“When do we get to read it?” is one of the most common questions I’m asked about my writing. Last week I shared some of my flash fiction with you, but this week I’m sharing something closer to my heart: the first chapter of my current project.
Daughter of Sorcery is a young adult fantasy novel with fairy tales vibes about a sorcerer’s daughter trying to escape from magic and also save the hapless prince who gets caught up in her father’s schemes.
I’m currently working on the fourth draft, so this first chapter has been through several revisions. I hope you enjoy it! 🙂
Daughter of Sorcery
The view from up here is gorgeous. As long as I don’t glance down. Then I can see the grisly spectacle of my father’s obsidian fence, complete with spikes and rotting heads. Quite pleasant. Even though I know the heads are fake—simply a magical illusion to scare away intruders—I still don’t like looking at them. They’re too realistic.
So I keep my gaze high. The tree I’ve climbed is one of the tallest, so I can see all the way across the forest of glass trees to the forest of living green pines. And way off to the west, the towers of the castle in Voriss jut fiercely above the tree line.
The sky turns pink and orange as the sun sinks lower. During the day the forest sparkles, but at sunset it turns into a veritable rainbow of twinkling light. Yet my gaze is still drawn to the castle, where blue flags wave and the fading light turns the tower windows into dark pits.
I hug the thin trunk of my glass tree with a longing sigh. What do they see from those towers? Do they glimpse the sparkling trees to the east and wonder what magical sights lie in these lands? Or are they simply afraid of the sorcerer who dwells here?
I glance behind me, through the trees, at the sprawling mansion my father calls home. At the gardens to the south, buzzing with magic, and the forlorn stables to the north. In the distance, snow-capped mountains rear their mighty heads. I grimace and turn back to watch the setting sun and the far-off castle, wishing I could be there instead.
My brother always said being a sorcerer’s child was even better than being royalty. We could have whatever we wanted without the responsibility of ruling. But he ran away last year, so I guess even the sorcerer’s life wasn’t enough for him.
It’s not enough for me either. Or rather, it’s not right for me. Magic is . . . tricky. It can make life so simple and so complicated at the same time. Sure, my brilliant father used it to make a garden that takes care of itself, but even that isn’t as nice as it sounds.
- Tomato grows.
- Enchanted garden detects tomato is ripe.
- Magic fingers pick ripe tomato and deliver it to storage place in kitchen. (Various fruits and vegetables floating through the air at whatever hour of the day or night is a particularly strange sight.)
- Every hundredth tomato (or whatever number, I don’t know) is saved for seeds.
All that seems nice, but what if the storage is full? What if we don’t eat all the tomatoes in time, and they start to rot? What if birds eat all the tomatoes before they’re ripe?
Every time some complication crops up, the whole system breaks. Small problems lead to big problems, all of which Father fixes with magic, of course. And the cycle begins again.
But the magic is eating his soul.
I can see it now. He’s so different from when I was young. He used to be excitable and full of joy. He used to go swimming in the lake with my brother and me, galloping our horses to get there. He used to pick Mother’s favorite flowers and put them in vases around the house to make her smile. He used to converse pleasantly with the servants and thank them for their work.
Now . . . well, the house is still full of flowers, but Father doesn’t put them there. There’s an enchantment for that. And he’s gotten rid of most of the servants. Who needs servants when you have magic?
He certainly doesn’t have time for swimming or horse rides any longer. The last time he did was well over a year ago, before Luke ran away. That’s when I finally admitted the changes were something serious. The anger. The dull eyes. Never having time for anything but his work.
I suspected it was the magic. The stories always say magic comes at a cost. So I did some research. I stole some books and notes from his workshop and discovered the truth. Magic consumes self. Who you are at your core.
It’s turning my father into a husk. That’s what they call it when everything you are has been consumed by magic. He’s not fully a husk yet. I can tell because he still gets angry. Other emotions seem to have disappeared, but anger is still there. Soon even that will be gone, and he’ll be left with no energy, no desires, no anything. He’ll sit down one day and never get up again.
And I hate him for it.
It’s nearly dark now, I realize. The sun has slipped below the horizon while my mind is elsewhere. The glass forest still glimmers with the fading light. It’s bright enough to see as I climb down, stepping quickly from branch to branch with sure feet. I climb this tree often to watch the sunset, so I know the best path to take. The branches, encased with their magic glass, are rigid beneath my feet. I have no fear of them breaking, no matter how thin they look.
