For once, running back up to my room seems to take less time than running down from it. Once in my room, I gather my clothes quickly and throw them into a satchel. Thinking suddenly, I slip the book under my clothes so that my father doesn't see it in case he decides to stop me before leaving for some reason or other.
Grabbing my already spelled cloak, which hides my wings and other features, from eyes, but not touch, I run back out of my door. Before putting my cloak on, I head for the big opening between the branches of our tree. Standing for a second, I breathe in the smells of the air and earth, and then I let myself fall.
In seconds, my wings have caught me and I'm soaring into the sky. Some days, as the sun burns my back and wings, I feel like how Icarus must have felt when his wings began to melt as he flies too close to the sun. It almost makes me wish for the days before the Forbidden Arts. That scares me, for the Forbidden Arts are all I have left, besides my father.
I shake my head to banish these thoughts and beat my wings harder. I put my mind to the task ahead, infiltrating the Kingdom of the Swans to investigate this 'Odette' person. I don't trust her for some reason, and I'm going to find out why. My intuition is never wrong, and it is shrieking to me that there is something wrong with the girl.
All of these thoughts raced through my mind as I flew and searched for an opening in the forest that our lake resided in. It was not long before I spotted it, clear and calm, the brightest place in our forest, yet also the darkest. Our lake absorbs whatever light it is given, be it dark or light. At night, it is the most beautiful.
I land softly on the banks of it and look deeply into it. I whisper some words of old, and the lake begins to glow. Soon, the face of a blond girl around my age appears. She wears a crown in the shape of a swan. She is beautiful, but there is a cold air around her. The girl is Odette.
I stare at the girl, shocked that she is about the same age as me. My father has NEVER looked to women this young. It worries me greatly. The 'Odette' girl is surrounded by men, probably suitors. She is giggling and flirting with them, yet ignoring them at the same time.
She IS cold, I think to myself. She's just toying with them.
My anger flairs up in a wave of heat, making my face flush. I cannot believe that my father would fall for one such as her. This just will not do. I must change things quickly. If I do not, I fear for my and my father's future.
Throwing on my cloak, I storm into the trees. The light that has been scorching at me vanishes suddenly, leaving me feeling cool and refreshed. I glance up, grateful for the thick foliage and close branches that block out nearly all sunlight. It is the haven I long for outside of the tunnels beneath the earth.
I move quickly through the trees, knowing the layout like the back of my hand. Animals scamper about, ignoring my presence, completely unafraid. Things have been this way since I began using the Forbidden Arts. Animals are rarely afraid of me, unless I use my power, or intentionally threaten them.
The calmness that was beginning to settle is suddenly broken by the call of a swan, far above my head. Odette swamps my mind, making my anger flare once again. Her calculating look is all I can see as I force my way through the dense forest.
So focused on her I am that I don't notice the horse and rider coming at me until the poor beast rears, near throwing his rider. I gasp in surprise and drop to the ground from old instincts. The horse lets out a frightened cry and rears up again. I look up, frightened, knowing that when frightened, animals can be extremely dangerous, so I had reason to fear for my wellbeing.
"Calm, horse, calm," a quiet voice suddenly calls out. The horse immediately calms a bit and a hand reaches out to grab the reins to steady the scared animal. I glance up and behold the most beautiful man in the world. He has short, light brown hair, with brown eyes to match. He is tall, and looks quite strong. He is not much older than me, but old enough to be considered a man. I stare, transfixed, as he aids the shaken rider. They speak, but I hear nothing of it, though I see nothing but the man's lips and the way they move to form words.
"-right?" I am forced from my staring state as I notice them looking at me, as well as directing a question my way.
I flush scarlet. "P-pardon me?"
The man smiles warmly. "I asked if you were alright."
"O-oh, yes, thank you."
"Hey," the other man barks, "show proper respect to the prince!" This man is quite the opposite of the beautiful man. He is stout and rather round. Though he looks strong, he looks like he gained his muscle from doing manual labor, while the other man looks like he had gained his from more elegant means. Which would make sense seeing as how he's apparently a…
"Pri-prince?!" A prince? Near our forest? This is not good. A prince means a kingdom, and a kingdom means people that have a need for wood and game. They could try to invade my forest!
"Yes, I am indeed a prince. Are you not from around here?" the prince asks with genuine curiosity on his face.
"Ah, yes of course I am. I suppose I was just unaware the prince was so young." It is not the best story, but it must do for now. I pray to my gods that they do not say or ask any more unusual things.
"Girl," the rude man says, "that's the Cursed Forest, is it not? What is such a small waif such as yourself doing wandering around the forest?"
I'm tempted to turn him into the pig that he is, but manage to control myself. Instead, I say the carefully crafted lie that I have been force to remember, in case a situation such as this should arise.
I allow my face to slowly slide into and expression of fear and worry. "Oh! It's my father." Fake tears well up in my eyes. "He went out hunting midday yesterday and hasn't returned yet. I've been quite worried. We live alone, you see. My mother died when I was just a babe, and father has yet to remarry. I was so scared to be on my own, so I came searching for him. I fear the worst." The tears spill down my face.
I watch their expressions turn from curiosity to pity, sadness, and guilt. Quickly, I bury my face in my hands, and my shoulders shake, but not from tears. Men are so easy to deceive. They never suspect a poor, frail girl to be anything but that. 'Waif', the poor rider had called me. He has no idea that I am considered an equal in my circle of people, if not above them. The stupid oaf.
A sound suddenly causes me to look up. The prince has kneeled down in front of me, his eyes level with mine. My face flushes once again, and I scramble back with a start. A smile passes across his features briefly before it disappears behind his somber façade.
"I swear to you, we WILL find your father." Another quick smile. "No one as pretty as you should be left unprotected." My heart begins to flutter faster than the wings of a hummingbird.
He stands suddenly. "Come, Landon! We must begin the search!"
"Now, your majesty?" Landon shoots me a look of pure hate.
"Yes, we can't leave this poor girl all on her own, now can we?" He looks incredulously at his companion.
"I…I suppose not, majesty." Landon hangs his head momentarily. As it rises, I see anger tight around his eyes. Other than that, he looks perfectly composed.
The prince turns his attention back to me. "Now…" He gives me a lost look. I realize he is asking for my name.
"Odile," I say, scarcely above a whisper. I blink in surprise. That was one thing I was taught, even before the story I just recited: never tell anyone your true name. I have just broken my father's number one rule.
"Odile…" the prince says thoughtfully. He seems to be tuning it over in his mind, examining it. He smiles suddenly. He seems to do this often. "What a pretty for a pretty girl. My name is Siegfried."
"Siegfried," I repeat quietly, still in shock that I gave him my name. Also that he thinks it is pretty.
I receive one last smile before he is leaping back upon his horse and charging into the forest, Landon quick at his heels.
I watch after them for a moment before muttering a quick spell and sending a message to my father over the wind that there are intruders. No matter how beautiful or kind someone is to me, I will not tolerate outsiders within my home.
With one more glance at the place where the two men entered my domain, I turn and walk away, once again set on finding out more about Odette.