Gifted | Teen Ink


February 10, 2011
By IsobelFree DIAMOND, Hamilton, Other
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IsobelFree DIAMOND, Hamilton, Other
71 articles 20 photos 296 comments

Favorite Quote:
"As long as there is open road, the familiar has the most formidable competitor." - Anonymous

Author's note: I wrote this book a while ago (you can find the cover for it in my work), waiting to publish it. It's rather long (nearly 10 000 words already) and it's only half done. Also, if you've ever read Graceling by Kristen Cashore (please do, if you haven't; I HIGHLY reccomend it), my book bears remarkable resemblance - considering I wrote this book probably 2 years ago and I just read Graceling a week ago. Weird. Anyway, enjoy!

The author's comments:
This is actually the prologue and the first chapter. Keep in mind I wrote this a while ago, so the writing isn't my best - but I think it's a pretty good story anyway.

A cry rings out in the night.

The thin wail of an infant pierces the stillness. The landscape is perfectly cold and still, but all is not serene. Inside a small cottage on the edge of a village, tension and fear tighten the air.

Inside the house, a young woman, her face flushed and her eyes red with tears, clutches a small baby to her chest. The cold breeze gusts through the window and rustles her the hem of her nightgown. As she stares out the window, tears pour down her face.

“My poor, sweet child,” she whispers, stroking her infant’s scarce hair. “What shall I do? What shall become of you?”

The woman tugs the swaddling fabric from her infant, and, as she watches, two tiny wings unfold from the child’s back. Half the size of the mother’s hand, the wings are frail, feathery, and weak.

“You are so beautiful, my dear,” she murmurs, caressing her child’s wings as the child sniffles, then drifts off to sleep. “So special. But they cannot know.” She shakes her head violently. “No, they cannot know.”

The wind picks up, gusting through the open window. The woman reaches out and closes the shutters, wrapping the blanket around her infant. “I shall name you Ala,” she decides, gazing at the baby. “The word for wing. For I know that one day, you shall fly, my dear. One day you shall fly.”



Chapter I
“Ala? Are you awake? The cow hasn’t been milked!” Mother’s call comes from the other side of the wool blanket that serves as a partition in the middle of the house. I can hear Philippi pining for his morning milk.

“Coming, Mother!” I shout. I fetch my only dress from where it’s hanging from a peg in the wall. It used to be a becoming shade of violet, but now is a dull, faded shade of grayish-purple. I slip it on over my underclothes and pass Falla her little red dress. I think she looks like a little red robin in it.

Mother is looking somewhat distraught, trying to mush some berries while struggling to keep Philippi happy at the same time. “Here, I’ll take him,” I offer, taking my brother off my mother’s shoulder and slinging him across my own. Philippi stops wailing and lays his head on my shawl, drooling a bit.

Falla runs out of the bedroom, brandishing her little doll, which I made for her out of fabric scraps. She named it Daisy and loves it to pieces. “Mommy, Mommy, I made a shawl for Daisy!” she cries, flinging her arms around Mother’s legs.

“You did?” Mother manages a smile. “That’s wonderful, Falla. Where did you get the scrap?”

“From my shawl.” Falla looks extremely proud. She shows Mother her torn garment.

“Farfalla!” Mother scolds. “We cannot afford to have you ripping your clothes to pieces! You understand?”

Falla nods, her eyes wide. She hates it when Mother scolds her. She is, after all, barely five summers old.

“Good,” Mother says. “Now go and collect some greens from the garden, if there are any left after last night's frost. Ala, could you please go with her?”

“Yes, Mother,” I comply, following Falla outside.
It is bitter cold outside, and although the sun is shining and there is no wind, the air is harsh against our cheeks. I take Falla’s hand and lead her over to our meagre vegetable patch. There are a few greens left over from the frost, but most are wilted and limp. Our tomatoes are clearly ruined, and the beans are not much better. I sigh and thank the Gods that we still have the cow. When worst comes to worst, we can always kill it for food.

“Here, Falla,” I say, handing her a little wicker basket and pointing her over to some lucky greens that haven’t been killed by the harsh weather. “These are some good ones. Now don’t yank. Pull carefully.” I squat in the garden and show her how to gently pull out the greens from the earth, and Falla nods, studying me carefully.

“Are you alright to do that?” I ask her. “I need to milk the cow.”

“Yes, Ala,” she says, already hard at work in the vegetable patch.

I smile to myself and walk around the back of our tiny stone house, over to where our cow stands. (We never named her, for fear that Falla would get too attached.) A while back, my mother and I built a small structure faintly resembling a barn for the cow, so as to shelter her from rain and snow,but it’s just a crude wooden lean-to at the back of the house, the rotten wood falling apart.

I should probably fix the lean-to, I think as I pull up a stool beside the cow and start milking. I know I *should* fix it. But there were many other things I *should* do that this will probably just get lost in the flood.

Creamy milk spurts into the bucket, frothing at the top. I continue milking till the bucket has a tiny bit of milk in. That is all the cow ever gives at one time. I dip my finger in the milk and allow myself a little taste. Sweet milk slides down my tongue, and I close my eyes, relishing the taste. Mmm.

I pick up the bucket and go to check on Falla. She has collected enough greens to fill half her basket. Her face is twisted in concentration as she struggles to yank out some greens.

“Good job, Falla!” I congratulate her, kneeling beside her and placing my hand upon her. “Carefully now,” I say, guiding her hand to gently pull out the leafy vegetable.

“Is that enough?” Falla asks, sitting back and rubbing her feet. Her shoes are thin and worn, with a hole in the left toe. At least hers are made of leather; traded off a neighbour when his cow died. My shoes are made from a coarse, thick burlap, and they are barely enough to keep my feet from freezing.

“Yes, that’s enough.” I stand and brush the soil from my apron. “Mother will be very pleased. Now come inside, it’s cold out here.”

