I wince as the wooden door closes with a slight creak, frozen with fear that my mother was about to catch me slipping out of the house. After many long, excruciating moments, I allow myself to breathe again without worry. Quickly, I cross through the yard, expertly tiptoeing past the chickens without waking them. The morning air is cool and misty from the night's gentle rain and feels fresh against my face. I navigate through the darkness until I reach the damp dirt path and let my instincts guide me from there.
Many times I have made this early morning trek without Mother or Father knowing, and finding my way to the pond has become second nature to me. Although my parents worry about my safety when I'm alone, I've never felt unsafe on my trips to the pond. Sometimes I cross paths with weary travelers or nomadic merchants, but no one has ever done more than ask for directions to the closest inn. Parceth is a safe kingdom, and all of its citizens recognize it as such. I have never understood why my parents feared thieves and bandits so much.
I veer off the path, holding my skirts up a bit as I navigate through the sopping grass in my ragged boots. I glance around out of caution before I quickly duck into the thin woods that's spotted throughout this portion of the kingdom. I used to play with the children who lived nearby for hours on the edge of the tree line, but many of those friends are gone now. All of those childish boys have grown and are learning a skill or training to be one of Parceth's knights, and the girls are marrying and tending to their families now. I know that my parents wish for me to marry soon as well, and although the thought of being tied down is disappointing, I am eager to begin my own life away from home.
My older sister, Sarah, was lucky enough to begin working as a maid in the castle only a few months ago. I am somewhat jealous of her for having such a privilege, but I am happy for her to have such a rewarding job nonetheless. My parents expect me to be as successful as Sarah, and often compare her accomplishments to my lack of them. It's a dream of mine to be able to work inside the castle, directly serving our rulers. The King and Queen have been responsible for the incredible prosper that Parceth has seen over the past decade, and the kingdom is in its prime. My dream will likely never come true, however, for it is not often that those outside the castle are recruited to work within its walls.
I finally reach the small clearing with the stagnant pond, laying still and silent as if waiting for my return. The red-orange glow from the slowly rising sun reflects off the pool of liquid, giving it the appearance of a gorgeous painting. I gather my skirts and crouch down by the edge, gently skimming my fingers across the top and silently admiring the rippling artwork. After a long moment, I stand, focusing now on the water itself, willing it to move at my fingertips.
I can feel the warm vibrations of the magic inside me, stirring in my body and itching to get out as I call upon it. Slowly, a small glob of water raises out of the pond, shifting and rolling in place as it slowly rises to about chest height.
The snap! of a stick in the woods to my right causes me to jump and lose my focus. The manipulated water falls back to its home with a small splash. I whip around, scanning the woods carefully for signs of a person. I've always been incredibly cautious on my trips to the pond to ensure that no one follows me, since I don't know how people will react to my magic.
I've only been practicing controlling it for the past several months, but I've noticed sign since I was young: a floating spoon here, a spark there, yet no one was the wiser. As far as I know, no one in my family possesses any magical abilities, and I am unsure of their opinions on magic wielders. Never have they discussed their feelings for magic, and although they respect the King and Queen of Parceth – both of which possess strong magic – I do not know how they would react to my abilities. So, I have decided to keep my power a secret.
Once I've determined that there is not a person stalking me from the woods, I return to my practice. Since my magic is a secret, I have not had any instructors or apprenticeships, and instead have been training on my own to try and understand my capabilities.
Slowly, I've been understanding my abilities and how to use them. I've found that I can manipulate air, water, fire, and objects lying about. Once, I tried to set a rock on fire, but with no luck, so I'm not entirely sure how my powers work. It is difficult to understand magic, especially when you grow up with no knowledge of it.
I decide to stop practicing for the day once the sun has almost fully risen. With one last glance back at the secret pond, I begin my trek through the woods. However, I don't make it very far before I stumble into the last person I would wish to encounter.
"Well, well, well," the black-haired boy circles me slowly, looking me up and down as he does so. "It turns out that little Annabelle is a witch. Imagine that."