Fifteen year old Mika is to be married to a foreign boy she has only met a few times, despite her family mourning the recent and unexplained disappearance of her twin brother, Kaylan.
Forced to live in a strange land, far from her home in Cassai, she is resigned to her life as a lady until the day she discovers her new family dead around her. Mika escapes the city and disguises herself to travel to Ackbarr, certain she will discover the real reason for her brother’s disappearance.
Meanwhile, her dreams are filled with predators stalking the forests of her homeland. Dreams that make her wake, trembling with the feel of iron blood filling her mouth.
Mika only had the deep night to herself. Alma slept in the same room, bouncing with good intentions. She was often so tired she fell asleep immediately on hitting the pillow, cutting Alma off in mid sentence. Despite that, her dreams were disturbed - those that she could remember. Dreams of pacing through undergrowth, looking for something, her head swinging from side to side. The woods around her were full of life, so much in motion. Everything to be noted and filed, every sound, every rustle. She found herself looking forwards to sleeping, the only escape she had, from being squeezed into the mould of bride and lady.
The wedding day came too soon. Tight with nerves, she woke early for once and tiptoed out of the room. Alma breathed lightly, curled into a ball in her bed next to the wall. Mika slipped into the garden before the servants saw her, enjoying the peace. The sun had risen, the dew fresh on the grass, the wind rippling through the trees beyond. She was light headed, not believing that today would be her last day here.
She’d dressed without thinking, slid into her old clothes, a tunic and trousers left over from her brother. They’d been stuffed into a pile under her bed, dusty from the weeks of not wearing them. She stretched her legs and revelled in the freedom to walk properly, not having to worry about how her dresses were draped, having them catch her stride.
Her boots became damp from the dew as she walked to her favourite spot, a bench close to the wall and sat, enjoying the coolness. The sun’s light warmed the red tiles of the house. The cook house’s fire had just been lit, the dark smoke hanging in the air, misting the darker green of the broad leafed forest behind. A sigh escaped her, the smell of grass, the calls and distant laughter of the guards changing over. Home, secure in the garden, the one her mother tended, coaxing the plants to do their best in the poor soil. Flower vines clambered and humped over trellis fences between the paths, a tiny stream sparkled around carefully placed boulders, the cream walls of the house and small deep windows. Tears prickled her eyes at the thought of leaving.
Leaning against the wall she wondered what would happen if she climbed the wall and ran away. The idea tugged at her. It would be easy, the wall wasn’t high. Leave this whole business behind, live as she wanted to, wild and free. The idea expanded, filling the whole of her, becoming a longing, a desperation. To stride through the woods, like in her dreams, a tingling passed over her skin and she shivered.
The tugging ceased as she heard her mother call and the scent of the flower vines filled her nostrils. Her mother was looking for her. Mika stayed quiet. The consequences of running? Whilst she was headstrong, she wasn’t stupid. She didn’t know enough about surviving out there. She’d be found and brought back in disgrace. Whether she would marry after that, she didn’t know, but there would be punishment.
Mika sighed again and stood, she had to go through with this, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. He was good looking in his own foreign way, maybe they could learn to love one another, or at least respect each other. Her mother saw her coming out and she realised from the unguarded expression on her face that the same thoughts had been running through her mother’s head.
Expecting a scolding for being in her old clothes, she was surprised to receive a hug and have fingers run through her hair. “I will remember you like this. Do not forget yourself.” Mika found the concept ominous considering she was expected to marry out and be someone she wasn’t.