She was shaken awake, far more aggressively than she would have liked. A hand slapped her cheek. “Wake up,” hissed the waker. Anya swatted the hand away. How dare they? Her shoulders were gripped then and Anya was shaken with such vigor that her teeth clattered together. Finally, she opened her eyes, scowling at her maid for waking her in such a manner.
But it was not Anya’s maid who hovered above her. It was her mother.
Anya’s heart skipped a beat; her mother did not trouble herself with the trials and tribulations of raising her own children, she was an Empress, after all. She could not recall the last time she had seen her mother outside of a political or public engagement.
“What is it, Mother?” she asked, her voice faltering with her rising fear.
“They are coming,” her mother said, “we have to go. Now.”
Anya hesitated for a moment. “Who is coming, Mother?”
“The peasants, you foolish girl!” her mother all but shouted at her, tugging at the collar of her nightdress. “Now get UP,” she hissed. “Get your sisters, get them packed and ready to leave within the hour.”
“Where should I tell them we are going?” Anya asked hesitantly, as she pulled herself from her bed.
“Does it really matter, Anya?! For the gods’ sake, I do not care what you tell them, just get them up and ready. Only pack necessities.”
Her mother vanished from her room then and Anya stared after her in bewilderment. She pulled the chord near her bed to call her maid to assist her. After a few moments of deafening silence, Anya realized that was likely a stupid thing to do. If the peasants’ rebellion had finally gained enough traction to where they were marching upon her father’s castle, she doubted very much that any of the staff had remained within the walls.
She moved to the window, looking out upon the land her father had ruled over all her life. At first glance, it appeared all was quiet. But the longer she looked, the more bobbing orange lights Anya could pick out through the distant trees. A few moments later, a wall of people emerged from the forest that separated the castle from the village and they began to cross the long bridge that led to the castle. Every member of the approaching mob appeared to have a torch, as well as something in their other hand. As they drew nearer, Anya could pick out a spear and a pitchfork here and there.
She gasped, her hands clasping over her mouth, as though there were a danger of them hearing her from this distance and height. Anya spun from the window, pulling her dressing gown from an armoire and ran to the hidden door that led to the corridor to the nursery where her four little sisters slept. Her mother had said to pack, but things were less important than people.
The cold stone floor ached against her bare feet as Anya ran to the nursery. Images of their castle burning, her sisters being impaled, her father beheaded filled her mind and tears began blind her eyes as she ran. Where would they go? Where could they go?
When she reached the door to the nursery, Anya paused, forcing herself to gulp in a few icy breaths in an attempt to calm herself. She could not just burst into the nursery and scare her sisters, they would be inconsolable. Though, she supposed that was likely better than the iron grip of fear she had felt being awoken by her mother.
She took each girl’s shoulder and gave them a gentle shake as she passed. “Time to rise, Asta. Wake up, Ayda. Rise and shine, Arella. Up you come, Adela.” Each of her sisters made a small mewling of protest, but they eventually all pulled themselves up after her.
“What are we doing, Anya?” asked Adela, the youngest, sleepily stifling a yawn.
“We’re going to go on a little trip,” said Anya with a smile.
“A trip where?” Ayda chimed in.
“It’s a surprise,” Anya stated. “Come along now,” she said, “lets all pack a little bag.”
Anya helped each sister in turn pack a small bag of basic dresses and a toy or two. Then she bundled them each in their boots and coats and cloaks and muffs. Her heart ached every time Adela asked if she could bring another toy. Finally, Anya knelt before the youngest of her sisters. She motioned for the others to gather around.
“I have not been entirely honest with you,” Anya said slowly. “I do not know where we are going, nor for how long. I do not even know if we will ever be coming back here.” Asta let out a gasp, her hand going to her cheek. “I know it sounds scary,” Anya continued, “but I need for each of you to be brave for me. Can you do that?”
“Is Mother and Father coming?” Arella asked.
“Of course they are,” Anya said. “And Aris, too.” Their mother had not mentioned to Anya that their brother would also be coming, but she assumed he would not be left behind. He was the heir, after all.
Anya refocused on her sisters, noticing how they seemed glummer knowing their parents would be joining them. She had assumed they would find the matter reassuring, but clearly they did not.
“Do you all wish that Mother and Father weren’t coming with us?” Anya asked.
They each shrugged, shifting uncomfortably.
“They don’t pay any attention to us,” Asta, the second eldest of the girls, said finally. “If it’s just going to be the eight of us, we don’t know how to be around them.”
