Here is chapter 1 of my 10-chapter fantasy novella. The prologue can be found here. Enjoy!
As the sun beat mercilessly down upon me, I broke the dry ground with a long plow, while Andrea scattered seeds into the tilled earth I left behind.
“’Tis a beautiful day for planting,” she sang merrily, her long black hair rippling with the faint breeze.
I rolled my eyes. “’Tis always a beautiful day for planting. How old are you now—nineteen? You’ve been here a whole year longer than I have. Hasn’t five years in this wretched Summer been enough for you?”
Andrea held the seeds several feet above the plowed soil and let them go with a grand gesture of her hand. “Well, nothing’s going to change, so I don’t see why we can’t be cheerful about it.”
“Cheerfulness was for Spring,” I said. “Can’t you see that we’re being treated as the bright fairies were?”
“Yes,” she agreed, “but they were cheerful about it, so we should be, too.”
I didn’t want to argue with her. After all, optimism never hurt anyone, I supposed. But I hadn’t managed to smile in a long time, forever aching to return to Spring, to flee this heat, to see my sister again.
Hollis could be dead by now. The thought was heavy on my mind today, for it was her birthday. I always kept track of the days with marks on the wall in the thatched house I shared with the other young ladies. My sister would be twelve years old today, still two more years away from seeing her again.
“Stop standin’ round, munchkins!” a fairy scoffed with her green wings beating furiously behind her. So different from the shiny fairies of Spring, these Summer pixies were. They were each a different shade of green, and they never had anything pleasant to say.
As I forced the plow through the dirt again and pushed fiercely, the giant wall caught my eye. The wall sat at a distance from civilization, towering above the forest trees that surrounded it, a height far too lofty for even an experienced climber to risk conquering. Made of mud brick, the undefeatable barrier between me and my sister stood eternally daunting me. Not only was its height only reachable by the flying pixies who had brought me here, but it also had strands of hair covering it completely that must have derived from some animal species that the ruthless Summer fairies had defeated long ago. Perhaps the added smoothness was to make the wall even more impossible to climb.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Andrea smiling at me. “Look, Dahlia, there’s a fine man staring at you from across the field.”
I almost looked where she wanted me to, but then I averted my eyes, focusing on the plow in the ground, the only thing that ever made sense to me. “He could be looking at the wall or the field. Or maybe it’s you he’s after.”
“No,” she said, her voice dropping, “he’s most definitely staring at you.”
I scoffed. “And he’s too shy to introduce himself. So what? I’m not going to do anything about it.”
Andrea stepped in front of me so I couldn’t plow the ground, placing her slender brown hand on my shoulder. “If I were as beautiful as you, I would do something about it.”
Her figured blocked me from returning to my work, so I stared back at her, unsmiling. “Like what? I’m not going to get married. I can’t at the risk of having children. I would never want my children to lead a parentless life and then grow up to be slaves.”
Andrea’s mouth hung open, as if I’d just said the most awful thing. “Never getting married, are you? I’m sure you could avoid having children somehow, Dahlia. But what a life that would be without ever finding a strong man to protect you from the Summer fairies, or to comfort you on the hardest days in the fields.” She bit her lip, then exclaimed: “And what a waste of your beauty!”
Her words cut deeper than she knew. Some days Andrea’s tongue brought joy and laughter, but other days, like these, they sunk into me, echoing over and over in my mind. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I only saw a face: two boring brown eyes, one simple nose, and a pair of ordinary pink lips. If I were as beautiful as Andrea claimed I was, wouldn’t I feel it to my very bones?
Besides, I wasn’t wasting anything. I was saving the lives of whatever children I might have had. Saving them from a life of hard labor, hunger, and loss.
Suddenly Andrea rushed back in a flurry to scatter the seeds. Realizing her fears, I began plowing hastily before a watcher fairy noticed our absent-mindedness.
“Hello there, humans and fairies alike!” called out a man, who was much nearer to us now, speaking to Andrea, me, and the other young ladies working nearby.
Andrea glanced at me, so I knew it was the same young man who had been staring at me. I shook my head and scowled at her.
From his dirty attire, the man looked to have come from the mines, a place halfway in Summer and halfway in Autumn. The only place two seasons ever met.
“The fairies ordered me to bring this news to you,” he announced to the twenty or so young ladies and the four green pixies. “There is a great man in town who healed Minerva. He uses no special potion nor any spells… No one knows how he does it, but Minerva’s jumping about as if she never was sick in her life!”
