Chapter 1

The first blush of morning sun kissed a dented helmet as it rose slowly above a large boulder. It sat slightly askew on its owner’s head and had to be pushed back firmly to give a clear view of the scene below.

“What can you see?” The young voice was filled with apprehensive excitement.

Briyden shuffled his body higher onto the rock in order to improve his view.

“A girl, I think. She’s sort of… dancing.” He glanced down at Loemo’s dark head below him “Come and see.”

“What if she looks up?” Loemo whispered.

Briyden gave his friend an exasperated frown and Loemo hastily inched his way up next to him. He peeped quickly over the top of the rock, and then flattened back down.

“She looks silly,” he giggled nervously.

Briyden shrugged.

“Who do you think she is?” Loemo asked, taking another careful peek.

“I don’t know. There’s something about her, but… quick, duck!”

The boys sank to the ground, backs to the rock, holding their breath. After a minute, Loemo dared a whisper. “What happened?”

“I think she’s finished. She stood up and stretched.”

“Oh no, what shall we do?” The little boy’s voice quivered as he spoke.

With a show of bravado, Briyden said, “We shall attack first, ask questions later.” He reached forward, scooping up a handful of stones as he did so.

“No, Briyden, don’t!” Loemo attempted to grab his friend’s arm, but only managed to catch the edge of his gilet, as Briyden swung the handful of little pebbles over the top of the rock and on to the plateau below.

They heard a yelp as the stones found their target and the girl jumped forward, furiously rubbing the back of her head.

“Now Loemo,” Briyden shouted, as he unsheathed a wooden sword that was pushed through his belt. Loemo shut his eyes and said a short prayer to whichever God might be listening, then shot out from behind the rock and ran full pelt down the bank after his lifelong friend.

The girl looked up, startled and instantly crouched down in a fighting stance. Briyden saw all this happen as he was halfway down the slope. He started to slow down, belatedly realising that the situation might be dangerous, when all of a sudden his legs went out from under him as Loemo cascaded him down the rest of the bank. The girl straightened slowly, watching the squirming bundle roll to her feet, and hastily disengage itself to make two small boys.

“Well,” she said, amusement plain in her voice, “ What have we here? Is this an advance patrol come to welcome me home?”

The boys were desperately trying to wipe grit from their eyes. Briyden snarled like a cornered tiger, his nervousness turning to courage, as the enemy stood over him.

“Don’t move! You’re surrounded.”

“Oh?” she said, raising her eyebrows and glancing around.

The sun shone down into Briyden’s eyes from behind her head and made them water even more than they had from the grit. He tried to find a clean piece of tunic to wipe them on, but discovered there was none. The back of his hand was an unequal substitute.

“Surely you must know me.” she crouched down so that he looked straight into her eyes. “ Have I changed so much in a few months little brother?”

“Karayana?” the dark haired boy asked in surprise, scrutinising the face before him, “Is it really you?”

“Yes, Briyden, it is really me, and look at you,” she said with a grin, “How you’ve grown!”

She reached towards him; arms open for a hug, happy to see family again.

He pushed her away and scrambled to his feet.

“You ran away!” he accused. “Father was really angry with you. I didn’t get the new pony he promised for my birthday because he was too busy searching for you to find me one!”

Karayana stared at the angry child, trying to think of a way to explain herself in terms he would understand, but he turned away towards Loemo, speaking over his shoulder to her.

“Things have changed, big sister. Father gave me this tin helmet.” He retrieved it from where it had come to rest, polishing the dust off on his sleeve. “And this sword, and the whole of this plateau to patrol and guard against attack.” He swept his sword in an arc around him as he spoke, puffing out his chest with self-importance. “And you shall have to accompany me back to the house, because you are in big trouble.” He spoke these last words with such a fierce look upon his face that Karayana had to hide her smile.

“Follow me,” he ordered. “Loemo, bring up the rear.”