“And Aris is scary,” whispered Adela from behind her stuffed bear.
Anya looked into each of their faces in turn. “Things are going to be different now,” she said. “They’ll have to be. Father won’t be Emperor, Mother won’t be Empress, and Aris won’t be heir. We’ll have to be a proper family, no one better than the other. And I think the five of us-” she booped Asta, Ayda, Arella, and Adela all on the nose in turn “-will be the perfect ones to show them how to be a family.” Anya smiled at each of her sisters, “We five know how to love and support one another, don’t we?” The girls all nodded. “We’ll just have to show Mother and Father, and yes, Aris too, how it’s done.” By the time she was finished, each girl was nodding enthusiastically.
Once each girl was ready, Anya slipped into the servants’ room that adjoined to the nursery, where the girls’ governess usually slept, and opened the woman’s armoire. She pulled out a small suitcase and put in some dresses, as well as her nightdress and dressing gown once she changed into one of the governess’ black dresses, and went back into the nursery. As she sat down to buckle the boots, she laid the suitcase down onto the floor.
“Girls,” she called, “I want you each to pick out one more toy, one that will fit in this suitcase along with your sisters’ items, as well as two books each.” Her sisters buzzed with excitement as they ran around searching for their last minute choices.
When Asta approached, she had three books and no toy. Anya had forgotten she would have been leaving the nursery this summer at her next birthday.
“I… I wanted these three; an extra book, instead of my bear,” Asta said softly.
“Get your bear if you want it, Asta,” Anya replied.
“But… it’s more than you said.”
“It doesn’t matter. Just go and get it.” Anya squeezed Asta’s hand. “This is going to be hard, if your bear will bring you some comfort, I will carry it for you.”
“You won’t have any room for your own trinkets,” said Asta.
Anya leaned forward and kissed Asta’s forehead. “You four are the only precious things I want to bring with me, and I want you each to be as happy as you can be. Don’t you worry about me.”
Asta smiled, squeezing Anya tightly in a hug. As Anya was securing her own coat, cloak, and muff, she noticed Asta offering to carry something extra for Ayda, and Ayda something extra for Arella, and Arella something extra for Adela.
Finally, they were all ready to go and Anya began herding them all towards the hidden servants’ stairs off the former governess’ room. The girls were full of chatter, trying to scare one another with the cobwebs or giggling over pretending the conversations that occurred in these hidden servant-used passageways. The sounds of their voices echoing off the stone floors and walls was like music to Anya’s ears.
As Anya pushed open the door, leading to the courtyard, the blast of cold air shocked the five of them into silence. They were greeted by scornful looks from the mother, who marched towards them.
“You’re late,” she hissed, jerking Anya’s arm and shoving her towards a carriage.
Of which there were two.
Anya’s brow crinkled in confusion. “Why are there two carriages?” she asked.
The former-Empress scoffed. “You didn’t think we were going together, did you?”
Fury built up in Anya’s chest as she watched her mother flounce away towards one of the carriages, a plain black one with simple white draft horses. Her brother was already being pushed inside by their father as their mother went to join them. As Aris was seated in the backward facing seat behind the driver, he peered out the window at Anya. She was only two years his senior, but they felt like strangers. At one time, Anya and Aris had been very close, and then he had been pulled into the role of heir, and it changed him. But as he pressed his palm to the glass, staring plaintively at her, Anya saw the boy from her childhood.
The carriage door was slammed behind their mother, and it lurched forward, careening maniacally past the one still awaiting Anya and her sisters. Asta appeared beside her.
“Did they just leave us behind?” Asta asked softly. Anya took her sister’s hand, squeezing it tightly and nodded quickly.
“They’re giving us a chance to make it,” Anya said as she and Asta turned back to their own carriage.
Anya’s heart sunk as she realized which carriage awaited them. It was the State Carriage. Gilded to the brim with gold and jewels. Pulled by four prize-winning horses. The bouquets of flowers, though wilted and long dead, were still strewn over the carriage from their father’s last public appearance.
Their parents and brother had escaped in an unmarked, unnoticeable carriage, while they had sent their five daughters off in the State Carriage. The carriage that had last been seen carting their father, the despised Emperor, through the city, and which was involved in the incident that had started this entire rebellion underway.
Anya attempted to swallow her fear; they were not being given a chance, they were being used as bait.
Inktober 2022, Prompt #6: BOUQUET; and #7: TRIP