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Author Topic: THE TEMPEST AND THE FIRE - Adult Fantasy (2800 words)  (Read 439 times)
enveniya
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« on: August 25, 2017, 10:01:49 AM »

Hey everyone! This is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and you can find the query for this here. I appreciate any feedback that you can give. Thank you!

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CHAPTER 1

Eris shifted outside the doorway of the hut, unsure if she should enter or leave.

"We can't give you what we don't have," the farmer begged, sitting on his knees.

She ran a hand through her hair. "Mathieu..."

"And we'd give it all, if we had it," he said, his voice barely audible and his figure cast in shadow.

Eris's eyes adjusted to the darkness of the hut, seeing the familiar mud and straw walls of her childhood, the dirt floor, the stone circle of burnt twigs. "I know, but-"

His voice shook. "You don't understand what we're going through."

I know all too well what you're going through.

His thin shape shrank even further as he fell to the floor, and he sank his head into his hands. "Please don't drive us out of our home. We don't have anywhere to go."

Eris knelt down to comfort the crying figure. She patted him, but that made Mathieu unleash more of his unhappiness, and his wailing grew louder.

"I won't collect," she said, knowing that in the end she couldn't do the same thing that was done to her father. The surging thought made her hand reach into the purse strapped around her waist. "Here, take this," she said without thinking, pulling out a leather pouch the size of her palm. It was filled with coin, the leather still stiff and in a bright shade of orange. She collected this one from one of the nobles in the Upper Quarter. "I can't make Rafe stop doing what he does, but..."

His hand bobbed with the weight, and he squeezed the pouch. The sound of coins clinked together. His mouth hung open, and gave way to a tearful smile, his knuckles white from the strength of his grip around the pouch. He grasped at Eris's hand, kissing it. "Thank you, thank you..." he whispered.

Eris drew her hand away, shaking her head. "Hopefully this'll tide you until the next harvest," she said. "If our two kings are willing, may they grant us a plentiful harvest next year."

"The two kings bless you," Mathieu said to her. "I swear upon them that I'll never forget this kindness."

She made her way back through the West gate of the City, her purse significantly lighter than it was supposed to be. The mural of the gate loomed at her as she approached. Unsaddling her horse, she leaned against the gate, her back resting on the carved depiction of the half-man, half-goat Creature. Her stomach churned. She gave away money that wasn't hers, and Victoria was going to hear about it once the bookkeeping didn't add up.

Not eager to return, she stared at the mural. The Creature's eyes drooped, its mouth sagging as its tongue lolled out. It looked towards King Saulos and Ananos, and was on its knees in a sea of blood. The two kings held their palms facing him in a gesture of refusal. King Ananos's face was serene and he held a generous smile, while King Saulos's brow was bent to the point where it cast his eyes in shadow. Behind the monster and the corpses lay a countryside ablaze, while a cluster of tall houses and a Temple that emanated rays of light framed the right side of the door.

She knew this story well. Despite King Saulos and King Ananos granting it food for the first two days, the Creature still terrorized the City and slew her people. On the third day, the Creature's greed only grew, and it pretended to be hungry and begged the two kings for more food. Realizing that the Creature had abused their generosity, the two kings refused.

The disembodied heads and naked corpses on the mural had a better life than hers. They couldn't complain - they were dead, and they didn't have to answer to their sister, like she had to do.

The Temple's offices loomed over her as she made her way back to the barracks, a series of windows and pillars carved into the tall mountains that surrounded the City. Her eye came to rest on the one window where Victoria's triangular silhouette would appear every morning.

Trying to calm the discomfort in her belly, she turned away, walking down the path to the Lower Quarter. I'll figure out the consequences tomorrow. A multitude of shops lined the narrow passageway, slowing the foot traffic to a trickle as she attempted to navigate past and around the baskets laden with spices and dried fish that spilled over into the street. Eris choked in the oil and smoke in the air. She covered her nose with her hand, trying to limit her breathing.

She found the two story hospice that was given a wide berth, molded together with an assortment of wooden planks and slabs of brick. Constance still wasn't back, despite the darkening sky. A bottle of dark brown syrup lay by the counter where Constance's husband would normally greet travelers, but he too was absent. She caught the heavy whiff of thyme and myrrh. Every bed was full; one even had three people crammed into it. The patients were in various states of malaise, one wrapped in linen bandages, while another had curled up on the edge of the bed, vomiting up a green mixture into a chamberpot. A pattern of groans and coughs permeated the air. She picked up the bottle and began the slow trek up the hill to the Upper Quarter, coming home to Victoria's gleaming white and red roofed house, bordered by a marbled residential wall.

"Good evening, my dear," her father greeted her from his chair.

The kerchief that lay on his lap was a lot less bloodied than usual. "Your cough is better today," she said, fetching a pitcher of water.

"I took a stroll about the yard," he said.

"See? Every time you go about walking, you get better. You should do it more often." She placed a cup of warm water on the table next to him, then drew out the bottle from her purse, uncorked it and pressed it into her father's hands. She clasped him as firmly as she could, assisting him as he tipped the contents into his mouth.

