She stood behind a tree, waiting patiently for the carriage to appear. The royal carriage was due to come through the forest and she had the step-sisters' appetite to feed. They don't possess much. A mansion with the basics. And then a few more bits on the side. But they came from Lily's job. Her job that was their only source of income.
Just as Clarice predicted, the golden yellow carriage had made its way up the forest trail, towards her hiding position, in the direction of the tree.
"Mother, I do not wish to get married." The prince explained to his mother, who had, once again, proposed the idea of him marrying. He had lost count as to how many times she had done so. However, this time had been different.
"We are not getting any younger, my boy. We wish to retire and we need you to do so. If you don't find a bride within the next few days, I shall set you up with Princess Alexia." His mother always brought up the topic of marriage, but not of forcing the prince to marry else they would get one arranged for him. He pulled a face at the thought of marrying Princess Alexia. Just the mention of her name brought chills to his spine. He could just hear the high pitched giggling as he said something, that had not been funny at all.
"Oh mother, have mercy!" He cried and begged as he tried to imagine his life tied down to her. He simply could not. Not the life he wanted anyway.
"Then attend the ball tomorrow night. And dance with every young lady that lives in this kingdom and choose the one you wish to have as a bride." He could tell by his mothers tone that it was not up for discussion, so he complied, bowing his head and sighed, wondering about what a horrid night it would be.
The coach neared her as she got into her stance, her knife in hand, her black tethered outfit sticking to her as she made sure her hair was down, covering as much of her face as she could, accompanying the mask her father had given her before dying a few years before. Her palms were sweaty. This was her first time robbing from the royals.
Come on, Lily, you can do this. It is just another coach. She shook her head before smiling, slowing down her heart before climbing up the tree, the blades handle held in her teeth, and sat hidden on the branch, readying herself to fall into routine and landing on the roof of the carriage.
The thud caught the attentions of the Queen and Prince as they finally found silence between them. They both looked at each other. The prince's hand reached to his left, expecting his sword to be sitting, ready for him to use, but it was not. He groaned, annoyed at his weakness of letting his mother have him leave it at home in the castle, rather than have it on his person.
Lily balanced herself as the carriage drivers halted the white creatures pulling the metal. She listened for the footsteps that belonged to the man who was to check what happened, but nothing did. This caused curiosity to run through her veins. She went to turn around, but did not fancy wasting time. Instead, she slipped down the rear end of the carriage, straight to the small amount of luggage that was brought from the palace, being taken to the castle.
Royals and their fondness for owning more than one home. Lily rolled her eyes before picking up the chest, head snapping in all directions, making sure it was not a trap.
"Who is it, son?" The Queen whispered, not an ounce of fear present.
"I do not know, Mother. We are both facing forward." His mother slapped his head.
"Do not be smart with me, Son. Not now." He rubbed his head before turning around, slowly, and moving the curtain slightly with one finger, creating enough room for him to look through. His eyes went wide at the scene he caught. There stood a girl with pitch black hair surrounding her face, a black outfit that would be expected to be worn by a huntsman, a black mask and a matching pair of black gloves, with a blade resting calmly between her teeth.
"It's a girl. In black. Complete black. She's robbing us." The words found their own way out of the princes' mouth without him even realising they had.
Lily held the chest, ready to turn away and disappear in the forest, as she had so many times before, but she felt something stopping her. She looked around, inspecting around her at all angles, before noticing the curtain of the carriage had moved. She could clearly make out an eye. And it was staring at her. She looked at the eye with her own, almost frightened as to who owned the eye. She could tell it had been a male who had caught the glimpse of her at work.
The prince looked into the girls eye that stared back at his own, curious as to why she was stealing, from the royal family no less. But once their eyes met, there was an invisible thread holding their gazes, not allowing them to pull away.
"I will be right back, Mother." He ignored any words his mother could have possibly formed to stop him, and exited the carriage.
The second his eye left the gap in the curtain, Lily ran straight into the forest, not looking back, feeling that she had been freed from the spell the eye had held over her, and leaving the prince bewildered and alone with his curiosity. He watched as she retreated, not allowing his eyes to peel away until she had no longer been in viewing distance.
