Princess Adriana woke up in a strange place and she didn't know how she got there. She stood up and had to sit down again, as her legs seemed too week to support her weight.
After a few minutes of sitting she tried again ... yes, much better! There was no light in the room, but she could see by the moonlight coming through the wide gaps in the ill-fitting wooden shutters at the windows. Then she walked over to the door and tried to open it, but it was locked.
Just then he heard a noise outside: it sounded like footsteps getting nearer. She thought that it must be whoever it was that had locked her in, so she hurried back to the bed and lay down again, pretending that she was asleep. The door was unlocked and opened.
"Princess Adriana. Are you awake yet?" the male voice said. She didn't answer. "Oh, Damn! Then I'll just have to carry her again!" he said to himself.
"That won't be necessary," she said, in the bravest voice that she could muster, "Would you mind telling me who you are?"
"My name is Peter, but we really haven't got time for long explanations."
"I'm afraid I must insist! If not all, then something."
"Very well! But we have little time." He sat next to her on the bed. "I was walking by the cliffs earlier when I heard a car coming: there are no roads there, so I hid among the trees. The car stopped near me, it was one of those big, black cars the government uses. Well, when I say government, I mean your family. Two men got out: big men. One had long, black hair tied behind, the other was completely bald.
"They opened the trunk of the car and lifted something out: it was you, Princess! When they put you on the ground I heard the one with long hair say: 'Come on, let's get it over with!' But the other man said: "No, I can't harm her, I've known her since she was a baby.' Then the other said: 'But we must, if we don't she will have us killed; you know what the Queen is like!'
"Well, then the bald man said: 'It's no good: I can't do it! But if you try to hurt her, I swear I'll kill you myself, Kroeger! Turn the car around, I'll leave her near the edge of the cliff and let fate play it's hand!' The younger one walked to the car, and the bald one lifted you closer to the edge and said, 'Forgive me, My Princess!' Then they drove away. I picked you up and carried you here. I locked the door in case you woke up and wandered off, still under the influence of the drug they gave you. Do you understand now why we must get away from here: your stepmother, the Queen, wants you dead."
Peter threw some of his belongings onto the bed, then rolled them up in his blankets, before quickly tying both ends and slinging it over his shoulder. He had another bundle which he tucked under his arm.
"Come now, please! We'll have to go on foot and as far away as we can. If we can get deep into the forest, we can rest."
He didn't bother to lock the door of the simple cottage: he didn't expect that he would ever be coming back. They walked as fast as she could go, for as long as she could; although she had no idea how long that was.
"I think this will do," he said, eventually. Adriana slumped down on the ground and leant against a tree.
"I don't understand. I know my stepmother doesn't love me like my father did, and she is rather strict with me, but I never thought that she hated me, or wanted to harm me."
"Begging your pardon, Princess, but you've spent your whole life with privilege. The people loved your father, and your mother, while they were alive; but I doubt that anyone that knows the Queen can honestly say that ... except perhaps that half-brother of yours. And believe me, you wouldn't be the first person to disappear on her direct orders. She is clever: she knows that starving people isn't productive; but you don't have to be happy to work."
"But what am I to do, Peter, if I can't go home? Am I to live out my days living here in the forest?"
"No, Your Highness, you aren't safe anywhere in this country anymore. I haven't had long to act, but I think if we can get to the northern border I can get you across, and there is no love lost between our two nations. I can never come back, either. Perhaps in time we can get enough money to travel to one of the more enlightened distant lands; but I'm afraid that you must be prepared to leave Princess Adriana behind, perhaps for ever." The Princess smiled.
"All right, Peter. As far as the world is concerned from now on, Princess Adriana tumbled off that cliff into oblivion. You have obviously made some plans already, which I am eager to hear about, but I need a new name to go with my new identity. I was given several names at birth, one of which was Marie ... do you think that will do? And what is your other name, Peter; perhaps I can travel as your sister. But I wonder, Brother: do we have anything to eat?" He returned her smile.
