IN THE STILLNESS OF THE NIGHT, THE SWISH OF THEIR DRESSES sounded like a menacing informer of their escape. Even the thumping of their hearts seemed to echo every step while they descended the stone staircase.
They glanced at each other. Could they really do this? But the time for dilemmas had passed, and now it was time for quick thinking and bravery. Never repentance. Never. They couldn’t go into the world weakened by doubt.
They ran across the hall. Had it always been so huge? And they reached the semicircular wooden door, with its also enormous bolt. Heavy as it was, they drew it back with ease, since it wasn’t meant to prevent them from going out – a less tangible device saw to that –, but to protect them. Nor did anyone try to stop the two girls when, once in the open air, they rushed off down the lane, heading for the village. A village. Any village.
“How do you know this is the right way to go?”
“I don’t. But I’ve observed it’s the path almost everyone follows.”
“Which could be dangerous for us. We’ll end up in a place where we will be recognized.”
“That’s not very likely,” gasped Roxanne, while she strode to keep pace with her younger sister.
“Well, maybe not. But the further we go, the better.”
Roxanne looked at Celeste with a mixture of admiration and relief – practically gratitude. From the moment she’d counted on her to run away together, merely sensing a shared need, Celeste had turned out to be much more supportive than she had expected, which never ceased to surprise her.
They walked for quite a long time. Their apparel wasn’t very appropriate, despite having chosen the shabbiest and most comfortable garments they had. A renovation of their wardrobes had been their father’s latest present, announcing that they were soon to be introduced to their future husbands. So, everything was new, beautiful and rather stiff – especially the footwear.
“I need to sit down,” Celeste finally declared.
The night was perfect: moonlit and warm. Had it not been for their elegant shoes, they wouldn’t have felt the urge to stop in still a while, since they were used to strolling and running in the vast plot of land walled for them behind the castle.
Their cheeks had not yet the blush of fatigue, but their feet were already a hindrance.
“We’d never seen so many stars, had we?”
“No, never,” answered Roxanne pensively.
“It seems we were right: the curse doesn’t exist,” said Celeste, while she attempted to alleviate the bleeding wounds with some leaves, by placing them between her shoes and her stockings. “We’re out in the open… At night! And we haven’t been struck by no bolt of lightning. What’s the matter? Aren’t you happy? This is our first night out! Doesn’t it feel wonderful?”
Roxanne, sitting on a group of stones, was looking at her with eyes as big as saucers.
“Are you alright?”
“I… didn’t know you doubted the curse.”
Celeste reflected on her own last words and on previous conversations with her sister.
“Well, I couldn’t have come if I didn’t, could I? I know what you mean, though. I made you believe my engagement was a horrible enough idea to prefer death – and it is. But I must admit your reasons for running away have awakened thoughts in me I had always been too scared or too lazy to seriously consider.
So… let me take it back. I would have come even if I didn’t. However, I’m glad you provided me with an additional – and, I’m beginning to think, stronger – reason.”
Roxanne tried to assimilate this unsuspected broader perspective and wondered about its future consequences.
“I think you’re a very brave person,” she said in all sincerity.
They continued their journey and, eventually, the daybreak cold arose. It had been a while now since they’d taken off their shoes, which contributed, infinitely more than tiredness – also starting to affect them –, to their present slow pace.
“One would think Father’s reason, when he brought us these shoes, was not only to embellish our feet,” said Celeste, striving to make her tone joyful, while she sought the nearest softest grass.
“It’s an idea worth considering,” answered the girl in red.
At last, they arrived at a village. They headed towards one of the few two-storeyed buildings, with a sign that said Inn. They knocked on the door.
A woman in her fifties, clearly the owner, came to open. She was more than surprised to find the two girls. Then, she scanned their outfits and showed a glimmer of recognition.
“Oh, Goodness! Come inside.”
The interior was bright and cosy – very different from the home they had just left.
She took them to a small bedroom upstairs and, once inside, she noticed their feet.
“In there,” she said, pointing at a door on the right wall, “you can wash. I’ll light the fire for you, and I’ll bring some water and bandages.”