"Wilbert, get back in this carriage this second!" His mother called loudly. He cringed as his given name was used loud enough for anybody to hear in the area, even the girl retreating from the spot he stood in.
Why could she not call me Bart or Will like most other people do? He retreated back to the carriage, but not before stealing one more glance at the direction the girl who had stolen from his family, wondering about her as they returned back to the Castle.
Lily hid herself in the dark of the forest, allowing herself time to give her lips permission to open and the laughter to poor out. Wilbert. She cried out in her mind as she doubled over. What sort of name is that for a prince? She allowed all the laughter to spill out as she held the handle of her knife in her hand, before slipping it back into its pouch, picking the chest from off the floor and returning home with the laughter still bubbling in the pit of her stomach.
"I have returned." Lilly called through the mansion she called home since she was a child, whilst removing her mask and placing it with her knife. The sisters rushed to her within seconds of hearing her voice. All three of them; Betty, Margaret and Shelby. They snatched the chest from Lily and ran to the closest table, before rummaging through it. Silks and Nylon. Rolls of it. That is what Lily had brought to the house. Of multiple colours; pink, yellow, green, purple and blue.
"Well done, Lily." Her stepmother, Clarice, praised in a strained voice. "But you have forgotten the bills need paying. And these materials will not pay for that." She spat at Lily. Betty squealed, gaining Clarice's attention, giving Lily the chance to move out of her stepmothers' way.
"Pearls! There are pearls in here." Betty ran over to her mother to show her. Clarice held them close to her face and inspected them, humming as though lost in thought. Lily stood, rubbing her hands, hoping to high heaven that they were real. Of course they are real. The Queen would not have fake pearls!
"It seems you have done exceptionally well, Lily. May I ask, where did these come from?" A usual enquiry Clarice threw at Lily after every time she really did well.
"The royal cart." Every pair of eyes snapped to Lily's body, wide. Betty, Margaret and Shelby all looked down at the materials they were holding in their hands before looking back up at Lily and their mother.
"These have touched the royal hands?" Shelby poked, as if not hearing Lily the first time.
"Probably." The three girls looked between each other before squealing. Clarice winced for a nanosecond before speaking.
"That will be enough of that, girls." Lily could have kissed Clarice, but knew she was not that grateful. "It is a good job the royal family had picked those materials, because there is to be a ball, tomorrow night. The prince is in search of a bride. And my girls are invited. Along with... yourself. But you are to focus on my girls being the Belle of the ball. You got that?"
"Yes, Clarice." Lily bowed her head slightly, knowing exactly how her evening was going to be spent.
"Good." Clarice smirked slightly. Happy with Lily's response, she left Lily to deal with hell.
"I want the pink!" Betty cried out, tugging the material with her fingers.
"No, I want the pink!" Margaret cried out louder than Betty had, as if outraged by Betty's statement, tugging at the material, trying to rip it free from Betty's grip.
"But I said it first!" Betty pulled it back into her hands, tightening the grip as she tried to cradle it.
"But I am the eldest!" Margaret tried pulling it from the youngest sister.
They are going to ruin the material, Lily thought as she walked towards them.
"Margaret, I think the purple will look so much better on you than pink. It is more sophisticated and mature." Lily held the roll out for her to feel and hold against her skin.
"Yes! This is it! I want the purple!" Margaret all but cried down the poor girls ears, ecstatic and confident that she will look better than the other sisters, just because Lily had told her that the purple will suit her more.
"I want the yellow." Shelby had wrapped herself in the material whilst the other two had been squabbling over the pink material.
"Excellent choice." Lily complimented Shelby before trying to unwrap. She made it as impossible as she could as she imaged herself being the brightest female at the ball. The prince will have to notice me, she thought as she daydreamed of the prince running across the ballroom just to hold her hand.
Lily sighed once she had untangled Shelby of the material and placed them back in the chest before walking up to the studio. The three girls followed, as if lost lambs.
It took Lily an hour alone to take the measurements and make the designs the three girls wanted. They were all younger than her, and it really showed.