He turned and set off back up the bank, with a very purposeful stride. Karayana picked up her pack and cloak, glancing at Loemo as she did so. He gave her a quick nervous smile, and then followed a good way behind as she set off after Briyden.

Coming home was the hardest thing Karayana had ever had to do. Following Briyden’s marching form, she at last had her first view in six months of the Palace of Den standing majestically in the morning sunlight, growing out of the stone plateau that stood above the surrounding forested slopes of the Tor mountain range. It was beautiful; it was awe-inspiring; it was full of wonderful childhood memories and ancestral stories of romance, intrigue, and battle.

It was the last place she wanted to be. But no, that wasn’t entirely true. If it wasn’t for the fate that awaited her within those walls, the fate she was going to do her hardest to convince her father to change, then she would be happy to be here. She breathed deeply of the pine-scented air, letting her thoughts drift on the breeze until a chill draft caught her cloak, wafting it aside and forcing a small shiver from her body, reminding her that up here spring was only just beginning, and winter could still descend again if it so desired. She tugged the clasp shut and pulled the woolen material closer. What she would give for the warmer slopes she had so recently left behind.

Twenty minutes later, Briyden marched into the dining hall, his captive in tow. The wooden paneled room was a hive of breakfast time activity. The smells of fresh bread wafted up the stairs in the corner from the kitchen below. It seemed such a long time since she had last had breakfast at home, and what a breakfast this one would be. The prodigal daughter returns unannounced, she thought ruefully.

Her father was already seated at the head of the table, his reading glasses perched on his large nose, the morning paper in front of him. Completely oblivious to the morning routine, he waited for his wife, Liasna, to join him. Karayana followed Briyden up the side of the hall, past the covered dishes of various foods, half of which wouldn’t be touched. As they walked by the servants, she heard them start to mutter, one or two giving small gasps as they recognized Briyden’s companion. She smiled and nodded, making eye contact with people she had known all her life. Smiles and nods were returned, and the mutterings grew louder behind her. Just as Briyden reached his father, the large double doors behind him were opened and Lady Liasna entered. Karayana’s eyes instantly met those of her mother.

“Karayana!”

Her father looked up, startled, from his paper.

“You are safe!” gasped her mother and came towards her, arms outstretched, tears glittering in her eyes. Karayana hugged her, realizing that she had grown to the same height as her mother.

“Look at you,” Liasna said, holding Karayana away from her. “You look almost like a young man in those clothes.”

Karayana used her sleeve to pat dry the tears that had come unbidden to her eyes.

“Oh, Mother, I missed you,” she whispered, not trusting her voice any louder.

“Come and sit down, I’ll get you some breakfast.” Liasna swallowed her own tears and took control of the situation, manoeuvring her daughter to a chair. “You look like you need something. You’re so thin!” she exclaimed, nodding towards an attentive serving girl.

“Just something plain, please mother,” Karayana said quickly, eyeing the rich choices in front of her.

Liasna stared at her intensely for a moment, before shrugging off her thought.

“Alright, just bread and fruit on Karayana’s plate?” She looked at her daughter for confirmation and received a nod.

“Now you eat your fill and then take yourself up to your room and bathe. I don’t want to hear any of your tale until after you’ve done.”

“But Mother,” Briyden piped up indignantly from his place at his father’s side, “She’s my prisoner, and…”

“Briyden. Karayana is your oldest sister and you should be more respectful. Now sit down and eat your breakfast.”

Briyden looked hopefully towards his father, but received a stern glare over the precariously perched reading glasses.

“Humph. Come on, Loemo, let’s eat.”

Loemo smiled happily at his disgruntled friend. He was very glad that there hadn’t been a scene, and very, very glad that they could eat now. The tension in the room went unnoticed by the two young boys as they tucked into large plates of food.

