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The Owls of Morovia girl swimming at the lake
“I’m swimming in that lake whether you’re coming with me or not”

“Annabelle, I just don’t think this is a good idea,” my best friend said nervously. “I mean, the sign even says, ‘Private Property: No trespassing, No swimming, No exceptions!’”

“Oh, come on, Sarah! Nobody’s home right now anyway,” I replied. I enjoy having fun. You know, taking risks and doing the most ridiculous dares ever. That was fun. Now, I had my eyes set on swimming in the lake right before my eyes. It was so close, and the water looked so cool and clean. It definitely beat swimming in the community pool.

“Sarah, I’m swimming in that lake whether you’re coming with me or not.”

“Annabelle, wait!” I had already slipped through the fence and was in the process of taking my shoes off.

“Annabelle,” Sarah pleaded, “what if something happens to you, and I become known as the girl who just stood by and watched, and then no one will be my friend, and no adult would respect me, and then where would I be in life, and that would also cause me tons of emotional problems when I get older, I might get post-traumatic stress disorder seeing something horrible happen to you, I could have nightmares for the rest of my life…”

“Sarah,” I stopped her from going into one of her complete run-on-sentence-type ordeals. When she’s nervous she never stops talking.

“You are just trying to distract me from going in that lake by jabbering!” With that, I jumped right off the pier and into the water. It provided wonderful relief from the heat wave that had swept through my town in Virginia.

I stayed under the water for a few more seconds before resurfacing.

“Ohhh, that feels so nice,” I said, trying to get Sarah to jump in too.

“Nice try, Annabelle,” Sarah said, “there is no way whatsoever that I am even going on the other side of this fence. No, sir, I’m staying right here on un-private property.”

“Suit yourself, you can stay in that dreadful heat while I’m nice and cool in here.”

“Humph,” Sarah grumbled.

*          *          *

Suddenly I felt… different. It was as if I was weightless and was floating through nothing. It was dark, and I was under the impression that I had gone underwater, but I was still breathing. My vision blurred, and the world started spinning. I closed my eyes, only wanting to stop spiraling and find out where I was.

Then everything stopped. I wasn’t in the water anymore, but I was still soaking wet. I slowly opened my eyes and saw an open sky with fluffy, white clouds spread out above me. Where the heck am I? seemed to be the only thing that I could think at the moment. A lush, green meadow went as far as the eye could see. It was so peaceful. It wasn’t a lake in Virginia where I was just moments before.

I finally made myself get up and walk around to help dry my wet clothes. I thought about what I should do next. My options were: stay where I was and wait for someone to find me, or start moving in a random direction and hope to find someone. Of course, there was always the possibility that I was dreaming or something, but it all felt real.

I paced and paced like I typically do while thinking, when I no longer had to make a decision. The ground beneath my feet began to tremble and vibrate. On the horizon I spotted at least twenty figures that looked like men on horses. Maybe I was in the pasture of a horse ranch or something. A few minutes went by and the horses were still heading toward me. I started to walk forward so I could meet up with them sooner.

As I strode up to greet the men, they formed a tight circle around me. They all drew their swords while murmurs spread throughout them. One man’s horse stepped forward a bit and the man’s eyes narrowed.

“It is the glorious Harvest Day! One of the most important holidays celebrated in honor of Sir Nathaniel Corin of Morovia and his perilous quests to find food for his starving people. Why are you not working in the fields where a peasant like you belongs?” the man asked, sounding bored and irritated.

“I… uh… well… you see, I don’t know who Nathaniel Corin is, and I’m kinda lost. All I want to do is get back home and, you know, not work in a field,” I replied, not really knowing the best way to respond to that whole spiel.

All of the men gasped in unison and whispered urgently to one another. The man who had spoken to me clenched his fists, his eyes seemed to pop out of his head, and his face turned an unnatural shade of purple.

