he wouldn’t force her to do anything. But even the opportunity to simply see her laying in his bed, asleep, would feed that part of him that was locked up thanks to the secrecy they had always had to have around each other.

He shut the door quietly behind them.

She stood in the middle of the room and he walked up to her, suddenly a bit embarrassed that he had been so quick to isolate her.

“If you want, we can go back. I just thought…”

“I’m fine.”

He shut his mouth. “Are you sure?”

She blinked at him. “Should I not be?”

He chuckled and shook his head. He ran a hand through her curled hair before he could stop himself, looking at her. He gently rested his forehead against hers. “I meant what I said earlier, you know.” Violet tilted her head up slightly, making him painfully aware how close their lips were now. His voice lowered into a husky whisper, “I want to tell you I love you, but I feel like I can’t.”

She was quiet for a moment before her voice came out in a whisper as well, “if you can’t say it verbally, you should find another way to say it. From my experience, there are other ways to speak without saying anything at all, Prince Gilbert.”

And so he did.

He suddenly pulled her waist close to him and touched his lips to hers. They held there for a moment, until they both pulled back. Gilbert opened his eyes, afraid he would see nothing but confusion or pain or anything but happiness in her eyes, but what he found there was something he couldn’t decipher.

A tear rolled down her cheek, but a smile was on her face. She laughed, something she didn’t do often. It was bitter and sweet at the same time and made his heart lurch but somehow made his stomach shoot with butterflies too.

“You were correct. It does hurt,” she said.

Right before she kissed him again.

They kissed again and again, the kisses becoming surer each time until they began to move their lips. He groaned huskily when her hands ran up his shirt, into his hair, pulling him closer as if she were hungry for him.

He knew that he was starved for her.

“Violet,” he moaned out, kissing down her neck, onto her shoulder. Her eyes fluttered.

“Go ahead,” she breathed out, “please.”

It was all the permission he needed.

He gently but swiftly turned her around. He nuzzled his nose into her neck and gave her a kiss there as he slowly unzipped her dress. It fell to the floor in a puddle at her feet.

Gilbert found himself dizzy with desire as he took a step back. Her hair covered most of her back, but as she stood in nothing but her undergarments and looked at him from over her shoulder, he felt as if he would explode at any moment.

He ran a hand over her smooth skin, fingers tracing over her toned stomach, slipping into the band of her underwear. “Are you okay?” he asked, realizing she was shaking beneath his touch.

“It’s cold and…,” her brows furrowed, not sure how to express what she was feeling.

He smiled and leaned his head towards the bed. They walked over, and he lifted the sheets for her until she slipped in. He got in too after slipping off his clothes as well. They began to kiss again, this time slower and sensually, their bare bodies pressed against each other’s.

Awhile later after asking for permission once more, he relished the soft gasp she made as he took her for the first time that night.

Chapter Text

When the sun came though the window, casting the room in a muted orange, Violet awakened and forced herself to remove herself from the warmth of Gilbert’s arms. She would have stayed there until he opened his eyes and emerald met blue, but she doubted that even in this castle with its freedom and frivolous parties, that anyone finding her in the prince’s bed would be proper.

She slipped back into her clothes and peeked out of the door. Satisfied that no one was there to see her, she walked as quickly and as quietly as she could back to her own quarters. Convinced that she smelled of Gilbert and feeling sticky to the touch, she ran a bath and soaked until the sun lost its orange tint and brightened into a yellow, warm morning.

As she ran a towel down her hair, she stared at herself in a mirror. She was almost surprised that she didn’t look any different, because she certainly felt different. She felt like someone new- someone that could go outside of this door, cling to Gilbert’s arm and never let go. But as much as she would like to do that, she knew that even here and even after the time they had spent together the night before, her fantasies could not be so.

The thought saddened her in a time that she felt she should be brimming with happiness. Reality, which she had escaped just last night, crashed down on top of her. Tears sprang to her eyes.

She still would never really be with Gilbert.

One night of bliss would not change that.

She didn’t regret what they had done, but she did regret letting herself think even for a moment that things would be different.

There was a knock on the door and Violet hastily wiped the tears from her eyes. She pulled her robe tighter and opened the door, revealing the maid Antoinette, holding a silver tray in her hands. Her smile was so brilliant and sincere that Violet found herself taken aback, remembering that the maids seemed to be unbelievably happy here.

Violet greeted her and stood to the side so that the girl could bring in the tray. She removed the covers to reveal sausage, biscuits with squares of butter next to them, milk and tea, and eggs.

“Can I get you anything else, m’lady?” Antoinette asked, fiddling with her braid.

“No, thank you,” Violet nodded in appreciation at the girl. When she turned to leave, Violet found herself speaking before she could stop herself, “Antoinette…are you happy here?”

Antoinette turned back around, eyes wide and head tilted to the side. “Yes, I would say so…” her voice trailed off, her brows furrowed.

“The maids are treated well here,” Violet stated, more to herself than to Antoinette.

But Antoinette’s expression changed into one of worry. She lowered her voice when she said, “I have heard of the…the slavery…of the maids of your kingdom. It’s true, then? The king has really enslaved his own people.”

Violet nodded, her stomach churning. She had probably said too much already. This girl was a servant- but she was not a slave. Who knew what type of power she could really wield if she chose to do so. Gilbert was here to make a deal with this kingdom. Though everyone seemed to know the truth already about his father, it seemed to be unspoken enough that it seemed like just a rumor to most people.

Still, Violet couldn’t help herself. She met Antoinette’s gaze again. “You choose to work here, you are treated kindly and paid for your service?”

