Chapter 1: The Girl with the Blood Red Hair

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 917






Faster, she thought, he is right behind me.

She didn’t dare turn around, afraid she might miss a step. The sound of crushing leaves on the forest floor seemed to be coming nearer. He was close now.

Not this time.

She caught a second wind as she spotted the sunlight breaking through the trees ahead. Darting right and left, avoiding the large trees and low-hanging branches, she planned out her next move.

This was always the most difficult obstacle of the race. For the past three years she had been running in the race, the soggy ground of a giant marsh would trip her up and Reid would win. She would hate to see that smug expression on his face again; the one that said “I’ll never lose to a kid, much less a girl.”

Determined to win, she increased her speed as she broke out of the woods. The wind at her back caused her hair to whip wildly around her; the deep red mass having long since been freed from its ponytail. Her eyes adjusted to the light and after a moment she could see the end up ahead. At the finish line, the students who were not yet old enough to enter the race stood cheering along with some of the teachers. She smiled when she spotted the silver head of Dominic, master of swords and dear friend of her family, standing a little further back from the crowd. If she won this race, she would be permitted to take lessons from him at the Academy when he had free time. If she lost, she would be cleaning and sharpening weapons for a whole year waiting for the next race to be held.

She jumped from one grassy area to the next, so close now to the finish. And she was going to win this year.

Her concentration was broken when beyond the gathered crowd of spectators she caught sight of a man standing under a tree. It was impossible, she knew he couldn’t really be there for he was rarely able to visit twice in a year, but her heart lifted anyway. It had to be him; she would recognize her father’s blond, curly hair anywhere.  

For a second too long she couldn’t look away, and that was the mistake that cost her everything. It only took one misstep, one split second, and her foot slid deep into muddy hole, causing her to lose her footing and fall to her knees. Caked in muck, she jumped up again, but screamed out when a searing pain shot up from her ankle. With all she had, she lunged through the finishing poles, falling on all fours mere feet beyond. Her breath was ragged and her heart was pounding, but all was forgotten as cheers erupted from the crowd.

Her happiness was short lived as the spectators began to gather around the winner to give their praise. She had been in the lead, and he had passed her to win the race. Again. And what’s worse, the man she thought she saw under the tree had disappeared. It was all in her mind; her father hadn’t really come after all. She pounded the ground with her fist, which only resulted in more mud flying up onto her face and hair. Tears burned in her eyes, but she refused to cry.

“Poor Oriana,” came the insincere voice of the champion as the crowd around him parted.

Reid, he was two years her senior, yet he acted more juvenial than a boy of seventeen. She couldn’t help but stare as he smirkingly walked towards her, his short red-brown hair glistening with sweat that dripped on his light brown skin. He was still breathing deeply and she could tell he was exhausted; she would have beat him this year and he knew it.

She knew he wouldn’t let her have even that small victory.

Shaking her head so that her hair fell over half of her face, she hoped she might hide one of her eyes. They were different colors - one amber and one color-changing between shades of blue, gray, and green. That was the one she hid, for it was his main teasing stimulus.

“Hey there, freak-eyes.” Nope, that didn’t work. “Did you hurt yourself? It would be awful if you had to clean our swords with a broken arm like last year.”

“Shut up, Reid,” she said under her breath as he began to laugh. Helpless, Oriana could only glare at him from her crouched position. She knew that if she tried to stand, her ankle would never support her, giving him more to tease her about. Around her, the other runners had just begun to cross the finish markers. Many were on the brink of collapse, gasping for breath. A few were only winded and joined the rest to congratulate the winner. Not one of them acknowledged Oriana, even the girls who she had once considered to be her friends back when she studied at the Academy. She had come in a close second again. If only she could win, just once, maybe they would accept her again.

She glanced back to the mob that now surrounded the Reid, and fortunately for her, he was too busy enjoying his victory to throw any more insults at her. Slowly Oriana rose, putting most of her weight onto her uninjured leg. She made her way to one of the finish poles and leaned on it to steady herself. She had done this enough to know she would be able to leave soon.

