Did you like the post yesterday about the Introduction to the Untitled Novel I’m working on? I hope so, because today I’m posting chapter 1 to follow up with it.
I like the idea of titling the chapters. I like the idea of calling the Introduction Before the After, But After the Before. N0 clue what I will call Chapter 1 other than Chapter 1.
By the time I’d finished scrubbing the stone floor of the kitchen it was already well past 9 o’clock in the evening and dinner had already been served to the students and most of the rest of the staff. My stomach growled with hunger and I went to the pantry to gather something to eat. In a small cauldron I ladled heaping spoonfuls of the leftover chicken stew and smiled. Chef always made the best chicken stew and it made scrubbing his floors every week worth it. On my tray I add a loaf of fresh bread and a large hunk of sharp cheese. Strapping a flagon of cider over my shoulder, I grabbed two spoons and headed out the door to the library.
I heard the boots of the Elder Apprentices before I saw them turn the corner. I searched the stretch of empty hall for a place to conceal myself while they passed. However, the only thing in the hallway was the steadily growing sound of boots colliding heavily with cobblestones. The walls of the school were sturdy from the days of castles and enhanced by one of the Great Mother’s enchantments to keep sounds in the rooms from which they originate. This causes the sounds to bounce back into the rooms, or in this case, the hallway, amplifying their volume.
The dark grey robes of the boys in their last year of study at the academy flowed ahead and I groaned inwardly when I realized it was Sadie Robbins and his partner in crime, Jeremiah Blankenship. They both had advanced in the Majiks classes quickly, but through the general classes very slowly. This resulted in them having a lot of power but no sense to go with it. I stopped and placed my back to the wall, holding tightly to the tray in my hands until my fingers hurt. As they drew closer I bowed my head as was customary.
Staring at the dark green of my surcoat which identified me as a high-level servant of the Academy, I began reciting my multiplication tables to keep my focus off the two boys drawing nearer. “Well lookie here, Jeremiah, it’s little Maurice with his dinner.” They had come to a stop in front of him. Though I had already shown respect, I kept my head down, tracing the gold stitching at the bottom of my surcoat with my eyes.
“Wow, that sure is a lot of food for little Maurice.” Jeremiah’s deep voice chuckled dumbly, “Maybe we should help him eat it, eh Sadie?” Jeremiah’s thin fingers reached out for the loaf of bread and I gripped the tray of food tighter.
“Hello, Gentlemen,” my mother’s voice rang out behind us. “How are we doing this fine evening?” She gently floated over to us and landed back on the ground with a soft puff.
“Very well, Madame Hiamond.” Sadie said, bowing his head. There was a pause and my mother huffed slightly. Tilting his head gently to his compatriot, Sadie elbowed Jerimiah in the chest.
“Oi!” grunted Jerimiah, “What-“his error suddenly dawned on him and his eyes widened and in his haste to make up for the disrespect he showed my mother, a senior member of the teaching staff at The Academy, he bowed so low and so quickly that his head slammed into my tray sending the entirety of its contents into the air. My mother rolled her eyes and held her hand palm up and the flying food. Before I could register my shock at the tray’s demise the tray and food suddenly froze midair.
“We would certainly hate to make Maurice’s job any more difficult by giving him another mess of yours to clean up, now wouldn’t we?” My mother stared pointedly at the two boys and without unlocking her gaze she gently flipped her wrist and the tray and its contents righted themselves and returned neatly to my hands.
“N-n-no Ma’am.” Jerimiah stammered. My mother’s class was the only Majiks class he had received poor marks in. “We was just tellin’ your boy how much he needed the extra food to fatten him up a bit. He is a bit small for his age.” Sadie sighed and shook his head at his rather dumb friend.
“Well, thank you, but I assure you his health is nothing you need to worry about.” My mother’s tone was lethal.
“It’s not like we was losing sleep about it-“Jerimiah suddenly turned sheepish. Power began emanating from my mother. Her eyes turned a dark green, her aura shuddered, and there was literally electricity cracking through her long blonde hair. Often the students here forgot that my mother is so powerful with majiks because she chose to teach the Domestic Survival Courses, but before teaching she had been in the Legion. Her power was legend.
Even today, when I would ask about it she would just laugh and say, “When we are young, we assume the greatest majik is the most powerful, but that is not so. The greatest majik is the most challenging, and the two are rarely the same.”
