Sunday, July 9, 2017
1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Alyssa C Rev 1
Name: Alyssa C
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Winter King
I was just a child when I first heard of the king’s stolen heart.
Gossip often entered the Princess and Ploughman, my uncle’s bookshop where I lived and worked. None had ever been so intriguing as this.
“Is it true that our king has no heart?” I prodded my uncle after closing that night. I tidied the shelves while he traveled back and forth from the stockroom with armloads of books. “And that’s why we’re almost at war and why the guilds are always trying to outdo each other?”
My uncle couldn’t help but laugh, rich and loud. I had been waiting until the shop closed to broach the mysterious subject, and he had noticed my skittishness despite my best efforts.
“This is what has got you so agitated, little mouse?”
I nodded seriously, a bit stung by his mirth.
He set down a stack of books and braced himself against the nearest shelf. As time went on, Uncle Dusan grew steadily rounder as I grew more nearsighted and only slightly upward. “Well, it was about ten years ago,” he said slowly, “just after you were born. It was—”
“So then it’s true?” I put in wonderingly.
“I never said so,” Uncle Dusan said in a way that assured me it was true. “It was ten or so years ago. Winter, with a thick snow such as we have not seen since. The canals were iced over and frosty snow clung to every spire. From the hills the city’s colors looked like a platter of sugared fruits.”
It was an enchanting image, but I too had experienced the city in wintertime. “What about the king?” I insisted.
Uncle Dusan made a contemplative face. “It was a bone-chilling night when it happened, so it is said. Late in the night while the city slept.”
I found a perch on a tall pile of books and settled in, anticipation fluttering in my chest.
“Someone inside the castle worked a dark enchantment and escaped into the cold with one thing—the very heart of our king.”
I leaned forward and nearly upset the books beneath me. “Who did it, Uncle?”
He only shook his head. “To this day no one is sure. It was the night of the royal masquerade ball, then an annual event, so of course the castle was filled with diplomats and nobility, ambassadors and tradesmen from across the world. The perfect opportunity for anyone cunning enough to claim it.”
The idea intrigued and overwhelmed me. So many people from so many places—it was little wonder no one had yet uncovered the culprit. I eyed my uncle shrewdly. I knew he was a wise man, for anyone who commits their days to the running of a bookshop can be no fool. “Who do you think it was? Who stole the king’s heart?”
Uncle Dusan turned his head and looked past the front of the shop, out the wide windows and into the twilit street. “It’s difficult to guess. Of course the Guild of Scientists practically declared war on the Guild of Alchemists the next day, once the news had spread. Some even blamed the queen, that she should have guarded the king’s heart more closely.” He stood and picked up a few more books to be stocked, slotting them haphazardly wherever there was room. “Others thought Peshtan spies were to blame, or their allies...” After sliding a book into the last bit of open shelf space he glanced out the windows again, then suddenly came out of the reverie and met my eye. “And now it is suppertime.” He smiled. “Some stew on this chilly autumn evening?”
For a few years afterward, I had childish aspirations of being the one to return the king’s heart to him. I would craft elaborate scenarios for myself and my friends—the warriors and sorcerers, peasants and princesses of my favorite books. Once, on a particularly daring mission, I went sneaking into the stockroom where I was not normally allowed, only to become distracted by the papers with strange symbols and mysterious maps littering the long wooden table. I set down my candle, climbing onto the table to better peruse the documents.
That was how Uncle Dusan found me asleep hours later, curled on the table like a cat, my spectacles mushed against my face. Language books were strewn about where I’d left them as I attempted to decode the cryptic messages, which turned out to be mostly dry alchemical theory.
“Katka—child!” he sputtered, then collected himself. “What are you doing on that table?”
I nearly began to cry, I was so disappointed with myself for disobeying him. “I saw them and I wanted to read them,” I explained quietly, adjusting my spectacles and gathering the books into my arms.
Uncle Dusan stood in the doorway surveying the scene, then began to laugh.
I was shocked. I had expected a reprimand, perhaps a padlock on the storeroom door and a lecture about how I should know better at my age.
“Voracious. You shouldn’t read everything that is in front of you, child,” he said kindly. “Words have great power, but they hold danger too. Some books are better left closed, yes?”
I nodded solemnly and made my way down from the table, balancing the books in my arms.
“Don’t those belong here?” Uncle Dusan asked.
“No,” I said, perplexed, “I brought them in to translate.”
He was very still for a moment. “Translate what?”
I turned back to indicate the documents on the table. “Those. The alchemy essays and the strange recipes.”
He came into the room, shucking off his large overcoat and standing by the table. “Sit,” he said simply, an odd gleam in his eye as he perused the papers and selected one.
I didn’t know whether to feel excitement or dread as I set down the books and clambered back onto the large table.
He handed me the chosen page and began to light more candles, positioning them to give me better light. “Can you read this?”
I studied the text hungrily. It was a long passage broken toward the end by strange symbols that weren’t letters of any kind I’d ever seen. The words themselves looked to be Zemyan, from the northern mercantile lake country or one of its colonies. I checked the spines of the books beside me, Uncle Dusan watching my every move with childlike wonder, and opened the Zemyan dictionary. I found the extra paper and quill I’d been using to take notes and set about the task. My page of notes grew steadily as I worked and within a few minutes I was able to read the passage aloud:
“Research at the University of Zemya has found that the practice of medical alchemy may greatly complement conventional medicine. Most recently, Zemyan alchemists have undertaken such experiments as—”
As I read, Uncle Dusan put his head in his hands.
“Uncle?” I whispered, setting down the page.
He raised his head, eyes shining. “All these months I have been collecting these works in the hopes of finding a translator… and now I find there has been one in my own home all along?” He reached across the table and seized my shoulders. “Child, your skill will be useful indeed!” Then he sobered. “But heed what I have said—some words are better left unread, and some,” he placed a hand on the Zemyan paper I had put down, “are better left unremembered.”