The roaring fire feels very welcome once we are in the house. I place a few more logs into it and lug the bucket over to our wooden table. “Here you go, Mother,” I say, putting the bucket on the table along with Falla’s greens.

“Thank you, girls,” Mother replies, putting a hand on my shoulder and giving me a smile. She puts some greens on a piece of wood and starts chopping them.

“You’re welcome.” I dash over to the bedroom, where Philippi has suddenly started crying. I pick him up from his little crib and cuddle him, stroking his hair. “It’s alright, it’s alright,” I coo, bouncing him until he stops crying.

“Gah!” Philippi gurgles, placing a pudgy hand on my shoulder blade. I reach back and feel a feather sticking out of a rip in my faded violet dress.

I sigh. “Now you too know my secret, sweetheart.” I brush his soft cheek with my lips. “But no one else can know. Understand?”

Philippi pats my cheek. Of course he understands. But would anyone else?

I consider this as I lie in bed that night, Falla’s warm shape huddled against me. Mother tells me that, when King Leonardo was ruling, my kind – the Gifted – was nearly worshipped. Whenever a Gifted child was born, the village celebrated for days.

But when he died, his elder son, Rafael, took over the throne; and for reasons unknown, outlawed Gifted people. A Gifted baby has to be slaughtered at birth. And if you hide a child with a Gift and you are found out, you and your child are brutally killed, along with all those who assisted you in your treason. We live a dangerous life. My mother and I, we are a team; the only ones who know my shameful secret. We do everything we can to keep a low profile, moving whenever there is any suspicion that I am different than anyone else.

I can’t keep up this pretense much longer. Sooner or later, someone is going to find out my secret. I have to take action to protect my family and myself, but what could I possibly do that would make any difference?

Then it hits me like a bolt from the heavens. I know what I must do. And it doesn’t matter that I’m too scared to do it. It doesn’t matter that I might not be able to do it. It must be done.

The author's comments:
This is a short chapter, but obviously important.

Chapter II
Every time we go to a new village, it’s the same story: keep a low profile, don’t stand out, be as much like the other villagers as possible. And we always try. Really, we do. But there’s always that variable – that one grain of rice that tips the scale, the one thing that goes wrong that causes everything to go wrong. It could be a snooping “friend” or a careless mistake or a bandit, but there’s always something that ruins our mask of secrecy.

We’ve gone three years since the last fleeing, and sometimes I let myself hope that maybe we’ll be able to stay. But I don’t allow myself to hope for too long. It’s only a matter of time till someone finds out.

What I really need is to know some other Gifted children. Someone else who is in the same situation as I, someone I can talk to. A life where no one really knows you is a sad life indeed. But I must hide myself, if for no other reason than my family. If I am discovered, they die too.

I suppose I was born with a debt to them that I will always owe.

I carry these heavy thoughts as I walk through town on my way to buy some bread, the sky just beginning to lighten. Our wheat crop was destroyed a year ago, so we now have to buy most of our food. I usually buy wheat for Mother so she can make our bread, but she has not been feeling well lately, and I have to take care of the children, so I decide that just buying bread would be fine, even though it is more expensive than wheat itself.

I push open the bakery’s heavy door. “Hello, sir,” I call out, forcing a smile.

“Why, hello, Ala,” the baker replies, his flushed cheeks creased with a jolly grin. “Haven’t seen you in awhile. What would you like?”

“Two loaves of fresh bread, please,” I say, digging in my apron pocket for a few bronze coins.

“Oh, you’re just in time! Just baked five new loaves!” The baker opens his kitchen door, goes inside, and comes back out with two piping-hot loaves of bread.

I take the loaves, giving the baker three coins. Then I make my way back down the street, the fragrant bread warming my hands.

When I get back, everyone is still asleep. Falla is curled up next to Mother in Mother’s bed, and Philippi is sleeping in his crib. They are so peaceful looking, like nothing could ever harm them.

A reluctant thought creeps into my head, something I'd been trying not to think about for weeks. If I hadn’t been born, or at least if I had been born without a Gift, nothing would ever harm them. But because I was born Gifted, a sword is always hanging over the ones I love, their heads constantly on the chopping block.

And it’s all because of me.

I must leave and never come back, even if it means leaving Mother alone with Falla and Philippi. She will have a hard time at first, but she will get used to it, and at least my family will be safe. Mother will find a way. She always has.

I find a piece of precious parchment, our homemade quill, and the inkwell, and scribble out a note to Mother. I leave it on the table, placing a rock on top so that the paper won’t blow away in the wind. I grab a sack and fill it with half of one of the loaves of bread, some old cheese that we made a few months ago, and a waterskin full of the fresh spring water Mother always keeps in a bucket in the kitchen.

I sling the bag over my shoulder and push back the curtain. They are still fast asleep, though Mother will probably be waking any time to start the morning chores. I kiss her forehead first, then Falla’s, then Philippi’s. “I love you,” I whisper to the three of them. Then I turn, push back the curtain for the last time and walk out the door without looking back.

The author's comments:
Ugh. I haven't read this in a while, and now I'm remembering how the story builds much too quickly. Oh well. Try to enjoy it anyway.

Chapter III
I’m in the centre of a small thicket, a thick blanket of pine needles underfoot. Towering pine trees form a verdant canopy overhead, effectively blocking any sunlight that may have come through, so I’m not sure of the time of day. A fresh breeze cools my cheeks, and the air is crisp and clear.

How in the name of the Gods did I get here? One moment I was walking through my village, and the next, here I was, in an unknown forest.

Which is strange. I know all the forests around our village by heart. Even though we have moved around five times in my lifetime, most of the villages we have lived in are fairly close together. After all, they are all centred around the Castle of Re. My whole life, I’ve lived in and around forests, and I know most of them like the back of my own hand.