"I want my dress to have bows! Across here." Margaret yelled and ran her hand across her waist. "And it to be low here!" She roamed her hand across her small chest.
"Why not have it here," Lily brought the material up slightly against Margarets chest. "And I will make it tight so you still show but they are covered too. Create a bit of mystery. As for the bow," Lily removed the material and placed it away before grabbing the paper that homed her basic design and pencil. "Why not have one bow here, showing off your waist." Lily sketched the bow before handing Margaret the pad to ponder over the design.
"Lily, I want mine to finish here." Shelby placed her hands across her arms, very high up her thin arms. Lily knew Clarice would have her head if she allowed them to be that high.
"But what if it is cold tomorrow night, Shelby?" Lily passed Shelby the pad that homed her design before walking over to Betty.
"I want mine to be frilly here." Betty's hands found themselves out in the air that surrounded her. "A big frilly dress like the princesses wear in the books!"
"Betty, you are thirteen now. You are a young lady. You are eligible to marry the prince. Do you think it shows sophistication?" Lily handed Betty the design of her dress before grabbing the last pad and sketching her own design. Straight. Black. Long sleeved. Perfect, Lily thought as she smiled and admired her own design.
"I am happy." Margaret stated, forcing her pad into Lily's unready and unexpected hands as she held onto her own pad.
"So am I." The other two declared shortly after. Lily smiled, taking their pads from them.
"Great. Why don't two of you go to the tea room whilst I work with the other one of you and keep going until you all have a dress for tomorrow night?" Lily instantly regretted giving the three of them the option. "Shelby, I will work with you first as your dress is the simplest." The other two sulked but left the room so Lily could take Shelby's measurements and pin the dress around her figure, before hand sewing each part of the dress as Shelby stood still, a smile permanently on her face over being chosen first over her sister's.
"I just need to sort the hem out. Think you can slip out of your under layer to try this on properly for me?" Lily had not allowed her to decide for herself as she roll hemmed the dresses bottom and sleeves. She was smart to have already done so for the chest and back piece before Shelby modelled it.
"Happy?" Lily asked once Shelby placed the yellow dress with sleeves that finished at her elbow onto her body.
"Extremely, Lily." The two of them got the dress off without any trouble before Lily hung the dress up, out of sight, leaving Shelby to dress and leave the room.
Margaret was stood on the platform when Lily had returned from the wardrobe. It took a little longer with Margaret than it did with Shelby, and was grateful for the few seconds she had stopped working as their dressmaker. That's how long it took for Betty to skip her way into the room and start the process all over again.
It was time for bed when the three dresses had all been hidden away in the wardrobe located in the studio. Lily changed into her night gown, her feet feeling the air that they were deprived of, thanks to her boots, all day long.
Wilbert. The name appeared in her mind as the mansion lay silently on the rare occasion, and caused Lily to smile like a mad woman.
Lily awoke the next morning to the sound of the bell of the castle a few miles away from her home, just like she had every previous morning before.
Yes, yes. It is the time again to get back to my daily chores. Lily was like everybody else in the kingdom when it came to that bell. She hated it, with a passion.
"Why must you awake me at a time when I was dreaming the most beautiful of dreams?" Lily whispered angrily, knowing she would not be able to image Wilbert any more as Clarice requested they all had their breakfast trays at eight thirty sharp every morning.
Quickly, she dressed into an old dress that she had fixed many times before with different patches of scrap material, a pair of day slippers and went to work, making the breakfast and cleaning the floors.
"Lily!" A voice screamed from up the stairs as Lily had been scrubbing at the stairs clean. She chucked the brush back into the bucket before rushing to the kitchen and picking up the breakfast trays that had been sitting ready for five minutes, and a kettle that had been whistling on top of the fire. All but running up the stairs is what Lily had done as she made her way to Clarice's room first. The room was pitch black, until the door allowed light to pour into the room, reaching to the foot of the bed Clarice had been homing: Lily's fathers bed.
