The glowing word vibrated in the sunlight, drawing Eden to the leather-bound book lying amongst the others on the for-sale table. She never expected to find such treasure buried among the religious texts and cookbooks at the county fair. Eden clutched the tome to her chest. Despite her age of nearly eighteen, the law said she must seek her foster father or mother’s permission for any purchase. But her parents would refuse if they knew what she held. What she dared to touch.
Eden’s heritage defined and shackled her. The betraying sign of her blood lay in the color of her eyes: amethyst. Lowering her gaze, her hand shook as she counted out the coins to pay for the book. Begging that the old woman wouldn’t question if she’d gotten permission, she paid the cost of the book from her allowance she’d been saving up for years, then zigzagged through the crowd to a nearby oak.
Behind the tree, a shaky sigh escaped her trembling lips. Her heart thumped against her chest like a bird anxious to be free. She brushed her fingers across the warped leather of her prize, tingles of excitement coursing through the tips. All books not permitted by the council were banned.
Across the field, two men with beards hanging down their chests shouted at a third and Eden trembled. Please don’t let them see me with the book. Sweat trickled down her back over her scars. Last time she was this petrified was when she was ten and had played in the rain, which was outlawed. For her crime, she was whipped in front of the entire town. At least she hadn’t done worse, like flirt or kiss someone without approval.
Now she had a forbidden book in her hands. The penalty would be a whipping for three days for a first offense. That was if the council was feeling merciful. Second offense was death and the council hoarded the Damned’s possessions and levied a heavy fine on the surviving family.
If they found out she had not only a book, but one about her people…
Terror lodged in her chest. With her legs shaking, she scanned the words across the worn leather binding: The Forbidden History of the Damned.
That was what she was. Only her parents had sheltered her from her fate thus far. Before she was born, the council commanded the slaughtering of her kind. Everything about their history, culture, or way of life was destroyed.
Every time she looked into the mirror at her violet eyes, she was reminded that she was one of those condemned to death.
But she was one of the few lucky ones. Because her father was a member of the council, some leniency was given to their family. Eden was allowed to sleep in their house and not outside or in the barn as other Damned were made to do.
Nearly eighteen years ago, her foster mother found her in a small cave. Eden’s heredity apparent when she opened her eyes and smiled. None but the Damned had violet eyes like hers. Falling in love with the newborn, her foster parents hid her for months.
Later, her father begged the council for a meeting. To show their opposers that they were merciful, and as her father retold it, to thwart the common people from rising in rebellion, the council granted any child under the age of three freedom to join their society…as long as they obeyed the ways of the council.
Except, the Damned were not allowed the privileges of others. Any Damned who were fortunate enough to own a shack as their home were subjected to high taxes and constant visits from council members. None were taught to read, for it was forbidden.
Eden could read.
She learned by sneaking out early in the mornings and then listening outside the schoolhouse. Several times, she swore the teacher looked right at her. But then he would shudder and turn his attention back to his students. When the class was dismissed, she would dash home to finish her chores for the day.
Now, her heart slammed in her chest at her mother calling her. But she had a book! She must not let her mother discover what she had purchased.
As exposed as it was here, she had to peek. Had to know if this was really a forbidden book. Curiosity overwhelming her, she pried the book open and the hairs on her arms stood up. The birds singing around her faded along with the crowd milling about to check vendors’ wares as she read.
This is the history of the Damned. Even though, we do not call ourselves such. Evil in disguise creeps over the land and we all fear its path will be one paved in sorrow and blood.
Men less powerful than us, have fallen prey already. They do not remember the feats of magic we wielded during the last war.
Magic? That was prohibited. Even if suspected, a Damned was killed without a chance of repentance or trial.
“Eden?” Her mother was close, she had to hurry. What if she never got a chance to look through this book again? If she was caught with it…She panted as she scanned a few more lines.
Evil snared their hearts while pride gives them the illusion that they are above us all. And I fear for our kind if we do not destroy them.
“What are you doing, hiding?”
At her mother’s words, she jumped. She stuffed the book in the waist of her skirt. Please stay in place. And faced her mother.
“Just tired of the crowd.” Eden walked stiffly from behind the oak hoping the book would not fall and betray her.
“I need to speak with Mrs. Collingworth.” She gave Eden a sideways hug. “You were supposed to take the eggs to sell. Are any of them broken?”
“No mother.” She bent and picked up the basket.
“Good, go and take them to Mr. Collingsworth straightaway.”
Eden dipped into a quick curtsy, then hurried toward the general store, her prized book tucked in her skirts and under her shirt. Her back tightened as though already feeling the sting of her flogging from being caught with a book, especially a magical one.
“Well look who it is, Miss Priss,” Catherine, the tailor’s daughter smirked. “Pity we have to make gowns for them at all. I tell father all the time we should refuse the council’s requests for crimson material for swine.”
Ignore them. Eden walked around her. But Travis and Jake stepped in her path.
“Please, I need to get past.”
“Where are you going in such a hurry, Damned scum?” Jake spat.
Eden raised her gaze to his and he shuddered.
