Welcome to the first chapter of a fantasy story I am writing! The skeleton of this story has been bouncing around in my head (and on various sketch notebooks) for years and years now, and I’m finally publishing it in installments here on the blog. The title is still a work in progress, so I may update the title on these posts as they get published. I’ll likely aim to publish a chapter every week or so, though next week I won’t publish a chapter since I’ll be on vacation. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
Raven Grey sat up in bed, stretching her back as she tucked a lock of jet black hair behind her ear. She always wondered if she were named Raven because of the color of her hair, or if it were the gods choosing her looks based on her name. She would never know.
“Raven Jane Grey, if you don’t get your spindly legs down here this moment, we shall be late to town hall!” a woman’s muffled voice cried from downstairs.
Raven rolled her pale green eyes. Aunt Morrigan was always stressing over being late. The moment anything eventful actually happened at a town hall meeting would be the moment Raven would actually start to care about being on time. The lithe teen plopped her bare feet on the cold wooden floor of her attic bedroom, drumming her toes against the dark grain.
Pushing herself off of her bed, Raven pulled her plaid tartan shawl around her thin shoulders in a shiver. Slipping into her one of her simple leather shoes, she opened her bedroom with one hand, using the other hand to finagle on her other shoe, hopping on one leg.
“Y’know, Aunt Morrigan, it’s not nice to yell at your favorite niece!” she yelled down the stairs.
Raven loped down the stairs, pausing at the foot of the landing to take in the scent of honey rolls and bacon wafting from the kitchen. Aunt Morrigan may nag a lot when it came to Raven’s persistent tardiness, but she more than made up for it in her loving cooking.
“Now, now, Raven, I was not ‘yelling’ at you,” Morrigan said, smiling at Raven as she petted her niece’s head. “By the gods, it practically takes the battle cry of an army to wake you from your slumber! I daresay you give Sleeping Beauty a run for her money. At least Sleeping Beauty managed to keep her hair beautiful for Prince Charming while she slept! What did you do last night, invite a flock of titmice to make a nest of your locks?”
Raven rolled her eyes and helped herself to a rasher of bacon and a honey roll. Between hearty bites, she said, “Show me a prince anywhere near Windlesborough, and I’ll brush my hair more.”
The bone china lining the shelf on one wall of the kitchen clinked audibly as a portly mustachioed man lumbered in.
“Well, well, well, isn’t this a sight for weary eyes! The world’s most beautiful bride, and the world’s most beautiful young lady. And both in my home! I am one lucky man, I am.”
This time it was Morrigan who rolled her dark brown eyes, laugh lines creasing her middle-aged face. “Oh Reeves, you still know how to make me blush, even after all these years. Now, if you think that sweet talk like that will get you out of this morning’s town hall meeting, you’ve got another thing coming, ya do! And that ratty old waistcoat will absolutely not do,” she said, wagging her finger at Uncle Reeves.
“Well!” he said with a loud harrumph. “If that isn’t a fine how-do-you-do! Raven, do promise me that when a suitor sweeps you off your feet and takes your hand, that you will accept his love with grace and not harp on the poor man!”
“Yes, Uncle Reeves,” Raven said between bites, not entirely paying attention. She licked the last drop of honey off her finger and got up from the kitchen table to pour herself a cup of tea.
“Now, you two, we absolutely must leave within ten minutes’ time if we are to get good seats at the town hall!”
“Yes, Aunt Morrigan,” said Raven.
“Yes, dear,” Uncle Reeves chimed in.
The 16-year-old with jet black hair and the portly mustachioed man gave each other knowing glances and sighed. For the twelve years that she had lived with her aunt and uncle, Raven had never known her fastidious aunt to be late to anything. Sighing with resignation, she gulped the last sip of tea, put the mismatched teacup back in the cupboard, and resigned herself to a dull morning of small town politics.
High atop a grassy hill on the outskirts of Windlesborough, a hooded figure crouched behind a large tree. Tilting back and forth on his ankles, the man tugged at his hood, pulling it further over his face to fight the blustery wind. Down below, in the main square of the town of Windlesborough, a throng of villagers milled about, making their way to the town hall.
A gust of wind swirled up a flurry of flower petals on the gravel road leading to the town hall. One by one, villagers filed into the town hall. Atop the town hall was a large clock, with hands as long as a man is tall. Two large bells sat in a tower behind the clock. As the longer hand of the clock reached its most upright position, the bells rang out in unison.
It was time.
The cloaked man nodded to himself with a sinister smile. He reached into a hidden pocket inside his cloak and fished out a small vial. Uncorking the vial, he sniffed the swirling green liquid and wrinkled his nose. The hooded figure watched as the last villagers made their way into the town hall. As soon as the giant wooden doors of the town hall shut behind the last villager, the mysterious man cocked back his head, tipped back the vial, and downed the chartreuse liquid in one gulp.
This time tomorrow, Windlesborough would not know what had hit it.
“Good morrow, good morrow!” Mayor Lambert Bramblethorn said, rocking back on his heels and patting his portly belly. “I trust you all are well this fine morning.”
The crowd of villagers murmured sleepy “good morrows” in response to the mayor. Pew after simple wooden pew was lined with well-dressed villagers, all of whom had arrived on time for the monthly town hall session in which Mayor Bramblethorn made pronouncements, and the village elders discussed any necessary orders of business.
Being a village of punctual and exacting citizens, every family always sat in their own unofficially designated seat. The Grey family sat three rows from the very back, right on the edge of the pew lining the aisle down the middle of the hall. Through the corner of her eye, Raven saw Uncle Reeves’ head nodding slightly in impending slumber, then quickly perking up again after a sharp jab from Aunt Morrigan’s bony elbow.
“I should like to begin this morning’s meeting with some exciting news,” said the mayor.
Raven rolled her eyes. I’d like to see what he sees fit to call “exciting,” Raven thought to herself.
“It is with great excitement that I would like to announce that the newest Windlesborough town crier will be none other than Piers Pamplemousse!”
Hushed gasps filled the cavernous hall. Raven swore she heard Aunt Morrigan whisper, “Well I never!” under her breath. While Raven ordinarily found village politics to be boring and silly, even she knew that Mayor Bramblethorn choosing Piers as the new town crier was controversial. Much as Windlesborough’s citizens liked to consider themselves open and accepting, the villagers had never quite accepted poor Piers’s father, a raucous town drunk. Innocent though Piers was, in most of the older villagers’ eyes, he was a miscreant if only by association.
“Settle down, settle down,” Mayer Bramblethorn said, flapping his hands at the pulpit. “Now, let us proceed with officially indoctrinating young Mister Pamplemousse. Piers, if you would be so kind as to join me up here?”
Silence fell over the hall.
“… Piers?” the mayor repeated, met only with more silence.
Just as murmurs of disapproval swept the hall, the giant oak double doors at the rear of the town hall burst open, smacking loudly against the walls. Villagers gasped and turned around, craning their necks to see what rude person had dared be late.
An ominous fog rolling in behind him, Piers Pamplemousse stood stock-still in the town hall doorway. Raven noticed that the boy’s complexion was pale and sallow, his shaggy brown hair windswept and his blue eyes hollow.
“D-d-dragons,” Piers sputtered. “Th-th-they’re back.”
As the town hall broke out in in echo of frenzied cries, Piers Pamplemousse collapsed on the floor.