Nadia was sitting at the window listening to her mother and the Queen bicker when she noticed the flood of soldiers racing through the gate at the Citadel. Someone had let the Duke's men through. Her father the King's soldiers were either scattering or joining in with the Duke's men. The men of the special guard flowed out of their tower and set up a phalanx across the square, but the Duke's men were so many. Watching the soldier's of the duke batter their way through the phalanx was like watching a sand castle being battered by the tide.
Nadia had lived with her mother 14 years in this strange and discordant household. Her mother had lost the role of favorite several years ago, which made her bitter. Nadia's own status as the King's daughter preserved her from insult, but Countess Neftchicka, the new favorite, could still find a way to be civil and poisonous at the same time. Countess Neftchika had vanished with her son a week before. Her severed head above the boys body had been reported to be seen on a pike in the Dukes camp. She knew her mother and the Queen wouldn't be able to do anything to preserve themselves, let alone how to agree to preserve the rest of them. If Nadia was going to survive, she would have to do it by herself.
Nadia turned to the room and observed the last of the servants vanishing from the room. They knew that their lives would be in danger as well. Nadia picked up her baby sister, only four months old and her youngest brother, the son of the queen and led them quietly through one of the doors the servants had left open to their quarters. Her other four siblings would have to fend for themselves. Even rescuing her snotty three year old little brother was making too much of a risk.
The passage way was dark and lit by tallow candles, rather than the wax ones used in the palace. At the end of the passage she saw the last of the servants skittering down the stairs to the sculleries. Nadia looked at her silk dress with the pearls and gemstones sewn in and realized that to try and wear it out of the castle would be suicide. She would also have to be careful of her purse. She quickly looked inside. There were 20 gold talents, 15 gold half talents, 30 silver half talents and 12 copper marks. She hoped that would be enough to see her and her siblings to safety. She had no idea how far this money would go, but she knew the blacksmith supported a family on ½ silver talent per month. She decided to risk going up stairs for a change of clothes.
Nadia had never been in the servant's quarters before. She was used to brightly lit hallways, hallways with paintings, tapestries and softly colored paints. Here the hallway was dark and the hallways whitewashed and the candles provided only the minimum light to see the unfinished pine floor. She knew the servant's quarters were up at the top of the palace, but nothing beyond that. When she reached the narrow stairway at a place where two hallways met, she climbed up carefully, trying to avoid making a noise. Her young half brother looked around avidly. For him, this was an adventure. She knew there were two floors above the nursery area where she lived, and the servant's quarters must be above them. When she had climbed up three flights, she began walking down the hall. There were small bedrooms with very small closets in each. Each closet in each room she examined was empty.
From down below came the sounds of battle, doors being smashed and the shrieks of the wounded. She kept checking room by room in an agony of frustration. Her brother began fussing. She knelt down and warned him. "Right now you are safe, but if you make any noise, we will both be in very deep trouble." As the sounds of fighting continued, she made her way along the hallway, till she came to a bright room with windows all around. There were maid's uniforms and tunics spread all over the room. There were bolts of cotton cloth in the corner and a large table with the underside enclosed. there was a large wicker basket that she recognized from seeing them being carried by laundry maids. They had shoulder straps and were about four feet tall.
Quickly she changed into a course linen dress that was a bit large for her, and put her brother into a linen tunic that looked like a dress on him. She tossed her brother's and her old clothes into the basket She tossed three more tunics and four more large linen dresses into the basket, along with two bolts of thick cotton cloth. Now it was time to see if she could make her escape.
There was a sudden tramp of boots along the hallway she had travelled before. The doors she had closed on her way were being kicked down as the soldiers came down the hall. There were shouts of frustration on seeing all the empty rooms. This just seemed to make the soldiers angrier. More boots came down the opposite hallway. Nadia put her baby sister in the basket on top of the linens and looked franticly for a place to hide.... Her brother was missing. Suddenly she heard him snickering at her. There was a narrow cupboard in the corner of the room and she saw his eye gleaming at her. She went to the cupboard and opened it up. Her brother was standing at the top of another set of narrow stairs. She shooed him down a few steps, grabbed the laundry basket with her sister in it and got into the cupboard just as the boots reached the doorway to the room.
"No one is up here" said a weary voice. "All the servants seem to have scarpered after the gate fell."
"Three of the kids got away and the duke is furious" said a deeper rough voice
"Sure. King. The guy is mad like someone stomped his eggs. Orders are to catch them. Make sure the boy is dead. You can play with the girl first, she is 14. But make sure all three are dead before tomorrow."
"Not too long ago he was called the prince and she was the Daughter Royal"
"Yeah, and their father was 'Protector of the Faithful' and 'The Elect of God.' Now he is just crow droppings. Times change. Lets just make sure they don't get away. The boy especially. The way things used to work, he is the heir. We can't even have the rumor of him escaping get out."
"Would have been easier if the king hadn't had the rest of them tossed off the tower"
"He has to prove to the people that there are no other heirs. Can't have them rising from the dead to try and grab the crown back. Lets just make sure they're not in here."
"You check the closet?"
"Nothing there but spiders and rat droppings. Lets make sure of the table"
There were a pair of mighty crashes. Nadia peeked out from the closet and saw them breaking apart the table with their partisans. There was nothing under the table but sewing baskets and bolts of silk. She closed the closet door again. Her brother looked wide eyed at her and kept silent. For some mysterious reason her sister in the basket remained quiet. Nadia remembered one of the nurses giving her a sleeping draught. Had she given her too much? Nadia looked in the basket. The baby remained asleep, but breathing very deeply.
Seeing the men had left the room Nadia went down the stairs in the closet. The next flight down was some sort of office. There were papers scattered everywhere. The desks had been smashed, and there was the body of one of the clerks in front of her stairway. There was an empty smashed treasure box next to the body. Someone had gotten greedy and it had cost them their life. Nadia clutched her purse. Survival might be expensive.
The next floor down there was another wrecked office. There were no dead bodies in this one, but there were a pair of soldiers looking through some books. The door to the office was pulled off the hinges and laying against the doorframe in a drunken manner. Nadia managed to get past the door with her basket and her brother without the soldiers noticing.
The next flight down there was no door. Instead there was a wide counter with shutters, several of them broken, that lead into the Grand Dining room. instead of a set of stairs, there was a wide ramp and hallway that lead down below to the kitchens. Nadia dared to look through some of the smashed shutters. At the far end of the Grand Dining room stood the duke and the Lord High Treasurer.