Monday, August 25, 2014

Entry #26: A MAGPIE MIND

97000 words
YA Fantasy


Magpie wings batter fury on the thickened glass. Black. White. Black. White.

“Chase them away, Dumia. Diseased wretches.”

“Not now,” whispers the girl to the birds, sadness leaking from her eyes. She flaps her apron at them, pleads silently with them to go away. She’s more afraid of the midwife than she is of what might happen if the birds aren’t allowed to stay.

“Bloody bad luck,” says the midwife. “Stay there and keep watch.”

“Yes, Cendrine,” Dumia says.

“What was that, Magger?”

“Yes, mistress.”

Dumia is summoned a week later. A tall man dressed all in black, a finely embroidered fox marching proudly across his chest, waits for her at the entrance to the servants’ quarter, where he tells her that his master wishes to speak with her. This has already been cleared with her master, he assures her. Who is his master? she wonders. He seems rather disinclined to talk, so she doesn’t ask.

Bemused, she follows him through the castle courtyards and out the western gate. His master is wealthy, assuming that their destination is somewhere to be found in this grid of broad, sunny boulevards and majestic manses.

It is, but she doesn’t get the chance to admire its gleaming white exterior, the colossal stone arches leading to the glossy mahogany entrance. Instead, the man leads her through a side gate so well hidden amidst the meticulously pruned sweetshrub that she might have missed it entirely without his guidance.

She and her escort are met at the servants’ entrance by a man nearly seven feet tall and bearing a sword larger than she’s ever seen before or ever cares to see again. It could kill someone just by falling over, like as not. Who would need this kind of protection?

Two women wait just inside the door. Cendrine is one; she stands fiddling with the hem of her apron, staring at the floor. Dumia doesn’t recognize the other, but she’s preening, clearly far more comfortable in her surroundings than Cendrine.

“Do you know what this is about?” Cendrine asks as the three of them follow the enormous guard through a maze of heavily paneled halls.

“Haven’t any idea,” says the woman she doesn’t know. “But the boys are doing well, aren’t they? The babes?”

Cendrine nods stiffly. It’s clear that she knows this woman, even if Dumia doesn’t.

“Well then,” the woman continues, “he likely just wants to thank us. Maybe there’s a reward in it.”

“We’ve already been paid.” Cendrine grumbles this so softly that Dumia nearly misses it. What had begun upon receiving the summons as a niggling spot of dread has grown into a quivering mass of fear; this summons is unlikely to mean anything good.

It’s a feeling that isn’t improved by the master of the house forcing them to wait for three hours outside of his study, giving her plenty of time to dwell on it. He’s called Lord Kearn, she learns from the other women. He’s a very powerful man, but what he has to do with any of the three of them Dumia can’t understand, and no one will tell her.

When he finally calls them in, she’s about ready to jump out of her skin, and she nearly does so as his voice breaks the silence of the antechamber, echoing beneath the cavernous ceiling.

“Ladies,” he says without a hint of irony. There’s something strange about the way he sounds, breathy and grating at the same time, but it goes with his gaunt face.

He has only one eye, so dark it’s impossible to say where iris ends and pupil begins. Black, really, black as the dungeon cell in which she was born, black as the sin that spawned her and her lot, as the other servants were so fond of telling her. Clever, they think themselves.

Dumia imagines a gaping hole where his other eye should be, but he wears a patch, so she can’t say for certain how disfigured he is. The patch is as black as his good eye, but it’s the black matte of linen, edged with a lace so fine and frilly it would have seen him beaten to bits if he lived in the Baygate. But he doesn’t; he lives here on the outskirts of the castle grounds, in a manor house so grand it might as well be a castle itself, and here he can get away with such things.

The three women follow him into the study, a room even grander than the one that they’ve spent the last three hours in. It’s so large she has to swivel her head to take it all in, the walls covered in books from floor to ceiling, two stories up. He gestures to three chairs opposite an enormous desk of some dark wood she can’t identify, and they seat themselves, sinking into the rich upholstery.

Then he spends several minutes sorting half the contents of his desk into tidy little piles whilst ignoring them completely. She wants to say something, but she hasn’t the slightest idea what.
“I trust you know why you’re here,” he says after giving them ample time to squirm in their seats. When they all shake their heads, he continues. “Well, last week’s endeavor was a success. A marvelous one, in fact. The prince will be presented to the public in a few days. Recognized as heir to the throne.”

Cendrine and the other woman both nod. They seem to know what he’s referring to. Dumia doesn’t. Her chest clenches.

