Later that evening, a person watching from Princess Star’s lofty window would have seen a slim figure leaving the Witten Castle by the tradesman’s door. Keeping to the shadows, the figure crossed the small courtyard strewn with hay—and not very clean hay as a muffled curse bore out. The young man, for it was a man, was dressed in a striped tunic, thick leather leggings, warm boots, and had a heavy traveling cloak slung over his shoulder. A short but deadly rapier hung by his side.
When the clouds parted, the moonlight revealed a handsome face set in an expression of determination and courage. There was no trace of a beard. The young man used well-known handholds to scale the castle’s inner wall. The regular pacing of the guards made them easy to avoid. A grappling hook was employed, a length of rope lowered and the slim young man dropped silently outside the castle walls.
It was Princess Star, of course.
The door to her room was wedged shut with a shoe, a dainty shoe, now ruined. Also in her room, (hidden in a secret compartment in her armoire) was a blue velvet bag. This velvet bag used to hold her crown. Star had taken her crown with her. It was now hidden in a secret pocket of her cloak. The blue velvet bag was now packed and bulging with her long golden hair. She had shorn it off, just as surely as she had changed from a woman to a man.
Star walked quickly away from the castle, down through the deserted and familiar streets. She crossed a graceful bridge over the Rab, wandering ever further, hidden by the night she loved. After following the twists and turns of Archer Lane (where fletchers plied their trade) to Bentwick Road (chandlers: candles and soap) to Cooper Street (all things barrel) and then to a much wider street, so wide in fact that a twelve-mule team hauling a wagon could make a full turn in one swoop—The Great Highway! From the badlands of Malăria, across the entire kingdom of Eulalia; to the foothills of the Black Mountains, right to the Black Steps themselves (a place few had ever been)—the Great Highway covered more than a thousand miles of unknown peril, mystery, and adventure.
Princess Star made a right.
Black Mountains here we come, she thought. And then Terra Incognita, I guess. To find the hands of time. I wonder what they look like. Star could only imagine a giant clock at the top of a mountain, or inside a cave. (But the truth was more astounding than that. Way more!)
As she walked farther and farther from Witten Castle, the only home she had even known, Princess Star took a solemn vow. “I will not disobey my father’s decree. I will travel beyond the Black Mountains. I will find the cure for William’s enchantment. And then I will marry—myself!”