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Chapter 1


GRACE

These are the words I cannot speak. These are the words no one knows. These are the words I carry alone.


I run through a black forest. Branches tear at my face, grabbing my hair like hands. I am breathing fierce and hard, making rasping sounds in the back of my throat, which burns with each inhalation. I focus upon one thing: speed. All other considerations are but tiny specks at the back of my mind. “Faster, faster,” I chant. “Faster, faster still!” I lose myself in the motion of legs and arms and lungs. Me disappears, pulling away from I. Me is floating above, watching a child dressed in white running through the night.

From above, she can see the obstacles I cannot. I dodge trees and leap ravines, using her vision. She sees the gap widening. My pursuers are slowly losing me. I am running until…suddenly, I am not.

She is guiding me. How else could I stop in this ring of pines, with soft needles to cushion my falling and underbrush in which to hide? She is watching my body collapsing to the ground. Our eyes close. We see nothing.

Awakening in the grey light of early morning, I am aware of a strange warmth along one side of my body. A harsh chill numbs my other side. I am afraid of moving as the terror of the night floods my mind. Yet, strangely, I feel at peace. A rough tongue licks my forehead. A voice fills my head without flowing through my ears.

Awaken, my child; the huntsmen come.

My eyes fly open. I clutch at the body of the stag with whom I am lying in the pine bed, seeking comfort. I do not wonder all the things I will wonder later: Why is he protecting me? How can I hear him speaking? I cling to him in terror. I barely notice when he stands, pulling me upright as well.

Suddenly, six bows are strung. Six arrows point at my Stag. He does not move. I am splitting myself, again. My body freezes while my mind spins upward, seating itself in the high bough of a pine.

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