Chapter 1

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C H A P T E R  |  O N E

I fell out the window next to a boy wearing clothes made brown with dirt, certain mine looked much the same.  Snatching him up, I hefted him to my hip and ran, cursing my long skirt as it tangled around my ankles.  I felt like the heavens conspired against me as I flew through the night, purposefully oblivious of anything that might slow me down.

As my heart pounded in my chest, my lungs billowed painfully in the chill night air, my arms and hip screamed to put down the heavy five year old, my feet screamed at the abuse as they flew over sharp rocks and branches, I focused on a single thing.  It was all that mattered.  The woods.

The boy squirmed in my arms, silently asking to be put down.  But I couldn't dare.  His legs were too short.  We'd never make the trees.  Why oh why had I taken the boy with me?  He wasn't my responsibility.  He wasn't my son, my brother, my cousin.  But I couldn't leave him there.  Not with her.  Not if I knew he was there.  That was too cruel and I wasn't capable of it.

The eerie blackness of the trees stretched closer.  It wasn't safety, but it was a first step.  My feet pounded more furiously, seeming to pound harder and more desperately as my energy waned, my ears straining for the sound of pursuit.  Please don't let them discover our escape.  Not yet.  Just a little longer and we might have a chance.  The night was still silent, empty of barking male voices, the clanging of armor or the rhythmic thumping of hooves.

We were almost there but I didn't think we'd ever get there.  I felt like my heart would give out at any moment.  Could it take much more of this torture?  It felt like it was on its last leg as it pounded painfully in my chest.  And with each step further, I felt like less and less air entered my lungs.  Would I suffocate from exertion before we reached the cover of the woods?  Was that even possible?  What an ignominious end for so useless a life!

But even if my own heart gave out, I would see to it the young boy in my arms had a chance.  He didn't deserve whatever end that terrible witch had in store for him.

Finally, I made the trees, ran another twenty feet hoping we wouldn't be visible from the fields and collapsed painfully to my knees, feeling the jarring movement straight to my teeth.  The boy kept me from falling on my face.  I no longer had the wherewithal to put out my hands to stop my fall.

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