And So It Begins!

In late 2014 I started working with Marie-Hélène Fasquel an American International Literature teacher at Lycée International Nelson Mandela in Nantes, France. We started working together, and I eventually met her class in a series of Skype interviews.

I’m the first to admit I’ve neglected posting updates about our project here on authorericprice.com, but if you’re interested in reading about it, Mrs. Fasquel has kept an accurate record of it in a bulletin board format on Padlet. Though I’d ask you not to look too closely at the posts mentioning “Chapter 3” because we’re going to take a closer look at them here over the next couple weeks. For more information about Mrs. Fasquel and what she does, check out her blog.

Let me explain what has happened. For one of their projects, the students broke into groups and, after reading Chapters One and Two from my first book, Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, wrote their own versions of what they thought would happen in Chapter Three. What I’d like you to do is come back here each day while I share a different student version of Chapter Three. Once they’ve all had a chance to shine, I’ll give you a chance to vote for your favorite version(s).

So you don’t have to jump in on Chapter Three and try to figure out what’s happening, I’ll share Chapter One as today’s post, Chapter Two tomorrow, and we’ll get to the student projects on Thursday, September 3. I’ll leave voting open for about a week, and while we wait for the results, I’ll post the actual Chapter Three from the book.

I haven’t decided exactly what the top vote earning students will win, but at the very least some copies of Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud will go to the winners (and maybe some voters and commenters, so comment throughout). Let’s get started. Here’s Chapter One.

****

Chapter One
The Festival

The late afternoon sun glared in the young warrior’s eyes. Squinting, he could only see his opponent’s outline. His ever tightening leg muscles cried for a reprieve with each step, yet he continued to circle, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. After a long day of sword dueling with little downtime between rounds, Owen’s whole body screamed for a rest. But he wanted nothing more in the world, at this precise moment, than to win the championship bout.

His opponent must also be tired. They had each fought four previous matches, and every contestant entered in the tournament presented a worthy challenge. Edward, Shield of the King—the commander of the King’s Sentry, the strongest army in all of Wittatun—received continual praise for his skill with a blade. Owen, having already defeated two Sentrymen earlier in the day, hoped to beat one more. But to overcome the King’s Shield would require more skill than besting a Sentryman of lesser rank.

The fighters continued to circle one another. Sunlight gleamed off Edward’s brilliant metal chest plate and helm. Now facing the westering sun, the Shield of the King squinted. The younger fighter saw his opportunity and sprung. He feigned a slash toward the commander’s shield hand. When Edward raised his shield and braced for impact, Owen redoubled his assault.

He spun and sliced his blade at his opponent’s neck. The loud clang of steel on steel resonated throughout the courtyard as Edward raised his sword to parry. The vibration transmitted up Owen’s arm, but he finished his compound attack by kicking the Sentryman in the chest plate. The judge blew a whistle to signify the landing of the first blow in the best-of-three veney.

The experienced warrior wasted no time mounting his counterattack by gaining the measure and reestablishing just distance. He made several quick jabs at Owen’s head and chest, which the defender parried away with ease and countered with a testing jab. Edward sidestepped, moved back in line, and raised his sword to the en garde position. The younger fighter noticed Edward’s shield drop ever so slightly. The tiny gap in defense may provide the opening needed to finish him.

Owen lunged. He recognized the move as a mistake, but his forward motion could not be stopped. The tip of Edward’s sword slid between the hinge where the chest plate met the shoulder guard and dug into muscle. Sharp pain shot through his left shoulder, and he barely heard the judge blow the whistle through the anguish. Edward had lowered his shield as an invitation for a strike. When the younger fighter took the offering, the elder’s stop-thrust found the only weak point of the armor.

Owen, large for his age, still stood six inches shorter than the Shield, whose muscular forearms resembled Owen’s thighs. The chainmail armor on his forearm, form fitting on most soldiers, clung tight to Edward. His muscles rippled as he pushed the sword tip a little deeper into the meat. A stream of blood trickled down the blade and dripped to the ground.