Sadie grabbed Jerimiah, “Yes, Ma’am, you’re absolutely right. We’ll just head to Master Sloan’s classroom to continue studying Divination.” Dragging Jerimiah by the sleeve and not turning back.
“Yes,” added my mother without turning to watch them leave, “I have heard you’ve been having difficulty with the Honors Majiks.” She simply turned to me as if nothing had happened and smiled. The electricity faded and her eyes returned to the light green she and I shared. Something more akin to the color of sea foam than the muddy emerald green that appeared when her anger stirred up the Majik.
“I could have handled that.” I snapped.
“I have no doubt,” my mother’s calm voice lingered in the air like a sweet perfume. “I was merely passing through to see how your day was going. I know how long Mondays are because you must scrub the kitchen after your courses.” She settled down onto the ground beside me and touched my shoulder. “It is a mother’s right to worry.” Her gentle fingers were warm against my skin as she tucked one of my curls behind my ear.
“I’m not skinny either.” I said, still angry that I’d been forbidden to even speak to Sadie and Jerimiah after the last bout we’d had left Sadie with a bloody lip before his Apprentice portrait. His mother had called for me to be banished from the grounds, but Great Mother forbade it and simply deemed that I was no longer to acknowledge him as I could not control my temper. Since then staff members had always been near when a confrontation arose. No doubt it was Great Mother’s doing.
“I would never say such a thing.” My mother said, floating again to kiss my head. “Send Clarenda my love.” She said nodding at the two bowls and spoons on my tray and ignoring my obvious eye roll. “I will see you tonight in chambers.” And with that she floated down the hallway.
Thoughts of my mother filled my mind as I continued my walk to the practice rooms in the back of the library. How could a woman so powerful give birth to a son with no Majik at all? If it weren’t for the obvious physical traits I inherited, I would wonder if she were really my mother.
She’d been so powerful in the Legions that she still was unable to tell me exactly what she did for The Marsters. All I know about that time in her life was why she left. “Love.” She would say as if that were a definitive answer. “Between you and your father, I was so filled with love I would no longer continue down that path.” Whenever I press for more information, she would shrug and say something non-committal about not really needing more of a reason than that.
I would often blame my father for my lack of power, but my mother would suck her teeth at me, “Power is not always what we assume it to be.” She would say. She rarely spoke of my father. I assumed something terrible had happened to him in the war with the tribes. My mother’s voice always cracked when she would speak of him. But, sometimes she would tell me of his dark hair which fell in curls around his face. That was when I stopped keeping my hair clipped close to my head as was the current fashion. I didn’t have much of a link to my father, but I knew he was tall and lean, like myself, and had shaggy curls.
He was High Military and wasn’t supposed to love my mother. But, is anyone ever really supposed to fall in love? My mother left the military when I was conceived and around the same time moved out to The Academy. “Sometimes,” she would say in answer to why she was no longer with my father, “Love is so strong it cannot be contained. Most people do not like strength without control.” When it came to love and power, my mother was annoyingly profound.
As the large wooden doors to the library flung open, the must of aged papers rushed over me. I breathed in the familiar and comfortable smell and a sigh escaped me. Stepping forward I smiled. “New texts have arrived!” The tiny librarian shouted at me, popping up from behind her desk with so much enthusiasm she nearly toppled backwards. Her short pink hair was standing on end and framed the tanned skin of her cheeks. She bounced over to me with a stack of new books for me to review. I smiled and set the tray down on one of the nearby shelves. “I thought you might like first crack at them.” She handed the stack to me and her hand delicately brushed around my wrist.
“Thank you,” I said as I began reviewing the titles, “it looks as though you have something in your eyes, Marcie,” I said while her eyelashes continued to flutter aimlessly.
“Oh,” I could hear her voice drop an octave as I pulled two books from the stack, “It must be all the dust. I’ve done a lot of organizing today.”
Smiling, I handed the remaining books back to her, I said, “that must be it.” Marcie was brilliant. She had enrolled in the non-Majiks program at the Academy with me when we were children. She had advanced so quickly Great Mother offered her the position of Librarian when Mr. Winthers retired last year.
Glancing at the texts I had selected, “Animals of the Great North,” She pointed at the dark blue book, “I read that one this morning.” The book was 3 inches thick, “it’s fascinating. Though, personally, I could do without all the anatomical explanations.”
