Watched

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          Atamar was determined to have a fair competition.  She was also determined to be away from prying eyes.  She couldn't help feeling like everyone was constantly watching her. 

She knew the adults were.  She had begun to notice it soon after her 7th birthday.  She wasn't sure if it had been happening before and she hadn't noticed, or whether the adults were wondering about the greeting that had appeared suddenly and was used constantly, or whether it was because there was something wrong with her. 

She didn't know, but it scared her.  She wanted to be free of it all.  However, it seemed she couldn't escape adult attention no matter what she did.

It seemed to get worse as the years passed.  She had discovered that the maze was the best place to be free of adults.  She would often go there to hide and to be free. 

When she was 10 she suddenly realized that since no one was allowed to be better than her in their classes, she needed to work harder at her lessons so that the others could move ahead as well. 

She started paying attention to the other children during class.  She could tell by their expressions who was interested and understood things in each of her different subjects. 

Eticia was extremely good at math, so one day, Atamar asked her if she would help her with their math.  She explained her plan.  They would meet in the maze once a week, and she would help her understand what they were going to be learning. 

That way, in class, she would be able to "learn" things quickly so that her classmates wouldn't be held back. 

She asked Isoje to help her with science, Mitym with grammar, and she found others to do the same with her other subjects. 

It was fun working with her friends, knowing that none of them had to pretend to be something they weren't.  The hours she spent in the maze were among her happiest. 

In fact, hidden away in the heart of the maze surrounded only by those who would be honest with her, Atamar's merry laugh would often ring out.  It was seldom heard elsewhere. 

Many, including her parents, had missed that laugh that they used to hear so often.  Atamar had no idea that people would frequently stop outside the maze to listen to her laugh.

She also didn't know that her friends had been sharply quizzed by their parents about what went on in the maze.   Their response was, "We sat and talked most of the time." 

It was true.  They just didn't explain that what they had talked about was their lessons.  Their parents would always ask anxiously, "You didn't let the Princess lose did you?"  They always responded, "We didn't race." 

She was 15 when they started the youth stable, and she had been so excited.  However, even though it was the youth stables, there were constantly adults passing through. 

Nehat or Enielda always had to be in the stall with her so that if an adult should pass they could pretend they were the ones caring for her mount. 

Atamar was an observant child, at least she became one after the Scarf Race revelation.  She wondered if the adults being always nearby had anything to do with the little bits of rumors she was hearing of trouble with some of the neighboring kingdoms. 

Were the adults worried that someone might infiltrate the palace grounds?  Those rumors had begun popping up shortly after her 7th birthday. 

As the years passed, those rumors began to be more definite as did Atamar's frustration at never being free to win or lose on her own merit.  Atamar tried to hide her frustration, her worries, her sadness, and her longings.  It wasn't easy. 

She was 16 when she thought of her plan to use the island.  By then she was desperate to find an outlet for her desires to be fulfilled. 

However, things hadn't worked the way she had hoped.  The day she asked her parents about the young people having a picnic on the island was the day the first report arrived about the attacks being made at their borders. 

Her parents refused her request, saying, "No Atamar, we can't take any chances.  You must stay near the palace."  Atamar was watched even more carefully after that. 

She noticed and it disturbed her greatly, but she could not figure out why.  Now, sitting in the hot sun watching her friends enjoying the annual scarf race, Atamar felt the stares of those around her. 

It wasn't really all that different from any other day of her life.  Atamar wished with all of her heart that she could run away from those haunting stares and from her own inner questions...

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