Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Wrought of Silver and Ravens: A Twelve Dancing Princesses Retelling Story Snippet (Lizzie)

Ever since reading an illustrated children's book of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," I have loved the story. I've read a few retellings (my favorite being The Firethorn Crown by Lea Doue), but I must admit a preference for that beautiful children's book, which unlike most retellings, focuses on the soldier with the invisibility cloak who frees the princesses rather than on the princesses themselves. This winter I had an unexpected idea for a retelling of the story set in my Magic Collectors world. Only this tale is set in the ancient past, in the incomparable land of walled cities of white stone perched on cliffs above deep blue seas, where sandals rather slippers are worn, where soldiers and not just princesses are respected. Into this beautiful, dangerous land comes a hunted young wanderer, a man of secrets, who gets more than he bargains for when rescues a prince, not the least of which is the responsibility of guarding the prince's seven cursed sisters.

Wrought of Silver and Ravens releases August 25, 2020. This is the rough draft of part of chapter 1 and chapter 2. I hope you enjoy it!

Panoramic view of Dubrovnik

Wrought of Silver and Ravens

Chapter 1a

It wasn’t quite cold enough to kill a man. Nor was it wet enough. Athdar Owain Leonidas swiped his hand on his shirt, in the little area his cloak had kept reasonably dry, then touched two fingers to the unconscious man’s throat. Or boy’s, depending on how they gauged maturity in this land. Though wearing a soldier’s garb, and some marks of status, his face gave the appearance of one just short of manhood, about seventeen or so. Boy, then. Soldier.
Athdar’s fingers warmed quickly with magic, yet rose only slightly with a pulse. He straightened as much as the cave would let him and backed away from the enchanter, savoring the warmth of magic in his hands despite a twinge of guilt.
Water dripped from his hair onto his forehead, and he pushed his hair aside, shivering, and considered the unconscious boy again.
Cold and wet. Together they might be enough. Especially with his wounds.
The question was, did Athdar care enough to do something about it? It would keep him in these ruthless borderlands longer than he wanted, and he still had his llewod gwerthfawr to care for.
But he soon found his feet carrying him out of the cave into the misting rain and along the cliff side in search of limbs for a fire. He guessed he did care, or at least knew he should. Despite the fact that the boy was an enchanter, and no good ever came from them, not for Athdar’s kind.
A half hour later, just before the sun would disappear over the mountain peaks, Athdar squatted beside a pile of wet limbs in the cave. There were few specimens Athdar would classify as trees in this land of rocks and scraggly shrubs, but he picked up a glorified twig from the pile and braced it upright between his knees.
“You’re going to have to warm us both, you know.”
The enchanter-soldier-boy had started moaning, so Athdar didn’t feel as bad talking to him. And he spoke in the common tongue. The few traders who’d ventured out from his homeland and returned had striven to teach them all they could before the Leaving. He’d picked up more in the few years since his clan’s departure. “I ran out of magic a ways back. And everything’s wet here.”
He wrapped his left hand around the boy’s and cupped his right around the tip of the twig. When his left hand warmed with magic, drawn from the enchanter, he snapped the fingers of his right. The tip of the twig burst with a orange and yellow flame. There was something else in the warmth of the magic—a spell. Perhaps many. With a hiss, Athdar dropped the enchanter’s hand.
Could an unconscious enchanter bespell him? Or was the enchanter himself bespelled? How did spells work on one of Athdar’s kind? Or did it depend on the spell?
But now was not the time for that, whether the enchanter was the bespeller or the bespelled.
Athdar touched his finger to the base of the magical fire, then ran it along the length of the limb, dragging the fire with him. He tossed the blazing limb on the pile and repeated the process until he’d built a respectable fire.
When the enchanter moaned, Athdar twisted around to feel the boy’s face and hands. He could sense magic under the enchanter’s skin but pushed it away instead of calling it. Rather, he focused on his skin’s warmth. The boy had a fever, yet also a chill to his skin. The fire would fix the latter. The herbs Athdar’s mother had shoved into his pack before they were separated might fix the former.
Using a hand on the cave ceiling to gauge how much he could straighten, he picked up a limb to use as a torch and shuffled farther into the low cave. A crevice in the tunnel wall created a nook hidden from the main chamber.
Mewl. Mewl.
A smile twisted Athdar’s lips. Not that the nook would stay hidden for long if anyone used their ears rather than their eyes.
Athdar knelt before two wooden crates. Four sets of golden eyes gleamed up at him. Four pink tongues, rough as only felines’ are, and half as many clawed paws, sought out his fingers. Remembering his patient, Athdar drew his hand back in time to avoid their lick-and-bite greetings. After picking up his pack, he returned to the main chamber.
Working in the dim firelight, he made a poultice from several herbs, then cleaned and rebound the enchanter’s wounds. As he tied off the bandages, his gaze skimmed the unconscious boy. Knife wounds, rope burns, possibly a broken rib. That was only the wounds he could see.
What was he going to do with an injured enchanter? He couldn’t take him into a village and leave him. He didn’t know if he could trust the villagers. They’d likely take care of the boy as one of their own, and a person of status, but Athdar? As a foreigner, they’d tell anyone who asked that they’d seen him.
He touched the boy’s forehead again. Warm with fever. He could feel the warmth of magic ready to answer his summons, but he had no justification for taking it now. Why hadn’t the boy used magic to defend himself?