Karayana ate slowly, aware of her father’s rising temper. She could feel it swelling inside him and knew that when he at last managed to speak to her, it would not be pleasant breakfast table conversation. Her stomach knotted. She had not wanted to return, yet now she was here she realized just how much she had missed them all. She wished that he would just forgive her and let the whole matter rest. But then, that wouldn’t change the anger she felt, or the reason she left in the first place. She glanced at her father out of the corner of her eye. He was concentrating very hard on his paper. She turned towards her mother, who seemed to be devouring her with slightly moist eyes. Karayana sighed, and put down her fork.

“I have been gone so long, mother; I don’t know what to say.”

Liasna smiled. “Say nothing for now. That can come later. It is so nice to have you back.”

“You got my letter?”

Liasna nodded. “Yes.”

“I didn’t want you to worry. I was fine, really.”

The sound of Morden’s paper hitting the table made them both jump and turn to face him.

“You didn’t want us to worry?” he exploded, “Then why run away in the first place?”

Liasna gave him an angry stare, while Karayana looked down at her half eaten food, very aware of the many ears listening in.

Morden pointedly ignored his wife and leant towards his oldest daughter.

“And where exactly did you go? And most of all….why?”

She watched her father hide his hurt behind a frown and guilt washed over her.

“I am deeply sorry for worrying you all. It wasn’t my intention. I should not have been so thoughtless.”

“But you were. For six months we have wondered if you were dead or alive.” His voice grew louder.

“But you got my letter,” she said indignantly.

“One letter! Yes, we received one letter! You were fine when you wrote it, but what about all the other days?” He gathered his breath. “I have had men searching this province when they could have been put to better use elsewhere. Who were you with?”

He banged the table with his fist, punctuating each word, and silence fell over the hall. Karayana knew all eyes were on her. It was plainly obvious that her father thought she had run away with a lover. Nothing was further from the truth and being even subtly accused angered her.

“I managed very well on my own,” she lied, her own voice rising. “I left because I couldn’t stand the thought of being forced into a loveless marriage just for the sake of politics.”

There, she had said it.

Liasna buried her head in her hands. She had almost forgotten how wonderfully well these two got on.

Morden’s voice actually went up a notch.

“How dare you?” he roared. “Your betrothal took many years to arrange and is better than we could have hoped for. Portheas will marry beneath him…”

“And oh, how I’ll suffer for that.” Karayana stood, furious at her father’s words. “I will be locked away forever with Ladies and embroidery. I will be nothing more than a breeding machine. When you die your lands will belong to an Ebrocian no more, but to an Araevian who will think of them as extra farmland and nothing else.”

Morden sat speechless, his face reddening by the minute. He rose to his feet, knocking his chair to the floor, and leaning towards his daughter. Pointing at Karayana threateningly, he yelled, “I should have had you whipped when you were a child. You are too insolent.” Turning, he stormed from the hall.

Karayana tried to breathe deeply and slow her pounding heart. Her hands shook as she pushed her plate away.

“Well, that may have been better said in private,” Liasna commented mildly. Then to her gawping son, “Briyden, close your mouth and finish your breakfast.”

She looked back to her daughter, who was gradually gaining a semblance of control.

“I suggest you go and freshen up Karayana. I will speak to you later. In private.”

Relieved at her dismissal, Karayana walked sedately from the hall, but once out of sight, ran up the many stairs to the sanctuary of her chambers.

The morning sunlight streamed through thin gauze strips covering the two open windows of Karayana’s dayroom. Striding across an ornate wool rug, she threw back the gauze, allowing the warmth of the sun to penetrate the room. This had always been her favourite place to sit.

She needed to calm down. The fountain in the courtyard below was singing its tinkling tune, the light creating little rainbows in the cascading water. The flowerbeds were showing the promise of emerging flora, and the smell of jasmine drifted up from below her window. Shutting her eyes she allowed the familiar sounds and scents to soothe her and soon found herself drifting towards sleep. Opening her eyes roused her sufficiently to trudge through to the bedroom where she fell face down on the bed. The sheets smelt clean, even though she had been gone so long. Someone had obviously kept up to her rooms in the hope that she would soon return. Guilt washed over her again. She swept a surface with her finger but there was no dust anywhere.