Antoinette blinked at her, almost as if she was confused about the question. But she nodded eventually, speaking slowly, “of course. I return home in the evening…but plenty of maids live here. They can leave when they are not on duty. It’s just a job.”

Violet turned and looked out of the window at the new day. Today would be the official signing of the documents that would tie their two kingdoms together in alliance. She knew that Dietfried would be arriving soon, if he hadn’t already. Tonight, would be the ball and tomorrow Gilbert and his company would journey back home, except unknowingly to Dietfried, Violet would be leaving with Claudia instead.

Not wanting to waste food, Violet ate quickly when Antoinette left. She cleaned herself up, made herself look as presentable as she knew how after dressing herself in another one of Gilbert’s gifted dresses and walked out of the room, intent on seeing her friends and letting them know of Gilbert’s plan for her.

Today, she had to say goodbye.

She searched the castle, asking a few familiar faces if they had seen Cattleya, Erica or Iris. When her search came up short, Violet realized that they were most likely busy preparing Gilbert’s attendants get ready for the ball.

The day passed by slowly as Violet busied herself as much as she could before the signing of the accords between Gilbert and King Philip. The entire kingdom cheered when the documents were signed and even Violet smiled softly, seeing Gilbert’s pleased face from her spot in the crowd. It had been announced that Prince Dietfried and his father would be arriving later than expected. Violet could not help but to be happy about it.

Dietfried and Dietfried alone had the chance to shine today.

Soon Violet was being whisked away by Antoinette, who prepared her for the ball. She was put into a robin egg’s blue dress that cinched at the waist. Pure white laced gloves covered her hands while diamonds adorned her ears and neck. It seemed that Gilbert had spared no expense.

She would have to chastise him about how unnecessary this dress was.

Still, she thought, a smile pulling at the corners of her lips…he was sweet.

Violet was escorted down to the foyer that led into the ballroom. She ignored the attentive stares she received as she stepped into the grand room. The first thing she noticed was the waiters and waitresses dressed in black and white as they moved throughout the room, offering drinks in champagne glasses and small foods with toothpicks sticking out of them. She declined an offer for food and took another moment to take in her surroundings, wondering if one of friends were somewhere here offering hors d'oeuvres.

Her breath was taken away at the sight of all the grandeur around her the more she looked around. She noticed that the high-ceiling that she had to lift her head back to see the top of. Immense numbers of sparking chandeliers hung from the high-up ceiling, picking up the dazzling glints of the jewelry that the occupants of the ballroom wore.

The gracefully arched windows were decorated with unstained red curtains, trimmed with gold finish. Couches and chairs were spread about the room to facilitate conversation and allow one to have a break from the pleasures that was sure to come from the dance. Violet was almost sure that one chair alone cost more than a small house would.

At the front of the ballroom was a grand staircase covered in pure white carpet that led to the balconies, which hosted a view of the gardens outside. From the top of the staircase, Violet’s eyes widened as the music volume lowered and the royal court of both Brevirenth and Leidenschaftlich flood out onto the stairs. All the royalty looked amazing in their finest clothes, but Violet’s eyes immediately found Gilbert.

His hair was slicked back, his eyes intense as they combed the crowd. They stopped when they found hers.

He took her breath away.

King Philip was saying something, but to Violet his voice only registered as background noise. She clapped automatically when everyone else did, but her body hummed as Gilbert gazed down at her. She stood still as the royalty finally descended the staircase and the music grew louder around her.

Girls were wooing and trying to catch Gilbert’s eyes all around her, but his eyes never left hers. When he finally reached her, he smiled and reached out to move her hair behind her ear.

“You are truly the most dazzling woman in this room,” he said, just loud enough for her to hear him over the music. His hand trailed down her neck until he left it outstretched towards her.

“I am not trained in dancing,” she replied warily, looking down at his hand.

He smiled. “Then I will teach you.”

He took her hand and swept her away, his other hand touching her back.

She had stolen glimpses of a few soldiers practicing their waltz in the days leading up to the journey. She could hear their counting as she cleaned, their laughter, and wondered how turning in circles could ever be fun.

But now as she fell into an easy rhythm with Gilbert, after stepping on his foot twice, Violet started to relax and enjoy the dance. His scent wafted off him- cologne and his natural heady scent that stirred the butterflies in Violet’s stomach as she remembered how he had touched her just the night before.

Despite the heat coloring her cheeks, Violet looked up at him and smiled, her hands clutching at his shirt, she wished here she could kiss him. His eyes sparkled as he looked back down at her and she knew that he was having the same thought as he slowly lowered his head down.

This would be the last night.

After tonight, this would not matter. She may never be able to see him again.

She could feel his breath against her lips they were so close.

Until she was swept away.

A man that did she did not recognize laughed jovially, clearly drunk but well-off enough that he could still dance well enough. Violet looked over her shoulder in time to see Gilbert give an apologetic shrug as he assumed the proper position with another girl.

The party rushed back to Violet as she finally noticed the classic music that was playing. This was a dance where partners switched every few measures. She would eventually end back up with Gilbert at the end of the song, but for now she would have to deal with a few other partners.

She was thankful that she did know this dance, as she had been taught it at a brief stay with her friend’s family when she was a child. She fell into the dance, her eyes meeting Gilbert’s once more as they danced. He was smiling, taking pleasure in watching her from afar until he disappeared into the crowd once more with another new partner.

Violet startled when she felt the hand against her waist, pulling her away from her own partner swiftly and roughly. Her chest bumped into another’s, causing her to gasp and stumble away, but now the hand was clasped tight across her wrist. Startled, Violet looked up.