Would what magic wounds look like on an enchanter or sorcerer? Would they be visible to the eye?
Athdar stilled, memories threatening to crowd into his mind, then shoved the few remaining bandages into the pack and hurried back to the crevice.
“Was that a question, Cumi? You want to know what’s for dinner?” Athdar used the torch to find the two hares he’d snared earlier and not been able to dress yet. “I think you know. You’ve smelled them all evening. Well, come on then. Dinner is served.” He slid the crates’ gates up and backed away as the four llewod gwerthfawr cubs tumbled out. Luath made a leap for the hares in Athdar’s left hand, which he quickly raised out of the way. Dana and Lytse collided on their wobbly legs and toppled over. Coming out last, Cumi stretched, rubbed his boot, then batted at the hares.
“Come on then.” Nodding toward the main chamber, Athdar shuffled back to it, careful not to step on the paws batting at his feet. Cumi let out a meowl as she entered the chamber, her golden eyes fixed on both the fire and the enchanter beyond it. “Good girl, but they’re not for you.” He snatched her up by the scruff as she tried to dart past him. “No, Cumi.”
Settling on the cold rock floor on the other side of the fire from the enchanter, Athdar released Cumi, then tossed the hares to the cubs. Scooting closer to the fire, he held out his hands to warm them, then picked up another limb and called to the magic he’d used to light it. The fire vanished, and Athdar gripped the charcoaled stick like a large pencil and began to draw on the cave floor. Three ravens, wings spread in flight, took shape, slowly, as he glanced up often check on the cubs. Finished with their dinner, Luath and Lytse wrestled with each other. Cumi and Dana had their heads down and rumps up, eyes on the enchanter.
He tossed the stick back into the fire and leaned forward to grab Cumi and Dana. He sat them in front of him, the ravens between them. “Leave him alone, you two. He doesn’t want to play. And I don’t know how his magic would affect you. It’s time to see how much you remember from your training.”
He whistled three short notes, and the cubs lined up across from him and laid down. He passed his hand quickly over the drawings, charcoal smearing onto his fingers as he lightly touched them.
“All right, Miss Lytse, which of these has the enchantment?”
Lytse, petite and cautious, stepped lightly forward, sniffed the first raven, then the second, and sat behind the second. “Good girl.” He rubbed her head, giving her a touch of magic, just enough to make her fur glimmer. She shook her fur out, sending a sparkle of golden light into the chamber, and pranced back to her place. Athdar passed his hand over the ravens again and called Dana, who mimicked his sister. Luath didn’t bother sniffing. He simply sat on the third raven and wouldn’t get up until Athdar shoved him aside in a playful tumble.
As Cumi pranced up to the ravens, Athdar’s lips curved at the corners. She sniffed the first, the second, and finally the third raven, then looked up at him, head cocked. He shrugged. She sniffed each raven back up to the first, then looked up at him again. He stared bank at her expectantly.
Her rump started to slowly lower behind the first raven, her gaze staying on him. Athdar raised an eyebrow at her. She stilled, then growled at him. Chuckling, Athdar gave her a quick scratch behind the ear, then passed his hand over the drawings again. Cumi sniffed them all, glancing up at him from the second one. When he didn’t respond, she moved to the third, and looked between it, the second, and him. One corner of Athdar’s mouth curled up. With a flick of her tail, Cumi turned lengthwise and flopped down to cover both the second and third ravens. Laughing, Athdar picked her up and put her in his lap. “Very good, Cumi. Looks like I can’t trick you, after all.”
He gave her a good belly rub as her siblings played with one another. With a short whistle, he called them back to attention, then laid his hand on the center raven. Whispering, he pulled his fisted hand up. With a deft twist of his wrist, he opened his hand. An ethereal raven darted into the air, swooping over the cubs’ heads. Cumi’s claws dug into Athdar’s legs as she twisted around and scrambled out of his lap to join the others in chasing the illusion.
He watched until they tired, then cleaned up their crates and dinner, and put them to bed. After digging through another pack for his own dinner, he returned to the main chamber, ate a few crackers and some cheese, gave the boy a drink of water, and settled down against the cave wall, grateful for the fire’s warmth on the damp, cool night.
Night … He could scout out a village to dump the enchanter in at night. Someone would take him in. Athdar need not show himself. But he didn’t want to leave cubs alone with the enchanter again. What if he woke? He could hurt them, or they him. Athdar could stay with the enchanter a couple of days, until he began to wake, then leave him some food and go his way. He’d done enough for the enchanter as it was.
Voices warred in his head. The priest proclaiming that all were their neighbors and should be treated as such, the common distrust and frequent hate among his people for both enchanters and sorcerers. The histories telling of the horrors they suffered in the Caffin Wars because of “good” enchanters and evil sorcerers both. They were the reasons his kind had been sent into hiding at the end of the Caffin Wars. Time was forcing the half-magics back into the world, but there were no great heroes to save them now. Only common men and women who would seek to control them and profit by them.
Even magic, like a gold band, wears thin over time, Athdar, his grandfather had told him as his home disappeared behind him. A city walled with magic cannot stay hidden forever. We must leave, clan by clan, before the walls vanish. Now is the time for us to return to the land of men and magic and vanish among its peoples. But we will be no one’s slave this time. No one’s living wand or disposable weapon. No enchanter will know our power, no sorcerer enslave us.

