Book One

Part I

Chapter 1 - The Gypsy Girl

The cluttered caravan was really getting on Sobrina's nerves.

The more she thought about the size of her home, the harder it was to suppress her stomach from churning.

She had always hated confined spaces - though usually she was never this affected by her discomfort. Sobrina had lived most of her life here and the Gypsies spent days on end traveling from place to place in a long line of caravans.

As a young girl, she would ride on Sebastian's strong back alongside them. He'd prance and flick his lovely snow-white tail proudly, as she closed her eyes and felt the breeze on her face.

She never felt more alive, more free than she did as a child.

However, after her sixteenth year, her freedoms had come to an abrupt halt.

As a woman, Sobrina could no longer ride her beloved horse as she pleased - she had to sit alongside the other women, gossiping and complaining with no end in sight. Practicing sword fighting and roll in the mud with the other boys was could no longer acceptable - embroidery was expected and eye contact with men was forbidden. She loathed to not stand equal to men - to keep her eyes on the ground and feel that she belonged there. As children, girls had, more-or-less, the same freedoms as boys but women had no rights her world.

For the longest while, Sobrina thought that she could repress her hatred from the unfairness of it all, but after a recent development in her life, she came to her senses and realized something important. She was not responsible for her decisions and actions - her life was in control by her strict grandmother and gypsy community. And Sobrina hated the idea with every fiber of her being.

Snapping out of her thoughts, Sobrina realized that she had been biting her nails again. Another bad habit. Another reason she would be scolded later tonight.

Sighing, she crossed and uncrossed her legs. Eyes flitting, they landed on a short stack of books sitting nearby.

They were worn but well-loved - she must have read all of her books a hundred times each. They were always there for her and were some of her closest friends. Sobrina knew them inside and out like the back of her hand.

Sobrina loved reading, a very unusual hobby for a gypsy as most where illiterate. It wasn't a skill that she gained easily either. Flipping through the first book she picked up mindlessly, an idea struck her almost immediately. She couldn't remember the last time she had a new novel to read. . .

She stood up quickly, blonde strands falling from her braid and framing her face. Brushing them aside, Sobrina fumbled with the bench across from her and pulled the seat off the base, revealing a few of her important possession tucked away- a velvet sack filled with coins that she earned, a few clothes that belonged to Emilio, a cloth wrap, and a small box where her mother had kept her ring for thirteen years.

Grabbing the coin pouch, she smiled widely as it jingled in in her hands. There would be more than enough to purchase a book. . . maybe even two, if she could get a good deal.

Pulling her fitted cropped shirt over her head, Sobrina reached for a wrap as she covered her chest with her hands. Women weren't allowed to leave the campsite but. . . if she looked like a boy, not a soul would question her.

She unfurled the material carefully. The first time she dressed was a boy was a week after her sixteen birthday. Sebastian, her stallion, had always been free to come and go as he pleased but a week had been longer than usual for him to be gone. Sobrina's fear got the better of her, and heart pounding, she stole Emilio's clothing and bound her chest tight. Coupled with a hat, she passed a man - a frail man, but a man nonetheless.

Her first journey didn't last long nor was far- Sebastian greeted her outside the campsite, gave a quick nuzzle, and nudged her protectively home. But that one adventure sparked the idea of others and soon, it was a secret that she shared with Sebastian and Emilio.

In the middle of wrapping her chest, as the layers of the binds slowly grew and the soft curve of her breast diminished, Sobrina heard the canvas door rustled.

Panic rose from her chest as thousands of excuses began flooding her thoughts, hoping that one would sound justifiable. However, upon meeting her older brother's wide eyes through the space between the canvas, she visibly relaxed and continued to wrap the material around herself.

"Good morning Emilio!" she chirped.

"Sobrina," Emilio sputtered, trying his hardest to avoid staring at his sister, "What in the world are you doing?"

She smiled brightly at his blushing face as she tucked the cloth between her breasts.

"I'm out of books and this would be the perfect chance to buy more before leave."

Before her mouth had opened, Emilio pulled his head out of the caravan, out of sight but close enough to still hear her.

"I could have just gotten the books for you love. It's a dangerous place for a wo-"

"I know, I know" Sobrina cut him off hastily. "But even if you went in my stead, it's not the same as going myself. I want to see all the books they have before I make a decision. But," she continued as she pulled a worn, brown shirt, over her head, "You're welcome to come if you want."

Emilio sighed, "You know I'd rather be anywhere but here."

"I thought so! Now, just let me. . . " she trailed off as she fumbled around for a hat to hide her bright golden tresses. Shoving her hair into the hat, Sobrina picked up an empty pot and use the bottom as a mirror. She could easily pass as a boy - perfect.

"Emilio," she called, "How do I look?"

Dark brown eyes peeped again inside, warily. "You look. . . passable," he paused for a moment, then questioned, "Sobrina, did you steal my clothes again?"

She giggled and fluttered her eyes as she wrapped her arms around her brother's neck. Her breath tickled his skin and the faint smell of flowers drowned his senses.

"You don't mind right?" She leaned in closer, her blue eyes ablaze.

Sighing, he ran his fingers through his hair and replied, "Of course not."

Sobrina had quite a collection of stolen shirts and trousers from Emilio - more than he probably realized. Not that he ever minded of course. He never approved, of course, and would grumble a bit about her actions but still, let her do as she pleased. Her brother was her best friend and the most important person in her life.