Except for this one. Where am I?

Well, wherever I am, I am alone. The air is still, not tainted by the scent of other people or animals, and the leaves are unmoving. I relax, exhale slowly, and unfurl my tiny wings from between my shoulder blades. They are sore and aching from being cramped up for so long. I am not allowed to release them from their prison during the day, only at night; and even then, anyone could intrude at any time, so it is safer just to keep them hidden.

I start to make my way through the strange forest, trying to map it out in my mind’s eye. But, unlike it usually does, the topography of the forest refuses to form in my head. What is wrong with me?

My head starts pounding, and I put my hands to my temples, trying to think. What could possibly be happening?

The breeze blows again, making my wings flutter. I pause for a moment, enjoying the sensation of the breeze as it ruffles my feathers. Then I feel the tiny hairs on the back of my neck start to prick up. I turn around slowly and find myself face to face with a shapeless black shadow. It looks like a huge cloud of dark smoke, wavering against the background of the forest, and its only features are two menacing red eyes.

I let out a glass-shattering shriek, drop the sack I was carrying, and start running. However, I can’t seem to make my legs move. They seem to be planted firmly on the ground, refusing to respond to my desperate attempts at moving them. “Help me!” I scream, although I know I am alone.

I finally get my legs to work, and I break into a sprint, trying to outrun the shadowy beast. I can tell it is a futile effort. The thing is much, much larger than me, and is obviously bloodthirsty. I swerve madly to avoid hitting trees. My feet are unsteady on the leafy terrain underfoot, and my legs are tired – I haven’t stopped since I left home.

It’s starting to come back to me now, how I got here. I’m dazed and feel dizzy, but that also may be due to the fact that I haven’t eaten in hours.

My muscles ache to rest, but I know I can’t stop. I am barely outrunning the creature, and I have a feeling that it is only toying with me, like a cat plays with a mouse. I figure I only have a few seconds, or a minute at the most. If only I could fly -

A rough hand clamps down on my mouth, and another pulls my arms behind me. I scream, but the hand grips tighter, muffling my protests. Whoever it is pulls me into a thicker part of the forest. “Let go of me,” I try to yell out, but my cry is muffled by the hand over my mouth.

“Be very quiet,” a voice whispers, “and don’t struggle. I am not going to hurt you.”

“Why should I believe that?” I shout, trying to pry the hand away. “Get away from me!”

“For your information, I just saved your life.” The voice sounds slightly offended. “You’re lucky that creature has poor eyesight, or he would have tore both our spleens out by now!”

I calm down.

He lets go of me, and I look around. We’re in a small, dark thicket, out of sight of the monster. I sigh and start to breathe normally again, and turn to the stranger. He is a youth, a little older than myself, with tousled black hair and dark eyes. He is wearing a beggar’s outfit and a dark blue cape.

“I suppose I owe you an apology,” I say, blushing a little. “And a thank you. Were it not for you, I would be dead.”

“Apology and thanks accepted,” the man says, smiling a little. “What is your name, miss?”

“I am Ala of the village Rom,” I say, unsure of how much I should be telling him.

He man bows. “Happy to be of service. My name is Alessandro of Regala.”

“Regala?” I ask, confused. “I haven’t heard of it.”

“Of course you haven’t.” Alessandro has a smirk on his face. “Nobody knows of it. Well, besides the people who live there. And do you know what all the inhabitants have in common?”

I am still confused. “What?”

Alessandro leans closer. Up close, his black eyes sparkle. “We are all Gifted,” he whispers, winking at me. “And so are you, my dear Ala.”

“Wha-what?” I stammer, my voice low.

“I know your secret.” Alessandro straightens, and a cocky grin spreads across his face.

I am shocked. And scared. “How? How do you know?” I whisper, whipping my head around. Are there other people here who know as well?

Alessandro tips his head back and laughs loudly.

“What’s so funny?” I ask, hands on my hips.

Alessandro stops laughing and tries to wipe the grin off his face. “Ala, you ask how I know you are Gifted? Well, the wings were my first clue.”

I blush bright crimson, noticing I haven’t tucked in my wings. “Oh.”

“They are very beautiful,” Alessandro notes.
I blush again, this time with pride. “You really think so?” I ask shyly, fluttering my feathers. No one has ever told me this before. True, my wings are frail and feathery, and not very big – not much use for anything – but they are a pure white colour, and I suppose they are pretty, in a way.

“I do.” Alessandro smiles. “Now, Ala, have you noticed anything strange? Anything at all peculiar about this forest?”

I find this man strange. Most people in Rom are a more conservative, keep-to-themselves type, but Alessandro is different. “Well . . .” I consider the question. As I am thinking, a warm wind brushes against my skin. “It’s warm!”

“Yes.” Alessandro nods. “There is strong magic here, all around us.”

I am more confused than ever. “Where is ‘here’? Why is it not familiar to me?”

“I think you can answer that question yourself. Do you remember entering this forest?”

“Of course I-” I pause. Do I remember? “Um, well, I remember heading towards the forest,” I say slowly. “And I remember suddenly being in the middle of a thicket. But . . . everything between. . . is all just a blur. Am I ill?” I ask Alessandro worriedly.

He laughs again. This man seems to be very cheerful. “No, Ala, you are not ill. There is a reason you do not remember entering the forest. Now, come with me. There is something I must show you.”

“Is it near?” I ask, exhausted.

Alessandro nods. “Yes. Now, come.”

I wearily follow as the youth walks confidently through the strange forest. It is different here, surely. Like I noticed before, it is very warm. There are birds singing in the treetops, unlike Rom, where there are hardly any at all now. The sunlight filters through the leaves, a pool of golden sunlight at my feet.

I am so tired that I can barely make my feet move. How long has it been since I rested? All day, at least. It’s hard to tell, what with part of my journey still blurry in my mind.

