It was impossible to look past the dark nights, and the cold winds that haunted my family's small cabin deep in the woods, hidden from the world. My younger sisters, Farah and Jezebel, spent most of their time playing outside. The best work they ever did was a good house cleaning, and maybe gathering eggs in the morning on a nice warm day. I suppose they were still too young to understand the situation.
With our mother lying on her death bed practically eating money with the expensive medicine the traveling doctor would come by to drop off every week, and a father who had disappeared five years ago I was left to fend for us all.
Whenever it wasn't raining, as well as many times when it was, I went hunting for squirells, rabbits, mice, and on the rarest of ocasions I'd kill a deer. Though that would not be easy since it was winter now. The first snow fall was beginning to turn into a cold slush.
My feet were numb before they left the house. Quitely I slipped out into what most people called the night. For me it was just the usual morning, about an hour before sunrise. I lit the lantern I kept by the door step ,and ,with bow and knife in hand, began the hunt for food.
The sun had already risen, and yet I had nothing to show for my time. It was always harder to find food in the winter, but none as hard as this. Before, Mama had been able to do the house work and keep my sisters on task. I could spend the whole day hunting if I needed to. Now, three hours out hunting would mean a late night for me.
I stopped in my tracks as I heard the soft squish of what seemed too heavy for a rabbit. Could there possibly be a deer? That would be just what we need right now. I pulled back my bow, and waited for it to come into view. As soon as I saw the outline of its figure I let go.
But instead of the small thud of a fallen deer I heard a cry of pain. My breath quickened as my heart pounded in my chest. I listened to the sounds of feet dragging through the mud. Unsure of what to do I stayed hidden and watched whoever it was approach.
Before I even glanced at the arrow in his leg I saw his eyes. They were deep blue. You could just see the emotion pouring out of them like an ocean of tears. He was glancing side to side nervously, and with good reason. The arrow was deep in his right thigh, and he was practically dragging himself along the small dirt road.
It would take him at least until the next morning to reach another house the way he was heading. Still, I couldn't bring myself to help so I waited until he was far out of ear shot then sprinted back to the house. Adrenalin was pumping through my veins. I could hardly sit in the chair with shaking.
"Adalyn." My mother's faint cry barely made its way to my ears. I sighed, the rest of the day would be as planned although my head wasn't in it.
I knelt by her bedside. "What is it Mama?" Her breathing was shaky, and her whole body shivered with the strength it took to speak.
"Water." As I began to stand up she reached for my hand. "Adalyn," she took a deep breath, "thank you. Truly." I stared at her. She had never said anything so kind to me in my entire life especially now that every word she spoke was a strain. She stared back waiting for me to say something, but I just pulled my hand away from her feeble grip and went to get the water.
My mother and I had never been on close terms. I was never supposed to have been born. It was shortly after she had married Gar although he wasn't my real father. I think it may have been part of the reason why the Gar left. I never knew the man who created me. Everyone that knew our family thought I was born of the married couple. I think Mama didn't like me because I reminded her of what she did.
There was a pounding knock on the door which I ran to open, afraid they would knock down the delecate structure.
"A letter for the women of the house." A man in fine clothes handed me a letter. Behind him I could see a real carriage waiting to take him away.
I smiled, and within three minutes he was far away. The letter itself was on real paper, written in brilliant black ink. I sat down in the kitchen to read it.
To the women of this home,
We know life in the country can at times be hard. There for, we are bringing forth an opputunity for you to earn enough coins to supply your family with food year round. We ask that you come to Kingdom City by the 25th of the first month. If accepted you will be given a job, place to stay, and two meals a day. You will also be able to explore the wondurous city, and buy many fine things. Please make sure this letter is with you upon arrival or your chances of acceptance will demenish.
With high hopes of helping your family,
The Noble Court's Society
Greedy hands swarmed over me pulling the letter out of my hands. I waited for my youngest sister ,Farah, to response.
"A letter from the Noble Court's Society! We're practically nobles. Work in the city! This is just wonderful, I have to start packing so I won't miss the date." She raced around into our room to gather her things without giving me time to react.
I sighed. If anyone were to go she would be the most likely option. She's old enough to be able to take care of herself there, but not so needed here. I dipped a cup into the pail of water I had brought in earlier for Mama ,and watched her drink it as if every sip took all her strength.
I went through the day as usual, taking care of everything on my own while Farah bounced around with joy, reading the letter over and over again. Jezebel had been gone for a few hours now with a mystery boy who was somehow able to travel all the way to our house every day and take her who knows where. Although that part didn't bother me, it's what the question of what they do when they're together.
When I came back inside with a fresh pail of water to use for tonight's soup, as I expected, Mama had figured out what was going on, and didn't seem too keen on the idea herself.
"I just don't want anything to happen to you." It was strange how much stronger she got when she fought, as if she forgot she was sick.
