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The runaway halted her horse on the rocky verge at the summit of the steep hill. Her heart raced with apprehension as she viewed the lonely path ahead, winding uninvitingly down into dense woods. Turning the horse, the beautiful fifteen-year-old gazed with misgivings back along the miles to the distant castle from whence she had fled.

A deep sigh of guilty relief escaped from her rose-pink lips, as she saw not a soul in sight; no one in pursuit. Was she glad? Did she wish to continue on her reproachable, dangerous journey? The unthinkable had been accomplished: she, Elissa Jane Dorai, had escaped her dreaded fate.

No, she thought, I haven't escaped. This is just a reprieve. Shivering in the late winter's sun, she tugged her horse around, hoping to gain her destination before dark. Clean air inhaled was chill, matching her numbness within. Patches of melted snow lay in bleak, barren fields, and along deserted roadsides.

Women did not ride alone in Frencolia, and Elissa fervently hoped she would not encounter undesirable characters. Having achieved an undetected departure from her castle home was an incredible triumph; she had not expected to get this far.

At home, safe in the castle, the perilous journey from Leroy to Samdene had not seemed so formidable, but now Elissa realised the danger of her reckless actions. Sensing her fears, Red Boy trembled beneath her. Gazing once more toward Leroy, the runaway almost hoped her brother was in view. Or someone who would command her safely home. But the road was clear.

Elissa's brother, Dorai, had ridden north with a company of his soldiers for a rendezvous at the border castle, and he was not expected home until the morrow.

The dreaded day loomed all too fast. Tomorrow must be delayed--at least, her part in it. The runaway knew she could not ultimately escape her brother's plans, but she could at least spend tomorrow in sympathetic company. At this thought, Elissa reined Red Boy around and urged him to canter towards the dense woods. Both needed warming, and she flicked the reins, pressing her boots into the horse's sides, encouraging him to gallop faster and faster. Trees flew by. They exited into milky sunshine, and she breathed a deep sigh of relief.

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