I stared at her slack jawed and opened the book. “Marcie, there are over twelve hundred pages in this text, and you read it already?” She flushed slightly and nodded. I always took pride in my intelligence; I may not have Majik but I was bright. Marcie, however, always innocently eclipsed me. There was a slight POP and thick orange smoke billowed out from under the far practice room door. A grin seeped across my face and I placed my books on the dinner tray. “Thanks for the books, Marcie, I appreciate it!” I said over my shoulder as I headed back to Clarenda’s room.
This particular practice room was referred to as Clarenda’s room by pretty much everyone at The Academy because it was the only one she was allowed to use any more. It had been reinforced with charms by the teachers and Great Mother herself to keep Clarenda from destroying it. The school’s Advisors had become annoyed with paying for repairs to the rooms and had set a strict budget. In order to stay within the budget, they limited Clarenda to this one room in the back corner.
The thick wooden door shimmered with the charms that had been set upon it to protect it from any number of things, namely fire. Heavy though it was, it opened silently and I stepped into the room without making a sound. Though her back was to me and she was on hands and knees bent over four open texts on the floor, Clarenda said, “Why is your aura so dark?”
“Hello, Carenda, it’s nice to see you too. I’m doing well despite the long day. Thank you for asking.” I shot at her, setting the tray on the desk and sitting in the heavy duty chair in the corner. The scent of Majik filled the room with the smoky sweet scent that always lingered on Clarenda mixed with the orchid scent of her skin and hair. It was the most comforting scent I had ever experienced.
“And what did you do to Marcie? All of a sudden her obnoxiously pink aura that fills this entire place went out and dimmed to a dull orange.” She still hadn’t turned from her books.
“Nothing!” I said thinking over my conversation with her, “She gave me some new books.” I held them up to the back of her head.
“Hnmh” she murmured, sitting up on her haunches, “What exactly did you say?” she asked with her back still to me.
“Well,” I thought hard, “besides saying thank you, I pointed out she had something in her eye.” Clarenda’s head dropped, “What?” I asked, confused. “Her eyes were blinking all crazy, she said it was the dust.”
Clarenda turned to me and stared with open mouthed incredulities. “You’re an idiot.” She said, finally standing to join me at the desk. The room was small and had the same grey stones as the rest of The Academy, so she crossed it with a few short steps. There were scorch marks in one corner and the looking glass on the far wall was beginning to crack at the edges.
“Not according to my test scores,” I placed the books behind my back to keep them safe, “I brought some stew.” I indicated to the cauldron with my spoon. Clarenda took it in both hands, closed her eyes and whispered something incomprehensible. The cauldron instantly glowed red and the stew began to bubble and steam. “Thanks.” I said, ladling stew into our bowls.
Clarenda broke the bread and took a piece of the cheese. Gnawing on the end of the bread she sighed and said, “You’re welcome. It’s about the only thing I can do.” She was down on herself. “Today, Madeline said I should be a fortune teller at one of the traveling fairs in the tribes since the only things I can do are set fires and read auras. Maybe she’s right.” There was a sadness in her voice.
“Don’t listen to Madeline.” I said, “She may be your roommate, but that doesn’t mean she knows anything about you. She’s just a wicked twit.” I added handing her a bowl. She smiled, though I could tell she didn’t really mean it. She reached out to take the bowl of stew I offered. Her fingers brushed mine and I shivered from the coldness of her touch. For someone so adept at setting things on fire, her skin was always cold to the touch. Even in the heat of summer her skin remained cool and pale as though even the sun could not penetrate her.
We ate in silence for a while. Our mothers had been friends here at The Academy of Majiks as children, so my mother always took a personal interest in Clarenda, often acting as a second mother. We had been inseparable since we were three. She helped me through coping with not having powers and I’ve been helping her cope with having too many. There has always been a solid bond between us, and I could tell something was more wrong than just some snarky comment by Madeline.
“Are you going to tell me what’s really bugging you?” I asked. Her eyes rolled and she took a large spoonful of stew into her mouth and chewed slowly and pensively, her pale cheeks bulging. The all too familiar tingle on my neck just behind my ear lobes began pinching sharp pain and try as I might I flinched. As soon as my eyes closed dozens of images washed over me, Clarenda was yelling at her mother, holding a piece of paper, a letter, it was burned and dirty and she waved it in her mother’s face like evidence of a crime. The room was bright crimson and there was movements in my peripheral vision, but as usual I could not turn my head to see my surroundings. A blinding flash of green lit up my mind and suddenly there was a boy. My age, but larger, with dark hair and freckles. His clothing was unfamiliar and he spoke with an odd accent. I’ve never seen him before but through his confusion he smiled at me like we were old friends.
