Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: THE LUCK EXCHANGE
Twelve-year-old Madelece desperately wants to fix her broken luck, so she’ll be loved by her perfect mother, the Mistress Gardener.
In the elven afterlife, the mystical power of luck is used for everything from hatching offspring out of pumpkins to frivolously changing a red rose to blue. One day, Madelece successfully uses luck but accidentally catches a thief. There's sadness, or anger—hard to tell with boys—in his eyes, and she lets him go. She discovers the boy is luckless and was stealing rice to feed his younger sister. Despite his protests, she befriends him—but has to keep it secret or risk being isolated by her mother.
As their friendship grows, Madelece witnesses just how much those with luck fear and distrust those without. And she realizes it’s a privilege to have luck, even if it doesn’t always work properly. Except, that isn’t good enough for the Mistress Gardener, and when her mother starts working on a mysterious cure, offspring go missing. Soon, but not soon enough, Madelece sees the Mistress Gardener for who she truly is and learns that Mother’s love comes at a price.
When elves die by sword or sorrow,
Owls make certain they see tomorrow.
Their souls are planted and reborn.
With pasts erased, they do not mourn.
But compassion fades and hearts harden
As rumors take root and poison the Garden.
Earthworms of anxiety knotted in Madelece’s belly. She’d barely slept the night before, as on so many nights lately. If only she could, then her luck would replenish itself. Somehow, she had to find a way to ask her mother permission to visit the healing place.
After taking a deep breath, she got out of her canoe and pulled it onto the sand. She scanned the plain oak canoes anchored to the shore by luck, until she spotted Mother’s, smooth and tan with the faint black stripes of orca wood.
She turned back to her canoe. “Madelece says, Stay.” Her voice was strong and sure. She reached down and gave the boat a small test push, and it scooted back into the water. Jinx! Thank the Owls no one was around to see her failure. Quickly, she grabbed the edge before it floated away. Her maple tea was in there—and she would need every drop of sugary goodness to get her through this—along with the cloak her papa had made for her.
Father, she reminded herself. Not Papa. Mother liked her to call him Father.
Once she found the in-case-of-no-luck rope she kept hidden under the seat, she tied it to a nearby tree, securing her canoe. She shivered and shook down her hair over her shoulders—it was cooler in the valley than where her papa lived on the fringe of the isle. A lance of sunlight turned copper waves to bright orange; she shoved them back, out of sight.
Madelece gathered her satchel and took a long drink of her maple tea. If the healers could cure her sleeplessness, she’d be fixed. And if afterwards, at last, her luck worked properly, she could make Mother proud of her… But, it would mean staying with her papa during the Rite of Names ceremony, and Mother wouldn’t like that.
With effort, she forced the thought aside. Okay. She could do this. At least, she had to try. She pushed a low branch out of her way, and it swatted her bare legs as she passed.
The path snaked through the woods. Early morning sunlight dusted the forest floor. Familiar raven ca-caws echoed around her, and rabbits scurried into their burrows as she walked by. Despite this, and the closeness of hundreds of trees, the woods felt empty.
The trees began to thin out when she neared the clearing. At the edge of the open field were three giant pine trees. The one in the middle was perfect for climbing because of its evenly spaced branches, but the one on the end was perfect for hiding things.
After a quick glance around, she ducked under the boughs. She pulled open the drawstrings of her satchel, got out the cloak, and hung it over the highest branch she could reach.
When she stepped out of the forest, she practically walked into a wall of flowery perfume. The too-sweet smell of roses stuck to the inside of her nose, like snot she couldn’t sneeze out.
To her right was the pumpkin patch filled with orange, luckfull pumpkins. From here, she couldn’t tell if there were any silver ones, but there were almost always luckless hatchlings. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be many this harvest. The afterlife wasn’t exactly easy on the luckless, and even harder on the forgotten. But, they wouldn’t know if there were any forgotten until the hatchlings were ready for delivery. Then, the storks would either deliver them, or not.
On the other hand, she’d find out how many luckless pumpkins there were either later today or tomorrow when the harvest began. She’d taken part in the harvest since she was five, so this would be her sixth year.
Directly in front of her stood Mother’s small stone cottage, surrounded by a hedge of roses as blue as forget-me-nots. Only powerful luck could grow them in that color—the roses were one of Delora's few splurges.
The anxiety in her belly tightened as she gripped her satchel and walked around the side of the cottage to the front door. In the distance, golden rays peeked over the mountain top. The dirt road in front of the cottage was busy with villagers going into town, and gardeners heading to the Garden.
Madelece wanted to slip inside unnoticed and have another cup of maple tea before beginning the day. It’d been an early start this morning, leaving Father’s house and then fighting without luck the can-never-make-up-its-mind-
She raced up the stairs and reached for the door, just as it swung open. Jinx. Mother’s booming voice made her jump, and the last sip of her maple tea sloshed out of her travel mug.
“Ma-da-lease!” she called. “Sweet girl. You’ve returned!” The tall woman pulled Madelece into her bony embrace. “How are you, my love?” She continued without actually pausing long enough for a reply. “Did you have a smooth journey? From your last pigeon, I expected you home later this evening.”
Madelece’s cheeks grew warmer as she caught glimpses of villagers gawking at the reunion. Just what she wanted.
Mother finally loosened her hold and took in the sight of her daughter. Madelece fidgeted with the hem of her tunic. It wasn’t quite as loose as it had been a month ago. “My goodness, dear girl, your father certainly fed you well.” Delora released Madelece completely and smiled sweetly to someone on the road. She waved. “Good morning, Otto.”
“Good morning, Mistress Gardener,” he replied.
“My daughter has returned! I’ve missed her so. I may be in late this morning.”
Her mother always made it sound like Madelece had run away from home. She started to say she was fine and for Mother to go to work whenever she needed, but Otto replied with, “Take your time. Offspring are a blessing from the Owls.”
“That they are.” Her mother turned back to Madelece and herded her toward the door. “I’m sure you’re starving, Maddy.” Once inside, she gestured toward the kitchen. “Delora says, Prepare a breakfast feast.”
They walked on to the den. It was a cozy room with a fireplace, a bookcase built into the back wall between two windows, a small couch, and two fluffy chairs. Everything neatly in its spot. Immaculate. Just like her mother. They passed through an archway into the kitchen and sunroom where pots and pans clanked out of the cupboards and eggs floated from the icebox, along with boar slices.
“That’s all right, Mother. We can just go to the Gar—”
“Nonsense, dear girl. You need to eat. I wouldn’t want your father telling people I don’t feed you.” She smiled and smoothed an invisible wrinkle from her apron before taking Madelece’s satchel and unloading each item onto the oversized dining table. It barely fit in the sunroom, but after Madelece’s parents parted ways, Delora had insisted on keeping it. Didn’t make sense to Madelece—the table had been in Crale’s family for centuries—but she did like having something of her papa’s close by.
“I’ll wash and press your clothes later. I don’t have the time right now.”
Madelece had hoped Mother would notice how wrinkle-free and orderly they were—arranged by color and thickness—because Madelece had used luck packing the clothes.