The smile that Dietfried Bougainville had plastered onto his face was clearly to keep up airs around the company surrounding him, but his eyes sent a cold shock through Violet. She was certain that if he could squash her under his boot like a bug right now, he would.

“That’s enough of this charade,” he said. “I think you have embarrassed my family enough.”

The people still dancing around Violet were making her dizzy. Her throat felt like she had swallowed sand. She thought back to her days on the platform, strung-up and sick with fever as people walked past her. But Dietfried didn’t give her anymore of a break as he forced her body to move, keeping up the pace of the dance.

“Tell me, Violet, what do you think a maid’s punishment should be for masquerading as a member of the royal court,” he leaned his head next to her ear, speaking directly into it. “Death, perhaps?”

“If you do anything to Violet here, you’ll be the one embarrassing this family,” Gilbert suddenly said from beside her. She had not even noticed the music dimming, the people clapping around her. “King Louis-”

Dietfried turned cold eyes onto his brother. “Don’t you say another word, little brother. I’ll be dealing with you later.” He then dropped Violet’s hand.

 “We have done nothing wrong,” Violet said, “you are only threatened because you have lost control. Or because you never did, when it came to me.”

“Oh, I have plenty of control, Violet,” Dietfried replied, his smile wicked. “Enjoy the dance. Both of you.”

As quickly as he had appeared, Dietfried disappeared back into the crowd.

Gilbert let a single finger touch her wrist, where Violet could still feel the pain of Dietfried’s hold. She looked to him and he smiled sadly.

“I didn’t know he had arrived,” he explained. “But there isn’t anything he can do to you here and you’ll be gone come morning. I’m sorry, but just try not to wander too far from where I can see you. I have to mingle, but I’ll be back, alright?”

Violet nodded, not trusting her voice now. Gilbert gave her one more worried glance before leaving her. She stood awkwardly for a moment before settling for going to stand on the outskirts of the dancefloor, where she could look out at the crowd. She watched Gilbert talk to some men with many medals on their suit jackets.

Fifteen minutes went by and still Violet sat, watching Gilbert like a hawk before the thought occurred to her that she still had not seen Iris, Erica or Cattleya all night.

She felt a bead of sweat roll down her temple as she searched more frantically for them, her heartbeat speeding up.

Finally, her eyes landed on Dietfried. He smiled as if he had been waiting for this moment all night. Slowly, he pulled out a green ribbon from the pocket of his jacket.

The world stopped.

Violet was sure that he was holding one of Erica’s ribbons.

She stood to her feet quickly, nervously sparing a glance towards Gilbert, but he was still caught up in conversation. She turned her eyes back to Dietfried and he nudged his head, beckoning her with the movement before turning and beginning to ascend the grand staircase.

Gilbert had told Violet not to wander off, but she wasn’t sure what Dietfried would do if she spared another second to warn Gilbert. She didn’t want to raise any alarms. Whatever Dietfried was doing, he surely had planned for Violet to follow him alone. If she disobeyed this silent request, she wasn’t sure how much worse things would get.

So, she willingly fell into the trap and followed him up the stairs, trailing behind him as he led her outside.

When she stepped out, it wasn’t the cool night air that took her breath away.

“Violet!” Cattleya cried.

“No,” Violet breathed out, glaring at Dietfried, who turned and regarded her with a raised eyebrow. “Let them go.”

Iris, Cattleya and Erica were being held by guards, their wrists bound behind their backs.

Dietfried looked bored as he looked at Violet. “I have a proposition for you.”

Violet tried to stand tall, matching Dietfried by not letting her emotions show.

“You see, Violet,” he continued, “I realize now that my brother really does have some type of misplaced feelings for you. But I also realize that you have feelings for these girls,” he swept a hand out towards her friends, “and you all seem to have mistaken me for some type of fool. I know that you all have been planning a grand escape.”

Erica made some type of strangled sound, her knees buckling. At the sound, Dietfried turned to look at them. “Your lives could be so much worse, and yet you still choose disobedience and disloyalty. It’s disgraceful.”

“What do we have to be loyal to you for, you pigheaded-” Iris’ rant was cut off by a sword suddenly resting against her throat by the guard behind her.

Erica cried out and Cattleya stared at Dietfried with tearful eyes. “Just get on with it,” she whispered. She looked down, her long dark hair falling over her eyes. “Please, Your Majesty.”

Violet wanted to tell her not to give into Dietfried’s scare-tactics but held her tongue in fear that he would somehow retaliate.

Thankfully, Dietfried motioned for the guard to put down the weapon and he obliged. He turned back to Violet. “Since my brother would never forgive me if I had you all put to death, I will present you all with a different option. Violet, this time…” he neared her and put a finger beneath her chin, moving her head up so that she was forced to look into his eyes. “This time pledge your loyalty to me. You will become my personal maid. No. My slave. My tool.”

Violet felt as if her blood was going cold.

You will tell Gilbert that you no longer can speak to him. You will swear that, and you will do it because if you don’t, these girls will be punished. If you ever try to escape, they will be tortured and if they ever try to escape, you will be, and they will have to live with knowing that for their rest of their lives. You will tell Gilbert this tonight and tomorrow, you will ride back with me to our kingdom. Do you understand?”

 “I’d rather die!” Iris screamed. Violet watched her struggle against the guard.

Erica looked at Violet and she could see her tears brimming at the bottom of her glasses. “D-don’t do it, Violet. Just let us go.”

