-Brianna-

The gentle spring air is filled with the smell of freshly turned dirt and the sharp scent of mint. I sit among the rows of herbs, picking the pungent leaves and inhaling deeply as the sounds of the daily music lesson drift out from an open window above my head.

I roll my eyes as the music, though usually pleasant, is terribly flat this day and the sounds of the piano and the singing do nothing to uplift my spirits. I sigh, filling my small wicker basket with more mint leaves, a few carrots that resemble deformed feet, and some fresh spring onions. I still need the potatoes.

My hands still hurt this morning, but it is nothing that my mother can't cure with a short beating and cleansing in the river. I stare down at them, the betrayers of my happiness. They are neither deformed nor ugly. The pain from them, however, runs through my body like a hot poker.

It was duller when I was younger. The pain came and went quickly and my mother was not aware. She caught me once with the pain and punished me for carrying the devil in me with a swift beating and a fasting for a week. Dawn, the other maid of the house, used to sneak small pies to me. My mother never knew because she was away doing her chores. She had told me that it was wrong for my mother to be punishing me for something I couldn't control.

As I grew up, I found ways to hide the pain from my mother. Most of the time, I would volunteer to do the morning dishes or the wash, using only the coldest water I could find. The icy waters dulled the pain well for me. Over the last few weeks, however, my hands heat up more quickly and more intensely than ever before.

Dawn once mentioned my grandmother when I first spoke of the pains, but my mother quickly quieted her on the topic. I have not seen my grandmother in years. I don't ever ask my mother anymore. She used to tell me that my grandmother died. Then she would say she was on a trip to a different kingdom. Her stories were never the same twice.

I toss my hair back from my face, just in time to notice a rotten apple whizz by my nose. I turn my head and narrow my eyes at the young man standing at the edge of the garden, tossing some withered fruit into the air with a wide, crooked grin.

"Roddric Aubrey! You nearly hit me in the face!" I scream.

"I was merely seeing how well you paid attention, Bree." The boy shrugs as he drops two apples onto the ground.

"Go away, I'm busy!" I turnback towards the small bush of mint before me and continue to pick the leaves. I can hear him padding up behind me as I place my fingers onto the plant. I focus back towards the sounds of his breathing as he tries to be quiet. It doesn't work.

I am very fond of Rodd. And he is a pleasant distraction most of the time, however, I know that my mother will be terribly upset if I am late in bringing in the vegetables for the evening's dinner for the baroness and her children.

"Come on, Bree! I want to show you something!" He stood behind me and bends down over my basket with curiously wide brown eyes. He likes to call me Bree, even though my name is Brianna. It's cute. His toothy grin means that he is up to something and it usually means no good. He grasps my wrist with his thin, dirty hand, and yanks me up from my kneeling position.

I want to resist. I want to be good and listen to my mother, but my curiosity gets the better of me and I willingly allow Rodd to pull me through the back woods that surround the small stables and deeper through the trees.

He has something in his other hand, which I don't notice until we are well into the forest. As he swings his arms to help add momentum to his gait, I see that it is a crudely made bow and a few handcrafted arrows.

"Where did you get those?"

Rodd stops and signals for me to be quiet with a dirty finger to my pink lips. I want to bite his finger off. He tosses his shoulder-length dirty blond hair from his face, crouches and turns, hiding behind some thick bushes and a fallen tree. His smile widens as he catches sight of something. He glances over at me with a wink, which makes me crouch down to see what is making him so cheerful.

A small white rabbit sits in the middle of the forest floor, twitching its pink nose. Its ears are long, with one higher than the other. Its brown eyes gaze around its surroundings, its head turns. It hops one step away, its tail facing us.

Rodd steadies his bow and pulls back an arrow. "Watch this!" His voice is low and barely a whisper as it reaches my ears.

"What are you going to do?"

Rodd rolls his eyes at me as though it is the dumbest question he has ever heard. "What do you think?"

"You're not going to hurt it!" I gasp and the rabbit rears on its hind legs as though it has caught wind of something unexpected.

"It's dinner!" Rodd aims and steadies his bow. He pulls back the arrow just a little further and releases. His expression is confident as the arrow slices the air before us.

"No, Rodd!" My voice rises as a tear trails down my cheek.

The arrow strikes but it falls flatly as though it has hit a wall. The rabbit continues to twitch its nose and hops another step away.