“You all played a fantastically important role in the events of the past week,” he says, drawing out the big words as if to make certain they understand them. Beside Dumia, Cendrine’s hand twitches, as if she’s fighting the urge to slap the man’s hollow cheek. “We could not have done it without you.”

“Thank you for saying that, m’lord,” says the woman Dumia doesn’t know, interrupting him in her excitement. She’s practically trembling with it. Dumia, on the other hand, has stopped breathing. Cendrine looks to have done the same.

“No, thank you, m’lady.”

A smug little smile creeps across Lord Kearn’s face. That’s when Dumia sees it, the flash in his one eye. A reflection.

She turns just as the knife slides into Cendrine’s back. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the other woman slumping in her chair, the spark already gone from her eyes. Her heart vibrates in her chest, staccato beats thumping so rapidly that one merges into the next. The world blurs and shifts, lilting as she slides down into the upholstery.

“You shouldn’t have moved,” Lord Kearn says to the midwife, watching from behind his desk, amusement in the arch of the eyebrow above his patch. “You’ve just made it harder on yourself.”

“How?” Cendrine croaks. Dumia stares at the woman, still unsure this is happening.

The knife sinks in a second time.

Dumia awakens to Lord Kearn’s skeletal face hovering just inches above her own, causing her heart to leap painfully in her chest. How did she get here? She must have fainted. Why would she… oh.
“Dumia Eskata,” he says.

How does he know her name?

“You’re a maid at the castle. A Magger servant. One of the Soulless. Tolerated because this king of ours forces our tolerance.”


  1. This entry is really great! Third person present tense is quite rare, and this entry has done a fantastic job so far. The plot is also intriguing (especially for a prologue!) and I would love to read on. Best of luck with your writing!

  2. Overall, I think this is nicely written with an exciting ending to the pages. I love the emotion during the murder. Great job!

    The one question I have is about the interaction of people of different social rank in this world. Dumia is of very low social status, and is treated as such by the midwife in the beginning. But later, the three women of vastly different rank are treated the same - waiting the same amount of time in the same place. Hearing the news from the master at the same time. This seems inconsistent, though it's difficult to write/grasp a new world in just 5 pages. Maybe we understand this later.

    Nitpicks - I'd delete "she wonders." Filters distance us from the characters.
    I'd come up with a short, consistent label for the woman Dumia doesn't know. It will tighten your story.

    Gread job! Good luck!


  3. Great turn of events towards the end of the piece, I wouldn't have expected any less than murder from Lord Kearn seeing as he reeked of it from the moment he walked in the door. I particularly enjoyed how you described him, with just enough detail of each of his sinister features for the reader to perfectly imagine not just the look but the aura of a person like him. Even though it's clear from the outset that he means bad business, I particularly enjoyed how the ending wasn't particularly predictable. I was just as shocked and confused as Dumia was standing there and watching everything unfold so nice work with gradually revealing that moment.

    On the suggestion end, I'd possibly recommend clarifying a few moments at the beginning. The significance of the Magpies didn't quite play out as I assumed it would. We open with this image of bird's wings flapping against the glass and the midwife asking Dumia to chase them away, but then we jump to a week later where Lord Kearn appears.

    From my read, I'd certainly say Lord Kearn and his murderous tendencies are the focus of this chapter, and his presence drives the tension along with the readers interest. So while I understand that the presence of the birds seems to hint at a bad omen/bad luck to come, that possibly playing with alternate starting points for this chapter might help strengthen that initial transition.

    Though you've heard this in the other comments, I'd also say that you did a great job with third person present. It read very seamlessly to the point where it wasn't noticeable so well done, it's hard for people to write it subtly. Great work!

  4. I really like the image of the magpies wings beating against the glass, and the alternating black/white black/white.

    I do feel like that first brief scene just ended so abruptly. I want more of it before we cut to what happens next. (Or perhaps as Jenny R suggested above, it should move to later? Not sure).

    Also in that first paragraph that follows - why not provide the dialog directly? "This has already been cleared with her master, he assures her."


    After those two points of a little confusion at the beginning the rest of this excerpt flowed very well. I had no trouble with the third person present, and your descriptions of place and people were excellent. I definitely felt the pace pick up once we were in the room with Kearn.

  5. I enjoyed the concept and the characters here! This is one I would have liked to see the pitch for first. I feel like I'd like to know a tiny bit more about the world in the opening, but my interest really picked up the more I read. Best of luck to you!

  6. Wow, this is aptly named: dark and tense. You set an excellent atmosphere.

    I share Rebecca's question about the social status of the three women: their treatment in the story seems inconsistent. And I was confused about why Dumia was spared death, when the other women involved in the birth were stabbed, but I'm guessing that's where the story goes next. Best of luck with this one!


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