She looked to Cattleya, who nodded her agreement with the other girls. “It’s alright,” she mouthed.

But Violet had already made her decision.

“I will serve you,” she said.

Dietfried nodded. “So, you aren’t completely daft, then. Good to know.”

He left Violet with the insult hanging in the air, his guards following behind him dutifully. She didn’t bother looking back. Instead, she walked towards her friends, who cried out and hugged her, still telling her that they could run, telling her that they could fix this.

But Violet could see that there was no way out where Dietfried would not win in the end.

She would not be leaving in the morning with Claudia.

She felt like a fool for ever thinking that she could.

Chapter Text

One of Violet’s favorite pastimes before she had met Gilbert was stargazing. Before she had become a servant at the castle, she would spend many nights looking up at the stars, wondering at the beauty that was beyond her reach. She would ponder how things could get better. She would wonder when they would. She would feel her heart swell with anxiousness- at the prospect that something in her life would get better.

Now, staring up at the sky, Violet no longer felt that glimmer of hope that had kept her so grounded before. She felt lost, tired, empty.

She gripped the skirt of her dress, knowing who the footsteps belonged to behind her without even turning around.

“You truly do look beautiful in that dress.”

She clenched her dress harder but did not turn around. She could feel the wind pick up her hair and ruffling her clothing, but she fought the chill that threatened to make her shudder.

“Violet, did something happen? Why did you leave the party?”

Gilbert was standing at her side now, a hand reaching out to touch her shoulder, but she took a step away and finally looked at him. Pain and confusion crossed his features for only a moment before he furrowed his eyebrows, anger taking over quickly. “What is it? Did Dietfried say something else to you?”

She opened her mouth to tell him what had happened, but he continued, “whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. You will be long gone soon.”

“No,” she finally managed to get out. She reached out to him but decided against it and dropped her hand to her side. She took in a deep breath, already knowing how Gilbert would respond. He was stubborn and strong. He would not be able to accept what was inevitable in this situation. He would never stop until. “I will not be going. I will stay here and serve Master Dietfried.”

Gilbert’s eyes widened. “What are you-”

“I am now Dietfried’s personal attendant and will have nothing more to do with you,” she continued, feeling as if she were a puppet and someone else was speaking for her. Her eyes filled with tears despite her resolve. Frustrated, she wiped them away hastily.

She had to do this. She would not risk her friend’s lives for her own sake.

Violet bowed deeply to Gilbert, the tears that would not just let her be falling onto the concrete as she stared blindly at the ground. She wanted to kiss him. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and kiss him but instead all she could do was bow.

“Thank you…thank you so much…Prince Gilbert,” she said, standing back up and not bothering to wipe the tears away. “Thank you for loving me.”

“Violet…” Gilbert whispered. The stricken look on his face was just too much for Violet to bear.

So, she ran.

Back through the now-empty ballroom. Back through the hallways of the castle and back into the room that was much too big for one girl.

Finally alone, she flung herself into the bed and choked out a loud sob. Her throat, eyes, nose, heart burning.

It felt as if someone were tearing her apart from the inside out. She wailed, unsure of the greatest pain she had ever experienced. She twisted and turned on the bed until she almost fell out of it.

Her skin was on fire.

She was on fire.

Her hands and knees met the carpet before she completely collapsed and curled up into a ball, as tightly as she could.

The sobs that racked her body did not stop until, exhausted, she fell into a fitful sleep knowing that Dietfried had beat her.

When morning came, Violet pushed past her aching head and dry throat and slipped into her maid uniform.

After days of wearing expensive dresses and jewelry, the simplicity was actually welcoming. She tied her hair back into a low ponytail and when Antoinette came to gather her things, she found that Violet was already halfway down the hallway.

Outside, Violet squinted against the golden rays of the bright morning sun. It took her a moment to find the other maids, filling the carriages with the royal parties’ luggage. She made her way towards Iris, Cattleya and Erica, who each gave her miserable looks that she did her best to ignore. Pity and sadness over their situation were not what she needed now.

She could only focus on surviving.

She threw her bag into the back of the carriage before taking the pack that Erica was carrying, intent on focusing on the task before her.

But as she lifted the heavy suitcase, she looked up and saw Gilbert. His eyes were locked onto her and she could have sworn she felt her heart stop. She wanted nothing more than to go to him, lay her head in his chest, breathe in his scent. But she knew that could never happen again.

She turned away and continued her job. She was thankful that when she looked up again, Gilbert was saying goodbye to King Louis. The King, the new ally of their kingdom, hugged Gilbert heartedly. He seemed to scan the area before turning back to Gilbert and asking something that she couldn’t hear.

She started when both Gilbert and King Louis suddenly looked her away. The King smiled gravely at her and nodded.

Violet breathed in, trying to hold in her tears before bowing deeply.

Could it have been that he had known she was nothing but a maid from the very beginning? But he had let her pretend otherwise for all this time?

When she rose, King Louis turned his attention elsewhere.

“You will ride in my carriage and when we get to the train station you will ride with the other maids.”

Violet was glad that she did not flinch despite Dietfried suddenly appearing behind her. At least she could maintain some shred of dignity.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Violet answered curtly, her stomach churning.

It felt like the beginning of the end.

**

Gilbert couldn’t find the words to describe just how furious he was. It took everything in him not to cause scene in front of their new allies. He felt as if his blood was surely burning hot as it flowed through his veins. He wanted nothing more than to refuse to go anywhere until his brother relinquished Violet from whatever horrible binding he had her in.

He thought his plan had been foolproof, but somehow Dietfried had torn it down in one fell swoop.

