Annlynn should have been preparing herself for her next visit with the priest. But a deep knot filled her stomach. She should have talked to her step mother during the waking hours, but her denial was like a veil which refused to shudder. Nevertheless, she couldn’t hide the truth. Not from the priests, not from her step mother, not from herself.
She tiptoed over to her step mother’s bed across the hut. It was as if the ghosts of her step father and her step sister still lingered in the small hut. Annlynn felt the pain from the losses. That night, their spirits seemed to reveal her own mortality. The priests would search her, using rituals which would leave her weak. Then, they would find out who she really was.
The king had spared her on the basis that she was a girl. Truth was? She never felt as if the labels of femininity suited her. Rather, she had always been more interested in hunting, joining her best friend and his older brother whenever the opportunities came. But it wasn’t her draw to masculinity which told her she was different, it was who she was deep inside. She was, in fact, a boy in disguise. Therefore, prophecies the king feared were hers. When the priests found out who she was, they would kill her for it.
Annlynn gently tapped her stepmother. A low groan emitted from the thin pile of blankets. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t want to face tomorrow,” Annlynn looked down at her feet, feeling the eyes of her step mother on her.
Her step mother tapped on her bed. Annlynn inched on the bed, feeling her heartbeat go wild. Her step mother wrapped the blanket around Annlynn’s shoulders.
“It has to do with the search tomorrow, doesn’t it?” her step mother placed a steady hand on Annlynn’s shoulder. “You’ll be okay. If they were to find something in you, they would have found it already.”
“I feel like a boy,” Annlynn shivered. “When they searched me at seven, they didn’t find it because I never had the language to understand what I felt.”
“Oh.” even in the dark, surprise could be deciphered within her step mother’s eyes. “Then you are my stepson. I had my suspicions. Nevertheless, I will do whatever I can to defend you.”
“There’s no point,” Annlynn said. “I must run.”
“Where will you go? If you leave, they will hunt for you. And if the king catches you hunting or fishing without a permit, he won’t be kind.”
“I don’t care. I have to take what chances I have. Maybe I can find Atheros and make a deal with some of the elves. It’s north of the great river, and the weather has been favorable, which should help.”
“Be careful,” her stepmother said.
Her stepmother held Annlynn in her arms. Annlynn appreciated the embrace, but a deep guilt settled. Leaving her step mother brought on a pain worse than contemplating her own mortality. If only she could pretend to be a girl once more. The resolve to leave only grew as the moon slowly crept across the sky.
“Can you come with me?” Annlynn asked.
“No!” her stepmother said. “I will stay behind to slow them down. If there is a slim chance you will live, then it is rapidly slipping away. Try to make as much distance as possible. There’s no more time for a goodbye. Just go!”
Annlynn found her cloak and a sack of bread. She darted out of the . Tears slipped down her cheeks as the cold spring wind embraced her. Leaving the one place she had come to call home was hard enough. Leaving her best friend without saying anything filled her with a deep guilt.
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