Today Spelled is being released. YAY. To celebrate I thought I would write up a quick alternate beginning chapter from Prince Kato’s perspective.
** Warning: This chapter contains minor spoilers and is best enjoyed after reading at least the first 6 chapters of Spelled.**
“Rule #3: To win the hand of a maiden fair, one must be well groomed of attire, charming of manner, perform actions of dashing, and always be most complimentary to the lady. Lie if you have to.”
–Definitive Fairytale Survival Guide for Him
“My Lord, Kato. Sire. Your frostacularness. If you have but a moment…”
“I will have far more moments if you would get on with it, Bobbledandrophous. What is it?” I paused ratcheting the cinch on the horse’s saddle long enough to look over my shoulder—and way up. The chief advisor, while beloved, was both a figurative and literal pain in my neck since he was by far the most towering of all my beastly Chimera subjects.
Bobbledandrophous shuffled his gargantuan feline paws and chewed on the tip of his left wing.
With a groan I brushed a wave of wayward dark reddish hair out of my eyes so that my glare might hold more weight. “If you have counsel, by all means give it. But I will not be swayed from this journey. Both you and I know that I must bring the girl here. Whatever it takes.”
“Why yes. Yes, the council agreed on this point. It’s just…”
“Just what?” My voice pitched low and coarse like rumbling rocks.
“If this girl is truly the Fire Priestess…”
“For Libraria’s sake, she will be,” I insisted. A fine layer of frost spread on the ground around my cracked basilisk-hide boots, the ice magic flowing through me betrayed the worry I refused to voice.
“Ah, yes, but…” Bobbledandrophous shivered and dropped his head to the ground, stirring up a miniature dust and petal storm amongst the petite daisies. “Surely you can’t mean to greet our deliverer wearing that?”
“And why not? There are no holes in my tunic.” I’d sewn up the last of them myself just that morning. “And my leather breeches are best suited for the hard day and a half ride to Emerald.” True. They were a bit worn, but that was to be expected since they used to my father’s.
“But it’s not proper! Here.” Bobbledandraphous wriggled and squirmed until he created enough space that the tip of his dragonesque tail could sneak around him. One of the spikes held something atrocious—the silk and linen monstrosity of a suit that green witch had left behind as an offering of good will. The outfit she said I should wear when I came calling, but surely she had been making a jest at my expense. “Could you not tamp down your pride to mere embers and at least take it with you. She was most insistent.”
“No. And I thought I put that in the burn pile.” The suit had more frills and shiny bits than my mother had worn when she was alive.
“Ah, yes. You did.” My chief council coughed to hide what looked like a smile. “But this note appeared.”
As if on cue, a charred bit of scroll floated out from under Bobbledandrophous. It danced and twirled toward me, despite the absence of wind—smudged with ash but the scrawl still legible.
I Scorch-Proofed your suit so it could make it to the ball in one piece. You’re welcome because you’ll thank me later –Verte
“I don’t have time for whatever game she thinks she’s playing. If the White One’s prison goes dark, the rest of Story will not be far behind.” Crumpling the piece of paper, I cursed that Emerald sorceress and the dozen other oracles that had come before her. All claiming to know how to keep the fires from going out. A dozen wild goose chases later, they had all turned out to be liars. Yet I had no choice but to resume the chase at the green skinned witch’s invitation. Not wanting to delay any more, I grasped the reins and pulled myself astride my mount in one fluid movement while giving him the cue to gallop off.
I could hear my retainer calling after me, his voice fading the farther away I got. “My Lord. You forgot-“
“No I didn’t,” I said to myself and shuddered. Humiliation of looking like an overgrown blumerrang bird aside, what matter did clothes have in ensuring the safety of realm. With my eye on the spiral towers of the Emerald palace, I rode hard and fast.
“In a fortnight, you must go to the Emerald palace. Not a moment before. Not a moment after,” Verte had said.
When I asked why she replied, “Because that’s when you’ll be able to find our princess and see her great worth. She has the strength to be the hero we all need.” The witch trailed off with something that sounded quite like I hope…
For the love of Grimm, just this once.
Because I didn’t know how much longer I could hope to rule a crumbling kingdom without becoming buried in the rubble.
The outer battalion gates to the palace appeared unguarded, yet I felt like I was pulling ten trolls weight behind me as I forced my horse through.
Something other than men stood vigil over the entrance.
Whatever protection spell had been laid around the Emerald city was invisible to the eye, but magic always leaves a trace. If not by sight, then by smell and my nose detected the scent of burning bread. Both comforting and warning at the same time.
I made it to the other side of the enchantment with a pop, relieved to be free of the crushing pressure. A young girl with silver spun hair stood on the outside looking in, her pale hand held up, her face pinched with longing. And then she looked at me, like someone who could see water just on the other side of the desert.
I shook my head to clear it and spurred my mount forward to the palace’s stables. If she was on the outside there was likely a good reason for it to be so. In Fairytale, if you only looked with your eyes, you didn’t live to look very much longer.