Edward sneered. Red drops splattered the trampled grass. “I wish we fought to first-blood. I hope the king doesn’t put me to death for injuring his son.”

“You don’t need to worry about my father,” Owen said between breaths, “you’re fighting me. Besides, I’ve been hurt worse training with the defense master.”

“Time to finish it.”

Owen should have stepped out to remove the blade from his shoulder, but that would have made him vulnerable to an attack as his opponent still held tight to the sword handle. Instead he cast aside his shield, seized the other blade with his gauntlet, and spun away from his opponent. Thereby, he pulled the hilt free, but also made the point dig deeper into his own shoulder.

Owen removed the weapon to a bittersweet mixture of agony and ecstasy. He flipped it, snatched the hilt, and spun back to face his opponent. He unleashed a barrage of slashes and thrusts with both hands. Weaponless, Edward could only try to hold off the attacks with his shield. Owen swept his leg to trip his opponent. The instant Edward jumped, Owen sprang up, driving his uninjured shoulder into the commander’s chest. Edward crashed to the ground, and the whistle blew twice to signify the end of the match.

Owen put the point of one sword to Edward’s neck as a symbolic coup de grâce to the mock battle. The spectators, compacted into the grandstands, erupted with approval.

“It’s good this isn’t a battle to the death,” Owen teased, “or my father would have to replace the commander of his army. Of course, he may anyway, since you can’t even defeat someone half your age and size.”

Edward gave Owen an appraising glance. “You have fought well. The defense master speaks highly of your skill with a blade. Seems I was wrong to doubt his touting. Let’s take a look at your wound.”

Owen’s face flushed hot over the mistake. How could he fall for an obvious ruse?

He removed his helm, and his dark, wavy hair, matted with sweat, fell into his eyes. He blinked hard to stop the sting. The cool, early evening breeze refreshed his tired body. He helped Edward regain his footing, and together they removed Owen’s shoulder guard. Blood covered most of his upper arm and chest, but the flow had slowed to a trickle. The healer rushed to the men with a bucket of water and some bandage wrappings. With the congealing blood washed away, the cut, about the length of Owen’s thumb, looked clean and straight.

“Don’t move your arm, Master Owen,” the healer said. “When you move, the cut gapes open and tears. You’ll need to change this wrapping daily. I don’t think it needs stitches, but if it is still bleeding tomorrow, find me or another healer to get it stitched. It will be sore for several days.”

The healer finished the bandaging. Edward made his goodbyes and returned to his duties with the King’s Sentry. As the crowd dispersed, the two people Owen most wanted to see approached from the east. King Kendrick walked tall, with his curly hair and waist length cape blowing behind him in the breeze. Following him, Owen’s best friend, Yara, a commoner about his age, kept pace at a subservient distance. She always kept her brown hair tied back in a ponytail that fell about halfway down her back. With her steps, it bounced from one shoulder blade to the other. Her slender, emerald green dress hung to her ankles, and she raised the skirt slightly to keep the hem off the ground.

Yara demonstrated unnecessary subservience. King Kendrick was not the kind of leader to mind her walking next to him as an equal. She had lived most of her life at Innes Castle until her family moved to Innes Village three years ago. But Owen knew she believed in the importance of certain societal customs, and showing the utmost respect to the king of the Central Domain topped the list.

“Congratulations, Owen!” King Kendrick said. “What a tournament. You defeated a street fighter, a wizard apprentice, and three members of the King’s Sentry, including the King’s Shield.”

“Thank you.” Owen’s chest puffed up with pride. “I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I would have been disappointed had I lost. I work very hard at my battle techniques. The defense master told me I’m the most dedicated student he has ever taught, and he taught everyone on the King’s Sentry, including Edward.”

“He also taught me,” his father added. “I’m proud of you, son. And I’m especially thrilled since I held the tournament in honor of your fifteenth birthday. However, I must bid you ado. Mansfield has returned from his voyage to the west, and he is presenting his findings to the council soon.”