“Karayana?” A musical voice rang in her ears.

Sitting up, she peered back into the dayroom. Her younger sister stood staring at her, hands over her mouth, speechless.

“Mona!”

“Yes, yes, it’s me. Oh Karayana, you look so different.”

She gave a light laugh. “ I look different? Look at you. Your hair has grown so long, and you look more like a woman than a girl.”

“Six months is a long time, especially in the lives of young people,” her little sister said sagely.

“You have grown wise too, I see. Who is your tutor now? Galron, perhaps?”

Mona smiled. “Yes, and a dear man he is too. Don’t mock him Karayana, he has missed you terribly, as have I.”

Karayana dropped her gaze. Then she held out her arms.

“A hug would be nice.”

Mona smiled and came hesitantly across the room. Karayana stepped forward and hugged her tight.

“You see, it’s still me.”

Mona giggled.

“What is it?” Karayana asked.

“I was just imagining Marti’s face when he sees you.”

“Marti’s still here? I thought he would have gone off with the border guards by now.”

“He was supposed to go last autumn, but he said he wouldn’t go until he knew what had become of you.”

“How silly of him,” Karayana said moving away from Mona’s embrace. “Why would he say such a thing?”

“Because he’s in love with you,” Mona giggled again. “You must know that.”

“I know no such thing,” Karayana said indignantly. She began to feel uncomfortable, and annoyingly, jealous. Her sister knew more about her best friend than she did, all of a sudden.

“Anyway, I better bathe before father decides to interrogate me again. It is good to see you are well Mona,” she said dismissively.

Mona appeared somewhat put out as she turned to go. On reaching the door, she turned to regard her sister.

“Don’t think badly of father, Karayana. I’ve only once seen him cry, and that was the day the guards came back from their first search without you.”

Karayana stared at her in astonishment. Father cried?

“I will speak to you this evening after my lessons,” Mona said softly. “You can tell me your story then.”

She left Karayana standing on her rug in the centre of the room.

——————–

Morden sat at the desk in his study staring into the flames of a small fire that was beginning to chase the chill from the room. He had just finished writing a message to Matheas to say that the wedding plans could be resumed. A pigeon would already be on its way to Araevia. The study door opened and Liasna entered, looking less than pleased. Without a word, she removed a pile of papers and seated herself on the chair opposite him.

“Well, that went well.”

“You cannot expect me to sit calmly by and pretend there is nothing wrong,” he muttered.

“But you must see her point about this marriage. Matheas’s family are very traditional in their views. Karayana is not the sort of girl to be cooped up inside a castle for ever more.”

“She has to take up her responsibilities, Liasna. Would you make me the laughing stock of this country?”

“No.” Liasna said indignantly, “It’s just that…”

Morden held up his hand to stop her.

“It is too late. I have sent a message to Matheas telling him she has returned. Let us hope they still wish to go ahead.”

“Let us hope they do not.” Liasna whispered sadly.

Morden was deep in thought and didn’t hear her.

“Do you think she was with someone else?” he asked suddenly.

“Morden you are so blind. The only person I would ever have worried about on that score is Marti. He has been here all along.”

He nodded, his chin resting on his hand.

“Why, though, has she come back now, if not because she has been spurned by another? She must have known that the wedding would still go ahead.”

“Perhaps she thought that running away would convince her father that to marry Portheas would make her extremely unhappy.”

Morden gave a derisive grunt.

“I’m going for a ride,” he said, getting up from the chair. “See if you can find out any more. I cannot speak to her yet.”

Liasna sighed and watched him leave the room. She was lucky enough to love her husband, but he exasperated her constantly.