Just when I feel I can walk no further, Alessandro stops in front of a large bush. “This is what I want to show you,” he says, drawing back a branch so I can get by. “Welcome to Regala.”

The author's comments:
I'm not sure why there's a unicorn, either, don't worry. Bear with me here.

Chapter IV

I gasp with surprise. It’s a whole village, nestled deep in the forest. Small houses are scattered across a huge clearing, so huge I can’t see the other side. Women are carrying baskets of food and stopping to talk to each other, children are playing in the road, and men are trading goods for tools. The village is buzzing with life.

“It’s amazing,” I whisper to Alessandro, stepping over the branch and into the clearing.

“Look a little closer,” he replies.

I do as he says and study the scene closer. It all looks the same to me at first. But there are smaller details about this village that I begin to notice. A magnificent white horse prances by, unbridled and rider-less, a sparkling white horn on its forehead. There are children playing with toys without even touching them. And I am not sure, but I think I see a man with three eyes.

“Wow,” I breathe.

“Exactly,” Alessandro smiles. “This is a Gifted community. Here, we are celebrated, not disgraced. There are some normal citizens here, too, but the vast majority of the population is Gifted.”

“And nobody’s found out?” I ask. Surely the king's men must have heard of this place.

Alessandro nods as if I’d asked the right question. “Ala, like I said, there is strong magic here. Some have the power to block unwanted visitors. There is a shield around this forest. That's why you can’t remember entering it.”

Alessandro takes my arm. His skin feels rough but warm against mine. He leads me down the main street. “Unfurl your wings,” he whispers, and I do so, feeling odd. I was never able to do this in Rom. As we walk, men, women and children wave at us, smiling, and I wave back. I look up, and the dark blue sky is alight with a few early stars, a thin line of pink on the horizon all that is left of the sun.

A thought occurs to me. “Alessandro, if there is a shield around the forest, how did I get in?”

Alessandro considers my question for a moment, then replies, “Because you were meant to, Ala. The shield is carefully constructed so that only the right people can enter. The monster is stationed there as added protection in case there’s a gap in the shield.

“Come,” he says, startling me out of my reverie. “I must introduce you to someone. She is very wise, and may be able to answer your questions.”

“Alright,” I say, following him down an alleyway, towards a ramshackle wooden hut. There are chickens squabbling outside, running around as if their heads were cut off, and the grass is overgrown with weeds. There is a sole window, ragged curtains drawn.

“Saggia?” Alessandro calls out as we approach the hut. He draws back the rotting wooden door, and its hinges creak. Inside, there is a single room, illuminated by the light of a flickering flame. There is a table hewn from wood in one corner with three chairs pulled up to it, a crust of bread lying untouched on a plate. Two straw pallets lie in the opposite corner, covered by woollen blankets. There are shelves on the left-hand wall piled high with viles, bottles, and fragrant spices.

Sitting in front of the fire in a creaky rocking chair is an old, wrinkled woman. She is swathed in blankets and shawls, despite the warm temperature. Her hair is covered by a thin scarf, and her hands look frail and weak. “Alessandro, my dear boy,” she says, her voice as frail-sounding as her hands. “You’ve come back. And who is that with you?” She pauses, and Alessandro does not answer her, which I find odd. “I see. Welcome, dear Ala. You have travelled far, I take it?”

“Yes,” I reply, taking a closer look at this ancient woman. There is something about her, a strange quality that I can’t quite describe. Almost as if, despite her age and weakness, she is extremely powerful.

“Come closer, child,” she whispers, gesturing me over with one pale, veined finger, “and I shall tell you a story. Would you like to hear it?”

I barely know this woman, but instinctively I trust her. I draw closer and whisper, “Yes.”

The author's comments:
Awwww. :) But jeesh. If you know Italian, you know where I got most of the names for this story!

Chapter V

“When the world was young, a child was born.”

Saggia looks me in the eye, and I am struck by her catlike green irises. “A strange child. She had unusual abilities that displayed themselves at an early age, such as telepathy and teleportation. Her parents were proud to have such a special child, and proclaimed that she had a Gift – that’s where the term began.”

I nod, taking it in.

Saggia goes on. “Over the centuries, parents would hold their breath and hope that their child be born Gifted. When a Gifted child was born, there would be great celebration and honour bestowed upon the town. A Gift can be passed down from generation to generation, and there is always a better chance that a baby will be born Gifted if one or more of his relatives have a Gift.

“Now, the royal family of Re has always been tolerant and accepting of the Gifted race. When King Leonardo was ruling, nearly fifty years ago, the Gifted people were better off than ever before. Leonardo had two sons: Rafael, and Fratello. Fratello was born with the Gift of telekinesis, and Leonardo favoured Fratello, showering him with gifts and love. Therefore he loved all the Gifted people. Rafael lived a life of jealousy, hatred, and anger towards all whom are Gifted.

“But when Leonardo was found dead in his chamber one night, his elder son, Rafael took the throne. And the first decree that he ordered was for all Gifted babies to be killed at birth to stop the race from flourishing.

“But Rafael doesn't know what we do – that Gifts are not necessarily passed on hereditarily. They can be passed on by magical means, as well as those born with the Gift to pass on their Gifts to others. So Gifted babies were born despite the killings. Due to the threat of death, many Gifted children went into hiding. Like you, my child.” Saggia smiles at me, and her wrinkled face looks younger, less lined.

Saggia pauses for a moment, closes her eyes, then begins again. “What is strange, my dear Ala, is that about a month after Rafael became king, but before he issued the decree, Fratello went missing. He hasn’t been heard from or seen since, and it’s been five decades.”

I gasp. “You don't think Rafael-”

“Yes,” Saggia says gravely, nodding. “We Gifted believe that Rafael killed his own brother. But Fratello had a son, and if we can take down Rafael, Fratello’s son Figlio will take the throne.”