So, when they had finally boarded the train and Dietfried had gone to his personal box, Gilbert had wasted no time in heading straight there.

He found his brother sipping slowly at a cup of tea, legs crossed, his long braid swung across his shoulder. He looked completely calm, as if he had not just brought Gilbert’s entire world down. It infuriated him even more. Why couldn’t he ever best his older brother?

Gilbert clinched his fist. He wanted to hit him where it would really hurt. “Mother would be disgusted with you.”

Dietfried’s green eyes slowly roamed up. Gilbert let himself feel a small piece of victory at the flash that shone in his brother’s eyes, but it was short lived as Dietfried sat down his teacup and unfolded his long legs.

“That was a low-blow. Pathetic, honestly. Especially since you are the one in the wrong,” he stood to his full height, moving gracefully towards Gilbert despite the rocking train. “You are the one that has become so infatuated with a slave that you would risk our alliance with another kingdom to be able to shower her in riches for a measly few days.”

“The king knew,” Gilbert smirked, “I risked nothing. Like any sensible person, he doesn’t believe in the slavery that our family condones. But he still agreed to the alliance because he knew it was best for his kingdom.”

Dietfried scoffed. “Do you want me to clap for you, brother? For risking it at all. You are lucky that I don’t have you stripped of all titles and put Violet to death. But instead, again and again, I’m merciful.”

Gilbert shook his head back and forth. He almost felt sorry for his brother. He truly did not understand why he had done this, and it seemed like he never would. “Dietfried, Violet and the rest…they shouldn’t have to pay for something that other people did. What if our roles were reversed? What if we were the ones enslaved for something that our ancestors had done?”

“Then I would bear the punishment because I have something called honor. They are the last generation. They should be grateful, Gilbert! Their ancestors murdered our Great Aunt! The princess! How does that not deserve extensive punishment? Why shouldn’t we show that our family is not to be trifled with?”

Gilbert flinched, surprised that Dietfried suddenly put his hands onto Gilbert’s shoulders. He never touched him…or anyone. It was a testament to how much Dietfried wanted Gilbert to see things from his perspective.

And if he really thought about it, Gilbert did understand.

But he did not agree.

“Dietfried,” Gilbert said quietly, “I believe they have learned their lesson tenfold. These people…they fear us. They don’t respect us. How is that good leadership?”

Dietfried opened his mouth to say something, but the train suddenly jerked them both when it came to a sudden halt.

The door suddenly swung open, the soldier that had been keeping guard to Dietfried’s quarters bursting through. “Your Majesties! We have to get you-”

But the man’s words were cut off when a sword was suddenly jammed through his back and through his chest. Gilbert’s blood ran cold as he instinctively moved towards the soldier to catch him when the sword was pulled from his body.

Dietfried swiftly made his way to his seat surely to grab his gun, but found it was already too late when several men with rifles burst into the door.

“Don’t even think about it, princey. Hands up.”

Dietfried scowled but did as he was told and two of the men ran behind him and tied his hands back.

Gilbert managed to shut the fallen soldier’s eyes gently before the men grabbed him and bound his hands as well.

He knew there was nothing he could do against them. He had left his own pistol back in his room, foolishly believing that nothing would happen to them. He had been too focused on his anger at Dietfried to be cautious.

Of course, word must have spread that the princes would be traveling home today.

Judging by how prepared this group was, it seemed as if they had been planning for this day for a long time. They had clearly been organized and skilled enough to take out Gilbert’s own soldiers if they had made it to Gilbert’s personal quarters on the train. These weren’t just regular thieves. They were possibly bounty hunters, assassins. The worst of the worst that had banded together.

And they were unfortunately quite outnumbered.

Gilbert stood up and looked the leader in the eyes. “Just take whatever you want. We didn’t travel with much, but I can lead you to where it is.”

The burly man chuckled and wiped his sword clean of the blood with his pantleg. “Tch. You kidding? You’re worth plenty, princey.” The man spat onto the floor before looking at his comrades, a glint in his watery eyes. “Take ‘em outside.”

**

When they heard the first gunshot, Violet and the maids jumped to their feet. Some screamed and instinctively cowered away from the door. Others hugged each other, shivering in fear.

But Violet stared at the door, caught between two decisions.

Stay with the others and wait until whatever was happening was said and done with.

Or go out there and help Gilbert, wherever he was.

It did occur to her that perhaps she could not be of any help. Perhaps she was not strong or smart or quick enough.

But with the amount of gunshots and screams that was now fading into the distance, Violet was almost positive that Gilbert was in trouble. How could she just stay and do nothing?

“Violet! Now is our chance,” Iris said.

Violet turned to find most of the maids at the back door. Since they were at the back of the train, if they opened the door, it would not be hard to make an escape and head for the hills.

“We can’t let Dietfried win,” Cattleya said, “he will imprison you forever. With all the commotion, surely there will be no soldiers to stop us now.”

But Violet shook her head slowly. “I can’t leave Gilbert. Not like this.”

She didn’t wait to hear their responses. She heard Erica scream her name. She heard them telling her how dangerous it was.

Still, she slammed the door open and went through.

She could vaguely hear the girls screaming behind her, but now she knew that it wasn’t her they were screaming after. Bodied and blood littered the floor before her. For a moment, Violet couldn’t hear anything as she stared down at the massacre before her. The smell of copper wafted up into her nostrils.

Violet felt her head swim when she bent down to pick up a gun.

Her memory flashed- Gilbert teaching her to hold one properly. How to shoot.