“Now listen! Make sure you listen well, because that kind of talk can get you killed! It is Sir Nathaniel Corin, or Sir Corin. It is never, under any circumstance, just…” he swallowed hard before reluctantly saying, “it is never just Nathaniel Corin.”

What kind of a freak was this guy? I mean, seriously! Nobody even worshipped Oprah that much and I highly doubted that not saying the “Sir” could get me a death sentence.

I was really tempted to tell this man that, but instead I said in my best theatrical voice, “My most sincere and deepest apologies. I do hope that you will forgive me. I really do just want to get home.” OK, the last part wasn’t a lie, but I was kind of enjoying messing with this guy.

Suddenly, someone in the crowd piped up. He cried, “Wait! Take a good look at her; she resembles the girl in Sir Corin’s puzzle!”

The man who was now returning to a normal shade of skin screamed, “Hush! Why should she know about that?” The man sighed, then said, exasperatedly, “She knows too much; we must bring her to the castle.”

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing,” a few of the men said together. About ten rather tall men hopped off of their horses and headed toward me, arms outstretched.

“Whoa, wait,” I said as I backed up until I bumped into the nose of one of the horses. However, the men weren’t listening, and they kept heading toward me. One grabbed my shoulder, but I shook him off and dodged other hands that had come toward me. I had to get out of the circle and run as far as I could. More men jumped off of their horses, and soon I was knocked on the ground, and my hands and feet were bound. The last thing I remembered was a fist flying at me, then stars, then nothing.

*          *          *

I woke up in a smelly, damp cell. The only light came from a single torch that was just outside my cell. I immediately sprang up and headed toward the door to find out how I could get out. I tried everything, I mean everything, even running straight into the bars and hoping they would budge. I regretted doing that, however, because the only thing it got me was a bruised shoulder.

Suddenly, there was mass chaos outside of my cell. Just down the hall, there was banging and the sound of metal hitting metal. Men were shouting and then groaning. I craned my neck to see what was going on, but it was too dim. Then, out of nowhere, a boy, about my age of sixteen, jumped in front of my cell and flashed an award-winning smile. “Good evening, my lady,” he said in an accent I can’t describe. “How about I get you out of here?” He pulled out a key and began to unlock the cell.

“Wait,” I said, “how do I know I can trust you?”

“Ha! Some respect I get for trying to save you. I say I’m going to break you out, and you say you can’t trust me!”

“Well, I haven’t had a very good time since I got here, and I’m not taking any chances! I don’t even know your name!”

“All you need to know is that you’re not safe here, and I want to take you somewhere safe.”

“I still need something to call you, even if it’s not your true name.”

“Everyone calls me Spotted,” he said with a tone of finality. He finished unlocking the cell and motioned for me to follow him. He led me outdoors where a horse was waiting. “We will arrive at a cave at around midnight. We will camp there until morning, then continue on to a fort where you will be safe,” Spotted said as he held out his hand to help me onto the horse.

I rode behind Spotted for hours until we finally reached the cave. Once inside he guided me to a secret passage on the back wall of the cave. Behind that was a huge room filled with thousands of pictures with names beneath them. Each picture was different.

“These are called puzzles,” Spotted began. “They each show an image of each person’s fate or destiny in the surrounding villages. If someone moves into one of the villages, a new picture appears. We came here to try to find yours.”

“Where do we even begin to look in this mess?” I asked in dismay. “This could take hours.”

“Well, they are in alphabetical order. So, obviously we will look in the A’s,” Spotted said simply.

“How do you know my name begins with an A?” I said quizzically, starting to get really freaked out.

Spotted only gave me a smug look and said, “I know many things, Annabelle.” How do you respond to that? A guy knowing your name should be totally flattering, but when you don’t even know him, it’s just plain creepy! So I just huffed and started leafing through images in the A section.

As I was looking, I decided to interrogate Spotted.

“So,” I began, “what do you mean when you say each image shows someone’s fate or destiny?”

