When Father called for the carriage to stop, he immediately gathered the golden lady in his arms, and flapped off like a black bat in his cape.

"Dilee, come inside." It was an afterthought, but a command nonetheless. That was always his way.

The castle was dark and unlit; it was not father's choice of home, and as such, he treated it with disdain. He carried the girl through the corridors silently, and his footsteps echoed with a hollow thud. The girl's golden locks split over his arms with a sheen like buttercups in the spring sunlight. My hair is deep hued bistre. But then again, I was made that way.

When we came to the eastern set of chambers, the ones that overlooked the gardens, Father halted, and looked to me.

"Dilee, the fourth chamber for our guest, I believe." I moved to the doorway, held it ajar while father walked in and laid the girl upon the bed. He immediately joined me in the hall. "You're to look over her." Father gave me a warning glance. "If she wakes, call me at once." Without another word, nary even a look, a glimpse to tell me he cared, he swept down the hallway, leaving me alone.

Petulantly, for I'd otherwise face father's wrath, I went to the girl's bedside.

There, I waited.

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Elise felt her limbs grow strangely light, and there was the oddest sensation in her head. But she clutched at the worn binding of the book even as she moved from her desk to her bed; she had to keep reading. Only just a little further. Settling back onto her comfortable, familiar pillows, Elise got the most peculiar feeling—like she was floating.

She ignored the sensation and kept reading. The girl yes- she'd woken- spoken her name: Odette.

But as Elise tried to turn the page, the floating feeling intensified, her ears buzzed, her vision blurred. The words on the page seemed to melt together, to change from what she'd read. Her arms grew limp; the book fell open in Elise's lap.

). 0. (

I started, the girl stirred. I began to rise, to call for father, but then the strange girl's eyes snapped open. Something in them gave me pause.

"Where am I?" she whispered, gazing fearfully about.

"Here," I replied, not to mock, but "here" to me had no name. It was simply a place. "Who are you?" It came out before I could stop myself, remember that I was not made to ask questions. The girl's mouth pursed into an 'O' as if by instinct, but changed shaped almost instantly as she answered.

"Elise," she said, "my name is Elise."

I strode into the hallway; I called father. He came, and brushed past me, thinking only of the girl ahead.

Did he ever think of the one he already had?

I fled the castle for the comfort and beauty of the garden. The swans were there, languid and beautiful as always. They spoke amongst themselves, and if I was lucky, shared a bit of conversation with me. How I longed to be a swan, to fly free of the cold ground and stone, to be among clouds and wind and rain.

But swans are pure, beautiful white. I was made black. I know, because father told me. And father never lies, cold as he might be, he does not lie.

There, while I watched the swans, came a rustle in the branches. I turned, but saw nothing. Some small animal, I thought, perhaps a turtle or a bird. They frequented the grounds common enough. I rose to return, Father would be angry if I stayed out too long. But then, a voice stopped me.

"Please, wait. I meant not to startled you." I heard not so much the words—his voice flowed like a warm, rich river to carry me away on its tides, husky, deep, resonate. A man was in the garden, and instead of calling father, I stared at him as he stared upon me. "Oh, don't rush away—I only meant to watch, fair one. But then you hold such a look of sadness, I felt moved to comfort you." I couldn't respond at first, what was I to say? And then, the most foolish words fell from my mouth.

"I wish to be a swan." I waited, flushing for the ridicule to rise in his eyes. But it never came.

"You are a swan among women."

"But not in freedom. I wish to fly." He moved close, and I saw open sincerity in his face.

"I would aid your flight, if you willed it." As he held out his hand, the gravity of what I'd done hit me. I backed away from his proffered hand in horror. Father would…

"No! No!" I yelled, suddenly terrified, "you must leave."

Shock reflected in his eyes. Beautiful, honest eyes.

"But why?"

"He'll never let you live," I moaned, "oh, please, go!" He wasn't—I pushed him on, and again. "Please, go!" Finally, he turned, but said clearly:

"I'll be back." And halfway across the garden, he turned back. Furious, thinking he was going to argue more; I opened my mouth to berate him, when he called,

"Please, tell me your name."

Relieved beyond belief, I simply yelled, "Oh. Dilee."

"Sweet Odile! I shall return."

I raced back to the castle then, praying father knew not of this, all the while savoring his voice in my mind. Odile. While father might have made my name Dilee, I chose now, for myself, to become Odile. That was not made for me. It was mine. Dilee I cast away like an old used rag.

Gasping in one last deep breath, I smoothed my gown, pulled open the side garden gate, and walked the pathway to the castle. Perhaps Dilee was of no consequence, but I vowed Odile would be a person of much greater value. Not only to father, but to the world.