——————–

Flinging open the double doors leading to the courtyard, Karayana stormed through. Too many thoughts were swirling around her head. Her father, Portheas, Marti. She needed to relax, calm down. She took a long, deep breath and proceeded in a semblance of calm towards the fountain in the centre of the gardens. A low wall surrounded a shallow fishpond, offering the perfect seat, and she sank down onto it, dipping her fingertips into the cool water. The golden Koi darted here and there at the disturbance, creating soothing ripples on the surface. She was so immersed in her quiet meditation that she missed the footfalls on the stone behind her, and jumped up startled when Marti spoke.

“Karayana, it is you!” He grinned and looked her straight in the eye. Nobody could look as deeply into her soul as her childhood friend. He knew her so completely and, hard though it was to admit, she had found it hurt to leave him behind. Throwing her arms around his neck, she hugged him fiercely.

“Well it’s good to see you too,” he laughed, “but where the hell have you been all this time? We were all really worried. But here you are, fit and healthy, turning up out of the blue…”

“I know. I’m really sorry for worrying everyone, but I’ve had the most amazing experiences.”

He laughed. “Tell me.”

“There’s so much to tell.” She sat back down and patted the wall for him to join her.

“Then start at the best bit,” he urged.

She thought for a moment, a smile playing on her lips.

“The best bit would have to be…the new life I have been learning to live, a magical life where everything I thought I knew took on new meaning, and where nothing was what I thought it was. If my teacher had not made me see the necessity of making up with my father, I would not be here. Not yet anyway.”

“Teacher?” Marti peered down into her face, puzzled.

“Yes, his name’s Ral, and he’s such a lovely man. But if Father has his way I’ll never get to see him again.”

“Was he a lover?” Marti asked gently.

“What? No!” A mixture of shock and anger crossed her face. Marti breathed a small sigh of relief.

“How could you, of all people, think that of me? Why does everyone think I ran off with a man?” Her forehead wrinkled in consternation as she spoke.

“Sorry. My mistake.” He gave a sheepish half grin.

“Have you taken a lover?” she asked suddenly, piercing him with her violet eyes. For some reason, the thought of Marti with another girl filled her with rage. He looked astonished, but before he could speak, she carried on.

“I shouldn’t be surprised if you have. The girls used to ogle you on the training field before I left, so I suppose it was just a matter of time until one of them lured you to her bed. And you’re a man.”

“Hang on a minute!”

“Well, will you deny it?”

“Yes, I will deny it. And what do you mean by ‘and you’re a man’? No, I’ll speak now,” he said as Karayana took another breath. “I have waited for your return for a long time, but I didn’t expect you to come home and attack me. I gave up my first tour of the borders to wait for you, and suffered the wrath of my father and the ridicule of my friends for it. Now I’m beginning to wish I’d gone.” Marti stood up and started to leave.

“No, Marti, don’t go. Please.” Her voice sounded small behind him, and he turned around in time to see her quickly wipe her eyes.

“I shouldn’t have said those things,” she whispered. “I seem to be antagonising everyone today.”

She extended a hand towards him.

Marti considered her for a moment, and then taking her hand,

he gave a wry grin as he sat back down.

“Who else have you been antagonising?” he asked gently.

“Father. I wanted to tell him the whole story, everything that has happened, but we ended

up having a big row.”

“That’s unusual,” Marti said in mock surprise. Karayana looked down at her knotted hands and resumed.

“I thought it best if I told him why I’d run away before I told him where I’d been. I thought he might understand things better then.” She looked to Marti for confirmation that she’d done the right thing. He nodded for her to continue.

“I didn’t even get a chance. He came to his own conclusions.” Karayana sighed deeply, trying to stop the tears that were stubbornly trying to fall. Marti gave her a nudge,

“And what were your reason?.”

“I don’t want to marry Portheas, and I certainly don’t want everything that that would entail. I found freedom as I was travelling. I found life.”

