Elise stared down at her hands. Perhaps she had gone mad, and was truly shut away in some white, padded room; this place some dark part of her imagination, called up in the aftermath of her mother's death. The last thing she recalled before arriving was suffering some sort of dizzy spell over that book.
Then she'd woken in a bed not her own, a room not her own, and a body not her own. And then there was the problem of the man. When the girl who'd woken her had left, a darkly colored man had taken her place; Elise much preferred the girl.
She did not wish, or know how, to answer the man's probing questions.
"Why doesn't William move against the Tibrans? Is there some weakness he wishes not revealed, or is it something else?"
Again and again, the man interrogated her in monotone, not in fierce anger, or kindness. Elise shook her head, uncomprehending. Who was William? Who were Tibrans? If all of this came from her own mind, then why did none of it make sense?
"You are going to be giving me the kingdom, no matter, so you might as well answer. Bu if you want to be stubborn, it matters not to me." The man for whom Elise had no name gazed at her with eyes the hue of a glass-green bottle, odd with the olive tone of his skin, and the sable of his hair.
"Who are you?" she whispered, more to herself than in expectation of an answer.
"Robherto Darskangel. Odette, stop playing your silly games. You know your own uncle." Her head hurt. Yes, she recalled an uncle. This uncle. But then her mind screamed that she had no uncle, and that she was not this Odette. So how can I remember him? Terror filled her. Maybe this is getting worse. Elise shut her eyes, praying to wake up in her own room, clinging to the hope, for a moment, that this was still all one long nightmare.
But Robherto's voice cut through her hope. "Fine. You stubborn- we well continue this tomorrow. You only make it harder on yourself."
As soon as the man slammed the door behind him, Elise burst into tears.
I heard her sobbing. Even though it was morning, even though Father had left, even though she was not hurt, I heard her. I stood outside her door for a moment in indecision, then silently, came to stand behind her. She sat in a chair by the window.
The girl raised tear streaked eyes to mine, and I suppressed a sudden sigh. Just because I did not understand Father's need for her, I could not jeopardize my own plans for her. But the words that next came from her mouth shocked me.
"Who is Odette? And who is Elise? And…which one am I?" Another tear rolled down her cheek.
"You don't know who you are?" I inquired, incredulous. She surely could not be serious. Even I, who had nothing, knew myself. Odile, a black swan. Even recently coming to this, I still could not understand that she did not know her own identity.
"I…I am confused. And, you…you live here with him. Yet, you seem so different. You're kind, and quiet…but good." I almost laughed, for she was wrong. She was staring at me as if I were a goddess who held all her answers in the palm of my hand.
"Odette," I mused, for that is what I heard Father call her. "Elise." For that is what she had called herself. A fair child, one like my own swans. A white swan, crying in a lake that kept it prisoner. "You are what you make of yourself," I said finally, long after she had ceased looking at me. I made way to exit, when her words once again stopped me.
"Who are you?" she breathed, so faintly I almost did not hear her.
Pausing, I answered, "I am myself." I think I smiled as I walked through the corridor, down to the gardens.
As I sat beside the lake, I felt her eyes on me, from the window. Perhaps I could assist her….but what would be the price? After all, I was made to do my Father's bidding, for how long could I resist him? It would be better simply to make my escape, and be done with the girl, him, and this forsaken place.
"Odile." A whisper that ran through my veins like a rich river broke me from my rumination. No! my head screamed even as my heart rejoiced.
"I told you not to come back," I whispered, my own voice cracking.
"And I said I would." He grinned, as though this were a joke. He was much younger than my Father, and his eyes were brown, instead of green. But in them, there was a world of warmth.
"You don't understand." I grew panicked. "My Father will…he will not tolerate anyone here."
He grew indignant. "Surely, he cannot think to hide you away from the world?"
"I have never known the world. All I know is this. And perhaps…" I trailed off, looking away toward the water. "Perhaps I was not made for the world." My words sound petty, and ripe with bitterness. "Never mind."
He opened his mouth to answer, but I distracted him with yet another question. "I've told you my name. I believe you owe me yours."
"Ah, but of course, fair maiden." I don't understand why he must persist in calling me fair. My skin may be pure as any swans', but inside, I am blacker than tar. This Father has told me. "It's David."
A prickling raises the hair at the nape of my neck. Father must be home. And the girl…no doubt she has seen me.
"Were you true when you said you would aid my flight?" I asked, suddenly intent.
He appeared slightly startled, dropping the blade of grass he had been lazily rolling between his fingers. But his face bespoke sincerity. "Of course, Odile. I would help you."
I nodded solemnly. "Then meet me here. At midnight, two nights hence. And…" I fell silent for a moment, recalling the tear-stained eyes I had seen, lips calling me kind. "I may have one more." Feeling slightly daring, I stared at David, and then, pressed my lips briefly to his jaw. "Go!"
I ran back to the castle.