"Wh-what are you talking about, Lysander?" I eye him suspiciously as he circles me, and I can feel my heart sinking into my stomach.
"I saw you over there." He stops in front of me, crossing his lanky arms over his chest. "You were practicing magic. Admit it, you witch. I saw you!"
Lysander has always been a bully to everyone in our pocket of the kingdom. He is the son of a cobbler and his uncle is one of the Royal knights, so his family has always possessed an air of arrogance from their ties to the castle. Although bony and lanky, Lysander is tough. Many fear him, for he never has been afraid to dole out harsh comments and vicious punches. Lately, he's been giving me a hard time, and I fear that my parents will try to betroth he and I from the hints that they have been dropping in the past couple weeks.
If Lysander truly was watching – which would explain the noise I heard at the pond – then I know he'll tell everyone. My family could disown me, I could be taken to the dungeon, or possibly even sentenced to death. Those who practice dark magic are punish harshly in Parceth. Lysander could simply claim I had been practicing forbidden techniques and it would be the end of me.
"So what if I was?" I try to stand taller and appear confident.
He smirks, an evil gleam shining in his dark eyes. "They give high rewards for turning in witches, I've heard."
"I'm surprised a little wench like you is capable of doing magic." He reaches out and messes my hair roughly, still smiling grossly.
"Stop it, Lysander. You saw nothing," I practically growl at him, my fear melting into a boiling rage.
He laughs at me and grabs my chin. "Oh, Annabelle, you little thing… You don't scare me. Good try, though."
I pull away from his grasp, feeling the warm vibrations in my fingers as my magic reacts with my rage. He smirks and looks as though he's about to make another snide remark, and I can feel my emotions crashing together inside me.
Before he can get a word out he freezes, his entire body tense. His eyes widen in fear as he brings his trembling hands to his throat. My anger quickly dissipates as I suddenly realize that he cannot breathe. I look down at my hands, which are also shaking, then back at him as my fear chills my spine.
After a long moment, he gasps and staggers back, desperately gulping in air. I watch, stunned, and entirely shocked that my magic could harm another person. Clearly, I have no clue what my capabilities are. I hadn't even tried to use my power; it acted on its own, in response to my anger.
"You…. You tried to kill me…"
Lysander is watching me carefully, distrust and fear in his eyes. He looks ready to run, and I'm afraid that he will.
"No, no, I didn't. Lysander, no, I wouldn't-"
"Stay away from me, you witch!"
I take a step forward and he takes one back. He glances between my hands and my face, obviously trying to read my next move.
"Stay back, witch! You'll burn for this!" He turns quickly and takes off running before I can even react.
"Lysander, wait! Please!" I follow him, trying to keep him in my sight as we both duck and weave through the wood. Lysander doesn't even look back, but instead flees as if his life depended upon it.
I lose him from my sight as he breaks out of the wood far ahead of me. I run out to the dirt path, pausing for a moment to catch my breath. There's no doubt in my mind that he's already back in the small town, sharing my secret with everyone.
By now, it's sunny and bright, and the morning's mist feels like a far-off memory. I sigh to myself, kicking a rock down the path angrily. My sleeve is torn from snagging on the brush while I ran, and my skirts and boots are plastered with mud.
I can feel my anger stirring inside again. I have no clue how Lysander managed to find me at the pond, or how he could have followed me. Had I been careless? I feel just as much anger at myself as I do for him. In only a matter of moments my life has changed, forever, because of this magic; I'll have to leave town, possibly even the kingdom, and abandon my family, as quickly as possible. The only hope I have to avoid death is to gather my things and leave. There won't be time for goodbyes.
I start running again, hopeful that I can escape before the royal guards arrive to take me away. My heart thuds even harder in my chest every time I pass a traveler, terrified that they'll see through me and accuse me of witchcraft. It feels as if it's an eternity until I reach the familiar muddy yard and old, wooden gate. I take one deep, shuddering breath in preparation before pulling the door open and hurling myself over the threshold.
The house is eerily quiet and the tiny dining room feels disturbingly empty. I pause only a moment before I quickly cross the small house to my room, noticing that my parents are nowhere to be found. Everything in my room is exactly as I left it, so I am certain that I made it in time. I gather my clothes and the few precious belongings I own, throwing them all into my worn knapsack, and tuck my dangerously light purse into my boot. For only a moment do I consider leaving a note for my family, but I know that I need every second as a head start. I'm certain that they'll understand. I grab some bread and give the small house one last glance before hurrying back out to the yard.
"Halt, in the name of the Queen!"
I freeze, an icy terror hitting me like a brick. My hands tremble terribly, the bread I was shoving into my bag almost falling from my grip, and I realize that I'm holding my breath in fear. Four men, all dressed in light mail armor with swords buckled at their waists and the Queen's crest displayed proudly on their chests are standing just outside the gate, about to enter the yard. Both of my parents are behind them, looking visibly shaken. Lysander is off to the side, a crazed, terrified look on his face.
"Th-that's her!" Lysander's hand shakes violently as he points to me. "She's the witch! She – she tried to kill me!"
My mother bursts into tears at this, my farther gripping her shoulders tightly for support.
The guards come through the gate, large and intimidating. I can do nothing but tremble uncontrollably, tears welling up in my eyes. The four men surround me and tell me I am to go with them to the castle. They say if I try to put up a fight or use my magic to harm them or to escape, they will not hesitate to take action. I manage to force a small nod, the tears slipping down my cheeks.
I go with them, unable to bear the pained looks my parents wear, or the odd fear painted on Lysander's face. The journey to the castle takes several hours on foot, and many people cast suspicious glances at me as the five of us travel. After a few hours, I manage to find my voice and choke out a plea, but the guards simply say that my fate now lies in the hands of the King and Queen.