Elara stifled a yawn and fought the urgent need to stretch. If there was anything she hated more than sitting in court she hadn't found it yet. Her eyes wandered from her place beside her parents to the lords and ladies lining the walls of the courtroom.
She had a feeling that they were just as bored as she was. Lord Malor's head was bobbing and every few seconds it would fall against his chest, once his face struck his chest he would start up and dart his eyes around the room then settle back in to start the whole cycle over again.
She found the sight intensely amusing and just barely managed to cover a giggle with a cough. It didn't fool her mother who leaned over and gave her an all too familiar 'You're a princess now act like it' look. She straightened up and tried to turn her attention to the man speaking with her father, an ambassador or something of that sort, she had long since lost track.
She looked to her older brother, in his short throne next to their father, and he waggled his eyebrows at her, prompting another giggle, which earned her another look from their mother.
Elara darted a glare at her brother who only winked at her like the playful rascal he was. Despite her frustration Elara just barely held back another giggle. She felt badly for her brother, she was only stuck with this for a few years, her brother would be stuck with it for the rest of his life.
She would never understand why so many people wanted to be Kings, or royalty of any sort really. The power and prestige could never be worth all the boredom it entailed. She would give up all of her jewels and fine dresses if it meant just a few hours of freedom.
"Court is dismissed." Elara didn't think she'd ever been so happy to hear anything. Her parents stood together then left the courtroom together. Elara stood with her brother and stepped forward to put her hand over his arm, then walked out beside him. The rest of the court filed out behind them.
"You are determined to get me into trouble aren't you?" Elara had mastered the art of whispering without moving her lips.
"Who me? You wound me dear sister, I wish only to lighten your burdens." Prince Amael whispered back.
"Lying does not suit you brother."
The prince laughed out loud for they had now entered the private area of the palace. "And neither does boredom suit you, if you get in any trouble it's of your own making, not mine, although I may help you along some, like the good brother I am."
Elara rolled her eyes, "Oh yes, I couldn't ask for better. I certainly don't envy you, at least I shall be able to leave this all behind someday."
Amael turned to face her, "Not all I hope, you better come back to visit your old brother now and again."
"But of course, somebody has to keep you in line."
Amael tugged on the long braid trailing down her back, "I think it is you who needs keeping in line. Especially on those jaunts to the city you seem to be so fond of taking."
Elara stepped back, shock on her face, "You know about those?"
Her brother laughed, "Who do you think keeps Mother distracted so she doesn't notice you missing? I also know that you are dying to get out there now so go on. I'll take care of Mother."
"Oh thank you Amael! You really are wonderful!" She threw her arms around his neck than dashed up to her room to change.
Elara couldn't help but smile as she made her way through the crowded market. No ball or party could hold a candle to the excitement here. Everything was full of life, no long winded ambassadors or sleeping lords.
She stopped at a stand selling tropical fruits. Elara picked up a mango and put it to her nose and sniffed it, inhaling the sweet scent. She closed her eyes and smiled, despite all the luxurious foods she had grown up with nothing was better than fresh fruit. She tossed the mango into her basket then added a few more. After tossing a few coins to the vendor she headed down the street.
She remembered her first outing, when she was about fifteen. Her parents had just forbidden her from going on an outing with her friends and she was both angry and bored.
In a rash moment she had snuck into the laundry and taken a maid's uniform, then slipped out of the palace and into the city. She had been struck at once by the vibrancy and life of the place. It felt good to just be one of the crowd, to not have everyone staring at her and fawning over her. Here, she was no one special, just another girl.
She'd made friends too, friends far more real than the courtiers and nobles she normally associated with. To them she was simply Eyla, a palace servant, and they liked her for herself, not because of her title and position. So far her identity seemed safe enough, her life had always been fairly private and few common people had ever seen her up close. Although she was fairly certain that Perama knew, the middle aged weaveress was very perceptive, but she had never said anything.
Perama's small shop where she sold her cloth was only a short distance from the fruit seller's but with press and jostling of the crowd it took several minutes to get to it.
She pushed aside the cloth that hung over the door to keep out at least some of the bugs and dust, and stepped into Perama's shop. She rubbed a piece of silk between her fingers, admiring its color and quality, while Perama spoke with a customer. Once Perama was finished she bustled over to Elara immediately, wrapping her arms around her young friend.
"Hello dear, how are you?"
She held Elara at arms length.
"Fine as ever, and you?"
"Just fine dear. Business has really picked up lately, why I've even started selling to some noblewomen, I even received an order from Princess Elara herself."
Perama gave her a suspicious look but Elara just smiled, "That's wonderful."
"You wouldn't have anything to do with that would you now?"
"I may have showed the cloth you gave me to a few of the palace ladies but they are the ones who chose to come to you."
