The stone of the window sill is rough against my palms. My
shoulders are aching and as I glance down my head swims. The fall seems
farther than it did when I was standing at the window. I have half a
mind to start climbing back up, but my grip is slipping. I grit my
teeth, eyes slamming shut as fear washes over me. I am going to tumble
noisily and be discovered. My entire escape plan is about to crumble to
dust because in my excitement I overestimated my own abilities.
I almost shriek as my arms finally give out. My limbs flail, trying
to grasp anything but finding only air. I careen towards the ground
below and with a slight ‘oof!’ land in the fluffy hay bales as I had
planned. The wind is momentarily knocked out of me, but as I stare up
at the high window that has been my prison, I realize that I am no
Footsteps shuffling in my direction along with the clang of armor make
me tuck in. I burrow into the hay, trying to make myself small and
quiet. I watch a guard stride past me while glancing around curiously.
He is dressed in warm leathers with a deep blue crest upon one shoulder
and shined metal boots. I suppose he heard my spill, but since
nothing seems amiss he continues on his way, one hand resting on the
hilt of a gleaming sword. I shall stay here for a few more moments
before making for the stables. I have spent too long devising this
escape to be thwarted by a lone night watchman.
The night is quiet save for a few howls in the distance. I hear no
people chattering or owls hooting; it’s almost ominous. Through the
gaps in fragrant stalky bits covering my head I glance to the sky. The
twin moons are shining brightly, almost touching one another. It is a
night for the Gemini. If there was ever a good time to begin my
pilgrimage, it is now. Closing my eyes I say a prayer within my mind, “Thirteen
Gods and Goddesses bless and keep me. This night I set out upon the
pilgrimage to the Great Well Spring. I begin my journey to pray at the
Stone of the Gemini. Twin Souls keep your eyes upon me as I traverse
this land in search of my true self.”
My eyes remain closed as I savor a feeling of peace that floods my
being. Then, as if something inside of me sent a jolt, I bolt from my
hiding place and dash towards the royal stables. My heart is thundering
in my ears and no matter how much the wind stings at my cheeks; I find
it difficult to draw a breath. Having never left the confines of the
castle without an armed escort, this venture leaves me both frightened
and deeply exhilarated.
The fear of being caught and dragged back to my gilded cage has me
running as if devils are on my heels. I manage to cross the grounds and
throw open the stable door. All is quiet inside, save for the mewling
of a few Naba, so I shut the door behind me and look over the beasts.
The Naba are swift and cunning pack animals that stand upon two legs and
have enormous ears that resemble a rabbit’s. They are normally only
kept by wealthy merchants, clergy and nobility. Though traversing upon a
Naba may draw attention, using a slower animal or walking on foot could
triple the time necessary to make the journey.
I opt for one of the shabbier looking beasts towards the back of the
stable. With it I can probably pass for a mediocre merchant or
clergyman. My intent is to stay off the main roads and try to look as
inconspicuous as possible. Thankfully the beast has been ridden
frequently. He is friendly and allows me to swiftly place a humble
blanket and saddle upon his humped back. I lead him out the exit which
opens into the pear orchard and hope the night conceals me as I move
about the trees. It is not likely that someone would be looking for a
mount thief to enter the royal stables, but who knows.
Fallen branches and leaves crunch beneath my booted feet. Every snap
threatens to make my heart leap from my chest. Both my arms are
shivering as I try to hold onto the beast’s reins as we walk. This is a
terrifying jaunt. I can see the outer wall right in front of me, but
my mind keeps concocting scenarios where someone grabs me and stops me
before reaching it. It is as if that wall represents my entire life.
Years have been spent staring at this wall, at my freedom, so close and
yet so far away.
have wanted to do this for years, with or without my family’s approval.
However, fear, uncertainty, even their words have kept me from trying.
I remember when I was a boy of twelve, telling my mother and father
that I thought myself a Gemini Spirit. Proudly I announced my wish to
embark upon the Pilgrimage, only to have my feelings denounced a
‘phase.’ As I got older and continued to express how I felt inside, my
parents became angry and venomous. “The people do not need
a Gemini King! They need a strong, fully-male king with a good head on
his shoulders. Put aside these childish notions and start preparing to
choose a queen!”