“Listen up, teachers and students of the Great Triste Academy,” called a stern voice, silencing the crowd. The speaker was a short, very bone-thin man named Kasper Van Rycroft, whose dislike of Oriana seemed to grow with each passing year. She could never pinpoint when it started. He was never nice to anyone save for the top student and some of the staff, but for some reason he seemed to really hate her. “As you know, this race kicks off the end of term celebrations, a week-long event where the winner becomes the king or queen of the Triste Festival. I present to you this year’s winner and your reigning champion – Reid!” he exclaimed, enthusiastically shaking the boy’s hand, and then, for the fifth year in a row, the Academy’s Director draped a golden medal around the boy’s neck. “Wonderful job as always, Reid. When your time comes I will personally introduce you to the regent, and perhaps you shall be lucky enough to meet the crowned prince as well. We need more students like you, who work hard and consistently excel at every subject.”

Except for manners, Oriana thought as Reid shot her a satisfied glance. She smiled to herself as she imagined the court’s reaction to him treating the princess in the same manner. He wouldn’t last a week in the palace.

“As for the rest of you, I am embarrassed that you were beaten again by that girl. You are all going to end up with careers as barbers or farmers if you do not take your training seriously.” He narrowed his eyes at Oriana as if to say, ‘Don’t even think I’m complimenting you.’

She wanted so badly to challenge him, but she knew from past races that if she took his baiting, it would take even longer to get home to treat her injury. Pretending to be uninterested, she began trying to remove some of the mud from her face. He smugly continued on with his speech to the crowd, obviously pleased with himself. That was no way to treat a student under his care.

That’s because Oriana was not actually one of his students, at least, not anymore. Director Van Rycroft was the headmaster of The Great Triste Academy, an elite weapons school where children were brought at a very young age and trained until they turned twenty-one. Upon graduation, they were presented to the ruler - currently the prince regent - who would decide their future careers.

Oriana’s own father had once trained here and was granted a high-ranking position, and it was for that very reason they lived here on Triste instead of with him on the larger land of Lateo. Her whole life had been spent on the hidden island, and she was allowed to attend school at the Academy until the age of ten, for that’s when academic classes gave way to weapons training and metal crafting. It was then that her parents pulled her from the school, believing there was nothing more for her to learn. She disagreed, and begged for training, but a governess was hired and that was that. Every so often she was still able to participate in events at her old school, but her old classmates were no longer friendly towards her.

Perhaps the director, who was still droning on with his boring speech, had something to do with that.

“For some of you this festival marks the completion of your education. Those of you who have completed your lessons will be joining me for an audience with the prince regent who will assign you in the position he deems necessary based on your talents and teacher recommendations. For the lot of you staying on Triste, training resumes in one week.”

He cast a smile in Oriana’s direction as if to tell her she would not like whatever was coming next. “Now I invite the students of the Academy to join me and your teachers up the hill for the great feast that has been prepared.”

She feigned disinterest at his emphasis on the one word that excluded her from joining them. She was not a student and hadn’t been since she was ten years old, so she was not invited to the feast. Instead, she could only watch as the younger children racing each other excitedly up the hill, followed by the teachers who did not really pay much attention to the speech. A couple of the boys her age gave her an uncertain nod while the others ignored her completely as they followed Reid up to the feast.

With everyone retreating, she tried putting her weight on her sore leg but withdrew it quickly from the pain.

“I wondered why you were so quiet when the Director was provoking you. You did injure yourself in that nasty spill you took.” Master Dominic had stayed behind as he always did.

“At least it wasn’t my arm again,” she said as he knelt down.

“Yes, well, you would be able to see better if your hair wasn’t in your face,” he teased. “May I?” he asked and indicated he wanted to check her injury. She nodded and he proceeded to test her foot. “I did not see your mother today.”

“She still isn’t feeling well.”

“Oh, I see,” he muttered knowingly. He often stopped by their cottage and knew her mother had been battling with illness.

“Master Dominic,” she hesitated for a moment, worried her question sounded absurd. It seemed even more so when she looked back to the vacant tree. “Did you see my father watching the race?”