Explorers from the neighboring Western Domain had discovered a new continent far across the Ocean. The king had sent his best scout to investigate the native people: to learn about their culture, to find out if they had technology to traverse the ocean, and most importantly, to discover if they were friends, or enemies.

He addressed Yara. “Will you and your family be able to attend the feast this evening?”

“No,” Yara said. “We are receiving this year’s supplies of metal today. Father said I could either have the day or evening off, but not both. I chose the day because I wanted to make sure Owen didn’t do anything extreme in the tournament.” She stole a glance at his bandaged shoulder. “Besides, I’m just not that comfortable at fancy banquets at the castle, nor are Father and Mother. They do send their gratitude for the invitation.”

“Good evening, then.” King Kendrick looked at his son. “Don’t be late for the feast. You know I have something very special planned.”

“Yes, Father.” Owen frowned when Kendrick turned away, suspecting the feast would bring an unwanted announcement.

When Kendrick was out of earshot, Yara asked, “What is that scowl about?”

“The same thing I’ve been telling you for the past year. I know what his surprise is. He’s going to name me heir to the throne.”

“Well, you are his only son. Who else is he going to name as his heir?”

“I’m not his legitimate son,” Owen explained yet again. Kendrick had never married his mother, as the Law of the Land prevented royalty from marrying commoners. When the king started seeing Queen Andrea from the Northern Domain, part of him hoped they would get married, so his father could name her son, Weylin, his heir. “I’d much rather fight on the King’s Sentry than rule the land from a throne.”

“Sometimes you have to accept your place in life,” Yara said. “I’d like nothing more than to join the King’s Sentry myself, but they have that silly old law about no women joining the Sentry. That’s why you need to be king. You can overturn some of these laws.”

Owen snorted. “So much for accepting your place in life.”

Yara smiled.

Owen finally gave in and returned the grin. “I guess you’re right. I could be the daughter of a weaponsmith and only inherit a hot pile of coal. Instead I’m the bastard son of a king and get to inherit the throne.”

Yara’s grin grew even wider, and she punched him in his uninjured arm. “Exactly! I have to run. Father will be wondering what’s taking so long. And I think I can hear a pile of coal calling me.”

He watched as she raced across the courtyard toward the village. Her ponytail earned its name by looking like the tail of a trotting pony while she ran, and her dress flared out behind her. While growing up together, they had learned from the same tutors, and she knew him better than anyone.

He walked back to the castle to change into his formalwear in preparation for the dreaded feast. He spent as much time as possible with Yara and wished she could attend the feast. Having her there wouldn’t change the king’s announcement, but it would help to lessen the sting of being named heir. Though right now, he was glad for a moment of solitude to collect his thoughts.

An uncommon amount of people jammed the corridors of Innes Castle, and many stopped Owen to congratulate him on his championship victory and his birthday. That prevented him the time he needed for thinking, but it helped keep his mind from the surprise his father had planned. According to the Law of the Land, an illegitimate child could be claimed as an heir anytime on or after the child’s fifteenth birthday.

Rounding the corner into a hall that opened to the courtyard of the Keep, he saw someone he tried to avoid at all costs: the king’s magician, Cedric. The man’s thick, black beard with streaks of gray stretched almost to his waist. His black robe had white specks throughout. Is that the color of the material, or filth? He had the hood of his robe lowered to his shoulders, and a nest of unkempt, black and gray hair encircled his head like a wreath. Owen couldn’t even hide in the throng as the once crowded corridor seemed empty all of a sudden. He pretended to study the stained-glass windows lining the hall. Each frame depicted a famous battle from the glorious history of the Central Domain.

“Good birthday, Master Owen,” Cedric said. “And congratulations on your victory. I watched the final bout. I hope that wound isn’t too deep.” Cedric reached out and touched Owen’s shoulder.

Owen spun and threw the magician up against a post. He paid no heed to his injury, throbbing since the sword pierced him, now hurting no more than a slight ache.