When I drop to the dirt, I remove my special gloves and shoes and exchange them for plain boots from my satchel. The glass trees are slippery, so Father made me magical climbing gear, but I don’t want it to wear out. He would make me another set, but I refuse to ask him to do magic for me anymore.
As I start the long trek home, I lament the necessity of walking so much. Luke and I used to ride our horses everywhere. It’s both faster and more enjoyable. But I don’t ride anymore. It’s weird to ride a horse that might be an enchanted human.
On the other hand, the slower pace lets me enjoy my freedom for just a little bit longer. Mother will complain if I arrive home too much after dark, but I’ll risk her displeasure for a few more minutes of the natural light of dusk and the tranquil hush of the glass forest. At home it’s all cold blue light from light stones and the constant faint buzz of magical contraptions.
When my dragging feet finally bring me to the edge of the forest, I head south until I reach a dirt path, lined on one side with a simple wooden fence. This is the speediest replacement for a horse. I tap the top of the nearest fence post three times and step back.
A couple minutes later, a large, flat cobblestone zips through the air and lands next to the post. I step onto the stone, tap the post three more times, and then swipe my hand in the direction of the house. An invisible barrier rises from the edges of the stone to enclose me, and I lean back against the nothingness just before the travel stone takes off.
As fields zip past, I eye the path ahead nervously. As convenient as my father’s travel stones are, they have their limitations. They come when summoned, go in the direction indicated, and return to a designated resting place. That’s it. The enclosing barrier was a necessary addition to prevent a rider from falling off immediately, but my father didn’t seem to care when I asked him about avoiding obstacles.
“The barrier I added is strong enough to break through anything. You’ll be safe.”
Umm, not what I asked. I guess you wouldn’t care, but I don’t want to crush even a bird as I’m whizzing past. It doesn’t make me feel better to know that the travel stone won’t stop for anything. In fact, it makes me feel worse.
As soon as I see lights from the house, I brace my hands against the invisible wall in front of me. The travel stone slows abruptly, throwing me forward—another of those quirks that my father doesn’t see fit to fix—then settles next to the last fence post. The wall recedes, and I step off the stone into my mother’s garden. One of them, anyway.
I cringe at Mother’s use of my atrocious full name.
“Is that you, dear?” She emerges from behind an ivy-covered trellis and hurries toward me, arms outstretched elegantly to keep her long sleeves from dragging. “I was about to send your father to look for you! Where have you been? It’s so dark out, and I was so worried.”
“I’m fine, Mother.” As usual. “I was just out at—”
“I don’t know why you can’t spend more time here with me.” She takes my hands in hers and kisses the air next to my cheek. Her broad-brimmed hat is too wide for her to get any closer. “I’ve made such progress on the new shrubs your father got me. You should see them!” Her delicate nose crinkles as she leans back to look at me. “Do you need to go inside and change?”
I give her a tight smile. “No, Mother.” I’m sure my clothes are wrinkled from sitting in the tree, not to mention dirty, sweaty, and all manner of other disagreeable attributes, but I don’t care. She wants me to wear dresses instead of shirts and trousers, and that is not going to happen. Dresses are all well and good for attending court, as my mother did at my age, but I prefer comfort. Besides, it’s impossible to climb a tree in that kind of getup. I’m amazed my mother can garden in her own intricate gown.
She frowns. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I grimace internally at the sharpness of my voice, but we’ve had this conversation a thousand times.
She sighs dramatically. “I used to have a daughter, I think.”
My stomach drops, and I look away. You still do. If only you would stop trying to force her to be something she’s not. I swallow. I know she loves me, in her own shallow way, but comments like that still hurt.
She sighs again. “I just mean—”
“What are you working on?” My voice is falsely bright, but she can’t seem to tell.
“Oh! Would you like to see?” So easily distracted. “I told your father I wasn’t pleased with the automatic pruners, so he made me something special.” She hurries back around the trellis, not even checking to see if I’m following.
I am. With great tolerance.
There’s a short pedestal on the other side of the trellis. On it sits an urn with a wild shrub. It looks like a giant green squirrel with fifty tails, if those tails happened to be covered in leaves instead of fur.
