Chapter 6: Boyhood Dreams

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After leaving the meeting at her father's shop, Hildegund had found Adso easily and took back the sword. She left him without answering his barrage questions, and she was now lying in bed, the long slender instrument tucked under her arm. She held the blunt blade as other young girls might cradle a doll.

And now she had a legitimate reason to have the weapon. Maybe she could find someone to teach her a few moves.

A mix of emotions buzzed in her chest as she lay in bed trying to fall asleep. She tried to focus on her breathing and let the dreams drift her away, but her mind was too busy jumping from thought to thought like a spring-green frog bouncing from one lily pad to the next.

She had always wanted to ride a horse. To swing a sword. To ride out into adventure. That's what she and Adso always played. They went into the woods to track dragons and slay beasts. To travel to undiscovered lands and save damsels in distress. "Or what about poor farm boys in distress?" she often teased Adso.

On these imaginary treks she had always been a girl with her cousin, running side by side. The possibility of being a boy out in the world had never entered her mind. It was too outlandish. Even in play there were certain lines that you didn't cross. Although sometimes she dreamed that she was a boy; when she woke up the disappointment was so crushing that she wanted to cry. Or simply disappear.

Now her dream would literally come true. As a boy she could ride into a new town as brash and bold as she pleased without having to withstand perplexed looks from strangers and without worrying that her behavior would shame her father. She might even be able to make him proud. She could momentarily be the son he yearned for without being the daughter whom he couldn't control.

It was heartbreaking to know that she would be riding off without Adso. He was the one person who accepted her without question and who she could always be herself around. Who knew how time might transform them both? They were on the cusp of adulthood – as her father liked to remind her – and during her absence everything could change. Adso might find a sweetheart. His older brother Maricus had started to court a girl earlier this year, and now he was so obsessively love-struck that he was almost unrecognizable.

Hildegund tried to push these thoughts from her head. She and Adso would be friends forever. They were cousins, and nothing could change that. Besides, she still had months before they headed off. She would be ready by the time they left. There was much to do, and as she finally drifted off to sleep she dreamed of the magical adventures that awaited her in the future.

* * *

Hildegund woke up smiling broadly and quickly ran off to tell Adso everything.

Adso was in the town square, walking with his mother through the market. Hildegund just caught sight of his profile as he and his mother walked up to another vendor. Aunt Anna was doing her daily shopping, and Adso was already holding loaves of bread and bunches of apples.

"Come and get your turnips!" a merchant shouted.

"Fresh baked bread! Get it hot!" another added.

Farmers wheeled barrows across crowded streets while small dogs scurried underfoot. Hildegund scooted her way through the crowd, ducking around carts and through stalls, trying not to step in anything too gross. "Adso, Aunt Anna, wait up," she called out. The boy turned with a grin, and her aunt gave her a friendly nod.

"Come to help carry the groceries?" the tall light-haired woman asked, a smile forming at the corner of her mouth. Her voice was warm and her figure was full and motherly. Her eyes were dark ripe blueberries, the same color as Hildegund's mother's had been. Anna had been the older sister. Her house was full of boys, and she always enjoyed the company of her niece.

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