Sunday, July 16, 2017
1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Alyssa C Rev 2
Name: Alyssa C
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Winter King
Sixteen-year-old Katka has always loved stories about her kingdom of Trisestry, particularly of the warring Guilds and her king’s missing heart. Wishing she’d been born with the extraordinary abilities of the Guild of Alchemists, Katka’s ordinary talents lie in linguistics. So when three Royal Alchemists arrive at her uncle’s bookshop in need of a translator, Katka seizes the opportunity to aid them however she can. But when her uncle is taken by members of the rival Guild of Scientists, Katka must work with the alchemists—the surly guild master, his sharp-tongued second, and a charming prodigy apprentice—to free him.
Katka quickly discovers that her uncle’s capture was not a simple matter of guild politics. As she is thrust into a conflict involving the myth of an immortal queen, a burgeoning war with neighboring Peshta, and her own king’s stolen heart, she begins to question which tales she’s been told are actually true. Even as she grows closer to witty apprentice Evzen, Katka begins to uncover secrets that make it difficult to determine who to trust. With war brewing between lands and guilds, Katka must discover the worth of her talents in order to save her uncle—and her kingdom—before it’s too late.
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 that night. We’d just closed the shop; I tidied the shelves while he traveled back and forth from the stockroom with armloads of books. “And that’s why he’s going to start a war and why the guilds each want to be his favorite?”
My uncle couldn’t help but laugh, rich and loud. I had been waiting until the shop closed to broach the subject, but it seemed he had noticed my skittishness.
“This is what has got you so agitated, little mouse?”
I nodded, 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 began, “just after you were born. It was—”
“So then it’s true?” I whispered.
“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 was brimming with anticipation. “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 was equally intriguing and overwhelming. So many people from so many places—it was little wonder no one had yet uncovered the culprit. I sent my uncle a shrewd look. 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.” 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 some time afterward I entertained childish fantasies of being the one to return the king’s heart. When not working I was left to entertain myself, and spent much of my time reading in the curtained loft that served as my bedroom. Gleaning inspiration from the tales in many languages that I borrowed off the shelves and translated with insatiable hunger, I crafted elaborate scenarios for myself and my friends—the warriors and sorcerers, peasants and princesses of my favorite stories. Once, on a daring mission at twelve years old, I went sneaking into the stockroom where I was not allowed. My imagined adventure dissolved around me as I became 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 dry alchemical theory.
“Katka—child!” he sputtered, then collected himself. “What are you doing on that table?”
I nearly cried, ashamed at my blatant disobedience. My uncle was wonderful to me and I dreaded disappointing him. “I saw the papers and wanted to read them,” I explained, adjusting my spectacles and gathering the books into my arms. I expected a reprimand, perhaps a padlock on the storeroom door and a reminder that I should know better at my age.
Uncle Dusan stood in the doorway surveying the scene and then, to my shock, began to laugh. “Voracious. You shouldn’t read everything that is in front of you, child,” he said. “Words have great power, but they hold danger too. Some books are better left closed, yes?”
I nodded 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 with the strange recipes.”
He came into the room, shucking off his large overcoat and standing by the table. “Sit,” he commanded, 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 lit more candles, positioning them to give me better light. “Can you read this?”
I studied the text as a cat watches an ignorant mouse. It was a long passage broken toward the end by strange symbols that didn’t seem to be letters. The words themselves looked like Zemyan, of 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. After referencing a few unfamiliar words I was able to read the passage aloud without hesitation:
“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.
I set the page down, unaware of my ability’s implications. “Uncle?”
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.”