Chapter One

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          She dreamt of a vast blue sea, spewing white-foamed waves as winged gulls soared beneath a blistering, hot sun. A salty breeze tugged gently at her plait and the folds of her skirts and she smiled, certain this tranquility and beauty was a fraction of what the heavens had to offer. But suddenly, an unusually shrill noise reverberated from somewhere afar, and she began to feel her beautifully intact world of sea and sand dissolve, and though she grappled to keep her vision, it filtered away to nothingness.

           Elle Duncan awakened on her meager pallet of straw to another deafening shriek resounding from somewhere outside her family's hut. She groaned inwardly, scolding the wretched fowl for its eagerness to crow.

          She suppressed a yawn and sat up, pushing tendrils of hair from her face as she reflected a moment on her dream.

          She had never been to the sea, had never felt the loose grains of sand beneath her feet or the chilly, saline breeze on her skin. And she wondered as to how she could perceive something so precise, especially considering she had never visited the shoreline, and most noticeably, she had always been blind.

          Since birth, she had been deprived of sight. She could see nothing past the steadfast darkness that was her vision. Yet, in spite of that, she dreamt of blue waters heavy with brine that turned against a boundless shoreline, and the more she dreamt of it, the more she longed to visit its grainy coast.

          She knew of no other life than that of permanent darkness. Her dreams were a window of perception that she held firmly to, which left her wondering as to how she could depict anything without her sight, and so accurately when compared to passing peddlers who spoke of their travels at sea. It was baffling, and she yearned to go where her mind journeyed, but knew it would be nothing more than a puzzling dream.

          Elle smiled as her mother's humming came softly from the opposite room, a distinct indication that she was likely preparing the course of the morning.

          She and her family shared a small hut, one of many huddling within the village. It was constructed simply of a thatch roof and walls assembled together of wattle and daub.

          Though last winter had been extremely harsh and some of their livestock had perished due to the frigid weather, lately it seemed they were faring better than most.

          As if on cue, her stomach grumbled. She straightened from her bed of hay and maneuvered her way to the next room, lured by her mother's wordless warble.

          An earthy scent wafted to her nose as her mother's voice settled gently at her ear, "You slept late, my darling."

          Despite her lack of sight, she had an incredible sense of heightened hearing. Even now, tilting her head away from her mother, her ears strained with the hastened approach of her elder sisters.

          "Mama!" her eldest sister, Elsa, cried, her strides hurried and frantic.

          "What is it, my dear?" her mother shifted away from her, her gentle voice betraying a sudden unease that clutched at Elle's heart.

          "Papa has collapsed in the field!" her other sister, Esme, exclaimed with an alarmed cry, following closely at Elsa's heels.

          Elle reached out to grasp something solid, her fingers curling around the edge of their wooden table as she turned to face her sisters.

          Their father had suffered a terrible fall from his horse last harvest, but despite that had remained tenacious and determined on tending the crops and assisting fellow neighbors, heedless to their mother's incessant warnings. And being a prideful, unyielding man, insisted on obtaining any means of work, mindless to the injury that constantly grieved him.

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