I am silent, thinking things through. These people must be brave as fools if they are even considering killing the wicked King of Re.

She says suddenly, “It's getting late, child. Alessandro will show you where you will stay. I predict you will meet wolves if you do not go soon.”

I turn to the window. The sky is dark, sprinkled with stars. I stand and go over to where Alessandro is leaning against the door frame. He straightens and smiles as I approach, and I turn to wave goodbye to Saggia, but she is already asleep, slumped over in her chair.

“All that . . . it’s . . . incredible!” I say as soon as we are back on the main road.

Alessandro says, “Yes, it is. What did you know of Rafael before you came here?”

“Not much,” I admit. “I knew he is formidable and rules with a fist of iron, but nothing much more than that. The government stationed in Rom was rather tame, and they did not often bring news of the king.” It is strange how I already talk about Rom in the past tense. I realize now that I don’t plan on going back there. And besides, it never really felt much like home.

Alessandro shrugs. “He’s very secretive. Doesn’t send very many messages out through the governments in the villages. He prefers using his own personal viziers to send out decrees and such. That’s probably why you haven’t heard news of how horribly, purely evil he really is.”

I look up and gaze at the stars, glittering in the dark sky. I am immediately reminded of Alessandro’s eyes. He laughs softly as if laughing at some private joke, and when I turn to look at him, he blushes and looks away.

We turn onto a short street. Alessandro gestures to a very old-looking stone house. “Here is the Regala Inn,” he chuckles. “A town joke, really. What travellers do we ever get here? Even when we do get newcomers, they build their own houses. But the owner, a dear friend of mine, still rents out rooms to needy folks. It’s where you’ll be staying for a while till you can really call this place home.”

Home. A foreign-sounding word to me, but pleasant all the same. I would love to call this place home. And for once, I might have a chance here.

Alessandro leads me inside the inn, greets the owner warmly, and brings me up the stairs and into a small bedroom. “This shall be yours,” he tells me, standing in front of the window. “It’s small, but do you like it?”

“I love it,” I whisper. The walls are smooth wood, like the floor, and the bed is plump and cozy-looking. I could fall asleep on that bed and possibly never wake up again.

“I'll be staying in a room down the hall, just until you find a house of your own. I do have a small house on the northern part of town,” Alessandro says.

I stand next to him, in front of the window. We stand in silence for a moment, queries raging in my head. How many things I want to ask him! Finally, I decide on one.

“You have a question?” Alessandro turned toward me, grinning.

I stare. “What?” I shake my head, sure I must be imagining things. This day is so very odd. “Well, I was wondering . . . Saggia struck me as very . . . wise. Is there something about her-”

“She is clairvoyant,” Alessandro interrupts, but not rudely. “She can see events that will happen. She is very old and extremely wise, and knows more than we will ever be able to fathom.”

I yawn. “I must be going to bed,” I say, suddenly overcome by exhaustion. I collapse onto the bed, too tired to undress.

Alessandro smiles at me as my eyes close. I feel someone pull a thick quilt over top of me, and I sink into the mattress, content. But just as I hear Alessandro start to exit, a question occurs to me. I struggle to open my eyes and mumble, “Alessandro, what-”

He smiles softly and says, “I am telepathic, Ala. I can read minds. And yours is extremely interesting.” He winks as he closes the door behind him.

I soon fall asleep, wondering what Alessandro must have thought when I compared his eyes to the stars.

The author's comments:

Chapter VI

I eat more for breakfast than I've eaten in the past month. The food is just so good, and there is so much of it. Thick, seedy bread, creamed cheeses, grape leaves and fresh olives, tart, plump berries. I eat until I am stuffed, then I go with Alessandro to learn about of the village which is to be my home.

“Nearly all of the people who populate this village are runaways like yourself,” he says as we head down the main street. There is a group of children skipping towards us, singing an old folk song, and they wave as they pass us, giggling. “But there are a very few Gifted children born here.”

“How old are you, Ala?” Alessandro asks suddenly.

“Sixteen winters,” I tell him. “How old are you?”

“Seventeen autumns old,” he says. “Nearly eighteen.”

We walk in agreeable silence for a few minutes, taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling town. Two women gossip as they pass us while their children follow behind. An auction is going on inside a hall, men standing up and bidding on items. “Alessandro, where do people get their food here?” I ask him thoughtfully.

“That’s a good question. We have some fields nearby where we grow corn, wheat, and barley, and we also go out and trade with the non-Gifteds. We’re not exiled here. Well, some of us are,” he adds as an afterthought, “but most of us are reasonably safe.”

“Do you like it here?” I ask him. “I mean, do you miss . . . where you came from?”

He considers my questions for a moment. “I do miss my old village, in a way, but I never felt like I belonged there. It never felt like home, though I’d lived there all my life. I’m sure that doesn’t make any sense.” He shook his head dismissively.

“No, I know what you mean,” I contradict him, placing a hand on his arm. “I felt just the same way.” He smiles at me, and I take my hand off his arm, suddenly embarrassed.

This time, the silence is awkward. I stand about a foot away from him, scared that my elbow might touch his. He laughs under his breath, and I shoot him a look. “Would you stop doing that?” I say, digging my hands into the pockets of my apron.

“Stop doing what?” he asks mischievously.

I look at him. “You know what. Stop reading my mind!”

He sighs. “Wish I could. The thoughts of people around me are always present, buzzing like a swarm of bees. When I concentrate on one person’s mind, I can hear only their thoughts. But when you’re as close to me as you are right now, I can’t help but listen to every thought that runs through your head.”

“Wonderful,” I grumble, rolling my eyes. “Would you like me to walk on the other side of the street?”

