Sunday, July 2, 2017
1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Alyssa C
Name: Alyssa C
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Winter King
A thousand years ago, there lived three sisters. The eldest was called Kazi, and with her practical mind she founded an order of calculators and rationalizers. The second was Teta, who established a priesthood of zealots and sinners. The youngest sister was Libuse, who built an empire. Hers were the tinkers and magicians who dealt in dreams and madness.
It has been my favorite story since I first dared climb the rolling ladder in my uncle’s bookshop and take down the largest volume, which happened to be an illustrated history of our kingdom of Trisestry. Amidst tales of shifting borders and grand campaigns was the simple story of three sisters who founded the great kingdom. Libuse, with her army of magic philosophers, was my fixation. An illustration of the sisters covers an entire spread, with gilded borders: in the middle, the three stand beside one another, their father the warrior seated at their feet. Brilliant-haired Kazi with her papers and instruments is to one side; golden Teta holds her holy book between hands clasped in prayer opposite her sister. Libuse alone is empty-handed in the center. Her arms are raised in some unseen incantation as the future kingdom’s misty silhouette looms behind her coal-dark head. That first time I opened the book her imperious gaze struck me so that I could not turn the page. I took in her fearsome stance as she called on elemental powers, the arms exposed from her trailing sleeves the same hue of earth baked in strong sun as my own arms, and decided that hers would be the legacy I would follow.
Of course, that is not the way of nature, to let oneself choose one’s path. At least, not entirely—I learned at a young age that those who deal in the elemental arts are bestowed such gifts by accidents of nature, so there was no hope for me. As a child who lives in her uncle’s bookshop is wont to do, I read furiously about the things I could not experience firsthand. Besides the history of Trisestry there were treatises on practical alchemical concepts, atlases of the world and its various sects of the elemental arts, and best of all ancient lexicons and languages of faraway lands, transcribed and bound in neat, jewel-colored volumes. And as a child of Trisestry I of course studied the scientific and religious arts as well, though less so the former, as the school of science has long been in conflict with that of alchemy. As I grew I came to understand the complex dynamics of my world and of the world outside of the bookshop. I saw and heard much, crouched behind shelves or perched in the loft where I slept. A bookshop is the kind of place where those from every part of society may gather and mingle, tryst and gossip. It was in this hub of a home that I heard of the ongoing conflict with neighboring Peshta, of the Guild of Scientists’ worries with the ‘spawn of Libuse’ expanding through the city, and much more that was truthfully of little concern to me. It was also where, on one afternoon I shall never forget, I first heard of the king’s stolen heart.
“Is it true that our king has no heart?” I’d prodded my uncle that evening after closing. 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 three 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. Left alone in the bookshop on evenings when Uncle Dusan attended meetings of the Merchant Confederation, I would craft elaborate adventures for myself and my friends—the warriors and sorcerers, peasants and princesses of my favorite books. By candlelight I quested between tall shelves for the heart of our king, outsmarting dastardly Peshtan highwaymen and riding triumphantly to the castle with my entourage and our royal spoils in tow. Once, on a particularly daring mission, I went sneaking into the stockroom where I was not normally allowed, my hero the clever Libuse at my side, only to become distracted by the papers with strange symbols and mysterious maps littering the long wooden table.