She made sure it was loaded.

Taking in a deep breath, she raced through the hall, gathering a knife and another gun on her way, tucking them into her apron and around her waist.

She made it into the next compartment. She ducked below the windows and slowly peeked her head up so that she could see outside. To her surprise, there were several men on horses.

And there was Gilbert and Dietfied, hands tied behind their back, being herded like sheep. The other men seemed to be moving towards the front of the train, away from the compartment that Violet had just been in with the other maids.

She swallowed thickly before heading back that way. To her surprise, the others were still there. They looked at her, teary eyed, before nodding.

Moving quickly, Violet went to the door and slowly opened it. She jumped out, landing on soft grass. She held the gun at the ready, peeking out from the train’s cover and found that the soldiers and the princes were still facing and heading in the opposite direction.

A large man was yelling out orders at them and when she listened for a moment, she realized that they were waiting for other men to get off the train with valuables and gold.

She took this opportunity to sprint across the grass and into the nearby forest, taking cover in the trees and foliage. But she did not stop moving. She quickly and as quietly as she could made her way forward through the trees, her eyes on the soldiers as best as she could.

When Violet stopped and took one of the guns out, she found her hands shaking. She had never actually shot anyone before. She had never taken a life before.

They called her the Doll-Like Maid, not some type of Soldier Maiden.

But she knew she had to try.

The soldiers that were still alive were most likely all gathered at the front of the train. Violet had faith in them. She just had to stall so that they could help the princes.

Aiming the gun, Violet prayed for steady hands. She fired.

She missed, the bullet whizzing past one of the soldier’s shoulders.

But she had their attention.

The men shouted out, aiming in her general direction and firing. Violet gasped and pressed her back against the tree, gritting her teeth at bullets pelted it and sent chunks flying past her.

Suddenly, the gunshots stopped. She could hear their approaching footsteps.

She raced to the next tree. When she saw a man’s foot rounding the corner, she shot it before aiming up and shooting him again. She wasn’t sure where she hit him that time, but he cried out and she ran before his friends had a chance to find her.

She skidded behind a tree and when another ran past and the second one, she grabbed, took out her knife and sliced his throat before dropping him. But the first man was still there and shot at her, grazing her shoulder before she managed to drop down and side-sweep him. He fell to the ground with a shout before she drove her knife into his heart.

Gasping for air, sweating, her shoulder on fire, Violet ran again.

Above the gunshots behind her, Violet heard more ahead and the sounds of swords clanging against each other. She barreled out of the forest, tripping on her feet and falling. She looked up to find the soldiers of Leidenschaftlich fighting against the intruding men.

Now that the element of surprise was over, Leidenschaftlich was winning.

Violet could have cried of happiness, had not her hair suddenly been grabbed from behind.

“You stupid bitch,” the man shouted. Violet saw stars when she was suddenly punched in the face. She flew back, holding her eye. “I should make you die nice and slow!”

Violet backed up as he neared her but cried out when he suddenly reeled back from a gunshot to the head. He fell back and Violet turned around, sure that Gilbert had saved her, but found Dietfried standing before her.

His green eyes were narrowed down at her, but for once Violet did not see hate or fury.

She saw confusion and frustration.

But he had saved her when he could have very-well let her die by that stranger’s hands.

“Get up,” he ordered. Violet did what she was told without argument.

“Don’t move.”

Violet’s blood ran cold when the large, burly man from before stood behind Dietfried, a gun at his head.

“Drop it,” he told Dietfried, who complied.

Violet knew that Gilbert may have been a good enough shot to pull his gun from his waistband and shoot the man behind Dietfried in one easy motion without injuring anyone else in the process, but Violet knew that she did not yet have skills like that.

“Well, ain’t you a pretty thing,” the man chuckled, “causing all that commotion.”

Violet stood, shaking with anger and nerves, but tried her best to look the man in the eyes. He grabbed Dietfried by his arm roughly and pulled him closer to his own body.

The look that Dietfried was giving her told her enough. She had to do something.

Violet was not a woman of many words. But today, she could be.

“I killed them,” she said. The man stopped in his tracks and raised an eyebrow at her. “When they ran into the forest, I killed them.”

Violet held up her hands for him to see. They were covered in blood and though she was unsure if it was from her own blood or the man’s throat she had cut, she knew that the man in front of her would not care for the difference.

He shouted out and trained his gun towards Violet. It all happened so quickly; Violet could barely register what happened. The bullet flying through her hand, Dietfried clutching the man’s wrist, shots fired into the air…Dietfried taking the man down as Violet fell to her knees, her scream and tears blurring her senses.

The blood, hot and heavy and sticky.

Her head swimming.

The searing pain.

Then Gilbert was there, wrapping her hand so tightly in cloth that she had to stop herself from instinctively lashing out at him.

Hands came under her shoulders, lifting her up as she became dizzier. Someone said something about her shoulder. Sweat dripped down her face, neck and back as her vision darkened at the edges.

Before she passed out, Violet looked up and saw Gilbert holding her up on one side…and Dietfried on the other.

Chapter Text

Violet was not sure how much time passed until she regained full consciousness, but when she did, she immediately knew that she had been drugged so that she would stay asleep as the group traveled back to their home.

Waking up was like dragging herself from the depths of a quicksand. When she opened her eyes, she found that only one opened, which she immediately squinted shut again, the sun was so bright.

She could remember seeing glimpses of Gilbert, the feeling of the soft sheets that he had wrapped her in. She could remember the doctor’s face before he somehow sent her back into darkness. What she did not remember was arriving back in Leidenschaftlich or changing into a plain white gown or laying herself down in a soft bed that smelled of roses and powder.

