When Carew arrived at the gate the news spread like wildfire. Unfortunately, I was stuck in the pantry, taking inventory and was unable to immediately speak to him in privately. As the rest of the household moved into the great hall to hear what the boy had to say I was in the back, straining to hear, but I did not care that Ghanik had finally conquered Earth House after two years of siege, or that Ghanik was alive, and well, and on his way home. It was Karth and Simin that I had worried over every day for what seemed an eternity.

Carew was animated and his dialougue often meandered down other avenues as he told us that Ghanik, Karth's father, was on his way and would arrive in a few days, but that others would arrive as early as tomorrow. My hands made fists at my side. Who? Who will be here first? I wanted to shout. After a short time, we all went back to our duties, though I only did because Carew had been ushered away by Ghanik's men who had stayed to hold the fortress we lived in.

It was evening before I found Carew and cornered him near the well. He had grown taller, maybe a finger taller than me, but he was still slightly younger than me. The birthmark that covered jagged portions of his pinched face reminded me of beet juice, and I always felt the urge to help him wash his face, though I knew the stain would not leave.

"Please, Carew," I said, "Are Karth and Simin well?"

Carew laughed. "I hardly recognized you Tally."

I could not help blushing. I had changed since the boys left, but I had nearly two long years to do it.

"They are well. They'll likely be here t'morrow if they haven't stopped to drink and whore about."

My blushed deepened and my anger rose.

"What do you see in them anyway? They are a bit above our station." Carew came closer. I took a step back and he stopped. "We aren't children anymore."

"I merely wanted to know they were well. Thank you." I turned and hurried back to the room I shared with Tinley, the cook, who had adopted me as her sister.

I sat on the bed and tried to erase the thought of either Karth or Simin with women, though I knew it was an eventual fate. All the romantic thoughts, all the ideas of revenge, all the dreams of freedom disappeared as I let reality sink into my soul. Carew was correct; we were no longer children. And my two best friends would be changed just as I was. Tears pooled in my eyes.

Not letting myself wallow in pity for too long, I decided to walk through the hushed halls of the manse. Ghanik was not back yet so I was not too afraid of showing my face, though my hair was tied back as usual and covered by a scarf. On the third floor of the house I let my hand trace the wall until I came to the spot where magic pulsed and pulled at me. I knew what was behind this wall. I had been in there as a young child but I could not remember how to enter. If I had remembered how to open the room beyond I may have gone in and never come out again.

Lingering there too long would be a mistake, so I moved on, the magic feeling leaving me suddenly bereft. Ghanik was convinced that there were secrets hidden in the manse and I would be in grave danger if he thought I could find them. I made my way back down to the second floor, quieter now, as these halls were travelled more heavily. On my left was the room where I saw my last cousin, Lanny, murdered. I remembered bits of his conversation with Ghanik. I remembered that Lanny was a traitor. I did not feel sorry for him, but if he had not been murdered, I would have still had family. However, if he had not been murdered, he may have offered me to Ghanik himself. I shuddered at the thought.

A chill caused me to shiver again. I returned to the kitchen where Tinley and Chalms were speaking quietly. They stopped when I walked in, and both assessed me. Tinley sighed and looked back at Chalms pleadingly. Chalms, ever calm, oversaw the household staff, and therefore, his word was final on any staff issues, barring a decision from Ghanik. I did not like the look on their faces though.

"What is it?" I asked cautiously.

"It is time for you to leave the manse."

"But why?" My heart pounded in my chest. "Where would I go?" Tinley came and put her arm around my shoulders.

Chalms continued. "There is woman nearby who needs a nurse in her old age. You will live with her and you will care for her."

"But I don't know how," I argued. "I cannot just-"

"Your life is in danger and you know it!" Chalms snapped, then sighed, disgusted with himself and the situation.

"Tally," Tinley said, squeezing my shoulders, "it will be much harder now to keep your secret from Ghanik. You've grown and…" she patted my scarf covered head, and then touched her own scarf covered head, "it is getting harder to hide you. And you look just like your mum. Anyone who ever knew your mum will know you."

"Can't I hide here? I won't come out of our room, I promise!" I pleaded. "This is my home." I saw tears form in Tinley's eyes. I turned back to Chalms. "Please? Without all of you, I'm alone. I have no one." A lump grew in my throat as I saw Chalms begin to lose his nerve.

"You'll still be close enough that we can visit." He had to clear his throat before he could say the words. "Pack your things this evening. You will be taken to your Aunt Madan's home tomorrow morning."

I swallowed and pulled away from Tinley's comforting arm. "Tally," she said, reaching for me but I hurried through the door, back up the stairs, looking at every room I could, every wall, every carpet, trying to take in every detail of my home before I would be forced from it. On the third floor, where the magic room was, I stopped, not caring who saw, and rested my forehead upon the stone wall. If I could just remember the password I could disappear and never come out. Please, what is the word? What makes you open? The magic in the room soothed me, called to me, but would not reveal its secrets. I sighed. They are making me leave. To keep me safe. I don't know if I'll ever be back. I felt the magic of the room pull harder than ever on me. I have no choice if I want to live.

I pushed away from the wall and stared at it, numb, tired, and depressed. Then I walked to the little room I shared with Tinley and packed what little I had.

It was early morning when I was ushered out the door by Chalms's wife, with the excuse of going to market. She was always more cheerful than her husband, but at that time nothing could cheer me. As we walked toward the gates they were opened, but not to let us out. Several men on horses, and several other walking, were allowed in. The noise level rose immediately and I strained to see who it was as we stepped out of the way.

There they were. I barely recognized them and knew they would never know me if what Carew said was true. They were older, harder like men, and then, I thought I almost caught Simin's eye. Then they were gone, and Mrs. Chalms was leading me out the gate and away from my home.

It turned out that my Aunt Madan neither wanted to be my aunt, nor did she want a nurse. She was old and she hated me. Two of her sons and one of their wives met me and Mrs. Chalms at Aunt Madan's one room home. They explained to her that I was a cousin they had found who would be taking care of her. In only minutes, I realized why I was taking care of her, and not her own family. The woman was hateful. She did not seem as ill as I had been led to believe, but she only accepted me living with her after Mrs. Chalms ran away and her sons threatening to have her taken to Lietchen. The thought of that place made me shiver. No one ever came back from Lietchen. After everyone left she told me to make myself scarce, and I happily complied.

That was how I spent the next couple of days. I returned to Aunt Madan's for supper and bed, and in the morning, I ran away, as deep into the woods as I dared by myself. I ate roots and berries when I was hungry, and practiced poaching techniques when I was sure that no one would find me. Karth had shown me how to set a snare some years before, and after finding the material needed, I proceeded to begin to trap small animals, partly for something to ease the boredom, and partly to ease my hunger.

I heavily considered leaving my newfound aunt's home and becoming a maiden of the wood. I even looked for the perfect place to build my own home, but it was bad enough that I was poaching. If I was caught not paying taxes to Ghanik, even though the wood was truly mine, and so was the manse, and the village, and the river…I had to stop that line of thought. I had nothing. I had no one. And with the fall of the Earth House, the closest ally of my family, I knew I would never find help.