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I sat there, in the corridor, awaiting my fate. Voices surrounded me, though I was locked outside of the room. The voice of my mother, pleading, begging, soft but strong, and the voice of my father…harsh. Cold. Indifferent. Within a couple of minutes the voices stopped, and the door slowly opened. My mother shuffled away, tears streaming down her face as she rushed to get out of Father’s office. I admit I felt ashamed at that moment. A duchess of her stature, of her rank, should be composed at all times. I, a rebellious duchess-to-be, even knew that. Father then exited. Tall, strong, and with dark brown hair, his expression was grim. He walked to me, hands behind his back, wearing a blue doublet and high, buckled boots. Every single button on his ensemble gleamed with polish.
“Annie.” His voice rung with authority, and I raised my chin defiantly.
He paced the floor a couple time…then paused. “Do you or do you not know the sender of this letter.” He frowned, and produced from his being a single sheaf of parchment. The seal was broken, and I could see the scrawled cursive. I had time to read the signature before Father snatched it from my vision.
“From Peter Evans” it read. Upon seeing that name, a huge pit fell into my stomach and I began blinking my eyes fast, began breathing fast.
“Do you know the sender of this letter?” He asked again, sharply, shaking the letter at me. “This Peter fellow…who is he?” His voice rose into a yell, and he began to shake the letter in my face. “Girl, tell me now!”
I was fighting myself, my muscles tensed as I squeezed my eyes shut and my fists together. To tell or not to tell. For who did I have more obedience toward? Whom had more authority? My father, Duke of Watershire, England, inducted in 1824? Or—and I forced myself to say the name in my mind—Peter.
Memories. My mind burned as I remembered. As five-year-olds, both him and I had the same fiery hair. Running to the Thames river, I giggled, the sound echoing throughout the bridge. Peter looked over at me, freckles dominant and teeth crooked as he grinned.
“Come into the river, Annie! Come, come!” He pulled me towards the water, and, still laughing, I jumped in with him.
Cold. It was like icy knives, determined to hack every part of me. Beside me, Peter swam, laughing still as he went with the current towards the bridge, downstream. But not I. Sucking in water with every breath, I attempted to copy his moves of swimming. For we in the high class were never allowed to learn the art of staying afloat, the art of the witches. Peter was now on the other side, climbing onto the edge.
“Annie!” he called, voice light. I fell underwater again, swallowing the icy black and feeling like I was being squeezed, like every part of me was being shoved. I hyperventilated, attempting to scream in the water. No avail. When I did not resurface, I could hear Peter’s voice turn into panic.
“Annie?” He yelled. Then, fearfully, he screamed. “Annie!”
Father looked at me, tapping his foot. Glaring, he opened his mouth again to speak—but I interrupted him.
“Who was my father?” I asked. He paused, about to speak but—stopped.
“Well—” he began, then stopped. “You see—”
“I believe my father’s name is Evans. Peter Evans, senior.” I stated, calmly, as my heart pounded. Images of my mother nursing me back to health and sending Peter and his father away rushed through my head. I remembered Peter Senior. He looked exactly as his son, red hair, blue eyes, ruddy skin. Looked like me. My mother had explained this all to me throughout the course of several years…throughout the course of her marriage to Father.
“He was a shoemaker,” I said calmly, looking at Father’s tense and grim face. “A poor, horrible, despicable, kind shoemaker. A week after your wedding to Mother, Mother and he met as he prepared to make a pair of shoes for her…”
“Enough!” Father interjected, ending the conversation. “I refuse.”
He lifted his hand, I feared to strike, but instead took the letter and examined it thoroughly.
“Refuse what?” I asked placidly.
“To believe it. To believe that you aren’t my kin.”
I could see the letter, could read it backwards. I caught out a couple phrases… “father is dying…” “need funds” “asks for you, day and night” –and the last phrase, that tore my heart. “Please.”
My heart chose an immediate method of action. “Thank you for my letter.” I said, reaching for it. But Father held it out of my reach.
“You mean to find your…that man, that shoemaker, and his son, don’t you.”
It wasn’t a question.
“Yes,” I said, reaching for the letter again. “Now please hand it over presently.”
Father, again, deterred. “However…” he spoke slowly. “your marriage to Edward is in but a week. And we can’t very well have no bride, can we?” He then walked, slowly, to a torch in the wall. Lifting up the letter slowly, he dropped it into the flames.
I screamed, rushing over, skirts lifted. He barred my path.
“It’s for the best,” he said as I tried to push past him. Sobbing, screaming, I looked at the letter. There was one part that hadn’t burned yet. And, at that moment, I made a decision.
“Get…away.” I looked at Father straight in the eye and, lifting up my hand, slapped his face with all the force I could muster, digging my fingers into that man’s eye-sockets. While he doubled over, I raced towards the torch, shoving my hand in the fire, grabbing the scrap of paper. My hands raw and burned, I picked up my skirts and ran, reading the scrap I had. Northwestern Gate, was all it read, all that hadn’t been burned. With that I ran. Out the castle, out the gate, out the steps. To freedom. To my true father.
And to my destiny.