She tried to open her left eye again but to no avail and when she reached her right hand up to touch it, she found that her fingers felt no sensation.  

Violet’s working eye widened, and she stilled, realization and horror running through her. She shakily brought her hand down to her lap…only to find that her hand was not there.

What was left of it was a stump, covered in bandages.

She stared at it for a full minute, actually surprising herself that she produced no tears. Instead, she found that relief washed through her. Despite the pain in her shoulder, which she now noticed was wrapped up as well, her eye and the lack of her hand…she was alive.

And when Gilbert walked through the door, his eyes brightening when he noticed that she was awake, she was thankful that he was too.

He was dressed in a plain cotton shirt and pants, making him look boyish and not as princely as usual. It was the most relaxed outfit she had ever seen him in, but she still thought that he looked beautiful.

“Glad to see you’re awake,” he said. Violet hadn’t noticed before, but there was a pitcher of water and a glass on the nightstand next to her. He picked it up and poured her a glass, which she drank down quickly. The cool water felt good going down, clearing her throat and washing away the taste of medicine.

“Thank you,” she said lowly, testing her voice.

Gilbert nodded and sat in the seat that was conveniently near her bed. “That was incredibly stupid of you, you know.”

Violet frowned and looked down at her stump. But Gilbert caught her attention again by placing his hand gently on it. When she looked back up at him, his eyes were shining with admiration and gratefulness. “It was also incredibly brave. You saved us.”

She shook her head. “I only created a distraction until the real help came.”

“No, Violet,” Gilbert replied, “if it weren’t for you, who knows what would have happened. You were selfless and strong. In a single moment, you changed the world. I know that it won’t be your real hand, but my greatest doctors and scientists are working on creating a hand for you, if you will accept it.”

Violet nodded, amazed that it would even be possible. “Prince Dietfried agreed to that?”

Gilbert grinned. He gave her a soft kiss on the forehead. “Actually, it was his idea.”

Before Violet could question what he had just said, Gilbert placed a finger to her lips. “I’ll answer your questions later. For now, there are three ladies who have been waiting for you. I’ll come back later; I promise.”

He spared Violet one more look before his presence was replaced by a flurry of skirts and girlish squeals. Iris, Cattleya and Erica ran to her bedside, practically tripping over each other to get to her. Iris, always the quickest, reached her first. She captured Violet in a bear hug that made her shoulder ache, but Violet was nonetheless just as happy to see them.

“You insane girl,” Cattleya laughed. “You really did it this time, didn’t you?”

Violet smiled sheepishly and the room went quiet.

Erica blinked. “Did she just…”

“Is she…” Iris continued.

“Blushing!” Cattleya cooed and crushed Violet’s head into her bosom. Violet may have laughed if she could breathe.

Then, her brows furrowed as confusion swept over her. “What time is it? How are you here,” she looked to Cattleya. “Why aren’t you cleaning…or in your cabin?”

“Well, for one, Prince Gilbert decreed that we could visit you whenever we want. And secondly, things are about to change around here. For the better.”

Violet raised her eyebrows, but Cattleya did not clarify. Instead, she squeezed Violet’s shoulder, a look of fondness flowing over her features. “We’ll go get you something to eat. I’m sure the doctor wants to know how you’re feeling in the meantime.”

With that, the women flurried away just as quickly as they had come. Violet was left alone, confused and achy everywhere, but at least she felt at peace for the time being as the doctor checked her wounds. She had no idea what was going on within the kingdom now that they were home. She definitely had no idea what was going to happen between herself and Dietfried now…but if she had to guess, she would suppose that him agreeing to let her have a be fitted with a new hand was his way of reward, but that nothing else would change.

She was most likely still his slave.

After telling her more about her injuries, the doctor gave her some pain medication to consume after her simple lunch of chicken soup and water. She was grateful that her friends stayed by her bedside, but she also couldn’t stop herself from looking at the door every few moments for another familiar face.

By the time the sun set, she was drowsy from the medicine and found herself drifting back into sleep. As her eyes fluttered and the room was left quiet from her friends leaving, she forced herself to keep her eyes open when she heard the door squeaking.

In walked a man with black hair and intense green eyes.

But it wasn’t Gilbert.

He strolled up to her, as intimidating as ever. But as she looked into his eyes, she was surprised to find they lacked their usual rage towards her. In its place, she saw a hint of confusion and frustration.

Unlike Gilbert had been earlier, he was dressed impeccably in a dark blue vest and pants. When he finally stood beside her, he regarded her for a moment before finally speaking. “I believe you are a fool.”

Violet was not sure if she should laugh or cry. Despite all she had been through, at least she could count on Dietfried to always remain the same. His straightforwardness was something that she now found she could actually appreciate, as they were the same in at least that.

He continued, “but it was your foolish actions that potentially saved us. I believed that you did not truly love my brother, but I can see now that you do. No matter how much trouble that could cause or if it means risking your own life. That is correct, isn’t it?”

Violet sat up straighter, immediately answering, “yes.”

They stared into each other’s eyes, unwavering, before Dietfried made a small sound in the back of his throat and took a step away from her.

“Your actions, of course, does not change what happened years ago to my aunt. It does not change the insubordination shown to us. It does not change anything. And yet-”

Before he could get another sentence out, the door opened.

Finally, there stood Gilbert. His clothes were changed, and he looked refreshed and happy to see her before his eyes trailed over to his brother. Their eyes met, and it seemed his eyes began to sparkle as he stepped more inside of the room.

