Eyes closed lightly in the shade, with the captain's shirt wrapped like a shawl around her shoulders, Hataru had her first dream in years. Pots clinked from the ceiling of the next room in a house slightly larger than Sibyl Spry's hovel, and the scent of the forest that surrounded Habar filled the room. Hataru's mother ─ her real mother, in perfect health ─ gently nudged her arm, beckoning her to wake from her mid-morning nap.
“Get up, my little duckling.”
At six years of age, Hataru squeakily complained, “Mama, I'm not a duckling. I'm a swan!”
“Oh, but baby swans are ugly and grey. You are much more like a cute, yellow duckling!”
“But I wanna be a swan. When they grow up, they get to be so pretty and el-a-gant ─ just like you, Mama!"
Her mother smiled, “I see. I suppose I can’t argue with you there. Now, get up, my little swan ─ it’s almost time for the parade!”
They hurriedly got dressed, and sporting colorful skirts, the mother and daughter ran like fairies on the wind to join a handful of women in similar clothes. All around them, joy and laughter swam through the air as street performers went through their warm up routines and musicians tuned their instruments. Brilliant royal blue flags embroidered with wolves decorated every balcony and cerulean flowers perfumed the air. This was the one time of the year that everyone was in high spirits. It didn’t matter if one was a pauper or a prince; celebrating the kingdom’s birth was a patriotic affair.
When the clock completed its hourly toll, the music began, and Hataru’s feet began moving of their own accord. A prodigy from the very beginning, Hataru danced her way down the street with her mother and the other women, proving the worth of their months of practice. The girl’s body moved like water, flowing ever so gracefully, fluent and never stopping. With perfect balance, she frisked about merrily.
As she swirled to the harty tunes, the young girl began observing the crowds that cheered for her and her fellow performers as they progressed down the road. To her left, the house of the king’s brother loomed, its colossal, white pillars decorated with royal banners towering over the paraders and providing the people with shade from the sweltering afternoon sun. Through one of the tall glass windows, Hataru spotted a young boy, around her age, with his hands and nose smashed up against the glass, watching the festivities in awe. With sharp features, as though chiseled by a master sculptor, auburn hair pulled back into a fine pony tail, and expensive clothes, probably tailored specifically for him, he had the air of a nobleman's son, but young Hataru took no notice of this.
But she did notice when he caught sight of her, though, his eyes following her movements. Flashing her white teeth like a beauty queen on a pageant stage, the girl pirouetted, as the dance required, but she imagined she was dancing just for him. Unfortunately, when her rotation was complete and she glanced back at the window, the boy was gone. In his place stood a man, maybe twenty years of age, with such a striking resemblance to the boy that they could have been siblings. Confused, Hataru stopped mid-step and gaped.
Suddenly, the jubilant tunes changed, growing faster, more frantic, almost eerie. The world turned, blurring the edges of her vision, and out of the crowd of parade-watchers, a man clothed in darkness approached her, flipping a black dagger in his hand like a baton.