“Keep your filthy hands off me, sorcerer! What are you even doing in this corridor?”

“I came looking for you. I thought I should heal your wound.”

Owen gave the magician another shove before releasing his hold on him. “I don’t need any of your kind of healing. You’ve done enough for my family. I don’t even know why Father permits you around. At the very least, he should have put you out on the street like the dog you are.”

Not waiting for a response, he hurried down the hall, across the courtyard, and up the stairs to his room.

Filthy mage. I can’t believe he would even offer me his help.

He rotated his arm and realized, with surprise, the pain had quieted to a dull throb. He threw his shoulder guards on a shelf, ripped off his chest plate, and peeled off the bandages. The open wound, still bleeding when he left the courtyard, looked almost healed.

“That monster healed me without even asking my permission!” he shouted at his reflection in the mirror. He would inform the king, but his father would tell him he was acting ridiculous. He wished Yara was coming to dinner. She would understand. She hated magic and magic users as much as he did. Owen couldn’t decide what made him angrier: the mistake he had made, which had caused the injury, or that fool Cedric healing him with magic.

By the time he recovered his temper, all but the peak of the sun had fallen below the horizon, creating shadows all over his room. He lit a few candles and polished his armor and sword before putting them away, but it took him longer than normal. He couldn’t stay focused on the task at hand. His mind jumped from the surprise, which he knew meant the king claiming his birthright, to his foolishness during battle, to Cedric and his unwanted magic. The last thought made his mind go deeper down a path he refused to tread, not when he had a formal dinner engagement to attend. He gave up and shelved the armor. It had an acceptable shine, but it fell well short of the meticulous effort he usually exerted on such tasks.

He changed into his formalwear and made his way to the dining hall, guests already crowded the length of the expansive table. Joyous, noisy chatter seemed to make the walls and ceiling swell. He eased around clusters of people toward his seat at the right hand of the king’s empty chair. From a distance, he realized the disgusting magician had chosen the seat next to his. At least he combed his hair. But he forgot about that little detail when he realized someone unexpected sat to the left of the king’s chair. Her long black hair flowed midway down her back, and her elegant, icy blue gown seemed to reflect every light in the room.

“Queen Andrea, I had no idea you were coming!” Owen exclaimed when he reached his seat. He kissed her hand in a warm greeting. Could Queen Andrea be the surprise? Had he been fretting for no reason all along? He noticed the young man sitting across the table from her. “And Weylin! How are you?”

Weylin stared absently at the table, making no indication he heard his name.

“Weylin,” Queen Andrea said, “Owen spoke to you. Please answer him.”

He raised his head and made half an effort to smile. “Hi, Owen.” Then he returned his gaze to the table.

“I’m sorry,” the queen said. “We just arrived, and he hasn’t had a chance to adjust. He doesn’t travel well, and the Northern Straits were particularly rough. More than a day has passed since our ship made landfall on the northern shore of the Central Domain, but as you can see, he just isn’t himself.”

“That’s all right,” Owen said.

“I didn’t know we were coming, for sure, until a few days ago, so I asked your father to keep it secret.” She lowered her voice so it barely rose over the din of the dining room. “We had a bit of an uprising of sinister magic users in the Northern Domain. I think they may have even had ties to the Wizards, but I don’t know for sure.”

Owen trusted Queen Andrea as an ally against magic, as her husband, King Leopold, died at the hands of Wizards. He wondered whether Cedric overheard their discussion in the noisy hall, and if he would consider it a much-needed warning, but he looked to be engaged in conversation with the same sorcerer’s apprentice Owen had defeated in battle earlier, so he probably didn’t hear them at all.

Fighting the young sorcerer proved very interesting. The tournament rules forbade the use of magic, but the apprentice demonstrated remarkable agility and showed great skill wielding a staff. Owen suspected he had cheated and used magic to increase the speed of his attacks, given how close the match had ended up.

