Saturday, February 7, 2015
First 5 Pages February Workshop - Welborn
Name: Abigail Welborn
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Fairest One of All
Malena raced her horse along the road to the magician’s keep, afraid of what lay ahead but even more determined not to turn back. Never again would someone be able to hurt her; she would control her own destiny. The thought inflamed her. She galloped along farmland and through the woods at the barony’s edge, stopping only when she broke out of the tree cover onto a rise outside the estate.
For a moment, she just sat, recovering from the ride, and took in the view. It was unlike anything in Scoria—even, it was said, in the whole kingdom. The keep was built entirely of white rock against the cliff by the river, and there were no gardens or plants anywhere within the walls of the courtyard. The look was eerie, which was almost certainly the magician’s intent.
She tied the horse to a tree and made her way down to the wall that surrounded the keep. Good thing I’m twig-skinny, she thought bitterly, as she forced her way between the bars of a side gate. She strained to hear the sounds of insects, animals, people—anything to relieve the feeling of loneliness—and was dismayed when she didn’t hear any. A narrow black path was the only break in the white stone of the courtyard, blinding in the sun. She walked along the path as it wound its way around the keep to the grey front doors.
In the stillness, the clang of the great iron doorknocker startled her, even though she had let it loose herself. The door swung silently open and a footman ushered her inside.
She had never actually been inside the magician’s manor before, having remained in the carriage on the few occasions that she had been here with her father. For a moment, her resolve wavered. What if the magician wouldn’t listen to her? What if she was asking for something impossible? But if he couldn’t help her, no one could.
“What can I do for you, m’lady?” the footman asked coolly, not quite meeting her eyes.
At least her face meant she was always recognized in Scoria, and for the first time in her life, she was grateful. “I wish to speak to Valessir,” she answered. She was trying to sound haughty, but she wasn’t concentrating hard enough and it came out with a lisp.
“Many people do,” said the footman, with the same reserved civility.
“It is a matter of business.” With an extra effort, she pronounced the words crisply.
The footman nodded knowingly—assuming, as she had hoped he would, that it was something for her father—and disappeared down a side hallway. Another footman, so similar to the first that for a moment she thought he was the same, came out and led her down a different hallway to another, smaller room.
This room had only one entrance. Along the walls stood small silver tables inset with jewels, each slightly different, each with a crystal or vial or self-lit talisman resting upon it. Against the wall to her right was a single bench, iron grey with a shiny silver cushion. The footman motioned that she should wait there, then left.
Malena looked around the room awkwardly. She noticed that the liquid in one of the vials was slowly changing from blue to green. The silence pressed in on her. You can’t scare me! she thought back at it.
Just then the wall across from her parted the width of a doorway, and Valessir strode through the opening. Malena was aghast at the staggering waste of magic—just to turn a wall into a door. “My Lady Malena,” he said, bowing slightly to her. Even the magician who’d seen it all let his gaze slip away from her face.
She dipped a small curtsy. “My lord.”
“What brings you to Granite Keep? Word from my lord the Baron?” His tone was guarded and polite.
“No,” she said, “I have business of my own.” He met her eyes again and his expression lightened from a barely perceptible frown to wary curiosity. So far, the conversation was proceeding just as she had rehearsed on the way—now she just had to remember her script. “You must be a masterful magician, or my father would not admire your work as he does.” She wasn’t quite sure if her father admired him that much, but flattery never hurt. “I need an unusual and powerful potion that only a superior magician could produce, and I’m prepared to pay handsomely for it.”
Valessir considered her for a few moments before asking neutrally, “And what should this potion do?”
She squared her shoulders, raised her chin to look at him and said defiantly, “Make me beautiful.”
To his credit, his only reaction was one barely raised eyebrow. “Surely you know that magic to alter the appearance is not sanctioned by the Academy,” he said.
“A magician who cared about which kinds of magic were legal wouldn’t be living in Scoria.”
The corner of his mouth twitched into a smirk. “You must also be aware, then, what a risk it is to apply magic to living things. Even the best of potions can have unexpected side effects.”
Of course she knew that. She crossed her arms over her chest. “And it has to be undetectable.” At that, both his eyebrows arched high. He looked amazed at her audacity, but also hungry, as if it was a challenge he couldn’t resist. Malena decided to press the advantage, in case she had one. “If you’re able to make the potion, I’m prepared to take it.”
“I can make it.” His tone left no doubt. Malena shifted her weight slightly. Her knees protested against standing stiffly for so long. “But such power comes at a price,” Valessir added.
For that response, Malena was well prepared. She pulled out a bag full of coins and trinkets that she’d gathered from the barony’s collection. “How much?”
“Give me what you think the potion is worth.” He smiled like a cat who had cornered a mouse.
Her pounding heart began to slow down to normal again. She knew he was only trying to see how much he could get out of her, since she wouldn’t dare give too little, but it was still worth that much to her. She handed him the entire bag. “We have a bargain.”
“I’ll send for you,” he said, and swept out of the room the way he had come. Didn’t he even want to check what she had given him? Had he known she was so desperate that she wouldn’t try to defraud him? Or, presumably, he would check later, where he wouldn’t appear so greedy as to be weighing her gold in front of her, and simply hold her potion for ransom if he found the amount too low.
The tension that had kept her standing melted from her limbs, and she could barely follow the new footman back out to the front door. As she walked down the black path again, she felt like her knees might give out any second. When she finally got back through the outer gate, she sat down against the wall and rested her head on her knees, trying to calm down. It hadn’t even been an hour since she’d left home.