“No thank you,” he says, chuckling. “Here is just fine. I do enjoy listening to your thoughts, Ala, personal though they may be.”

I grimace as I think of what he might hear in my head. I vow to always think of non-embarrassing things when I’m around this odd young man.

In the distance, I see a figure approaching us. As it gets closer, I see it's a young girl, probably a few years younger than myself, with long brown hair crusted with grime and bare, dusty feet. She stops when she sees Alessandro. “Hello, Alessandro,” she greets him, and looks at me curiously. “Who is this?”

“Ala, meet my little sister Vedi,” Alessandro gestures to the grey-eyed girl. “Well, she isn’t really my sister. Saggia raised her as well.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Vedi says unsmilingly, her grey eyes cold.

“Same thing here,” I say, confused. Why isn’t Vedi being friendly?

“I see you have wings,” Vedi notes, and I nod. I forgot I had them out. “That’s an interesting Gift.”

“What’s your Gift?” I ask her.

“I can see things,” she mumbles. “A little like Saggia, but not as strong.”

“Nonsense,” Alessandro says, scolding her. “Vedi, your Gift is special. Don’t ever forget that.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Vedi rolled her eyes, not believing him. They’d obviously been over this before.

“When did Saggia . . . adopt you?” I am unsure of which word to use.

She cocks her head, considering the question. “About ten years ago, I suppose,” she says thoughtfully. “I've seen twelve autumns now, so I suppose when I was quite small.”

Suddenly Vedi gets a pained look on her face, then it goes blank. Completely clear, free of all emotion. She sways on the spot, and Alessandro quickly catches her. Vedi blinks, and emotion returns to her face. She stands, puts her hand to her temple, and stares at me in disbelief.

“What was it?” Alessandro asks her urgently, shaking her shoulder. “What did you see?”

“Her,” she mutteres, shaken up. “I saw her.” She turns to me accusingly. “You – you’re the Prophet.”

The author's comments:
This is where it gets good. Also, this is a really long chapter. I don't know why.

Chapter VII

There is a strange visitor the next morning. He is a middle-aged man, with thinning sandy hair and darting blue eyes. He wears a beggar’s clothing, like most people in this town. He must be a newcomer.

“Who is he?” I whisper as Prossima, the innkeeper’s wife, serves us each a steaming bowl of oatmeal.

“His name is Luciano,” Alessandro murmurs in my ear. “He comes from a city called Arum, about two hundred miles from here. Arum isn’t under Rafael’s rule.”

“Whom is it ruled by?”

“I’m not sure,” Alessandro replies, narrowing his eyes. “I can’t get very clear thoughts from him.”

“Is he Gifted?” I ask.

“Yes. He can project a blinding hot light from his palms. Maybe something else; I’m not sure.”

“You can have more than one Gift?”

Alessandro nodded. “It’s rare, but yes, there are a few cases.”

I scrape my spoon along the bottom of the wooden bowl, trying to scoop up every last tasty bite of the hot oats. I down it with a gulp of weak ale.

Alessandro pushes back his bowl and stands. “I must leave you for today, Ala. Some friends require my assistance in planting an early crop of wheat. Will you be alright here by yourself?”

I roll my eyes. “Alessandro, I’m sixteen summers old. Not very much younger than you, and surely capable of handling myself.”

He grins. “Okay then. I will see you sometime this afternoon.” He laughs as I grimace. He puts a hand on my shoulder before heading for the door.

Suddenly I think of something. “Alessandro?” I call.


“What did Vedi mean, about me being ‘the Prophet’?”

He shrugs. “Sometimes Vedi’s visions don’t mean anything. I wouldn’t worry.”

I gather our bowls and glasses and put them in the kitchen for the maid to wash. It feels a little funny. I did a lot of the washing back in Rom.

I wonder how Mother, Falla, and Philippi are doing back home. Do they have enough food? Are they getting enough money? Do they miss me?

* * *

I set out right away, with no specific direction in mind. I mostly plan on walking through Regala and seeing what there is to see. Perhaps I will come across another Gifted girl to make the acquaintance of. I leave my shawl in my room, for it is quite warm in the clearing and I feel no need for it.

A few houses down, I come across a shrine-building. I peek inside and see a small group of people kneeling at the crude stone altar. They are praying for Martedi today. There are seven Gods, and we pray for one each day. We never used to worship much in Rom, so I feel I owe the Gods now that I am free of the burdens I had in my old village. I kneel in the doorway, kiss my index finger, and lift it towards the statue of Martedi. Then I get up and continue onwards.

It’s remarkable how beautiful it is here. The sun warms my face, but it isn’t too hot – just warm enough as to be comfortable. There are dozens of vibrant flowers blooming alongside the road, the likes of which I had never seen back where I used to live. I wonder vaguely if maybe someone living here has some sort of Gift for making things grow. And the sky is such a vivid blue that my eyes ache just looking at it.


I hear a sound like a stack of plates falling onto a stone floor, then a blinding pain flashes behind my eyes. I crumple to the ground, clutching my head and using all my strength to restrain myself from screaming. The pain burns my head and stabs like a sword into my temples. I writhe on the ground, conscious only of the pain.

Then it stops, and I’m travelling down a hallway. Red velvet muffles my footsteps, and gilt-framed mirrors adorn the walls. I look in one of them, and see an aging man with grey hair and beady black eyes, clothed in the rich garb of a nobleman. But before I can be alarmed by the sight, the light flashes, and the scene changes.

Now I’m travelling down a dim hallway, lit only by a few flickering candles in sconces. The floor and walls are of roughly fabricated flagstones, filled in by soil. I come to a heavy wooden door, and unlock it with a set of rusty keys. The door creaks open, and I grab a candle as I enter the dark room. It smells like dust and mould, long-forgotten memories and secrets. There isn’t much down here: a few empty sacks, two barrels against the wall. A door off to the side leads to the storeroom.