The tears won out and she put her head in her hands. Marti encircled her with his arms, pulling her close, and silently let her cry. If he knew Karayana, she had needed to do this for a long time. He thought of the life before her and had to agree that it wasn’t a life he would want to live. Even as heir to the Ebrocia province, as a woman she would have hardly any freedom. He ached inside with what that would do to his friend. Karayana had such a love for life. She was impulsive, reckless sometimes, but always fun. She took some beating with a bow, and her riding skills were excellent. None of those skills would be used or needed in her marriage. What a waste it all seemed. He had always thought she had come to terms with the marriage. He himself never had. The loss of her friendship, as he had found out over this last six months, was hard to bear. Anger rippled through him, his gut clenching at the injustice of it all. He tried to turn away from it, but couldn’t. He had ignored it for too long.

“You can’t marry him!” he exploded. “I won’t let them take you away. Karayana, we have to leave here. You should never have returned.”

Those violet eyes that haunted his soul still glistened with tears as they peered incredulously up at him.

“I can’t run away again. They don’t even know where I’ve been. And neither do you.”

“But I can’t bear to think of you being unhappy for the rest of your days.” Or in the arms of another man, he thought. “Portheas could easily be here by the end of the week. His father will not want to wait any longer for the betrothal ceremony. You need to get away swiftly. And this time I will be with you.”

Karayana stared at him.

“Now you’re scaring me. Can I really go again so soon?”

“I know what this marriage will do to you,” he pleaded, “I know also what it will do to me. I have known you all my life and we have always been friends. That will all end.”

“ I have to think,” she whispered. “Let’s allow ourselves a day to think things through properly, and for me to make things right with my father. Ral won’t be pleased with me if I upset my family again intentionally.”

“KARAYANA.” They both jumped at the sound of Mona’s voice.

“Leave now. We will meet here tonight as the moon rises,” Karayana whispered. “I will make my decision and tell you then. Go now.” She gave him a nudge. He hesitated.

“Go Marti, before Mona sees us,” she whispered urgently. He gave her a questioning glance and then, thinking better of it, he silently left.

She stood up, smoothing her rumpled dress and wiping away the wet streaks on her cheeks.

“I am here, Mona,” she called, trying to make her voice stronger. “Shouldn’t you be in lessons still?”

“Mother told me about your argument with father. You didn’t say anything earlier.”

“No. I was trying to forget it.”

“Anyway, Galron said I could forget lessons for the morning and try and cheer you up. Have you been crying?”

Mona stared intently into Karayana’s face.

“A little,” she admitted.

“Well don’t worry.” Mona said firmly. “I have asked for lunch to be brought to your rooms and until then I shall fill you in on all the gossip you’ve missed out on.”

“Thank you,” Karayana said, trying not to groan.

“I even have a few snippets about Marti,” Mona whispered conspiratorially.

Karayana glanced quickly at her sister in surprise, and realized that was just the reaction Mona had been waiting for. With a smirk, Mona took her by the arm and led her back to the palace, their skirts swishing as they went. For some reason, Karayana found the noise irritating. She wished she’d left her trousers on, but that would only have antagonised father more. She sighed. How different life was here. How constricting.

Mona was having difficulty seeing Karayana’s point of view.

“I am upset, yes.” Karayana said defiantly. “Father cannot see beyond my responsibilities as a willing pawn in his politics. He has never considered my feelings on this marriage.”

Mona gave a small shrug. “We have always known that he would have the final say in who we married.”

“But we didn’t know he would marry us off whether we liked it or not,” Karayana stormed. She was feeling more and more bitter as she spoke.

“Portheas is rather handsome though,” Mona tried. “I would have jumped at the chance to marry him. He is so clever and charming, and he inherits that beautiful palace on the coast. It makes this one look like a humble hovel.”

Karayana flashed her sister a disdainful look.