He stopped what he was doing and gave her an odd look. “I did not, my dear. And I would be the first to tell you if he was here. I’d be very angry if my friend did not stop to say hi to me, let alone his daughter.” He stood and offered her a hand. “On a positive note, your ankle is only sprained, not broken. Unfortunately, the walk home will not be easy.” He offered to let her use him as a crutch, and the two began making their way toward her home, a small cottage about a mile from the school.

With everyone at the feast, the island seemed quiet, still, and serene. As they walked, Master Dominic recounted the story of her father’s first race on the island. How the students of the island resented her father at first because, like Oriana, he was able to grow up at home and with his parents while they had been chosen as toddlers to leave home and never return. However, he proved himself to them all with his first race - he was a spectacle and the fastest runner anyone had ever seen. But no one was watching the younger children, and when he saw one who had fallen in a fast-moving current, he veered off course to save the boy’s life.

“Then what happened?” Oriana asked in an attempt to push him to the conclusion as her house came into view. It was a grand cottage with a large, well-tended garden off to the side. The garden was special to both mother and daughter for every tree, shrub, and flower growing in there had been brought over as a gift each time Oriana’s father visited.

Her mother spotted them, and rose from her bench to meet them, pausing under the large Luxcoma tree at the gate. Oriana groaned, because once her mother saw she was injured, she knew Dominic would never get another word in.

“Long story short, then?” he whispered. “Your father won the race, but more importantly he won their friendship when he put another’s life before his own. Oh! And to this day, no one has beaten his record.” He had barely finished when her mother reached them. “Good evening, Ryssa,” Dominic bowed his head as he greeted her.

“Hello, Nic,” she said with a weak smile. “You aren’t telling her that old race story again, are you?”

“Guilty as charged,” he confessed with a laugh. “Can I help it if you have raised this child to be such an excellent listener of an old man’s tales?”

“She is that,” her mother replied, and as she turned to look at her daughter, the silver highlights in her long black curls glinting in the sun. “And just what has my incredibly muddy daughter injured this year?”

Despite being incredibly frail, her mother was still very beautiful. Oriana had always wished she looked more like her, but instead, she had inherited most of her features from her father.

“Good news, Mom! Nothing is broken!”

“Is that so? Well, Millie, you can put the emergency kit away,” she called into a house with a wink to Dominic.

Millie, or Millicent Appleton, was Oriana’s governess who had hair like rain clouds, who spoke with a slight accent that Oriana thought to be both beautiful and regal. Aside from being a great teacher, she was also very skilled housekeeping, cooking, and especially in medicine. This was useful because aside from her mother’s illness, Oriana often had a great tendency to get into what she called accidents. Most would simply call it trouble.

“No, it is the true. It is merely a sprain; she will be running around in no time,” Dominic confirmed.

“She heals quickly, just like her father.” Millie said as she appeared in the doorway. “Come on, girl. Let me take a look at it.”

Although Oriana insisted she could make it the rest of the way, she could sense both Dominic and her mother eyeing her cautiously as they followed her into the house.

With a sigh of relief, her mother thanked the sword master for his help as he led her inside. “Thank you for being there, Nic. I had hoped to come watch her run today.”

“Oriana said you were not feeling well. It’s nothing too serious I hope.”

Her mother shook her head. “I believe I will be feeling much better very soon,” she said happily, her once jovial self making a rare appearance.

“I’m most happy to hear it.”

Millie, returning to the living room with bandages, resumed scolding her about muddy clothing and injured legs. Oriana finally collapsed in a chair, complaining somewhat of the pain, as her governess began to work on wrapping her ankle.

“Dinner is nearly ready if you would like to join us, Dominic,” Ryssa offered. Over the past few months, Master Dominic had been visiting quite often recently, and Oriana and her mother, noticing the flirtatious glances being exchanged between the widow and the sword master, suspected they knew why. Using teamwork, the mother and daughter pair did everything in their power to play matchmaker to their favorite two people in the world.

