Blind To Men
by Chris Lange
The day has come for Anya to reclaim her life. Protected by an Amazon, she must go to legendary Palance, the city of her dreams. She has to leave her home without even knowing she was cursed at birth. She is blind to men. She can’t see them, and they can’t see her. Except one.
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It started with an overheard conversation.
A woman spoke to her mother in hushed, urgent tones. Ear pressed against the wooden boards, she listened intently, praying not to fall deaf. That happened sometimes, as if some words escaped her hearing, or refused to pass through her ears. Frustration gripped her each time the sudden deafness came about, yet she had never been able to prevent its erratic occurrences.Coming home from the fields, she’d spotted a big, white horse tied to a post. Someone was in the house, a highly unusual event as nobody ever visited. So, she had crept into the attached shed.Concealed behind sturdy boards, she couldn’t see the woman talking to her mother. She held her breath to follow the conversation. The stranger's voice sounded low and grating, very unlike the lilting notes she and her mother used."Anya has been ordered to go to Palance. If she doesn't show at court in a few days, you know how it will end."
Palance! The name alone sounded magical. The legendary city she'd heard so many tales about, the place where royalty dwelt. A shiver of excitement spread through her, and she wondered if she would ever lay eyes on the beautiful city. Her mother's urgent reply cut through her daydreaming."We'll run away. We'll hide forever if we have to, but I won’t let anything happen to my daughter."Should she feel scared? A brief silence ensued, soon broken by the harsh voice of the stranger."That's wishful thinking. You can't hide from the . . . You know it's pointless for . . . will find her anywhere."By the mighty gods, she had fallen deaf again. The desperation in her mother’s tone didn't leave room for ambiguity though, and apprehension constricted her throat. Why would her mother be so frightened? Who was she afraid of? Who searched for them?Spying a chink in the wood higher up, she climbed on an overturned bucket, careful not to make a sound. The crack was too narrow to see anything. She flattened against the boards and strained her ears."What else can we do? Do you think I'll just sit and wait for her to—" Her mother sobbed and breathed hard before resuming. "The creators help me, I can't even say the word!""Don't be upset, my lady. The curse can be broken."The stranger's rough undertone made her skin tingle and gooseflesh rose all over her body. Why did the visitor address her mother so formally and how come the title didn’t seem to surprise her although she'd been born a peasant?Weirder still, she had the feeling the two women were on friendly terms. But what curse were they talking about? And who? As a cramp slithered up her calf, a note of hope entered her mother's voice."Thank the mighty gods! Please, speak your mind.""To break the spell—"Her foot slipped on the damp bucket. Arms flailing but unable to regain her balance, she fell down heavily and landed hard on her behind. The door flew open before she could move, and the visitor burst in the shed.Flinching, she raised her eyes to the tallest and strongest woman she had ever seen. Even her face looked peculiar: unsmooth and irregular features, fair hair cut short, jaw much too square, nose too long, right cheek scarred.She was indisputably the ugliest female in the Four Kingdoms, yet when their gazes met, she felt all funny inside, her stomach fluttering for no apparent reason. The blue eyes drilled into her as the woman smiled slowly, unhanding the hilt of the sword strapped on her side.
"Anya, I presume?"
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