Once I walked inside the palace walls, I severely hoped that principle held true. Every facet of Emerald was adorned with something gaudy and shiny which seemed to serve no purpose at all. Servants dressed as well as kings bustled about carrying more garnishments to hang here and there. Luxury and frippery as far as the eye could see. What kind of hero could possibly be born from such softness?
I strode through the palace’s marble halls, searching for why I was here in the first place. Verte’s black hat towered above the chaos, so I wound my way through the fleet of servants to the grand ballroom.
She cackled high and off key, patting my shoulder like we were old battle comrades. “Oh good, you done made it after all.”
“But for what is the question.”
“Why to woo our Princess at the Muse Day ball. You did bring it didn’t you?” Verte bobbed her head around my body searching for something that I clearly didn’t have in my empty hands. The pat turned to a solid whack upside my temple. “You ninny. You had one job. One job. And that was not to show up dressed like this! I’ll have you know that little bit of Glinda high fashion cost me my best staff.”
“Who cares?” I rubbed the side of my head.
“You will in about—“ Verte’s warning was interrupted with a loud roar that shook the floating globed chandeliers. “Pixie pus. It’s starting already. Well, good luck.” She looked me up and down before scurrying away like her broom was on fire. “You’re gonna need it.”
While I was pondering exactly what that meant, I spied a woman watching me. Intently. She was older, dressed simply, but elegantly. Far too old to be a maiden, I suspected. But I was not here for anything as useless as romance, despite what Verte said.
Walking toward me, the lady’s movement and the way she carried herself screamed her authority before she uttered a word.
The promised hero.
“You are not from here I suspect,” she said, her eyes narrowing. Unlike the witch, she didn’t look at my travel worn clothing, but stared hard into my eyes.
“I am Prince Kato, the next in line to become the King of Beasts.” It took a good deal of effort to meet that gaze and not turn away. My efforts were rewarded with a slight nod of acknowledgement. As one might give to an equal. “And you would be the Princess of Emerald.”
Her calm expression cracked for a moment when a brief trill of laughter escaped. “Once perhaps. But now that honor belongs to my daughter.” A high pitch wail stopped her from saying more. She rubbed the middle of her forehead and excused herself before storming off in the direction of the commotion.
“Dorthea Gayle Emerald! Do not take a single step outside that door.” The queen’s stern warning made my blood chill, impressive since I was part ice elemental.
I followed—at a safe and respectable distance—and found a place to observe with the gathering crowd. Servants and guests alike chattered amongst themselves as the Queen reprimanded a noble lady who had apparently misbehaved. The girl was stunning, her lips in particular seemed to be painted with rubies. A breathing work of art. Unfortunately, those delicate lips were ruined by pouting while she whined like a petulant child.
The girl put her delicate hands together and pleaded with the queen. “Please please please please. I’ll do anything you want if you let me outside for just a little while.”
“Who is that?” I asked, grabbing the nearest servant trying to watch without being noticed.
“Best steer clear of that one. That be the cursed princess. She’ll burn ya to cinders just fer looking at her.” Too stunned, I let go without asking any follow up questions.
That was the Emerald Princess. The hero strong enough to save all of Libraria. The fire priestess my people had been waiting centuries for? The girl was throwing a tantrum because for some reason she was not allowed out to play.
There was no way this girl could help. Taking her to the Chimeras would only be a burden. The witch had lied to me. We were all doomed.
In my anger and despair, I could feel my control of the ice slip. Frost crystals formed on the green and gold stained glass windows.
Verte mouthed something from across the room and I could hear her voice in my ear as if she was standing right beside me. “I am never wrong.”
I watched the rest of the argument, searching Princess Dorthea for a hint, a glimmer of the strength and regalness her mother possessed. If it was there, it remained well hidden under mounds of jewels and silk.
So intent on finding the answer to the puzzle the witch posed, I didn’t realize the crowd had left. And that the princess was glaring at me with her little nose crinkled in disdain. “If you’re the new gardener, the hedges are overgrown and in need of a trim.” She pointed in the direction of the courtyard where a man moped about with a small net. “While you’re there, you can help the king with the wisps.”
Not used to be spoken to without respect, I didn’t move. If I had, I might have frozen her lovely curls in place.
She stamped her foot and pointed more forcefully. “Off with you. Courtyard’s that way. Be sure to clean those awful boots before coming back in.”
The deeper I looked the more shallow this girl seemed. This had been a colossal waste of time. Just another golden goose chase. The disappointment was almost more than I could bear. “Someone told me I’d find a princess of great worth here. One with the strength to be the hero this realm needs.” I spun around and strode away, but frustrated, I couldn’t help tossing a final insult at my disappointment. “It appears she was mistaken.”
Though I continued on without catching her reaction, the satisfaction of putting her in her place did lighten my mood from frostbite to blizzard. Normally I was above such things, but something about Princess Dorthea…
The witch’s whisper still tickled my ear.
I’m never wrong.