Alright so she'd told everyone she knew how wonderful the cloth was, which was true Perama's cloth was of the highest quality, and had instructed her seamstress to use Perama's shop whenever possible. The woman had been so kind to her it was the least she could do.
A few years ago if anyone had told her that one of her dearest friends would be a peasant older than her parents she would have laughed at them, but Perama had become just that. Despite her tiny frame she was incredibly strong and always seemed to be moving, everything about her was real and alive. That felt good, sometimes it seemed like everyone she knew was half dead.
"I brought you something." She held out the basket of mangoes and Perama took it. Just like Elara a few moments before she put the fruit to her nose and smiled.
"Ahh, nothing like the smell of fresh mangoes. These are lovely dear, thank you. I hope this means you'll join me for dinner? I can't eat all these myself."
"I wish I could but I must go home for dinner, but I doubt you'll have trouble finding someone else to take my place."
"No one can take your place dear," she patted Elara's shoulder affectionately nearly bringing tears to the girl's eyes, it felt so good to be seen as a person instead of a princess, "but I suppose it shouldn't be terribly hard to find another guest."
"No I should think not, perhaps Mr. Malen next door? I'm sure he would enjoy your company" Elara gave the older woman a devious smile.
Perama blushed, "Oh hush now, Mr. Malen is a dear friend, and he has been lonely since he lost his wife."
Elara broke out into a wide grin, Perama had never married, something Elara hadn't understood, she was pretty enough, no beauty to be certain but she had a charm and spirit about her, and her shop did well enough that paying her dowry would be simple. Elara had finally decided it was because Perama enjoyed her independence.
Perama motioned towards her loom in the back corner of the small room, "Come and see what I've been working on."
"Oh Perama this is beautiful!" She ran her hand over the silky red cloth, admiring the delicate white flowers woven right into the fabric. Her look became a wistful one as she said, "I would do anything to be able to make something like this."
"We all have our own special talents dear, and the cloth you've made is much better than some I've seen. It may not be perfect but its strong and even, no bunching or gaps. You should have seen some of my sister's first attempts when we were learning as children." Perama let out a laugh. "One time she was trying to make a length of yellow cloth with red bands long enough for a dress, but she got it so mixed up she ended up with red cloth with yellow bands. To this day she can't make anything right, so I make her clothes and she sees that I'm well supplied with fresh produce from her farm."
"So she lives nearby?" Elara questioned, despite their closeness Perama rarely spoke of her family or her past, of course neither did Elara.
"Yes, just outside the city, on the farm where we grew up. Her husband was the youngest son from a large family so he was glad to have a place of his own."
Suddenly a scream came from the market. Everyone in the shop stopped and someone parted the curtains and called out, "What's going on?"
A young woman, obviously the source of the scream stopped in the middle of the market, the crowd parting around her, "Adavian soldiers! Landing on the beach!"
Instantly the market place erupted with activity, everyone seemed to be talking at once. But before anyone could do anything there was another commotion, screaming and crashing. Perama grabbed Elara and pulled her through a curtain and into the storeroom in the back of the store.
She gripped both of Elara's wrists tightly, holding her out in front of her. "Are you wearing anything that would connect you to the palace?" She spoke in a hushed and hurried voice, looking Elara right in the eye.
"What are you-"
"Elara! This is not the time. Are you wearing anything that would connect you to the palace or your family?"
"You, you know who I am?"
"Of course, I have known from the first day I pulled you into my shop. Now answer me!"
"No, I left behind all my jewelry."
"Good, now you must not tell anyone who you are and if anyone takes you don't fight back, just do as they say, alright?"
Elara nodded, what else could she do?
Perama opened the back of the shop and pointed to the crowded street. "Now run! Head for the countryside."
"But what about you?"
"I'll be fine, now go!"
The moment Elara stepped through the opening she was swept along by the crowd of people running, but she managed to turn and look at Perama one last time. The older woman smiled and waved, then she was gone. Hidden from view by the crowd.
Shouts came from behind, they were speaking in Jobran but Elara knew the accent all too well. It was true, Adavian soldiers were really here, and they were right behind her.
Suddenly she lost her balance, she tried to catch herself but with so many people around she couldn't. She felt herself falling then suddenly everything went black.
Elara blinked her eyes open, then squeezed them tightly shut at the pain that followed. She groaned, then heard voices.
"It's about time."
"I can't believe she's still alive."
The chorus of strange voices grated on Elara and she tried to cover her ears, but that too caused pain and she groaned again.
"Easy love. You're alright, you took quite a beating though. Can you speak?"
For a moment Elara wasn't sure but she opened her mouth and managed to croak out. "Yes, I think so."
"Good, now can you tell me your name?"
"Yes I'm," suddenly it came to her, what was her name? "I'm, I don't know." Tears sprang to her eyes as panic set in. "I don't know who I am."