Mother picks up a small pair of shears from the base of the urn. “Watch!” She taps the center of the shears twice with a dainty finger. The shears glow blue and rise to hover above her hand. Then she turns to the squirrel shrub, draws a line across one of its branches, and snaps her fingers. The shears glide smoothly to the spot she indicated and lop off the offending branch. Mother claps her hands and squeals with glee. “Aren’t they wonderful?”
Ah yes. A pair of razor-sharp blades that fly through the air with no discretion and instantly cut through whatever you want. And my father gifted them to my mother. The most careless person I know. Not that I know many people, but I suspect if I knew more, she would still be the most careless person I knew.
“Indeed,” I tell her with a big smile that she can’t tell is fake. “What a handy little tool.” If I don’t show at least some excitement, she’ll keep telling me more to prove how excited I should be.
I leave my mother to her excited pruning and head inside. After stopping by my room to drop off my satchel, I make my way up to the library. My mother doesn’t care about books, so the library is off in the far corner of the third floor. I’m looking forward to having the place to myself.
Except the lights are on.
I find my father in the third row, a frown creasing his forehead as his fingers quickly trace down the page of an old tome.
He doesn’t acknowledge me, but he’s muttering to himself. “Living creatures, but not animals, but maybe enchanted animals? It’s a large area, but that shouldn’t matter.” He flips over several pages, but still doesn’t notice me.
“Father?” I speak louder without moving closer. It’s unwise to sneak up on a sorcerer.
“I’m busy, Sadie.” He doesn’t look up.
I swallow the tightness in my throat and return to the front of the room. Part of me wants to leave, but a larger part of me is determined not to let him drive me away. I plop down into my favorite chair and grab a book from the table.
But the book can’t hold my attention. My jaw begins to hurt, and I make myself unclench it. Anger will do no good. My father isn’t my father anymore, and I shouldn’t let him get to me. But this is my safe place! Why did he have to come here?
My eyes fill with tears, and I brush them away in annoyance. Then I force myself to focus on my book, reading each word aloud in my head to drown out all my other thoughts. I keep reading until Father finally emerges. When he sits down in the chair next to me, I refuse to look up.
“My detector is malfunctioning.” He sounds confused.
I give it thirty seconds, then sigh and close my book. “Which one?”
“The one for the glass forest.” He stares into space, fingers tapping on the arm of the chair.
My eyes widen. “The entire glass forest? Surely you have more than one detector for the entire forest?”
“No.” He frowns. “Why would I need more than one?”
“For when it’s not working correctly?” I almost roll my eyes.
“But it was working just fine.” His fingers tap faster. “What would make it stop?”
Now I roll my eyes. “There are a million options. Why don’t you just make a new one?”
His fingers freeze, and fear flickers in his eyes. “Takes too much magic.”
Ah. Now that’s an issue.
“Besides.” He waves his hand. “I don’t have the time. Someone crossed the river this evening, and I need to find him now.”
I cock my head. “Someone crossed the river?” It’s a wide and wild river, and the only bridge is invisible. Besides, everyone knows the only thing across the river is a dangerous sorcerer, so why would anyone bother to cross it? “They got to the fence and didn’t turn back?” The obsidian fence—the one with the heads—is just past the river. Double deterrent.
“Yes, surprisingly.” Father’s fingers start tapping again. “I mean, I told him to come. And threatened his family if he didn’t show up, but that’s just the usual. I didn’t expect him to comply. I planned to send a curse.”
“Wait, what?” Seriously, Father. If you’re asking for my help—if that’s what you’re doing—you could at least give me all the critical information up front. “Who did you threaten?”
“The youngest prince of Voriss.”
My eyes widen. “Did you go to Voriss? To the castle?” A spike of jealousy twinges in my gut.
But he doesn’t answer my question. Instead, he groans and leans forward to rest his face in his hands. “Agh. I’m such an idiot!” He jumps to his feet. “I can fix it.” He strides off.
Leaving me staring after him in complete bewilderment. “Glad I could help,” I mutter.
I open my book again, but my eyes can’t focus on the words. A Vorissian prince is here!
And he’s probably in danger. My eyes flick down the hallway at Father’s retreating form. What is he planning? Curses? More equine experiments? Whatever it is, it will involve threats and magic. Nothing good can come of it.
In my mind, Voriss is a place of freedom, away from magic and its taint. The idea of a Vorissian prince being here, held captive and in thrall to my father . . . it’s discordant. Wrong.
I jump up, toss the book on the chair, and hurry after my father.
I have to save that prince.