Words can wound more than a sword, axe, or crossbow. I carried that
trauma with me as I married and had children. I care about my wife very
much, and I love my children more than my own life. However, ours was
an arranged marriage and therefore we are not ‘in love.’ Neither of us
had a choice about our future. We have accepted this fact of our lives
and moved on; mostly content to be friends and come together for the
production of our offspring. We enjoy one another’s company, but only
on a platonic level.
I tried to put my inner awareness aside and be the man that my wife
and children seemed to need. However, I was never happy and the
uncomfortableness of my body, mind and spirit got worse. I trusted and
cared for my wife, so with our third child on the way, shared my true
self with her. I told her about my feelings and how my parents had
treated my desire to commune with the Gemini Spirits. It was her
reaction that drove me to run away.
Instead of showing me support or even trying to understand my
situation, my beautiful wife and mother of my children rejected my
feelings, rejected my view of myself and ultimately, rejected me. She
said there was no place in her life or my children’s life for a Gemini
Spirit. She said there was no place in this kingdom for a Gemini King.
I have not spoken
to her since and have refused all contact this past week. It is
tearing at me, because in her womb rests my baby and I want desperately
to connect to that child, but I can no longer connect with her. I
cannot trust her. I feel utterly betrayed and alone.
Hoarding bits of bread from my meals, I began building rations tucked
into a pillow case. On a riding trip I stole a few water skins and kept
them in my room. I made several trips to the library within the castle
and constructed copies of maps by hand as I painstakingly planned my
pilgrimage. What is meant to be a celebrated affair has turned into a
solitary trip with me having to literally run away from my home, my
duties and my family. No one knows I am leaving. No one knows where I
am going. And if all goes well, no one will see me again until after I
commune with the Gemini Spirits and discover for myself whether my
desires are true or some delusion.
I take a deep breath and slow my steps as I am nearly close enough to
the wall to touch it. Swallowing hard, I turn my eyes towards the
skies, and look for some sort of sign to continue. My entire life I
have been told that what I feel inside is wrong. Sometimes the feelings
blend together with what others say and uncertainty fills me. Are they
the ones that are mistaken or is it me?
Unshed tears sting my eyes as I stare at those two moons. They are
how I feel. I feel split down the middle with half of my body as a man
and the other as a woman. I want the outside of me to represent the
inside. I want to feel as if I am no longer a stranger to myself. The
tears swell, collecting at my lashes and the corners of the eyes. I
want to say something, to beg the Gods and Goddesses to save me but a
voice cuts through the silence before I have a chance.
“You there! Who are you!? Stop right there!”
Without a thought I lunge forward, one hand landing on that short
stone wall. It is but waist high and more for decoration than
anything. I use my other hand to tug the reins of the Naba. He moves
without much coaxing and jumps the wall. I am standing on the stone as
he vaults forward and I swing a leg up and over, landing comfortably in
the saddle. I have never considered myself athletic, but the act felt
as natural as breathing.
As the Naba lands on the other side of the wall I turn my head to look
at the guard that is trying to give chase. My hair comes loose from
under the hat where it was piled and hidden. Bright blood red and
silver strands stream out behind me. It is the one thing I have never
allowed my family to dictate; the length of my hair. I have always kept
it impossibly long. The streamers of my hair cause the guard to slide
to a stop. His green eyes lock on mine and his youthful freckled face
looks awestruck. Obviously he did not expect to find the High Prince
stealing a Naba in the dead of night.
As the creature’s feet pound the ground beneath us I lift a single
finger to my lips. “Ssshhh…” I manage, before winking in the guard’s
direction. The Naba’s speed kicks in and I’m jerked, barely able to
grasp my hat as I tuck forward. I cling to the beast while he leaves a
trail of dust behind us.