“Did you bring rum?”

The voice comes from the far corner. Fratello’s voice echoes.

“Yes,” I answer, holding up the bottle. “And a crust of bread. But that’s all you get for today.” I hand him the food, and he takes it greedily.

“I don’t understand why you’ve kept me alive this long, Rafael,” Fratello mutters, his mouth full of hard bread.

I shake my head. “You are not worthy of that knowledge. Just keep in mind, I don’t actually want to keep you alive. I’m not doing this of my own accord.”

“You should be,” Fratello notes. “I am your brother.”

“And since when did that matter?” I spit bitterly. “We were always so distant it was like I was adopted into the family from another country. You never loved me, Fratello, and never I you. It shall be a pleasure to finally see you die.”

With another crashing sound and a sudden flash of pain, I am back in my own body, lying on my stomach on the street. I lie there for a few moments, collecting my strength. I am aware that there are a few people gathered around me, murmuring worriedly as they regard my prone position.

Then I hear Alessandro’s voice, and see him pushing through the small crowd. “Ala!” he cries, falling to his knees beside me. “Are you alright? What happened?”

I take a deep breath and say, “I think I just had some sort of vision, Alessandro.”

His eyes widen. “Can you stand?” he asks me, and I nod. “We must go to Saggia.”

I stand, and when I sway a little, Alessandro winds his arm around my waist. We try to go as quickly as we can. When we arrive, Saggia sits us down. “Tell me everything that happened,” she urges me, and I collect my thoughts before speaking.

“I was walking up the road when I got this blinding white pain behind my eyes. It hurt so much, but then it just stopped and I was walking down some hallway. Then I was through a tunnel, and into a dark room, like a cellar, and – and –” I gulp. “It was Fratello, at least his voice - I just knew this - and I was Rafael. I was him. And then I was back.”

The silence is so deep it hurts my ears. “Fratello's not dead,” Alessandro murmurs.

“Maybe he is!” I cry. “Maybe that was just a dream or something! How do you know this is even valid information?”

“I have seen a Gift like yours before,” Saggia says calmly. “We call it interpersonating. This Gift gives you the ability to inhabit someone else's brain and body while still keeping your own thoughts. Strange, though, for you have this in addition to your wings. Usually interpersonating is the only Gift a person has.”

“So it's true then?” I whisper. “Rafael never killed Fratello?”

Saggia shakes her head. “Though at this point, Fratello is probably wishing he had. Living in that dark, dank prison with nary a meal for all those years.”

“The Council must be notified,” Alessandro says authoritatively, standing. “Ala, come with me.”
He takes my arm and leads me out of Saggia's house and down the street. I look over at him once, and his face is set in a grim, almost cold expression. I gulp and wonder what I did to make him so upset.

We head toward a large stone building, not uttering a word. A sign over the door reads: COUNCIL HALL OF REGALA. “There is a Council meeting in ten minutes,” Alessandro tells me, opening to door and motioning for me to go inside. “We should be just in time.”

The Hall is one great room, with a wooden floor and a long table. There are about a dozen men milling about; some reading ancient-looking scrolls, some conversing with one another, gesturing with their hands. They turn to look at us as Alessandro and I enter, and a bearded man approaches us.

“Alessandro!” he says happily, shaking the young man's hand. “My dear young man! What a pleasure to see you again!”

“The pleasure is all mine, Davide,” Alessandro smiles briefly.

“And who is this lovely young lady with you?” Davide smiles at me.

“This is Ala,” Alessandro introduces me. “We come here with important news, Davide, and we would appreciate it if you gave us your best efforts to hear us out.”

“But of course,” Davide said, spreading his hands apart in welcome. “We all will. Council, we must gather now. Alessandro and Ala bring important news.”

The Council clusters around us, curious as to what “important news” two youths could bring.

Alessandro clears his throat and says, “Ala has discovered she has a new gift – interpersonating – and she has found out Rafael's secret.” Alessandro looks around at the expectant faces of the Council, and continues. “We think he has hidden is brother away all these years. Fratello is still alive.”

The Council gasps collectively. “After fifty years?” a balded man whispers, shaking his head. “All this time we've thought him dead. How has he been kept alive?”

“Rafael's been feeding him,” Alessandro replies. I didn't tell him this, but he must have seen the whole thing in my mind. “Not much, just enough to sustain him.”

“But why?” Davide asks, speaking for everyone. “Why wouldn't he just kill him off?”

“I think he's holding him hostage,” I say quietly.

They all look at me. “Why would you say that?” another Council member asks me.

I feel myself shrug. “Well, why else would he keep him alive?” I say rhetorically. “He must have known we would figure it out, and assumed that we would come and save Fratello. Then Rafael would kill us. He knows we're a large group of Gifted. He's a greedy, corrupt man. Doesn't care who he hurts.”

They all nodded slowly. “He must have an inside source,” Davide murmurs. “A spy. Someone who knows us and our Gifts. Possibly a clairvoyant.”

“We'll have to be extra careful,” Alessandro decides. “We'll alert the town and make sure they're not using their Gifts unnessecarily. We don't want Rafael to know what he's up against.”

“So we are going to attack him?” I ask.

“Yes,” Davide, who I figured must be the Council Leader, replied. “ But not right away. If he does have a clairvoyant watching out for us, they'll probably expect we'll attack as soon as we discover his secret. We cannot do this right away. We'll wait and formulate a plan.”

“Come, Ala,” Alessandro says, putting his arm around me and leading me out of the hall.

I don't notice where we are going. I'm so dazed by all that has happened that I just walk numbly ahead, aware only of Alessandro's hand on my shoulder. I finally wake up when he leads me to my room. “Are you alright, Ala?” he asks me, looking at me in concern.