“Well, I’m glad you’re here,” Owen said. “You too, Weylin. I hope you feel better soon.”

Weylin lifted his head and nodded.

Musicians crowded in the hall through the great doors, lined the walls, and prepared to play as an accompaniment to the meal. Two trumpeters stationed themselves on either side of the doors.

Kitchen attendants scurried around the table, making last minute preparations, filling drinks, and taking any special requests for food. One attendant placed a large loaf of bread in front of King Kendrick’s chair, blocking Owen’s view of Queen Andrea. She slid the loaf out of the way.

“Congratulations on your birthday,” she said. “And I hear you won the tournament.”

“Thank you. I fought well.” He thought of his wounded shoulder and threw a distasteful glance at Cedric. “But not as well as I could have.”

“Your father tells me he has a huge surprise to announce. Do you think—”

Before she could finish, the two trumpeters on either side of the dining hall’s great doors sounded their horns to signify the king’s arrival. All attendants arose. The doors swung open, and King Kendrick, dressed in a light green suit of clothes, entered. On his chest, the embroidered dark-green dragon, the king’s family crest, seemed to project into the room. Four stewards followed behind the king, keeping his long cape from dragging on the ground.

The brightest star of the night shone through a window behind the king as he entered, despite the brightness of the room. It looked like the eye of an unknown beast peering into the dining hall.

Standing at his chair, the king commanded everyone to take their seats. The ruckus subsided, and King Kendrick began reciting his speech.

“Ladies and gentlemen of Wittatun, I thank you all for coming. Most of you come from the Central Domain, but I know some of you have traveled from faraway lands. We even have a special guest in attendance from the Northern Domain. Please join me in welcoming Queen Andrea.”

Everyone clapped and cheered as Andrea half rose and bowed her head.

“This is a special day. I’m a busy man, but I am not a fool. And I’m not deaf. I know there has been enough gossip about my surprise announcement by the hoarse voices of many members of the quilting guilds.”

Everyone knew most of the older ladies from Innes Village met once a month for quilting guild, but no one knew if they actually quilted or just stirred up local gossip.

“Well, it’s time I put the tongue wagging to a rest, at least for a while. I never married Beatrix. I’m sure you are all familiar with the Law of the Land, so I will not bore you with the details of why. But she was a wife to me in every way except legally. Her death three years ago created a void in my life that can never be completely filled.”

Owen felt his face grow warm with a mixture of remorse and anger. He scooted away from Cedric as much as he could at the crammed table.

“It’s time,” the king continued, “I move on from the loss and expand my family to fill as much of the void as possible.”

.He’s going to claim my birthright, making me his son and rightful heir to the throne. The inevitable moment he had dreaded since before his mother’s death. But nothing he could do would change his father’s mind. Hadn’t he tried everything? He scooted his chair back from the table to better enable himself to stand when his father claimed his birthright, making him, Owen, his legal son and true heir to the throne of the Central Domain.

King Kendrick stretched out his left hand. “I have asked Queen Andrea to marry me, and she has accepted.”

Owen’s mouth hung open. A surprise announcement indeed!

****

Continue the journey here! (All links go live at midnight Central Standard Time on the date in parentheses.)

Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud: Chapter Two (September 2)

Student Versions of Chapter Three

Group 1 (September 3)
Group 2 (September 4)
Group 3 (September 5)
Group 4 (September 6)
Group 5 (September 7)
Group 6 (September 8)
Group 7 (September 9)
Group 8 (September 10)
Group 9 (September 11)
Group 10 (September 12)
Group 11 (September 13)
Group 12 (September 14)
Group 13 (September 15)
Group 14 (September 16)
Group 15 (September 17)

 

Let the voting begin! (September 18)

Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud: Chapter Three (September 20)

Voting Closes and Winners Announced! (September 25)

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2 responses to “And So It Begins!

  1. Pingback: ALL IS FAIR IN LOVERS’ WAR now on Lightning Quick Reads | Eric Price

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