Then, the brothers regarded each other. The usual animosity between the seemed to be missing and Violet did not feel the normal exchange of wrath between them. For once, the air seemed to be clear between them.

“Did you tell her,” Gilbert asked, turning and taking Violet’s only hand. His eyes momentarily flickered to where her missing one would have been before his eyes quickly moved back to her face. She wanted to pat his hand but did not want to touch him yet with her still aching nub.

“I was getting to that,” Dietfried replied, though his glare lacked its usual luster. He turned his attention towards Violet again. “As I was saying…despite the fact that your actions does not change the past, the kingdom is regarding you as a hero. They are saying that it was your bravery that changed the tide of what is being called The Abduction.”

He paused, as if to let Violet digest that information. She wished she could squeeze Gilbert’s hand with what would have been her free hand, but she was left gripping the sheets below her, her mind racing. Her? A hero? But she had only been trying to save Gilbert out of her own selfish desire. She now had blood on her hands and had lost one to pay the price.

She didn’t want to be praised or regarded in the public eye from the same people that had thrown rotten fruit at her when she had been paraded across the stage for all to see. It felt twisted and wrong, but Gilbert’s eyes were shining with warmth and admiration for her.

“As such, I cannot ignore what you have done. The people are crying for change and a new beginning,” Dietfried continued, cutting Violet from her thoughts. “Today, we shall announce that because of your courage, the punishment for The Revolt will now be lifted in three months’ time.”

Violet’s eyes widened.

This time, it was Gilbert who said, “during these three months, they will be treated much better as we work to ensure that after their slavery, they have the opportunity to live good lives. They may stay in their cabins if they wish, but they will have the opportunity to move into the towns if they would like. If they stay here and work for the castle, they will be paid. They could also apprentice for different trades they are interested in. It will be hard work to fully integrate them into society, but we will also begin cutting back some of the woods to build a new community for those who do not wish to live near the castle anymore.”

Dietfried nodded. “The mai-…your friends, will be in to dress you shortly,” he turned to leave then, but spared her one last glance. “I will not apologize for what I did, as I still believe my judgements were sound. But I do thank you…Violet.”

With that, he left, leaving Violet to stare in disbelief after him.

As soon as he closed the door, Gilbert gave her hand an affectionate squeeze, drawing her attention back to him. He ran his thumb gently across her chin and she closed her eyes, feeling some of the stress of the last few days falling off her shoulders as if a heavy cloak was being lifted from them.

Still, there was a nagging feeling within her. When she opened her eyes, she placed a hand to her bandaged arm. “I am not a hero,” she said quietly, “I potentially put everyone in even more danger. And I killed to do it.”

Gilbert made a low humming sound and placed a hand on her shoulder. “You are a hero because you were brave and did what you thought was right, as you always have. That is the making of a hero. And don’t feel guilty about the lives you took. It was kill or be killed, in that instance. They were villains.”

Violet heaved a heavy sigh, but nodded, letting Gilbert’s words comfort her. She knew that she would still have nightmares. She would most likely always wonder if she could have saved the princes in a different way. But she wanted to take comfort in the fact that they had not given her much choice.

So, when her friends came in to help her change into an exquisite lace dress, Violet held her head up high and went with Gilbert to announce to the kingdom that The Revolt punishment was no more and that the people were finally free.

**

“Again!”

Violet ran towards Gilbert, barely allowing him to get the word out as she came at him with a barrage of punches. He deflected two of them before she found an opening and punched him. But she immediately afterwards found herself flying over his shoulder. Hitting the cushioned ground, she swept her feet out and tripped him. He stumbled, landing next to her. She tried to meet him with a punch to the chest, but he rolled away too quickly and was back on his feet a moment later. He pulled his foot back as if to kick her but stopped there. “Break,” he said.

Violet exhaled and sat up. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her lungs felt as if they were on fire, but they felt good at the same time.

He smiled and handed her a soft towel. “Very good today.”

She wiped the sweat from her face, then accepted the water he offered her.

It had been a year, and Violet was trying every day to be worthy of the title of “hero” that the kingdom had bestowed upon her. She could still hear the crowd’s gleeful yelling, see the tears that wet the cheeks of the people after Dietfried had announced, with the entire royal family by his side, that the punishment was over.

They had barely listened to what would be happening in the next few months, so Violet was grateful when they had delivered letters to each of them a week later. As for the previous slaves that had escaped and were living in the slums where Dietfried had first found Violet, they had been scouted instead of hunted and delivered the good news that way. Then, word of mouth spread.

Now, Violet spent her free time training with Gilbert. Once her new hand had been finished, she had taken time to learn to write and event type and was now preparing to work as an Auto Memory Doll along with Erica, Cattleya and Iris thanks to Claudia.

She was busier now more than ever, but she appreciated how much things had changed in such a short amount of time.

When Violet stood, Gilbert easily swept her into his arms, his hands splayed on the small of her back. “I’ll see you at dinner,” he said. When he bent slightly to kiss her, Violet could have melted right then and there. She kissed him back fervently. When they pulled apart, she smiled.

“Will King Dietfried be joining us tonight?” she asked.

Gilbert nodded. “So will my parents,” he paused and took both her hands. “I think we should tell them tonight, don’t you?”

Violet repeated his nod. “We should.”

They both looked down at her hand, still made of flesh, adorned with a ring. It wasn’t too big, which Violet liked, but the diamond shone brightly as she moved her hand slightly.

Prince Gilbert, her fiancé, kissed her again before they walked out of their training room hand in hand.