I was still awake when the temple’s bells began to ring out in an unfamiliar pattern, and my mother began to cry loudly, brokenly, from somewhere deep inside her chest.
“Now?” she moaned. “Now?”
“Up, Sydelle!” my father said, dragging me from the tangled bedding. “Put on your dress and your boots.”
“What’s happening?” I choked out. The wizard was waiting in the main room, far more alert than he had been the night before. He was holding my disassembled loom.
My mother took me, wild-eyed and frantic, into my room and began to pack dresses and yarn into a small leather bag.
“What’s happening?” I cried. “Tell me what’s going on!”
My mother placed the bag over my shoulder, and I was sure I felt her warm tears drip onto my neck.
“Be a brave girl,” she said. “I know you have it in you.”
My father reappeared in the doorway, his face flushed. “Hurry – move quickly!”
“Tell me what’s going on!” I said. “Tell me!”
“Those soldiers you saw before in the canyon are here now,” North said from the other room. “You’re coming with me.”
“I offered Mr. North a reward for breaking the drought,” my father explained, “and he’s chosen you. Do you understand?”
I was the one crying now, and I couldn’t tell my anger from my fear.
“Sydelle, tell me you understand,” Father begged, and Mother only cried harder. “You’ll help him get to the capital, you’ll do whatever he asks, you won’t look back.”
“Do I have no choice in this?” I cried, as the wizard appeared behind my father. The smile on his face was small, but it was still there.
He thought he was helping me, did he? He thought that he was doing
me some sort of favor. A prisoner of my village or a prisoner of a wizard. What was the difference when you could not decide your own path?
The sound of bells died out, only to be replaced by the sound of a hundred villagers emerging into the early-morning sky.
“They’re here.” North was suddenly right beside me, taking my arm. I turned toward him wildly, hearing the sound of rolling thunder, of hooves.
“What’s happening?” I asked. “What – ?”
“Sooner than expected,” my father said. He patted my shoulder twice, as he would a complete stranger. “Go before they find you here.”
“No!” I said. “I don’t want to leave, not now!”
North held my things as my father pulled me outside. He had a bag of his own, one I hadn’t noticed before. A fine mist of rain and fog cooled the flushed skin of my cheeks. I watched my mother, still expecting her to speak. She only looked away.
Henry had come to find me. He was standing a short distance away from our door, his lip pulled back in anger, maybe disgust. I had never seen him wear such a hostile face – ready for battle. I tried to picture the boys I had grown up with in the dark militia uniforms, but the best my mind could conjure up was the image of Henry’s brothers playing in the mud, hitting their sticks against each other as if they were swords.
The dirt and rocks trembled beneath our feet as the sound of galloping horses and hollering men reached our ears.
“Go now!” My father pushed me toward the wizard. “Go!”
“Saldorra!” a woman screamed, and it was all the encouragement North needed. He surged forward, shoving Henry to the side and taking me by the arm.
“Delle!” I heard Henry shout, and then nothing more. A shroud of darkness wrapped around the wizard and me, and we were falling.