Sunday, February 15, 2015
First 5 Pages February Workshop - Welborn Rev 1
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, spurred on by her outrage. How dare they take away her title! Her parents should know better than anyone that she couldn’t help the way she looked. 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 keep.
For a moment, she just 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. No gardens or plants grew anywhere within its walls, perhaps the magician’s way of reminding you that he wasn’t subject to the usual natural laws. She was depending on that.
She tied her horse to a tree and patted him—was she trying to reassure him or herself?--then made her way down to the wall that surrounded the keep. Once she’d squeezed herself between the bars of the gate, all sound ceased except the blood pounding in her ears. The glare off the white stones of the courtyard was blinding in the sun, broken only by a narrow black path, which she followed to the massive grey front doors.
Malena had never actually been inside the magician’s manor, having remained in the carriage the few times she’d been there with her father. For a moment, her resolve wavered. What if the magician wouldn’t listen to her? What if what she wanted was actually impossible? But if she did nothing, she would just be allowing them to take away her future. Losing Scoria was bad enough, but losing Quentin — she couldn’t let that happen.
In the stillness, the clang of the great iron doorknocker startled her, even though she had let it loose herself.
A footman opened the door and looked at her thoughtlessly, as he probably looked at everyone who came to this door, and started. She looked away for a moment to allow him to recover his professional impassivity.
“What can I do for you, m’lady?” the footman asked, his voice a tiny bit stifled. He wouldn’t quite meet her eyes.
Well, she was used to that, and at least her face meant she was always recognized in Scoria. 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. “It’s a matter of business.” With an extra effort, she pronounced the words crisply.
The footman nodded knowingly—she had hoped he would assume that it was something for her father—and led her down a hallway to a small room. Along the walls of the room stood a variety of small silver tables, each with a crystal or vial or self-lit talisman resting on it. In amongst the tables to her right was a single bench. The footman motioned that she should wait there, then left.
Malena sat down and stared at the door. She noticed that the liquid in one of the vials was slowly changing from blue to green. If Valessir was trying to intimidate his visitors by brandishing his magic at them, it was working. As in the courtyard, the silence was complete, but now her heart was pounding from anxiety instead of exertion.
Just then the wall across from Malena parted the width of a doorway, and Valessir strode through the opening. She 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.
Of course he couldn’t yet know that she wasn’t “my lady” anymore. She savored the sound of it, the title that she’d taken for granted before that day, and dipped a small curtsy. “My lord.” He wasn’t technically a lord, but he commanded respect. Up close, he looked much younger than she’d been expecting. From her father’s stories, she knew they were nearly the same age, but only a few grey strands in his black hair betrayed it.
“What brings you to Granite Keep? Word from my lord the Baron?” His tone was guarded but polite as he looked at her left shoulder.
“No,” she said, “I have business of my own.” He met her eyes again and his expression grew wary. She felt light-headed. Was he going to refuse her? What would he do to someone who had wasted his time? She struggled to remember her script. Start with flattery. “I need an unusual and powerful potion that only an exceptional magician could produce, and I’m prepared to pay handsomely for it.”
Valessir considered her for a few moments before asking, “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 Royal Academy,” he said.
She let herself sound a little sardonic. “A magician who cared about which kinds of magic the King approves of wouldn’t be living in Scoria.”
The corner of his mouth twitched. “You must also be aware, then, what a risk it is to apply magic to living things. Even the best potions can have… unexpected side effects.”
“Of course I know that.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “And it has to be undetectable.” At that, both his eyebrows arched high. In a moment, though, his expression grew hungry, the anticipation of a challenge she had often seen on her father’s face. Malena decided to press the advantage, in case she had one. “If you can make it, I’m not afraid to take it.”
“I can make it.” His tone brooked no doubt. “But such power comes at a price,” he added.
She untied a bag of coins and trinkets from around her waist. “How much?”
“Give me what you think the potion is worth.” Valessir 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. At least she’d had the foresight to pick pieces from the barony’s collection that no one was likely to miss. She handed him the entire bag.
Valessir opened the bag, dumped a few pieces into his hand, held up the bag with the rest as if weighing it, and then nodded in satisfaction. “Give my regards to the Baron,” he said, and he swept out of the room the way he had come.
That was it? How long would it take? Would he send her the potion or was she supposed to come back? She opened her mouth to ask, but the wall was already sliding closed. Annoyance flared in her chest. He was powerful; he didn’t need to be rude.
But she would get her potion. She followed the footman back to the front door. When she finally got back through the gate, she sat down against the wall and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with relief. Her plan might actually work!