"Wot theā€¦?" Rodd's expression falls. His eyes narrow and his lips twist into a snarl as he pulls another arrow back, his aim is steady, and his eyes are focused on the target.

"Please, stop, Rodd!" I wipe the tear from my face.

"I'll get it, this time." Rodd takes in a breath and steadies his arm, though his muscles are shaking by the time he releases the second arrow.

I close my eyes. I don't want to see the arrow hit the poor animal.

"Shit!" Rodd spits as he stands and hops over the log towards his quarry.

I turn my head and open my eyes as I feel the breeze change around me. I look over the log and see Rodd crouching over something, his muscular back to her. "What did you do?"

I stand and jump over the fallen wood and join Rodd. My eyes well with tears as I look down and see the fallen rabbit with the arrow through one of its back legs.

The animal's nose still twitches and it tries to turn onto its feet and hop away, but it stops when it only gets a few inches distance from us.

Rodd grins widely. "My dad's gonna be so proud when I bring this home." He reaches down pulls the animal by its ears and grasps the end of the arrow. He uses his thumb to bend the wood near the fletching and break it. He pullsthe rest of the arrow throw the front of the creature's leg and tosses the pieces of wood away.

I reach out to the rabbit with sadness in my eyes. Though I'm not a vegetarian, I never enjoy watching an animal suffer. I always let George, the household's only male servant, deal with the slaughtering of the animals.

I pull the rabbit from Rodd's hand and kneel onto the ground with the small furry creature in my lap. I look up into Rodd's face with tearstained eyes. "It's suffering."

Rodd smirks as the rabbit kicks and tries to run away.

I feel helpless. I lower my eyes onto the bunny's face, where it continues to twitch its nose and move its mouth as though it's chewing on something. It kicks its legs in my lap and its brown eye dart from my face to Rodd, then back again to me. I run my hand over its soft fur, feeling the hairs in my palm. I caress its ears, and smooth the fur along its back.

Rodd stands over me with his hands on his hips. He is about to say something when he turns his head towards the house. "Shit."

"What is it?" I turn my face up to look at him but he is already half way over the fallen log. "Rodd?"

"Come on, Bree! Bring that thing with you!" He is halfway out of the woods when he calls back to me. "Bree! Let's go!"

I look down at the rabbit and the wound in its leg. Although I don't want to deprive Rodd and his father of dinner, I really don't want to let this poor rabbit die. It is an easier decision if Rodd isn't such a poor shot and pierces the rabbit through the heart or severs its neck. Instead, I sit in the middle of the woods with an injured animal in my lap and I don't want to let it die. Not in my lap. Not in my presence.

I bite my lip as I separate the pink fur around the wound to take a better look at the gaping, bleeding hole. I close my eyes and shake my head. I don't know what to do. My hands tremble as I caress the poor creature. Am I hurting it? I feel its heart racing and its breathing increases as my hands run over its body and down to its feet.

My hands tingle. Not now! I ball them into fists, imagining the sensation is a result of a loss of blood to my fingertips. I shake my hands in the air, letting them flap helplessly with each quick jerk. But the tickle in them won't dissipate. Instead, it spreads into a warmth; a heat that grow quickly in my palm.

The pain is different. Normally, I'm doubled over in sheer agony by now, but this time, I'm calm and the burning in my palm doesn't bother me.

I don't understand what's happening. My hand instinctively finds the rabbit's leg, filling my arm with the tingle that shoots up through my palm, to my wrist, up the arm and into my body. It's an aching sensation that quickly leaves me breathless. I look down at the rabbit's leg, smoothing the hairs, searching for the wound. But the only thing left that's a reminder of the arrow's mark is the pinkish tinge to the animal's fur.

I sit back as the rabbit quickly hops onto all four feet and looks at me with its deep brown, hopeful eyes. Its nose twitches at me before it quickly darts from my presence and into the bushes. I shake my head and look into my palms. The heat is gone and there is nothing to indicate on my skin that anything transpired.

I stand up; my skirt is stained with the rabbit's blood. I quickly hop over the log and run through the woods towards the house, but something aches in my own leg. It is not too painful, except when I stop and actually pay attention to the sting. I reach down to scratch at it the spot, thinking it is a bug bite from being in the woods, but my fingers feel something warm and sticky cover them.

I pull my hand out from under the skirt to see it covered with my own blood. Looking back towards the forest and the fallen log, I try to convince myself that it is just an accident. What I've seen is impossible. The rabbit just had a little flesh wound.