Spotted paused as if trying to find words, then said, “Well, most images either show a person or a location. Typically, it means that will be the person who kills you, that is the person you will fall in love with, or that is the place where you will die. Therefore, it shows your fate or your destiny.”

“Wow, so what does your puzzle show?”

“An owl.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that I am considered to be a hero or warrior to the villagers who oppose Nathaniel Corin.” As he said this I finally pulled out my puzzle. I stared at the image, stunned at what I saw.

It was a picture of a beautiful owl with a dark brown back. Its wings were out stretched and it soared high above the trees. Its front was a cream color with a chocolate-brown face, and white outlined the eyes. It looked so majestic and strong. Right next to it was another owl with spots covering its body.

The Owls of Morovia boy and girl in a cave
“You are in my puzzle, and I am in yours”

With my mouth gaping I slowly handed my puzzle to Spotted. He carefully studied it and then said, “You are in my puzzle, and I am in yours.”

That was even more shocking, so all I could do was gasp, “What?”

“The owls,” Spotted pointed out, “I’m the spotted owl, and you are the spectacled owl. That’s where I get my name; my puzzle shows a spotted owl, plus I’m covered in freckles, therefore, everyone calls me Spotted.” I stared at my puzzle, realizing that the owl that was supposed to be me had the exact same feather color of dark brown as my hair was. I would have glasses if I didn’t wear contacts. I resembled a spectacled owl.

The cave was cool, with a draft, and I shivered, still only wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and no shoes.

“Here, Speck,” Spotted said as he handed me his cloak.

“No, that’s OK; it’s not fair that you should be cold when I was unprepared.”

“Really, I’ll be fine. I have a lot more layers than you do.” It was true, under the cloak there were at least two long-sleeved shirts.

“Thanks,” I mumbled.

For the rest of the night we each got about two hours of sleep. During the remaining time, we told stories and laughed. We got to know each other and like each other. After a while, I realized that I would trust him with my life. He also explained to me that Corin was a ruthless ruler who brought no good to his people. Spotted was fighting against him.

When morning finally came we went outside to start a fire and get some food. However, when we got outside, there were dozens of men with their swords drawn. One man stepped forward.

“Good morning, Sir Corin,” Spotted said with hate in his voice.

“Ah, well, Spotted, did you find a girl to fight with you? That’s just twice the fun; two to kill,” Corin said, his eyes gleaming. With that, several of the men stepped up. Spotted drew his sword and ran in front of me, poised to attack. What happened next was a blur. I remember Spotted skillfully keeping the attackers at bay.

“I cannot hold them off forever,” exclaimed Spotted. Just then a huge hole opened up in the ground.

Many of the men shouted, “It’s a portal!”

Spotted turned to me and pointed at the hole. He was so out of breath, he could only whisper, “Home.”

“No,” I cried, “how will I know that you will be all right?”

Spotted only shook his head and said, “Take Corin with you. He will have no power in your land.”

I knew then that I had to go. I had to somehow get Corin to go with me. I had to do it to save Spotted, me, and the rest of the people in this land that Corin ruled.

Corin was standing right at the edge of the portal. I sprinted toward him, weaving in between the men who were advancing on Spotted. I reached Corin and ran straight into him, knocking him into the hole and falling in with him.

*          *          *

I was weightless again, and falling through nothing. I ended up back in the lake in my hometown of Virginia. Sarah was still on the other side of the fence, looking impatient.

“OK, Annabelle, you’ve had your fun. Now let’s go before we get into trouble,” Sarah said. She turned around and stalked away. Then, Corin resurfaced, gasping and sputtering. I swam away, and then I jumped over the fence. I ran all the way to my home. Corin would figure it out.

I went to my bedroom, and on my dresser lay a spotted owl feather. I just knew, somehow, that he was OK.

The Owls of Morovia Madison Henson
Madison Henson, 13
Dunlap, Illinois

The Owls of Morovia Saffron Lily Gunwhy
Saffron Lily Gunwhy, 13
Killaloe, County Clare