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By Sara Roberts All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Chapter 1

Compared to some I have had a horrible life, but compared to others my life has been good, judge for yourself. My life so far has been a tangled web filled with mystery, tragedy, adventure, and romance. If you asked me to pinpoint when it all began I wouldn't be able to give you a straight answer; I mean looking back, my life was never quiet or peaceful except for the fuzzy, vague images of when I was a tiny child. That was before the war broke out and my parents got caught up in it. Somehow we got separated, I don't have the faintest clue how, and I never saw or heard from them again. What I do know is as a very young child I ended up in the slave pens and was sold to a rich family, the Riberiars. I have always told myself I was kidnapped, I don't believe my parents just left me or sold me- from the few memories I have of them I know they cared about me.

I spent all my childhood in the Riberians' household, working until I was too tired to stand, then sleeping a few hours, eating a little, and working some more. I never knew what it was to have free time or to do something for the enjoyment of it. This joyless life sucked my soul dry, leaving a shell of girl who was too tired and resigned to feel anything. And on the rare occasion I felt anything, it was usually anger. I think I would have lost all of myself if it hadn't been for Madie, the housekeeper. She cared for me as a child and tried to be a mother to me, she talked to me and kept my mind and hope alive though those long, painful years. Sometimes I wonder how differently things would have turned out if she had lived…But when I was thirteen she died, leaving me completely along in the world, again.

The day she died I was in a daze and it was only that night when I laid down when the sadness and anger took over me as I fled to the rooftop and screamed my anguish to the skies who seemed to answer me with thunder, lightning, and hail. It stormed and flooded for days after like the earth itself was in mourning but it didn't make it any easier for me to accept.

After that I became a shadow, I was to hurt at first I couldn't even imagine caring for anyone again. Then as my wounds began to heal it just seemed like too much work to reach out, no one ever noticed to me so I stayed hidden behind blank eyes. I talked only when spoken to, I had no friends, I kept all my emotions hidden, I never let anyone close to me and soon everyone seemed to forget I existed. I blamed Madie for leaving me alone, it wasn't her fault of course, but I was afraid and alone and didn't know who else to blame. I didn't want to admit it was my own fault.

Seven years of my life flew by in a blur of endless labor and hidden pain. I had done such a good job of putting up a wall between my soul and the rest of the world that I didn't even realize it- I just didn't feel any strong emotion, ever. I would be content some days but never happy, I would get angry but I never had enough energy for it to last. I liked oblivious to this until on cold, gray winter day. I was going to get water for Lady Rideriars' bath when I heard one of the maids screaming, at first I just kept walking, I had learned that if you tried to help others you probably would end up being beaten.

She kept screaming so I turned to see what was going on. There, in the middle of the courtyard, was a massive animal. At first, I thought it must be a bear because if was enormous but as I took a closer look I realized it was a huge, gray wolf. It was my natural instinct I guess, that took over as I charged the wolf, yelling to get its attention. The maid just stood staring and screaming like an idiot.

I threw my pail of water at it and grabbed the maid, pulling her into the house. I locked the door and brushed off my dress then left, leaving the maid to cry on the floor. I got beaten for not getting the water in time but after years of beatings I hardly felt them anymore. But I did feel something, the adrenalin still coursed through my veins and I could feel a strange stirring inside that grew stronger as the day pushed on. A feeling that I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt- it was excitement.

As I went through the rest of the day, I felt something on the edge of my consciousness nagging me. I worked hard trying to distract myself from this new feeling- I had learned over the years that if let hope grow I would only end up hurt. I thought this would be the same, I felt as if I was on the edge of something important but was afraid to admit it. I kept wondering why I was feeling that way and couldn't stop my mind from thinking, something I usually limited because it always brought up painful memories.

While I was looking for enlightenment I discovered what my world had become, and it wasn't pretty. I began to see people working beside me that I had never noticed but knew had been working there for years; it was so strange to look around and actually see everything. The place I had been living in seemed foreign even though I had scrubbed and cleaned every inch a thousand times. I walked past people I had seen every day of my life yet they were strangers to me, I started wondering why I was so separated from them. I watched them and felt no pain at first, but as the day went by I saw their happiness, their anger, their pain and my heart began to ache. I looked away and concentrated on my work, I could not stand to look at them anymore.

It was just too much, seeing everything in a different light, then realizing that I was some kind of monster. What kind of person could live for years with someone and never have a real conversation with them? What was it? I didn't feel like they did, I wasn't anything like them and that scared me. Would I spend the rest of my life in a meaningless existence? Was it too late for me to regain some semblance of a soul?

