Sunday, February 22, 2015
First 5 Pages February Workshop - Welborn Rev 2
Name: Abigail Welborn
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Fairest One of All
Malena, the disfigured daughter of a small-time baron, has very modest hopes for her future. Then her parents disinherit her, and the boy who promised to marry her dumps her instead. Blaming it all on her ugly face, Malena buys a beauty potion from a magician who doesn't care that such magic is illegal.
Her newfound beauty ends up catching the attention of the widowed King Henry, who makes her a proposal she would be foolish to refuse. Accepting it also makes her the stepmother to beautiful, spoiled Princess Alaine, who acts like the kingdom is already hers.
Vaulting to the position of Queen ought to make any woman feel secure, but jealousy is a subtle infection. When Alaine is given a magic mirror that declares, perhaps truthfully, that she is the most beautiful woman in the land, the proclamation haunts Malena. As Alaine commands more of Henry’s and the Court’s attention, Malena resorts to increasingly desperate measures to preserve her relevance. Can she come back from the brink of murder? Or will one of them die trying to be The Fairest One of All?
Malena stood in front of the massive doors to the magician’s manor, her hand poised over the great iron doorknocker.
In all the many times she had pictured her sixteenth birthday, she had never expected to find herself here. This should have been the day she and Quentin could make their betrothal official. Instead, her parents had surprised her by taking away her title — her entire inheritance — and with it went the engagement.
Well, if they were so ashamed of how she looked, she would do something about it. She seized the doorknocker and let it loose. Its clang was so loud that she jumped, then quickly looked around, hoping no one had noticed. Of course not — there wasn’t a living thing in sight. There were no gardens or plants, no birds or animals, not even an insect that she could see anywhere within the walls of the magician’s keep. Perhaps it was his way of reminding you that he wasn’t subject to the usual natural laws. She was depending on that.
She heard footsteps inside, then the click of the latch. As the door swung inward, Malena steeled herself. The first time meeting someone was always the worst. She looked off to the side of the doorway, admiring the floral bas relief carved into its white rock.
The footman who had opened the door caught sight of her and recoiled. He gaped at her for a second too long before remembering his professional manners. “What can I do for you, m’lady?” he asked, his voice a tiny bit stifled.
He wouldn’t quite meet her eyes, but 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. Lifting her chin to appear imperious, she said, “I wish to speak to Valessir,” but she wasn’t concentrating and ruined the effect with a lisp. With an extra effort, she said crisply, “It’s a matter of business.”
The footman nodded — he seemed to assume, as she had hoped he would, that it was something for her father. He ushered her inside, then led her down a white marble hallway. Malena had never actually been inside the magician’s manor, though she’d sat outside in the carriage when her father had had business there. It looked just as stark inside.
They stopped in a small room off the hall to her right. 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. Among the tables to her right was a single bench. The footman motioned that she should wait there, then left.
Malena sat down, keeping her back straight, 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. She tried to distract herself by picturing how she would look without the deformities on her face. Her imagination got carried away, further transforming her brown hair from limp to curly, her figure from rail-thin to voluptuous, her posture from hunched to regal…
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. It was so distracting that she forgot to look away. He had unusual self-control, or perhaps the footman had warned him, because his only reaction was a sharp intake of breath and a flicker of disgust, before he smoothed his face into an oily smile.
“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 until that day, and dipped a small curtsy. “My lord.” Up close, he looked much younger than she’d been expecting. From her father’s stories, she knew that he and Valessir were nearly the same age, but only a few grey strands in the magician’s sleek 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.” His gaze snapped to meet her eyes, his smile gone. Her heart began to race — she didn’t want him to shut her down before she could even ask! 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 narrowed his eyes. “And what should this potion do?”
Malena squared her shoulders, raised her chin to look at him, and said defiantly, “Make me beautiful.”
He didn’t respond at first, but studied her face intently. A blush crept up her cheeks; apparently she wasn’t used to maintaining eye contact any more than those who wouldn’t look at her. She dreaded hearing him say that her request was impossible.
At least he didn’t laugh. “Surely you know that magic to alter the appearance is not sanctioned by the Royal Academy,” he said at last.
She let out the breath she hadn’t noticed she was holding and allowed herself to 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. “Then you must also be aware 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 also knew he was protecting himself in case something went wrong. Not that she could bring a case against him when the potion was illegal to begin with. She crossed her arms, daring him to oppose her last requirement. “And the magic has to be undetectable.”
Both his eyebrows arched high. He shouldn’t have been so surprised; if his potion worked, how could anyone who had known her before not suspect magic? She needn’t bother with a beauty potion to get her title back if the magic would keep her away from Court afterward. Valessir’s expression slowly relaxed, and his eyes got a faraway look that Malena recognized. He was already calculating whether it could be done. She decided to press her 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 golden 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.
He was clearly just trying to see how much gold he could get out of her, since she wouldn’t dare give him too little. It was still worth that much to her. She handed him the entire bag.
Valessir opened it, looked at a few pieces, held up the bag 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.