“Oh, you going to put a spell on me?” He laughed. “Creepy eyes. The council should have killed off all your kind like they used to.”
“What’s in the basket, Eden?” Travis smirked. Did he know that she used to have a crush on him when she was younger? He used to be a sweet boy, even played chase with her sometimes but lately, he acted like all the rest in the village.
“Just some eggs for Collingworth’s store.”
“Oh?” Catherine raised her eyebrows. “Are you sure it’s not black magic in there? Something to wipe us all out?”
Eden tensed, feeling the book’s corners pressing against her skin. Could they see the outline of her prize? Sweat trickled down her spine. She had to get out of here. Away from them. No one could find out about her prize.
“I’ve got go, Mr. Collingworth is expecting me.” She moved to the side to get around the two boys but Catherine kicked the back of her leg.
Eden slammed into the ground, pain hitting her chest. She landed on the basket. Eggs cracking under her weight and smearing across the front of her clothes.
Behind her, the three tormentors laughed. Eden sat up, fury burning in her gut. The book lay in the dirt visible for all to see. She scrambled forward, snatching it up. As soon as she tucked it under her shirt again, her mother’s voice sounded behind her.
“Eden! What have you done?”
She trembled with fear. Even her father’s position on the council wouldn’t be able to protect her from her punishment for having a magical book in her possession. Forbidden. She would be mutilated and burned along with it. Why had she taken it in the first place?
“Did you break all the eggs?” Her mother bent down, glancing at the crushed basket and then goop all over her.
“It wasn’t my fault. Catherine and T—”
Her mother stood up abruptly. “I don’t want to hear it. You get yourself into these situations with your attitude, Eden. If you would be grateful for all that you have instead of always seeking more.”
Anger coursed through her. Why wouldn’t her mom listen?
“Come with me. I’ve finished shopping.” Her mom squared her shoulders. “When we get home, clean yourself up. I’ll have to explain to your father why we don’t have the money from the eggs.”
“You can take it out of my allowance,” Eden mumbled. Wasn’t like they gave her much of one anyway. Not that they were poor but her father was the least paid member on the council. And as a Damned, she wasn’t allowed much money, only enough to scrape by. Which made her book all the more precious. She’d been saving up for something special to buy at the fair for four years.
She followed her mother out of the village to their home with her arms crossed to hold the Forbidden tome in place, the basket hanging over one of her arm. Her clothes sticking to her from the broken, raw eggs. Yet the entire trip, she bit at her lower lip, praying her mother didn’t notice her secret tucked under her blouse.
The thought that someone would figure out she had the book clung to her worse than the eggs. She expected any moment for a guard or council member or even one of the bullies to shout an alarm that she had a forbidden book.
At home, she quickly ran into her room, and stuffed the ancient tome under her mattress. Because she was one of the Damned, council law did not even allow her a door to close for privacy. She undressed down to her shift, then washed her blouse and skirt in the metal tub. Her hands shook as she wrung the clothes out and hung them on the line to dry. She wanted to get back to the book, read more, but her mother would suspect something if she didn’t finish her chores. With her heart beating faster, she rushed through sweeping the house, feeding the chickens, and raking up autumn leaves along the walkway.
After checking that her mother was busy slicing up carrots and potatoes for supper, Eden yanked out her book. Carefully, she laid down on the wooden floor, on the other side of the bed to conceal herself.
The gathering of our seers does not sway the omens in our favor. Soon, as Xralon predicted, they will storm our homes and kill us. In precaution, I’ve concealed these words in this book. For they are mighty, and only one of the Damned will be able to use the spells herein.
Beware of peace and flattery, for it is false and breeds lackadaisicalness. All must keep their abilities and strengthen them.
Xralon has been plagued with nightmares. Dreams of the council abducting the strongest of us and crippling our power.
Eden frowned. If they were so strong, how did the council overthrow them?
If any of us survive this onslaught, we will seek refuge in the Isle of Shadows.
A shiver rippled through her. The Isle of Shadows? She had never heard the name before.
Heavy footfalls echoed across the wooden floor. Her father must be at home.
Soon after, the smell of duck made her stomach rumble. Her finger grazed down the chapter headings: How to move clouds, to summon or dismiss rain, protection, casting divination stones, and calling elemental help.
Magic was real? Or was this a fantasy carved up by a sick mind to torment helpless Damned who had no rights? Still, her stomach fluttered at the thought.
Her father’s heavy footsteps drawing nearer in the hallway that she jumped. Panic thumping against her breastbone.
Quickly, she snapped the book closed. She moved to wedge the ancient tome underneath her pillow.
“Didn’t you hear your mother?” He stood in her doorway.
She jumped, her heart galloping. The book halfway sticking out but if she pushed it in with him standing there, she’d draw attention to it.
“I-I’ll be there in a moment.” Fear snaked into her belly and she wiped her hands down her skirts.
“Now, we’ve called you several times.” His glare made her throat tighten, strangling her reply. He looked past her to her bed.
She followed his line of sight, her insides twisting into knots. Oh god, he’d seen the book.
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