The following is a short story that takes place approximately 60 years before the events in Echaria Rising.
Alianna bolted upright in bed, her heart pounding as her eyes searched the darkness for what had woken her. The sound came again; a crash like thunder followed by screams of agony. Her stomach clenched as her breath hitched. She began to pray, silently mouthing the words as she begged The Five to protect her.
The door to her chambers swung open, eliciting a cry from Alianna. A dark silhouette rushed into the room, slamming the heavy wooden door behind it. Alianna cried out again as the figure clambered onto her bed, her heart leaping into her throat.
“Shhhhh, Princess Alianna. It’s me,” the figure hissed. “You must go, the castle is under attack!”
“Trista? What’s happening?”
“I don’t know, Your Highness. I don’t know who is leading the attack, or why. All I can tell you is that Greystone Castle is falling.”
Trista struck a match and held it to the bedside candle, creating a small pocket of light in the dark room. Her face was streaked with tears, her long blonde hair tousled from sleep.
“My family…” Alianna’s voice trailed off as she took in her handmaiden’s disheveled appearance.
Trista shook her head, fresh tears spilling from her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Alianna. Your family…” her voice cracked and she stifled a sob.
Alianna’s own eyes burned with tears as another thunderous crash echoed through the corridor.
“Princess,” Trista implored, “you must go.”
“They will hunt me to the end of my days when they realize I’ve escaped,” Alianna sobbed, embracing her loyal companion. “Whoever they are, they have enough force to breach the walls. They will have the resources to track me down.”
“Not if they believe you to be dead.”
“What are you talking about—” Alianna froze as the weight of what her handmaiden was suggesting fell on her shoulders. “No, no Trista, you can’t. You mustn’t. There has to be another way.”
Trista cupped Alianna’s tear-soaked face in her hands and placed a tender kiss on her forehead. “It’s the only way.”
The door swung open again to reveal Malcolm, the Royal Family’s trusted advisor. His arms were laden with supplies which he dropped to the floor as he shut the door behind him.
“Princess. I apologize for not knocking, but time is of the essence.” He knelt and picked up a satchel and a bowl, holding them out to Trista. “Here are the things you asked for.”
Trista took the items from him, quickly moving to the dresser on the far side of the suite. She returned for the candle and used it to light the others that were scattered about the spacious living quarters. Once the room was sufficiently lit, she returned to the counter and dumped the contents of the satchel into the bowl. She quickly added water and stirred the mixture, careful not to let any splash out of the bowl. She turned and beckoned to Alianna.
“What is that?” Alianna asked as she crossed the room.
“We are going to disguise you. Your hair is a bit of a unique color, and would be easily identified. This will turn it brown.”
“Trista, I—” Alianna began, but Trista cut her off.
“No buts. We are doing this. Once you are disguised, you and Malcolm will flee the castle. I will remain here, in one of your dressing gowns. Hopefully, whoever is leading the siege will not realize that I am not you.”
Malcolm spoke, his deep voice troubled. “It’s the young Lord Bainbridge. He must have the help of other nobles, because this siege is far beyond what his own household army could muster.”
Alianna exhaled, her knees trembling. “He wouldn’t recognize me. The last time he was in my presence, we were children, and he paid me no mind. He was more interested in watching the tournament and stealing sweets from the kitchen. It’s been at least a decade.” Her eyes filled again as a realization hit her, and she turned to Trista. “But if I flee, that means you will be killed in my stead.”
“Indeed, I will die. But it will be an honor to die for the Malcray family, so that your legacy may live on.”
The girls embraced, clinging tightly to one another as they had since childhood. Malcolm cleared his throat and motioned to the door, through which the trio could still hear the sounds of the terrible slaughter taking place. Taking the hint, the girls separated, each wiping away tears.
“First, change your clothes. You are still dressed like a royal, even if it is a nightgown.” Trista suggested.
“Yes, Princess. I brought a scullery maid’s outfit from the store room. It looks to be about your size.”
Malcolm returned to the pile of supplies he had carried in, presenting the dress with a flourish. He handed it to Alianna and turned his back. Trista quickly helped Alianna to change into the rough garments, carefully tying the ribbon closures. Once Alianna was clothed, Trista deftly began soaking her golden hair with the tea, combing it through from root to tip. After several minutes had passed, Trista rinsed the mixture from Alianna’s long locks. The hair that once sparkled like sunlight and treasure was now an ordinary brown. Trista quickly twisted the wet strands into a travelling braid, wrapping it around Alianna’s head with experienced fingers.
“Now Princess, you must go. There isn’t any more time to waste. Malcolm will explain everything as you go.” Trista nudged Alianna towards the doorway.
Alianna whirled to face Trista, wrapping her in a final embrace. “I will never forget you, my dearest friend.”
“Someday,” Trista whispered, “Your bloodline will once again sit on the throne of Echaria. I pray that day comes quickly.”
“Princess, we must go,” Malcolm urged, peering into the corridor. “We have an opportunity that won’t last much longer.”
After a final look at her faithful friend, Alianna followed Malcolm into the corridor. They scurried through the darkness, careful to head away from the sounds of fighting and sorrow. After a breathless run through a servant’s alley and through the old West Gate, they were finally out of the castle.
Alianna’s breath came in ragged gasps as they fled, climbing up into the foothills of the Evermore Mountains. Tears flowed freely from her swollen eyes, and her limbs shuddered with exhaustion. Dawn was painting the sky in pastel hues as they crested a hill, and they stopped to look back at Greystone.
Alianna dropped to her knees, wailing at the sight of her beloved home. Smoke billowed from the courtyard where hundreds of bodies were burning. Windows throughout the castle had been broken, and smoke poured from several of them as well. The ornate South Gate had been obliterated, leaving a jagged hole in the otherwise impressive ramparts of the castle. As the first golden rays of the sun broke the horizon, the mournful sounds of the belfry rang across the valley, announcing the death of the King.
“The King is dead. Long live the King,” Malcolm whispered, choking out the words as sobs racked his body.
They sat on the hill as the sun climbed ever-higher in the brilliant blue sky, mourning the home that burned in the valley below. Finally, Alianna could cry no more and she stood, her body vibrating as she clenched her fists.
“One day, I will return, and Lord Bainbridge will pay for the destruction he has wrought.”
“I pray I live to see that day, Princess,” Malcolm replied, taking her hand. “For now, we need somewhere safe to shelter ourselves.” He opened his travelers pack with a flourish, pulling out three heavy satchels. “Your father gave me plenty of gold and jewels to aid our journey before he was taken. We will be taken care of, and can start a new life. I will masquerade as your father. I have false identification papers drawn up to aid our disguise. All that is missing is your new name.”
Alianna answered without hesitation, her head held high. “Trista. My new name will be Trista, in honor of my brave, beautiful friend. She was bold enough to take my name and the death sentence it carried, so I will take her name for the rest of my days.”
Malcolm smiled, taking Alianna’s hand in his own. “An excellent decision.” He motioned towards the looming Evermore Mountains to the West. “Shall we, Trista?”
Alianna cast one last look over her shoulder at Greystone Castle as it lay smoldering in the valley, destroyed by fire and magic. “Today, the Kingdom of Echaria has fallen. Someday, it will rise again, with a Malcray on the throne.” She turned to the Evermores and straightened her shoulders. “Come, Malcolm. Let’s see what adventures our new life has to offer.”
Hand-in-hand, the duo strode forward into the mountains, away from the only home they had ever known.