"Good morning, Clarice." Lily lay the tray of food down on her bed side table before placing two others down on the table to allow her to open Clarice's curtains, allowing light to flood in, before picking the trays up and retreating until she reached Margaret's room, then Shelby's, and lastly Betty's. Each lying in bed still, in the pitch black, until Lily allowed the light of the morning to fill their rooms.
"You are the devils spawn, Lily." Margaret had mumbled into her pillow as she tried to block the sunlight from her eyes.
"Good morning to you too, Margaret." Lily smiled weakly before she passed onto the others bedrooms, arms still balancing trays. They had finished their breakfasts in half an hour, and all requested help changing before their music session with their mother.
Lily helped Margaret first, as usual, into a green dress and tied her hair up. She had decided to place no effort into the hairs that morning as she would only redo it that evening for the ball. Next was Shelby with a blue cotton dress, and her hair up also. Then came Betty, with a purple dress and refusing to leave her bedroom without her hair being curled.
Roughly an hour later, they were going about their daily activities, just as Lily had her own. The first on her agenda was her dress. She rushed up to the studio the second she was free of the sisters and pulled out the black material she had saved that she had stolen from another wealthy family in the area. The material was the exact same she had used to make her outfit when stealing from the families that were once her fathers friends. She had called them her own until they showed her a cold heart when she needed help the most.
It was done much quicker than the other three had been, even when they gave her a template to work with whilst shaping the dress, whereas she had not. As she was finished, she decided that she would take a walk through the forest, when she could still hear the singing of Margaret, Shelby and Betty. Lily had never met more competitive girls than those she called her step sisters. She placed her dress with the other three before pulling one of her other black outfits, that she had placed together using her fathers old hunting outfit as a template.
"Never get this dress dirty, do you hear me?" The warning Clarice had gave Lily the day it had been given to her rang in her mind. It was why the outfit she had made existed. Black trousers, a black top and her high riders boots, along with her black mask and pouch. Well, the pouch was more or less after the family hit broke since there was no man to provide for them, which left her to be the one to get the job of being a thief. It was something Clarice would never allow her own daughters to do, and it was no secret that Clarice did not want Lily with them, so the risk of being caught was the best solution for Clarice.
Lily sighed as she placed her pouch on her waist, just in case she ran into anything, or anybody. Though, she highly doubted anybody would be in the forest early in the morning. With that, she ran down the stairs, knowing Clarice or her daughters would not be able to hear her as they were singing as loud as their lungs would allow them.
She walked into the forest with a smile on her face, no longer being able to hear the singing of the Betty, Shelby and Margaret. Clarice was a decent piano player, that was for sure, but her girls did not share her talent of music.
The birds chattered along busily to themselves, ignoring the impostures of their forest.
"Will you stop whining, Connor." Two men walked through the forest in the opposite direction, walking towards where Lily was slowly making her way through.
"Of course, your highness." Connor bowed playfully and teased his friend of his title. The prince rolled his eyes and nudged his friend with his elbow.
"I am being serious, Connor. If anybody should be whining, it is me. I am the one who has to chose a bride tonight and marry them tomorrow else I will be stuck with... Princess Alixia, for the rest of my life." The young prince sighed whilst looking at his friend. "What do you think I should do, Connor?"
"Choose the one that does not stand on your feet and can actually dance. Shows she is of good breeding." Connor chose to gift his troubled friend with the advise his father would give himself. The prince nodded, knowing it made sense; that it was logical.
Lily had made it a little distance into the forest when she saw two figures approaching her direction. She quickly pulled herself behind the nearest tree and placed her mask on, but pulled her knife out as she pulled the mask out of the pouch. A yelp escaped her throats as it landed in the leaves that lazed about on the ground.
"Did you hear that?" Connor placed his hand in front of the prince, who had been in his own little world whilst they made their way through the forest.
"No." He looked at Connor. "What did you hear?" But Connor ignored him and made his way into Lily's direction, to the tree she was hiding behind, still bent down trying to find her knife in the bed of leaves.
"Do you hear that?" Connor enquired as he pulled the prince to the direction of the tree. Connor only received the sound of the princes sword being drawn as an answer. Connor stayed back, not having a weapon of his own, leaving the prince to investigate himself.