That night as I was preparing for bed, I was overwhelmed by a million questions swirling in my head. I knew I couldn't sleep so I just laid in bed, then I felt the sudden urge to look up at the stars so I quietly snuck outside. The stars had always comforted me, in a way I felt like I was one myself. I was part of the world but so cold and distant, people always tried to get my attention but I had nothing to do with them. I saw them shining brightly and if they were happy then maybe I could be too, someday. But if I was honest with myself, I didn't think it would ever happen. How could it when most of the servants hated me? Of that much I was sure, they thought I was snobbish and proud because I didn't talk to anyone. But I thought that they were weak and foolish, so maybe it was for the best that we didn't speak... I sighed and looked up, hoping the sight of the stars could quiet my mind. As I gazed at the beautiful stars I heard the snow crunching behind me. I whirled around, ready to fight.

"I'm not going to hurt you." said a man deep voice. I stared at him suspiciously and took a step back.

"Can I drink from your well?" he asked and took a step forward, I nodded and walked backwards, away from him. I might not of known much, buti did know that it was highly unusual for some random man to be out in the snow in the middle of the night asking for water. I assumed he was drunk, or a robber; whichever he was, it was a good idea to stay far away from him.

"What is your name?" He asked. I was at a loss for a moment, I couldn't remember the last time someone had asked me my name.

"Darcie" I answered quietly, I stared at him trying to anticipate his next move.

"Beautiful name, do you think you could get me some food, Darcie?" I paused, then nodded and went inside into the kitchen and came out with a loaf of bread and some dried meat. I don't know why I did it, maybe I just wanted to disobey for once, do something risky or something but I knew I would have to pay for it in the morning. But at the moment it didn't concern me, I was dancing with danger- there was a strange man outside and I was helping him. I was scared, yet part of me wanted to prove something. What I was trying to prove, I don't know. Maybe that there was good in the world, that this man was a good person who wasn't going to hurt me when I gave him the chance…To be honest, even now when I look back I can't explain it as anything other than fate. Sometimes there just is no logical reason for what we must do.

I watched the man as he ate; he looked like he was a few years older than me, maybe 19 or 20. He carried himself with confidence and strength but there was something in his eyes that said he has deeply sad yet he seemed content at the same time. His black hair was cut just above his shoulders and he towered over me. You just had to glance at him to see he was dangerous, not necessarily evil, just dangerous. I should have been afraid, I had no idea who or what he was but I trusted him even though I knew I shouldn't. I was torn between testing my luck farther and proving to myself there was good in the world, and going inside and getting sleep. While I was debating with myself he stood up,

"Thank you," He said and put the rest of the food into a bag he was carrying, "Are you ready?" He asked, I just stared at him. What? I thought, running over everything that had just occurred and still finding no sense in what he just said. My ill-advised trust in this stranger was starting to crack, after all he was still a man and I had learned that men were violent and disgusting animals- maybe he took my kindness for an invitation.

"Are you coming?" He repeated.

"Where?" I asked causally making sure he wasn't between me and the path to the house in case I had to make an escape.

"Away, I doubt you want to stay here." He answered casually, as if he was making a comment on the weather. I glared at him, so he did think I was giving him an invitation! That pig! Did he think I would just go sleep with him just because he asked?

"Are you really asking me this right now?" I asked indignantly, he looked confused and it took him a moment to respond.

"You want to stay a slave?" He asked, it was my turn to be confused.

"Who are you to free me? And at what price?" I asked, hoping he didn't confirm my fears with his answer.

"At no price, I'm leaving this place and I'm offering to take you with me. It is as simple as that. Are you coming?" I just stared at him for a few moments as his words sunk in, then I finally was able to nod, then ran back into the kitchen to get more food.

"Ready?" He asked again when I got back out and I nodded. We walked out of the courtyard and through the city, and out the city gates. The farther I walked away from my old home the better I felt, it was if a heavy weigh was being lifted off my shoulders. No one saw us, no one stopped us- I wondered why I never tried this before.

When we were outside the city gates, I smiled and laughed with joy, my companion looked at me and with a smile he shook his head. But I couldn't help it, I had done something dangerous by putting my life in the hands of a stranger but even if it was just for a few moments I was free. And it was worth it. I had hardly been living so I was losing nothing by risking everything for freedom.

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