As the boy began to fade I felt a sharp sting across my cheek and opened one eye to see Clarenda leaning over me, her hand raised ready to strike me again. Throwing my arms up to shield my face, “Oi! I’m fine, I’m FINE” I shouted just as her hand began swinging toward me again.
Stopping her hand midair she rolled away from me gasping. “What-“her eyes were wide with fear, “was that?” she spat the words at me as if they were choking her.
I’d never before seen Clarenda react to anything like that. She usually was up for anything. Always ready. But, this, clearly scared her. I, of course, had never seen the way I looked when I had what my mother and I referred to as “events” but I knew they weren’t pretty by my mother’s concerned eyes and demands that I tell no one, even Clarenda, that they happened to me.
“I, I – I don’t really know,” I stammered, looking around and realizing I had fallen out of the chair and onto the hard floor. My right elbow hurt. Inspecting my arm I saw a large scrape that was just beginning to redden and swell on my forearm. “I just blacked out, I guess.” I lied to my best friend, the girl of my dreams. Her face softened and she moved closer to me. The warm scent of Majik washed over me and I smiled. The motion made my cheeks hurt. “Just how many times did you slap me?” I asked, rising from the floor and stroking my face where a welt was clearly forming.
“You were on the floor, shaking, saying weird words that I’ve never heard before. Your voice. It was all deep and scratchy” She walked up to me and placed the cool of her hand on my cheek. I leaned into the cool softness of her touch and closed my eyes, reveling in the rare moment of physical connection. “Has this happened before?” She asked, removing her hand and righting the chairs.
“Twice.” I confessed. “My mother had me examined in The City, but nothing was found to be wrong, and they happened so infrequently, there wasn’t much else we could do, so, I’ve been dealing with them.” As I spoke she led me back to my chair and I drank as though I had been in the heat of the sun all summer. She stared at me and I began to feel uneasy. It’s not good to see things in your head. It scared me that even my mother didn’t know what they were or why they happened to me, but these events seemed to be more powerful each time they occurred. “Please stop staring at me.” I said to Clarenda, turning back to my stew. It had gotten cold, but it didn’t matter now. I was eating more for the distraction from Clarenda’s intense gray stare.
“I’m just worried about you,” she said, standing in her defensive posture, hands on hip hair flipped back with a sharp wave of her head.
“Yeah, well, don’t.” I snapped. Wit becomes me.
“Fine, she said, grabbing a book from the floor. “I’ve got to work on this summoning enchantment for this week anyhow.” Sitting cross-legged on the floor she put the book on her lap, held out her arms, closed her eyes and said, “Arok nek durloc.” And waited. Nothing. She tried again. Again, nothing.
After about an hour she’d managed to generate a puff of glittery light, but nothing more. Still, she pressed on. Repeating “Arok nek durloc” until it created a soft rhythmic chant. Sitting back in my chair and exhausted from a long day and the entertainment I provided during dinner.
The thick smell of Majik surrounded me and my dreams took me away. We were in a meadow, Clarenda and I. She laughed and spun us around, finally having mastered the levitation spell. We spun and spun a foot above the long grass that was growing tall in the warm spring weather. I looked at Clarenda and she smiled. “I love you, Maurice,” she whispered in my ear and I held her closer. Nose to nose, we smiled and I leaned in to finally kiss her when a blinding flash of green light sent my dream tumbling down to earth. I jumped with a start thinking I was having another event. Forcing my eyes open, I stared in wonder at the scene unfolding before me as if in slow motion.
There, before me, Clarenda was standing radiating energy, from her hair, through to her fingertips and down through her toes. Her eyes a dark plum like midnight on winter’s solstice. The air buzzed with Majik and a green light pulsed somewhere in the corner. I couldn’t see exactly what was going on, my view obscured with Clarenda’s form, but the light suddenly extinguished and Clarenda’s arms fell to her side and the lightning dissipated. Whipping around to me, her hair cracked with the remaining static. “Did it work?” she asked, looking around the small room.
In the corner, I saw something move and froze in place. Clarenda followed my gaze and a gasp escaped her lips as she stumbled back into me. “I’d say it worked, yeah.” I spluttered. There, in the corner looking a bit stunned and confused stood a boy with dark hair and freckles.