The woman in the boat gasped for breath, heaving the oars and propelling herself farther across the ocean. She just couldn’t stay, and the stars above seemed to be watching her, holding their breath, waiting to see what would happen to her. For a moment, she was just dumbfounded, struck as she was by the beauty of it all, the calm, smooth water reflecting the sky.
But she’d made her choice and it was too late to turn back now. She would not be married to someone she barely knew, someone she did not love. At least in fleeing she’d have a choice of her own. She shivered as a breeze brushed her cheeks, and she pulled her dark cloak tighter around her, clenching her teeth to prevent them from chattering.
She frowned, reaching behind her to make sure that the supplies she’d packed were still where she’d put them. She hadn’t made much of a plan, beyond getting out of the palace and getting to the ocean. The only thing that she was absolutely certain of was that whatever was across the sea, it was better than the fate that her parents had planned out for her. Just thinking about it made her want to scream, and if it hadn’t given her away, she would’ve raged at the heavens; her anger felt like a living flame, right beside her heart.
Tears slipped unbidden from her eyes as she rowed, and she sniffled to herself; she’d spent so much time holding her emotions in that now they were all pouring out, so quickly that she didn’t even have time to process them completely. She’d loved her parents, and they’d thought they’d known best for her. She took a deep, shaky breath, tightening her grip around the rough wooden oars. She’d had to leave them behind, she knew that. But that didn’t stop her from fearing her parents’ reactions. Her father would probably send his men after her, while her mother would lament why her eldest child couldn’t just be obedient and do as her elders asked of her.
But she was no longer that child who was content to let her parents do what they wanted with her; she had decided that she would decide her own future, even if it meant leaving behind everything she’d ever known. Even the unknown future, to her, was better than being married to a noble more than twenty years older than herself, forced to hold a household and produce heirs. The very thought of it chilled her to the bone. She was so much more than a means to an end, a mother-to-be, more than the oldest daughter of a dying noble house. She was not chattel, and whatever lay ahead, she would be ready to meet it, for it was surely better than what she’d left behind.