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I soared above the clouds, free as the wind that rustled through my feathers. Flying lower I could see men on horseback trotting briskly down a well worn road. The glint of metal from their swords and shields told me they were soldiers. I knew what they were after.
The ability to fly hadn't always been mine, but it was the only way out of a life I no longer loved. A life of enclosed spaces and rules. The life of a queen.
In the summer of my eleventh year the old King had come riding through my family's fields with a hunting party. I had been out watching my family's flocks and at first scowled at the careless men trampling the grass and scaring the flock. As they drew closer I gasped and sank to my knees, my eyes telling me that the man who rode so proudly at the head of the group could be none other than the King.
He filled me with awe, the rich color of his cloak was as tantalizing as the sound of dripping water to a thirsty man. From that moment on all I dreamed of were dresses in the brightest of colors and jewelry made not of shiny river stones and scraps of leather but gold that shone like the sun and silver so bright that even the stars appeared pale in comparison.
My eyes followed them, and as the party disappeared over a hill I thought that would be the last time I would ever see royalty.
I was mistaken.
As the spring drew to a close in my fifteenth year the hunting party this time found me at the well fetching water. I almost lost the bucket to the depths of the well in my haste to kneel. A voice told me to rise. It was a young man; his sea-green eyes glowed warmly as he rode towards me, riding through the other hunters, heedless of the agitation it was causing. He stopped before me.
He dismounted and stepped towards me, gently taking the bucket from my hands. I knew that given my status I should have looked down, but his eyes held mine. Unabashed he told me that he had never seen anyone as beautiful as I.
As the King rode up beside the Prince he laughed at the absurd thing his son was saying. I myself was utterly speechless. Here was my chance to be beautiful, my chance to be rich, the chance for my parents and I to never work again.
And he was handsome.
Oh how had I ever loved him? How had I ever thought I would love a caged life?
The King tried to reason with his son but the Prince would not give in. At last the King gave his consent because of my beautiful face and golden hair. No one would think I had once been a peasant when they saw me in a silk gown.
I left my old life behind and began a new one. Years passed. My husband was now king and I had given him not one, but two sons to continue our House. But I was no longer happy. My mother became selfish, my father a merchant that I never saw.
This once perfect world now seemed full of wars and deceit. The stone walls that surrounded me were cold and unfeeling they had lost the feeling of protection that I remembered having felt in the forests that had surrounded my old home.
All too late I had come to realize that I did not belong here and when at last it became unbearable I asked my husband to release me from this life. He however, denied me my freedom, declaring my request ridiculous. He told me that people would lose faith in him. How could they trust a king who could not control his own wife?
I begged him but he sent me away. I knew my only hope was in escape. I also knew that if I did succeed in escaping I would be hunted.
I went slowly to my garden, knowing I could find solace in its stark beauty. It was a tiny courtyard amid the vaulted grandeur of the castle. In it there was but a single bench and one rose bush with yellow roses so small you could crush them between two fingers.
I plucked a rose and inhaled its scent. The rose bush was the one thing that my husband had ever given me that I still adored. The jewels had lost their luster, the silver its brightness. Even my sons had been sent off to be fostered with relatives at such a young age that I found it hard to love them as I should.
The rose lay in the palm of my hand – tiny, perfect and almost magical. Some one help me, I prayed. A gust of wind played with my hair and tugged at my dress. I looked up, then around to see how such a wind had found its way in. I saw nothing, but upon turning back to the rose bush I was startled to see a tall woman in a flowing blue gown standing before me.
I opened my mouth to call for the guards but the woman raised a hand and to my astonishment my mouth closed.
“My name is Sky, the Goddess of the wind that blows where it will. What is it you seek?”
Relief flooded into my body. “I seek freedom, for I can bear these walls no longer and my husband will not release me.”
“I cannot help you as a human, but if you become a creature of the air then you will forever be under my protection,” the Goddess stepped forward and took the wilting rose from my hand. “Eat this and you will become the bird of your choosing.”
I paused, reluctant to accept this offer. The last time someone had offered me a better life it had not turned out as I had imagined.
“Choose quickly my dear, for I must soon be gone,” the Goddess said, eyes flickering up longingly to the sky far above.
My eyes followed hers even as I tried to recall the names of the birds I had known when I was a child. The answer came to me as another gust of wind made the banners on the turrets leap and flutter as if alive. Turning slightly, I saw one banner flying proud; it was the King's flag, the one bearing the symbol of his House.
The banner showed a golden eagle; its wings were spread wide, talons ready to strike. I smiled. How fitting to be the eagle, what a joke to laugh at every time I flew.
“The golden eagle.” I said, knowing I would never regret it.
“So be it,” Sky said placing the rose on my tongue.
I swallowed the rose, wincing as the tiny thorns scraped my throat. I trembled as the Goddess raised her hand. Closing my eyes, I waited. I waited for what seemed like an eternity. At last I opened them.
I was perched at the top of a towering pine on the side of a mountain. I realized with a start that this was the valley where I had been born. A joyful feeling spread through me. Throwing open my wings, I leaped off the tree and soared into the sky, the wind whispering through my feathers.