Chapter 2

Eight years ago, beneath the castle fortress of Doromou, Kingdom of Giliosthay

It wasn’t a dream world. Or a real one. Was it possible to be somewhere in between? Ten-year-old Princess Thea raised her candle above her head. But its light revealed no walls or ceiling in the room that felt entirely too big for the space Thea knew it belonged to—a storage closet in the wine cellar.
The floor, a polished marble, was gritty with dust that slipped into her sandals. It suggested that this was a real place, as did the fact that she didn’t readily fall asleep while standing. “Mother?”
“Yes, dear?” Queen Thalassa stood a few feet away, watching her.
“Where are we? It feels too … big.” And not perfectly square or rectangular, or even one-storied. Though how she knew the space had three stories and an extension on one end like a chancel in a church was beyond her.
“What are your senses telling you, Thea?” She detected a faint smile in her mother’s voice. While that pleased her, she would have preferred an explanation, and a row of candles on the walls.
But her mother was a strict teacher. So Thea stilled her thoughts and focused on what her senses were telling her, especially on that peculiar one that made her shoulders hunch because it told her the walls and floor above were wavering and unsteady. “It’s a three-storied building with a porch on one end. It’s not stable.” She caught her mother’s broad waistband, wide and golden, and tugged gently, not caring if she were too old for clinging to skirts. “We should go.”
Her mother only answered with a laugh and a flash of light from her palm.
Chandeliers hanging around the room and sconces on walls flared to a comfortable brilliance, and the wavering feeling ceased. The place was sturdy now, like a bag filled tightly with water. Thea cocked her head at her enchantress mother.
Draping one arm around Thea’s shoulders, her mother pulled her close and gestured to the anomaly around them, a place built of magic. “Welcome to the Realm of Coryrosu, Thea, Realm Walker of Coryrosu. It’s time to begin your lessons.”

Have you ever read and illustrated version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses? What is your favorite retelling, if you are familiar with the story?

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