“You know there is nothing I would like more, my dear, but I am afraid that will not be possible tonight. ‘They,’” he emphasized the word and raised his eyebrows, “will be expecting me back at the ceremony.”

Sensing Millie’s disappointment, Oriana asked, “Will you come for dinner once the Director leaves?”

“I would not think of missing it.” He winked to Oriana before turning to leave.

A simultaneous call of “Thank you!” and Good evening!” rang from the house before the door was closed for the night.

“All finished!” Millie declared. “I’ll put together a draught to ease the discomfort. Unless you want to try and tough it out again,” the elder woman joked as she stood and left the room, no doubt to put the medical supplies away. She was excessively organized, and it was quite possible she was already making post-dinner plans to mop the floors for the second time that day.

“Thank you, Millie,” Oriana called, to hear a “My pleasure,” shouted back.

“Too bad you won’t have any battle scars to show your father this time,” said her mother as she sat next to her daughter. She brushed the hair out of her daughter’s face and began picking off flakes of mud that had dried in Oriana’s hair, flicking them onto the floor because she, unlike Millie, was anything but organized. Refusing to live her life restricted by a schedule, it usually came down to Millie and Oriana to remind her to take her medicine. There were times when Oriana suspected her mother’s absentmindedness was simply an attempt to get a rise out of the old woman.

“I had hoped to win this year,” Oriana said disappointed.

“I know you did. Was it Reid again?” her mother asked. Oriana nodded and made a face that caused her mother to laugh. “Don’t worry. You always have next year.”

“That seems like an eternity.”

“It will be here sooner than you think,” she replied solemnly. “Sometimes the passing of a year only feels like a couple of deep breaths.”

Oriana couldn’t help but notice the faraway look in her mother’s ocean blue eyes, when her attention was captured by a tiny discoloration. The oddity was barely visible now, but Oriana remembered when it was much larger. It was a comfort for her to think that her own abnormality might someday also disappear, for while she once liked her eyes, she now wished they were the same color, and preferably one color so she didn’t have to hide them all the time. So she wasn’t called a freak. At the very least, she’d be able to see better, so it would make getting around easier for her. It might lessen the frequency of her accidents anyway.

“Dinner is ready, girls,” Millie called out from the kitchen.

“Be right there,” her mother called as she slowly stood. “Now, passing up one of Millie’s meals? That would seem an eternity.”

Oriana smiled and followed closely behind her mother; partly in agreement, for Millie’s food was indeed wonderful, and partly to keep a better eye on her mother. In recent weeks, she increasingly feared that her mother might take a fall, one that might completely shatter her fragile form. Millie was a brilliant healer, but whatever was wrong with her mother needed more help than a governess on a tiny island could provide.




Before heading to bed that evening, Oriana had to return to the main room to see if Millie had finished the draught for her pain. She had attempted to tough it out the last time she had injured herself, but she didn’t want to lose any time training for the next race. The sooner the swelling went down, the sooner she could run again.

Finding nothing in the kitchen, she headed to her governess’s room to ask when her eyes caught hold of tiny lights reflecting from a small glass bottle sitting on the mantle of the fireplace. She walked over and picked up the bottle filled with bluish liquid, and after smelling it, instinctively made a face. Whatever was in the bottle, it certainly was not going to be pleasant to drink.

“Millie, have you seen where I left the bottle from Ari?” her mother called from behind, startling Oriana so badly that she lost hold of the object in her hands. She could only watch in horror as the glass bottle slipped through her fingers and crashed to the floor, shattering into a pieces.

Time seemed to slow as she watched her mother collapse to her knees, her face dropping into her pale, shaking hands.

“I… I’m sorry,” Oriana stuttered, afraid to move. “I thought it was for me.”

“The elixir?” cried Millie as she ran over attempting to salvage whatever was left from the hearth. “Oh goddess, what have you done, Oriana?”

With a look of fear and desperation, her mother raised her head, and with a haunting look on her face, stared out the window to the night sky. “She’s just sentenced me to death.”


Submitted: January 15, 2014

© Copyright 2022 D Nichole Hanna. All rights reserved.


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