Much Ado About Freedom
The castle is growing smaller and smaller at my back. The wind
swirls my long hair about my face. I keep glancing behind me, but there
is no one following. I’m not sure how long the Naba has been running,
but soon I start to laugh. My chest swells with a feeling that I have
never known. Overhead an owl flies, darting from one tree top to
another and giving a hoot. My laughter grows louder and while gripping
the Naba with my thighs I throw my arms out to either side. There comes
an understanding of the feeling in my chest. It is the wondrous
feeling of being free.
Awareness washes over me lifting a great weight from my body. Until
this moment I had no perception that something was suppressing me to the
point I barely dragged from day to day. I feel light, almost
weightless; as if I could lift up into the air with that owl and fly
through the skies without a care in the world. There is no voice of my
father telling me all the things I must do. My mother is not screaming
at me to be the perfect prince. There are no disapproving stares, no
scoffs, no glares or snorts. There is only me, the sky, and the breeze
through my hair.
Sighing heavily I lean forward and rest my head against the Naba’s
back. The beast is warm and the air above is cool. The rhythmic
beating of its feet against the ground is soothing and I am free. A
smile plays against my lips and I rub my cheek against the course fur. I
cannot remember ever feeling so comfortable. I am completely unaware
that I slip off to sleep until I roll off the beast and collide with the
ground, startling myself awake.
Gasping, my head pops up and I look around in astonishment. Rubbing
at my eyes, I try to understand where I am and what happened. There are
trees all around and nothing seems familiar. A lightning shock of fear
shoots through me and I feel so disoriented that I want to shout for my
guards. It takes me a moment to remember that there are no guards and I
am completely alone. That makes me even more afraid.
Swallowing hard I look up to see that the Naba is ducking his head and
drinking from a stream. The creature must have run until it got tired
and then stopped for a drink. The first sun is peeking out over the
horizon. I slept for hours while the Naba kept running due to lack of
direction from me.
I draw in a breath and try to calm myself. I should probably get a
drink and have a bit of food. Rising to my feet, I tie the Naba to a
nearby tree. He can still reach the water and after a moment he rolls
to his side, settling down and chewing on some branches. The beast
seems at ease, so we are most likely in a safe area.
I just need to keep telling myself that.
The day is warm, so I decide not to start a fire. I do not wish to
alert anyone of my presence. However, as I stare at the stream I
realize how uncomfortable I am. I have never gone a day without a nice
long bath. A quick glance around produces no sights save for miles of
trees. Surely I can strip off and quickly wash myself amongst the water
without incident. It seems indecent to be nude outside, but also a bit
exciting. I have never done anything like this before.
Trying to be smart, I tuck all my belongings near the Naba. He is
close to the water and will be close to me. I brought a sword and it is
going into the water with me. One can never be too careful. Fluffing
out my clothing, I lay them on a rock directly in front of me where I
can reach them quickly but they will not get wet. Clutching my sword
with one hand and holding the other across my front, I glance around
nervously. I still neither hear nor see anything threatening, so
quickly I step into the water and sink down to my waist.
The water is slightly cool, but I felt sticky and warm from sleeping
against the Naba, so the cool water is not unwelcome. Groaning I brush
the water against my body and duck my head to get my hair wet. Bathing
outside is not so bad after all. I smile at my own reflection in the
water. The sun is creeping higher at my back and it warms my wet flesh.
I am almost finished with my bath when the Naba raises his head and
lets out a spitting snort. His abrupt animation causes me to snag my
sword up out of the water. Spinning in a circle I notice something dark
moving in the foliage nearby. Standing up I hold the sword out in
front of me. Squinting, I try to decide what is swaying several paces
away. Then, much to my horror, the figure stretches up and turns. It’s
goes there!?” I cry out angrily. A sword hilt glitters and then a
man’s back in dark clothing becomes visible. “Disgusting pervert! How
dare you sit and watch me bathe!” I call out while taking a step
forward as if to pursue the stranger who had been watching me, only to
stop. Looking down my entire body flushes as I realize I am still
naked. Darting out of the water I hide behind the Naba while
brandishing my sword. “If I set eyes upon you again I shall run you