Sobrina pulled him in for a quick, tight hug and for a long second, Emilio closes his eyes as he imprinted the memory of this moment forever. But as quickly as it began, it ended and reality resumed as his sister released him from her grip. In a haste, she grabbed the velvet sack of coins, sitting forgotten behind her.

The woman brushed past him and landed on her feet softly outside of the caravan. Sobrina had the body of a dancer, thin and lithe. Even the faintest movement was graceful. Lovely.

A faint scent of. . . lavender? (Emilio could never place his finger on the scent) lingered in the air as she strutted away from him. Sobrina always smelled like a blooming garden - feminine and delicate. Crowned with a halo of gold hair and blessed with dazzling eyes like sapphires, she was his goddess but in her eyes, only a brother. Nothing more.

Though they called each other blood, they were not true siblings. Cristina, their mother, found Sobrina at the age of three, a young girl scraped and bruised, asleep on the back large white stallion. No one knew where the fair child was from, but the gypsies never turn down children from joining their community. Often, she was told that she a gift from Haletha, the goddess of good fortune, especially when she began showing promise in the art of dancing.

Emilio, on the other hand, had a . . . less than favorable beginning.

All Gypsies, regardless of gender, had to work hard in order to support the unit. The elderly often sold trinkets and practiced fortunetelling whereas the younger generation would use their bodies to make money. Men worked manual labor jobs for the locals and women danced erotically (but nothing more) for small change.

During one of Cristina's performances, a drunkard, was seduced by her dancing, and later raped her in the middle of the night at the age of sixteen.

Women who lost their virginity before marriage were distained by the community. She was urged to drink a brew that would cause her to miscarry - to gain some form of dignity back by not carrying the man's child. But Cristina could not blame the child for the sins of his father. She gave birth to him, despite the disapproval from his grandmother and the Gypsy clan and since then, only Cristina, until her death a year ago, and Sobrina showed any love towards him.

"Emilio," Sobrina turned to face him from a distance and waved, "Come on!"

He knew that he would never be more than a brother. His love for her would be taboo in her eyes. It would change everything that was so precious about their relationship. So he was silent.

He would suppress all the love that he carried for her so long as Sobrina remained in his life, brightening his days with her glowing smile. With that final thought, he ran towards his one and only unrequited love.

Sobrina and Emilio made plans to meet at the gate of the village. If she had taken the main road with Sebastian, the gypsies would instantly recognize her in her disguise. He had already taken Cezar, his brown draft horse, and slowly plodded away from Sobrina, who was hidden carefully behind bushes in a nearby forest.

Emilio glanced over his shoulder occasionally, making sure she was still safe until he rode over a hill and out of sight.

Sobrina focused her attention on the horses, grazing in a large field outside the village of Damas. She could see Sebastian, short distance away from the rest of the herd. Now. . . who was on horse duty?

The gypsy woman scanned the horizon with her keen eyes, she silently retched when she realized that it was Demetrius on watch - her fiancée.

He was drunk out of his mind - that was easy enough to tell from her distance. The flask at his side met his lips often and he stumbled a few steps before he gave up, and laid down in the grass.

Sobrina scoffed. Demetrius was incredibly lucky that the Gypsy horses were so loyal.

She was still bitter towards him, even though he, in truth had done nothing. . . yet. Her grandmother, after Cristina's death, jumped at the opportunity to find her a husband. Sobrina was getting old - at eighteen most women already had their first child and round with their second. Cristina wanted Sobrina to be independent and make her own decision, especially regarding love.

Yet, she had passed on from a raging fever last summer, leaving Miliana as her guardian. Hardly a month passed since her death and Sobrina was arranged to be married to Demetrius. A drunk, but the son of an influential member of their clan. They had hardly talked, save for the few cat-calls in passing.

So much for Cristina's dream. She'd never find love - if it ever existed in the first place.

She pushed away her feeling of hopelessness - Sobrina was on a mission.

Carefully, the gypsy bowed her head low, causing the leaves to brush her face. Chills raced down her spine as the ravens fluttered between the tree branches above her. Something in this dark forest was putting her on edge. She didn't know what exactly it was but the faster she could leave, the better.

But the fear from her heart instantly lifted when Sebastian raised his head, and stared through the bushes that Sobrina was hiding behind, into her eyes.

With snow white hair as pure as moonlight, her stallion was so radiant and almost magical it was hard to believe that he belonged with her. Well, not really belonged.

He was free to come and go as he pleased, but Sebastian had mostly stayed by her side. He was the only connection to her past - the only one that knew her true origins. She often longed that he could speak - though it seemed that he had an understanding of the human tongue that far surpassed the other horses.

The other Gypsies tried to tame him for his beauty but he was always swifter, always more cunning. He was wild at heart but tame to one girl - and that was Sobrina.

She blinked and Sebastian was next to her, nuzzling the top of her head. The girl brush his hair from her forehead and kissed him softly. Sebastian had had her heart since she was a little girl.

He knelt on one knee and let Sobrina hoist herself up on his back. The stallion turned his head and nickered lightly, almost as if he was making sure she was settled. Beaming, she patted his neck and they galloped away, swift as the wind.

However unknowingly to them, a set of bright green eyes watched keenly from the shadows of the treetops.