Check out the June winning entries in the grade 9-12 level.
Margaret pulled herself upright, holding onto the wall. She reached for her stick and began crossing the courtyard to meet her brother. She was glad for the Duke's protection that allowed her to stay within the castle's walls, instead of begging in the village outside. Though perhaps she should thank her brother for his protection; the Duke likely didn't know she existed. And supposing he did, Margaret doubted he would care about his youngest falcon-boy's crippled sister.
"Hoy, Margaret!" Margaret looked up to see her brother, fourteen-year-old Thomas. "I climbed a tree after chicks today!"
Margaret steadied herself on her stick as Thomas ran up. "How many were there?" she asked. New falcons to train meant more work for all falconers, but she loved seeing the fluffy chicks grow into sleek, deadly hunters.
"Three," said Thomas. He was tall and strong, unlike Margaret. "Two females, one male. Peregrines." His grin broadened.
"I bet our Queen Elizabeth hasn't a better falcon-boy than you!" said Margaret.
"Yes — pity she shan't hire me," joked Thomas. "But I couldn't work better falcons, never. These new chicks — they're beauties. Well, two are."
"Two?" asked Margaret quickly.
Thomas scowled. "One's a runt," he said, "and it's got somethin' wrong with a wing "
"What'll they do with it?"
"Likely get rid of it," said Thomas. "Kill it — "
Margaret's eyes darkened angrily. "That's not fair!"
"It won't fly well," protested Thomas. "It's not good enough for the Duke's mews — "
"What if I were a falcon in your mews?" Margaret cried. "Wouldya kill me 'cause I wasn't good enough?"
Thomas looked at her, leaning on her stick, a small thin girl with her left leg twisted and shortened. "That's different."
"No, it's not!" Margaret sighed. "I want that chick, Thomas. Get it for me."
Thomas frowned. "I could try "
"Yes," said Margaret. "Just 'cause something's small and different doesn't mean it's no good."
Bird in Flight
I watched the songbird take flight from its imperious perch on my windowsill, the tips of its wings catching the morning sun. It sliced through the blushing dawn like a golden arrow as it flew away. Away from the palace and its stifling rules. Away from this prison I call home.
Back straight, the imperial nannies would scold. Head high. Small, dainty steps. No, no, Princess Tao Lin! The chair should not creak when you sit down! The rules of the palace weighed down upon me like my royal headdress did, the gaudy ornaments and gold filigree symbols of a status I had never wanted. Ge Ge. Princess. Daughter of the Emperor. A political instrument thrown about to fulfill dynastic ambitions. And all I received in exchange was a pair of heeled slippers that pinched my toes and a parade of servants enlisted to tame my unruly hair into a convoluted style worthy of a princess.
I would trade all my riches — every single ostentatious gemstone and extravagant headdress — to live one day as a commoner. My lips curled into a smile as I thought of Beijing — the real city, not the political capital cast in the shadow of the Forbidden Palace. I had seen it once from the inside of a carriage, and I would never forget the colorful vendor carts lining the congested streets, the innocent laughter of little girls and boys, and the sweet smell of ma qiu permeating the festive air. All I wanted was to be part of that. I wanted to participate in roadside cricket fights and kick shuttlecocks in dusty courtyards. I wanted to cheer at the top of my lungs as acrobats performed inhuman tricks in the rowdy Beijing streets. But most of all, I simply wanted to be me. I wanted to be Tao Lin — not Ge Ge, not Princess just me.
As I watched the golden songbird soar over the palace walls, I made a wish. A wish that someday, I would be that bird, spreading my wings and flying into the endless blue sky.