A chorus of gasps followed. Sweet Minerva had been ill with a fever for so long, and she hadn’t been able to work. What frightened us most was that the fairies threatened to dispose of her in Winter if she did not get well soon. There her sick body would surely die from Winter’s harsh snow storms. None of the elderly folk would take care for her, after all. If you did not belong, you did not deserve kindness. That was the second rule of Istagun, the first rule being about staying within the walls.
As soon as the Summer fairies gave their consent, the young ladies, including Andrea, dropped their plows or seeds and made a dash for town. Soon the fairies followed, and I had no choice but to run after them.
When we arrived in the town, a large mob of young Summer humans and cruel green fairies surrounded a man who stood on a platform so he could be seen. As Andrea and I drew closer, we realized that many had filed into a line and were waiting to be healed. At present, a girl named Edna who had only a cold stepped up before the man.
She coughed into her arm before sinking to her knees, bowing before him as if he were some sort of god. “Gesu, please, I’ve had this cold for so long. Will you heal me?”
Why would he waste his time on her when there were so many others waiting, in worse pain than she?
Nevertheless, the man, Gesu, touched her lightly on the shoulder. “Live now, freely.”
Edna smiled in deep gratitude, and then ran off, exclaiming how wonderful this healer was.
The next hour passed, Gesu healing one young person after another. I imagined what his powers could do for the old ones in Winter, or even the middle-aged in Autumn. But that had not been my first thought, my first yearning.
This man could heal Hollis. I was sure of it.
I posed the idea to Andrea, who looked on me with sympathy. “Of course he could, Dahlia. But you know she won’t…”
For once she had no words, and I was glad. She didn’t need to say what we both felt. We had researched the illness Hollis had in the books. We had talked to the healer fairies. Hollis would be lucky if she were alive right now. I pretended that the Spring fairies had hosted a celebration of her birthday today, with bright lights and sweet cakes all around. But Hollis had been sick for five years, if she were even alive right now. According to the books, I shouldn’t expect her to live more than three.
I had grieved for her already, these past few years without her, in the middle of never-ending Summer. But I still imagined, hoped fleetingly. My love had kept her alive, while believing in her existence sustained my own life.
“I have to talk to him,” I mumbled hastily to myself, reaching out, pulling through the crowds toward the platform.
A scrawny fellow was making his way toward Gesu on crutches, and I pushed past the townsfolk till I was second to him in line.
A woman tugged at my arm and hissed, “You cut me!”
And soon the crowd angrily pushed me back, away from my only hope. I was pressed against selfish people, craving healing for themselves alone. Or had I been the selfish one?
Then darkness engulfed me, the pressure of the crowds sent me stumbling to the ground.
I felt a hand pull me up from the cobblestone road. I gripped it, thinking it was Andrea’s, till I realized it was rougher and larger than her slender palm.
“Are you okay?” the miner asked quietly.
I blinked, getting my bearings. I must have fainted for a long time, because the crowds were gone and the streets were empty. The sun was setting in the west, ready to recharge before another day of blazing its wrath.
The miner was as tall and dirty as he had been in the fields, but his tentative smile was enough to urge my weary spirits to invest kindness toward him.
“Are you okay?” he repeated, careful, insistent. His voice was rugged, yet gentle somehow, stirring emotions inside me.
“Yes, I’m quite well now,” I told him quickly. “Thank you.”
The miner looked to be in his early twenties; he was thin and toned, and, I could not help noticing how his thick black hair against his dark skin gave him a striking appearance.
Remembering my vow to myself, I stiffened. “Do you know where my friend Andrea is?”
The miner looked off down the road and squinted. “She went to Minerva’s, with a group of ladies, to celebrate the healing.”
I nodded. She probably hadn’t seen me faint, and I didn’t blame her. Gesu was a hero to so many, and it had only been a single day; he could heal Hollis, too. My sister who was still alive.
Realizing I must look awful after fainting and the hard day’s work, I pulled back locks of my dark curls and straightened myself out. “I must be going. Thank you.”
He smiled a little. “I’m Tarquin. It was nice to meet you.”
“I’m Dahlia,” I said solemnly, “and I never want to get married.”
That gave him a bit of a shock. His eyes widened and he hurried off down the road toward the south, where the miners lived, his feet beating the ground as quickly as the fairies beat their wings.
I smiled in the oncoming darkness. There was no need to worry about another suitor anymore. Not for awhile, anyway.
“Now, Hollis,” I whispered. “Now I am going to save your life.”
(image from Google)