“I think so,” I say, shaking my head. “It's just all so much! First I join this Gifted community, then I find out Rafael killed his brother, then I get another Gift, then I find out he didn't kill really his brother, and now we're storming the castle!” I suppress a shriek and collapse onto the bed.

Alessandro brushes my hair out of my eyes and says quietly, “I know. But it'll work out. You might be able to save the Gifted people.”

“What if I don't want to?” I say. “I never said I wanted to be a hero! All I ever wanted to do was find a place to call home.”

“I won't ask you to do anything you don't want to do,” Alessandro says, obviously trying to placate me. “But you have a powerful Gift, Ala. Which makes you powerful. You can do great things, I know it.”

He gets up and says, “I must go back and help with the planning. Take care of yourself.” He kisses my forehead before disappearing out the door.

I touch the place where he kissed me, taking it all in. As if he thought I'd need another issue to deal with. I laughed shakily as I lay back on the bed and covered my face with my arms. Whether my Gifts are really gifts or if they're curses, they have brought me into the middle of all of this, and I can't do anything about it.

* * *

I can't fall asleep tonight. My mind has too much to work through. First and foremost, we are going to charge the castle and take down the king. That's nearly too much to fathom. As if the old Ala, the Ala from Rom, would ever think of doing such a thing!

I have a new Gift. Alessandro had said that it was extremely rare. But I definitely have this strange interpersonating Gift, and that is confusing enough, especially since I seem to have little or no control over it.

And then there is Alessandro. I don't know what I feel about him. When he kissed my forehead, it sent tingles all the way down to my toes. I have never, ever felt that way before. Is this what it feels like to be in love? Mother always used to tell me love was wonderful. Instead, it just makes everything more confusing.

I light a candle and stare at the fire as it licks hungrily at the wick. It's almost hypnotizing, a dancing red-orange flame. My vision starts to swim as I stare at the candle, and I imagine it is Falla, dancing to the tune of Father's lute. Spinning merrily around the fire, giggling with glee. I take a closer look at her blissfully happy face and realize with a shock that it isn't Falla. It's me – a young version of me, a carefree version. I can almost hear the clarion sound of Father's lute and a young child's happy laughter as I watch the fire flicker, then with a sputter, die out.

The author's comments:
Yes, it's cheesy. I know it. :)

Chapter VIII

The next day, Alessandro and I are made honorary members of the council. An impromptu town meeting is announced that night, and the citizens of Regala gather in the Council Hall on makeshift benches that they pull out for occasions such as these. We sit with the rest of the Council at the table at the head of the Hall, Alessandro looking confident and sure, me twitching nervously. I calm down marginally when he puts his strong hand over my shaking one, but only marginally.

As the crowd buzzes, Davide raises a hand, and everyone goes silent. “We have called this meeting of the village of Regala to bring up an imminent and imperatively important issue. Young Alessandro and his friend Ala came to me yesterday with shocking news. They have told me that Rafael never killed his brother. Fratello is not dead.”

The crowd is silent for a moment, then they all start shouting at once. They bicker amongst themselves and call us liars, until Alessandro shouts, “She is an interpersonater! She has been Rafael! Ala knows!”

The crowd falls into an ashamed silence, with only a few muttering their disbelief. I smile gratefully at him, and he shrugs.

“As I was saying,” Davide continues, a little miffed, “Fratello is not dead. And he should be king!” His voice raises along with the crowd, which is starting to get excited. “Rafael must be stopped before more destruction and murder is caused because of him! We Gifteds deserve freedom!”

“AYE!” the crowd chants, celebratory. I glance, horror-stricken, at Alessandro, but he is looking straight ahead at the crowd before us.

“The Council and I are carefully formulating a plan of attack,” Davide tells them, his eyes gleaming. How strange, I think to myself, that something as bitter and corrupt as hatred can bring together so many people. “The town will be notified when we have a secure plan. You may be dismissed to go about your evening activities.”

The crowd rises and departs from the hall, buzzing with excitement. I sit there and try to collect myself. I know that Davide is not bad in any way, but him, and so many others, looked so eager to fight! As if it wasn't the freedom the battle would ensue that they were looking forward to, but the battle itself. Maybe I should be, too. But somehow I think not.

Alessandro gets up and turns, waiting for me to follow him and the rest of the Council. “You can go,” I tell him, gesturing for him to leave. “I want to sit here for a moment.”

“Alright,” he says. “I will see you tomorrow, Ala.”

“Goodbye,” I say softly. I watch as he heads out the door and closes it softly behind him.

I lean back in my chair and close my eyes, pondering the questions that circle around my head. I don't know the answer to any of them. Why was I the one who had to save us? Why did I feel so wrong about all of this? How could I control this strange, powerful new Gift I knew next to nothing about?

I am just about to doze off into an uneasy sleep when I feel the blinding pain again, this time without the crashing sound. I tumble to the floor, clutching my head and groaning in agony. The pain isn't as bad this time, but it's still almost unbearable.

Then, just like before, the pain just stops, and I am walking amiably down the main street of Regala. It takes me a moment to realize that I am Alessandro. I start whistling, a slow, melancholy tune that seems to dissolve into the night air. As I take in the sights and sounds of the village, some unfamiliar thoughts begin to drift into my head. I envision a girl with long pale hair and washed-out blue eyes, two small white wings fluttering on her back. She is intelligent and witty, and so powerful. She is beautiful, the most beautiful girl I've ever met. I care about her - even if I've only known her a short time.

The light flashes once more, and then I am back on the floor of the Hall, utterly alone. I take a few deep breaths, then get up, leaning against a chair. Alessandro thinks I am beautiful. And witty, and intelligent, not to mention powerful. My heart glows, and I can't help but smile. I stride out of the hall and towards the inn, made buoyant by the fact that while things so complicated, they're better knowing someone cares about me.




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