Sunday, October 5, 2014
First Five Pages October Workshop -- Wolfe
Name: Alyss Wolfe
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Kinship Mantle
Hal would have laughed at me, at the ridiculous number of pearls on my dress that shimmered like a gathering halo as the women wrestled with the silk folds to stitch them on, one by one. The last time I saw him we were both ankle deep in cow manure, straw in my dirty length of hair, dirt long-lived beneath my nails, and he had yelled at me for leaving a pitchfork out on the barn floor where he could and did step on the tines, flipping the wooden handle up to smack him in the face. I allowed my eyes to drift closed and pictured his face, damp and flushed in momentary anger, and felt my fingers curl into fists at my sides. My nails were now chewed to the quick, the nubs harmlessly pressed into my palms.
“Your breathing, your grace, you must hold it.”
One of the sewing ladies spoke with words of respect and a tone of impatience and resentment. I took a small breath and held my stomach in as much as I could, regretting the extra cherry tart I had charmed out of the tavern keeper’s wife the night before, and kept my eyes sealed against the image in the huge mirror before me. I stood in the middle of the room surrounded by kneeling women of varying ages, their heads bound in plain white scarves and their attention fixed on the slippery silk that filled their hands.
I tried to keep my brother’s angry red face in focus as someone started to pull at the back of my head, scraping a rough brush against my scalp in an attempt to tame my unruly hair. Good luck to them, I thought, and wondered how long I had been there. Not just in the room, but in the castle. Time had seemed to stand still since I had found myself here, found by one of my uncle’s supporters and rushed about like an animal set to compete in the summer fair from one inspection to another, from the appraisal of my only living natural relative to the bathing chamber to this dressing room. The bathing chamber had been humid, the steaming air weighing upon me even before I was practically shoved into the wooden tub that felt like a cauldron. The attendants made no pretense of liking me or their work and carried on as if I were deaf, and while I didn’t care what they thought of me, I did wonder what I had ever done to them to earn such ire.
“Well, if the king is looking for a grubby wench to sit on the throne beside him, he sure and could have come looking right here in castle. If it’s mucky he wants, any one of us would have fit that bill.”
They snorted with laughter. I knew I was dirty, but it was honest dirt that had come from honest work, much like their own. It would be strange, though, for them to be set to work on a strange girl presented to them as their new queen, who looked no more royal then they did. My head felt fuzzy from the heat, and I wished I could jump in the cool lake back home, with Hal at my side and Conrad watching from the woods, never joining us but on the summer’s hottest days, most likely wanting to.
“What a dizzy creature she is. Some joke to bring her around and set a crown on her grimy head.”
I blinked and tried to hold my head still as, only a short time later, I stood in another stuffy room, a different woman yanking at my wet mop of hair. What a fuss, I thought. No one had ever paid so much attention to my hair before, and I knew Hal would be greatly amused to see it free of straw and mud and whatever else I collected in the woods and on the farm. I supposed I could take better care of it, since I was nearly grown and probably should be more concerned about my appearance but . . . no. It would take time away form running and exploring and learning and playing and everything else I could possibly be doing instead of fooling around with my looks.
A young maid padded into the room softly, carrying a dull silver tray with several wooden bowls that were filled with water. I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was until I swallowed a bowlful in one gulp. A burst of sweetness caused me to sigh in satisfaction, and the maid, who could not have been more than ten years old, stifled a giggle, while the women shook their heads in disapproval. I had no idea when more refreshment would be offered, so I reached for another bowl and drank that down quickly as well. The maid’s eyes danced and I smiled conspiratorially at her before one of the sewing ladies took the tray from her hands and shooed her out the door. I rolled my eyes and turned my head, finding my reflection in the old, cracked mirror in front of me.
It was cloudy, and as I stared warily the pale smudges seemed to move until the entire surface became blurry, as if each smaller distortion had joined into a larger one that was trying to escape from the edges. The pearls on my dress twitched like they were alive, straining against the fabric, reaching towards the mirror, and I raised my hand to touch it, to touch the reflection that no longer looked exactly like me but a stranger with my face, a stranger trapped in a world where her actions were no longer her own.
Sheba had warned him earlier that day, so when Kenley exploded and disappeared into the sword, Hal couldn't say he hadn't been notified. Of course, he didn't know exactly what was going to happen; his dragoncat was never quite so specific. Still, he could have been more careful. He could have made sure Kenley had been more careful.
That was a laugh, and Hal rolled with it. Sheba was resting across his shoulders, her weight heavy and relaxed, pressing down and loosening the muscles in his neck. She purred gently against him as he sighed softly, still in awe of what he had seen. The old wives tales of the one who would reunite the country and save her from centuries of strife. Kenley? His little sister? Even she would admit it was more than a little ridiculous. She was uncoordinated, clumsy, absent-minded - and she had taken the cracked sword in her scratched and muddied hand, raised it high above the straw-hued mane that hung untamed about her head, and stared defiantly at the damaged metal before spontaneously combusting. Right before his eyes.