There was a knock on the door and with a shout of “Enter,” from Mona, it opened to reveal servants carrying platters. Mona carried on talking, not even noticing them, but Karayana felt uncomfortable. It is not so long ago that I would have acted as Mona does, she thought, and felt repulsed by the memory. These servants were people too, why should they not have the same rights as she did? She watched as four women made her room into a dining hall. She couldn’t bear it any longer.

“Please, you have done enough bringing the food here for us, I think we can manage the rest.”

Everyone stopped and looked at her in surprise.

“Thank you,” she added hastily, as the servants looked slightly put out. She waited until they had left and closed the door, and then she carried on putting out the food herself. “There is enough here to feed a whole village,” she laughed self-consciously. She knew her sister was staring at her.

“Why did you slight them so?” Mona asked suddenly, anger sounding in her voice.

“Slight them? I was trying to be more courteous towards them. Why should they wait on us hand and foot?”

“Because it is their job, they are paid to do it. You just made it look like you were displeased with them. What is wrong with you, Karayana?”

“I didn’t mean to hurt them. It just felt… all wrong. The training I have been doing…. It has made me look at people differently, I suppose.”

“What training?” Mona asked with a snort.

Karayana sighed, knowing that her sister would not understand.

“If I told you, it would sound easy, but sometimes I think it is the hardest thing in the world. So many things in my life have changed in such a short space of time. I don’t think I could explain them to you if I had all week.”

Mona was looking at her as if she were some poor deranged girl.

“I’m not even allowed to tell you of a lot of the things I have learnt. It is very old, secret knowledge.”

“Well don’t tell that to father. He’ll be even less pleased with you,” Mona said sulkily. She went to the table and started helping herself to food.

“Are you going to eat something?”

Karayana reluctantly started picking through the food, trying to find something plain and simple. It was no easy task. Mona tried to ignore her sister’s strange behaviour.

“So, have you seen Marti yet? I told him you were back.”

“Erm, yes briefly.” Karayana attempted to seem uninterested.

“Now do you believe me when I say he’s in love with you? I bet just the way he looked at you was enough to prove it.”

“I think you’re mistaken.” Karayana steered away from the truth that was beginning to show itself. “Why would he even be interested in courting me when he knows that it can all come to nothing?”

“You have four months before you’re married; that time is yours.” Mona looked at her sister coyly.

Karayana was visibly shocked. “You do not know of what you speak.” she said angrily.

Mona looked at her, her head to one side.

Karayana felt irritated. “Leave me now Mona. I haven’t had time to think since I got back. I really need some space.”

“What about lunch?”

“I’m really not hungry.”

Her sister stood, a look of thunder on her face.

“I am sorry I didn’t manage to cheer you,” she said, forcing a smile. “Oh, and remind me next time to tell you that gossip I heard about Marti and the kitchen maid.”

Karayana felt the quick stab in her stomach. Her eyes blazed but Mona left the room without a backward glance.

Leaning back in her chair, she pushed Mona’s words away. She knew her sister had been taunting her. Even so, the words lingered. Her head was beginning to ache, right between her eyes and she tried to massage away the pain. At least there was silence now. She let the quiet steal into her, and slowly the tensions started to leave. Her mind drifted back to the day before, the euphoria she had felt at the new day that had started with a clear dawn sky filled with promise. But yesterday she was still on her own, in her comfy clothes, the stillness inside her giving her energy, energy that let her see proof of life in everything she encountered. Beautiful energy. Where was it now? It was still there, deep down, but this place drowned it out, making it harder to grasp. Each time she tried, it was like sand flowing through her fingers, to settle again deep down within.

Feeling like the gown was restricting her breathing she got up and ripped it and its many under garments off. Standing naked in her room, she took a deep breath.

“Freedom,” she whispered with a smile, “is all I ask for.”

<<< Prologue                                                                                     Chapter 2 >>>

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