"Yes, Marie is a good name. You shall be Marie Auberg: the only daughter of Willem and Frieda Auberg. My ... our ... parents are dead, so no one will be able to question them. As for food, I have bread and cheese and some cheap wine. We'll eat and then sleep, and then tomorrow I'll tell you the rest of my plan, such as it is."
After their simple meal, Peter untied his bedroll, removed his meagre belongings, then handed both the blankets to Adriana.
"No, Brother! You shall come and help to keep your Sister warm!" So huddled together under the blankets, they closed their eyes and tried to sleep.
The ground was hard but they had been warm and had slept for several hours. Adriana awoke to find him gone, but a small fire burned brightly several feet away. The carcase of a small animal was smoking over the fire, together with a small kettle. Peter returned carrying fuel. "Good morning ... Marie!"
"Yes, good morning, Brother Peter! Is it early?"
"The sun only rose about an hour ago. We'll eat, then we must proceed with our plans."
"All right ... but first I must ... er..."
"Very well, just don't go too far." When she returned he handed her some of the cooked meat served on a broad leaf.
" ... Mmm! It's good!" she exclaimed, "What is it?"
"A small deer: they grow barely bigger than hares. We can eat some now and save some for later. I have coffee, but nothing to put in it, and we'll have to share."
"So the plan," she said.
"Yes, the plan: I'm afraid we have to change the way you look. We will eventually be coming into contact with other people; and even if they don't recognise you, a well-dressed woman with fair hair and a pale complexion, travelling with someone who looks like me, is too unusual. We need you to be as anonymous as I am. I will have to change your hair and darken your skin. There are natural dyes I can use that won't wash off, but your new skin colour will fade in time, and your hair will grow out. I also need your clothes. I drained the deer's blood, and I'll put cuts in your clothes to make it look like you've been attacked and pour the blood over them. They may never be found, but if they should find their way back to the Royal Palace, it will hopefully add to the illusion that you are dead. So, Marie, I must respectfully ask you to take all your clothes off!"
" ... Even my underthings!"
"Yes, I'm afraid so! It will add authenticity if they are found with your dress, and people like us don't wear clothes like that."
"And my shoes?"
"Take them off so that we can stain your feet, but you can still wear them. If somebody robbed and killed you, I believe that they would take your shoes and any other valuables, and we can weather them to make them look older and cheaper. Do they have your name in them?"
"No, I don't think so."
"All right, then, I'll also cut some of your hair off; we can wrap it around twigs to help to dye your skin; I don't want to get it in my hands if I can help it. But leave your clothes on until I'm ready."
Marie didn't think that anyone except her nurse and her physician had ever seen her completely undressed before; but the thought of Peter seeing her was somehow more exciting than embarrassing! She had willingly placed her life in his hands, and now she was going to put her body there, too.
As he knelt on the ground, crushing and blending and adding water to the naturally occurring pigments, she took the time to really look at him for the first time. Really quite handsome, she thought; and he had surely saved her life and then looked after her the best way that he could. And when they had lain together last night, she had enjoyed his arms around her; the heat of their bodies so close together, and even his slightly earthy, masculine aroma. The men that she saw at court were young and dashing and they had good manners, but they were also aloof and 'unnatural' somehow, whereas there was no artifice with Peter.
"I'm ready to cut your hair now: I'm afraid that I only have a sharp knife." Marie stood like a statue as he took long hanks of hair in one hand, and as he then sliced through her beautiful golden tresses with his freshly sharpened hunting knife. Once upon a time she would have been truly horrified by his crude actions; but now she just stood calmly while he did what he had to do. Several thick handfuls of hair were then knotted around stout twigs to form basic brushes.
" ... It's time!" he said. As Marie removed a garment she handed it to Peter, who laid it carefully on the ground: unnecessarily carefully, you could say, considering what was about to happen to them! She stood, shivering to begin with, but then she felt the warm sun as it filtered through the trees and the gentle breeze on her pale skin. It is really quite nice, she thought.
.... There is more of this story ...