"Mother it will be a wonderful experience! I'll be taken care of, and we need the money." Farah could never see anything but the good. Although it made her a little ignorant it was a quality I would love to have.
"I just don't think it would be for the best." She looked up at me, and I could tell she wanted me to intervine. Help her on yet another cause. And this one would turn my sister against me for at least a week.
"Farah, maybe you should think about all the things that could go wrong." She spun around, very annoyed that I had dared to talk.
"The good overrides the bad! And one of us needs to go get that money for Mother's medicine right?" I nodded keeping my eyes away from both of them. "Obviously Jezebel couldn't be trusted to go and Mother needs you here. So who does that leave?" I sighed.
"Look Farah-"Mama cut in.
"Why don't you go Adalyn." Both Farah and I didn't know what to say to that. I recovered quickly.
"There's no way you'd survive without me Mama."
"Farah can pick up the slack, and so can Jezebel. I'm sure they love me enough to not let me die." We were both silent. I may not love Mama, but it scared me to think of what we would do without her, even though there wasn't much she could do anymore. "I don't want to talk about this anymore. Let me rest."
The warm soup with the little squirrel we had left from the other day was soon on the table. Farah and I sat in silence. It was a rare occasion to not have to hear Farah's voice rambling on about nothing.
As usual Jezebel was nowhere to be seen. I had quit trying to tell her what to do long ago. It only seemed to worsen things. I just hoped with me leaving soon she would be able to grow up and take over. Mama had made it clear there was no getting out of my leaving. I think it was her way of trying to thank me, by freeing me of her burden. That wasn't how I saw it.
Farah stood up suddenly. She looked at me with her dazzling green eyes, bright orange (although I think the true term is red) hair framing her face in the perfect way it always does. It was what made her so different from the rest of us. Mama and Jezebel both had dark brown hair and voilet eyes that put a sense of mystery while I had your average dirty blonde hair with blue eyes. Mama said I got that from my real father.
"I'm going to pack your things for you so you can leave in the morning. Otherwise you won't meet the deadline." I didn't respond unsure what sort of reply she wanted. So she went to work ignoring my silence.
The next morning for the first day I could remember I didn't wake up hours before the sun to go hunting. Instead I let myself sleep awaiting the journey that would begin today. It was strange. I could hardly keep my body from climbing out the bed.
In what seemed like only seconds Farah was shaking me furiously obviously over her disappointment from yesterday and excited to watch me go. Light was just breaking the horizon giving the newly fallen snow a chance to melt into mud.
"I packed all your things into this trunk here, and this is father's old coat he left. I thought you might need it to keep you warm. Oh, and I packed you something to eat as well in case you get hungry." Farah smiled. Even though I was happy to see her already moving on into my spot I frowned causing Farah to flare up into sudden rage. "Do you not want any of this? Because I'll be happy to put it all back for you, and you can go with nothing!"
"No, Farah, please calm down." I rested a hand on her shoulder. "Thank you. Not just for this, but for what you're showing me." She knew what I meant, and greatfully smiled.
Both of us turned as we heard the slow creak of the door that could only mean one thing. Jezebel was sneaking in late as usual, but this time we were up to catch her.
"Where were you Bel?" Farah crossed her arms, and waited firmly for a reply.
"I was with Raider not that I need to answer to my little sister who thinks calling me by a nickname I don't like will make me angry." Her voice as well as her body language was cool and collected. Something I admired about her, no matter how she chose to use it.
"Being with Raider doesn't make you any more a women. In fact it makes you less of one Jez." I leaned up against the wall. The only person I could talk like Jezebel does was to Jez herself. And she could do it better.
"You would know wouldn't you? Too bad little mister perfect left you all alone." I felt my body tighten up at the mention of the most regreted night in all my life.
"Yes I would know so I think you should take it slow." She nodded as if understanding, but I knew she'd continue to act the same way.
Both Farah and I heard the old wagon pull upon the road, and she was already out the door with my things before the driver could tell us he was here.
I looked around. There were so many memories in this house. Ones from before our father left. We had always gotten along well, and every meal didn't rest on my shoulders. I remembered the tears, the laughter, the times before Mama was sick. All of it was in the past now.
I thought about saying goodbye to Mama and Jezebel before leaving, but it didn't feel right. I don't know why, but I was almost scared, as if saying it would mean I really was going.
Farah was antagonizing the driver with questions about life in the city, but he didn't seem to mind. As I got closer I realized he must be about a year younger than me, Farah was not just asking questions she was scanning him over. There weren't many boys around here for her, and she was the kind that desprately wanted one.
The boy looked up at the sight of me, smiled, and hopped off the wagon. I stopped in my tracks and my heart began to thump faster and faster, even faster than it did yesterday morning in the hiding in the shadows. I tried to hide my blush but it was no use. Neil, the one boy who I had given my heart to, the one who had broken it into shreds that were still mending themselves stood before me smiling his everpresent smile.