"Well," he said, "if there were something more than staring at walls all day, I might."

Eris dabbed at his mouth with a cloth. "You must miss it. It's been a decade to the day we left."

"I do, somewhat bittersweetly," he said, smiling. "It was difficult there, but all the good memories I had were from that place. Life pushes us in odd places, and we learn to make do."

"Stazi and Victoria have, at least," she said, reaching for the cup of water. She placed it under his mouth and he sipped from it.

"You don't like it here?"

"I miss the outdoors," she said, "and I miss the stories that you'd tell me when you pointed out the stars in the sky."

"But we would've been slaves, my sweet," he said, laying his hand on hers. "No amount of stories would have lightened our misery."

"I know," she sighed. "But I still miss it."

He closed his eyes and his breathing slowed, the medicine taking effect. "Maybe we could venture there someday, as a trip."

She looked at the frailness of his hands and the sagging skin around his face. "Of course," she said. She took a woolen blanket and draped it around him, stroking his arm until he fell asleep.

She returned to her room in the attic. Lying on her bed, she unsheathed her dagger from her boot - a stiletto twice her hand length, with a brass guard and pommel, an ash handle wrapped with snake leather. She twirled it between her fingers, staring at the ceiling.

She imagined the forest, even larger and taller than the one from her childhood, and revisited the crack in the mountain, where the rectangular and pointed shadow hovered beyond. On some nights when the restlessness of the day pervaded her dreams, she would walk through the crack. Sometimes it would be a vast sky, dotted with millions of stars above her. She would lay in an open meadow, surrounded by sunflowers and rose bushes. The bushes would prick her, but she welcomed it, the pain reminding her she was still alive. Tonight, she pretended the black silhouette in the distance was an ancient shipwreck caught in a storm, washed ashore. She climbed through the wreckage, the water-soaked wood groaning under her feet. Diaries stashed in drawers begged to be read, and the jaws of treasure chests hung open, glutted with treasure. The mist from the tide splashed on her face, and she hung from the broken stern, shouting vague seafaring terms into the air as she pretended to be a pirate commanding her ship.

How she wished she knew what that shadow was. The bile of resentment rose in her throat, and she clenched her teeth together, swallowing the thought. Her father made the right decision. Only her curiosity was to blame.
She was getting no sleep tonight. Dragging her feet out of the bed, she reached for the leather chestpiece sitting on her dresser. She rarely liked walking around without it, even if it was cumbersome. The symbol of the Eternal Tree stitched into the chestpiece made her groan. Victoria. Her feeble swipe to grab it toppled the armor to the floor.

Her legs readily folded and she knelt to pick it up. There was no more strength left in her to stand, and she decided, groaning loudly, to dress in that position. She crawled to where her boots lay and strapped them on whilst lying on one side, then flopped back to the floor and counted the number of wood panels that covered the roof. When she reached the twenty-second panel, she squeezed her eyes shut, knowing she couldn't stay in this position forever.

"Eris?" Constance's soft voice drifted through the villa. The door to her attic bedroom creaked open, and her freckle-faced sister eyed Eris lying on the floor. "What are you doing?"

"Nothing."

Constance chortled behind her hand. "I can see that. Father looks well."

"It's been at least a month since you last visited."

"It's been three days."

"A month, Stazi," Eris repeated, not moving from the floor.

Constance knelt next to Eris's prone figure, running a hand through her sister's hair. "Sorry for stopping by so late. I'm only free when the patients are asleep."

She wanted to tell Constance about her failure to collect, but details of the wood paneling were far more interesting than thinking about today. "I thought I'd get used to it after two years of being in the guard. I feel like I'm constantly fighting against people who I'm supposed to be listening to."

"The two kings have your path in mind. It takes time for you to see where it goes."

Eris rubbed her brow, unsurprised at her response. "Just the idea of having to stand guard in one place for another day again sickens me."

Constance smiled, bearing the slight crease around her eyes that showed her age. "So, some action then, before the lull. Tomorrow morning, a duel."

Eris's eyes widened. "Do you have the time?"

"I can spare a few minutes, especially for one that looks as down as you are. Besides, I have to meet Victoria in the morning-"

"You're involved in City politics? That's new."

Constance lowered her head, tickling Eris's face with loose locks of hair. "A topic for another time. It's dull business, nothing you ought to worry about." She clapped her hands on Eris's shoulders. "Tomorrow we will make you feel better."

***

For the third time that morning, Eris pressed her weapon into Constance's neck.

Constance shoulders slumped, but nevertheless still beamed with positivity. "You've been practicing, I see," she said, her voice showing none of the exhaustion in Eris's own breath. Constance held a blunted rapier, a slim and elegant sword that matched her tendency to attack quickly at a distance.

Erin grinned, tossing her blunted dagger from hand to hand. "Three-three was the score? A tiebreaker, then. This time, I might actually beat you." Her hands shook, her breath racing to catch up with the tenseness of her limbs. She loved the sweetness of the exhilaration in her body, and all she wanted to do was run. All the senses in her body were alight at once, a swirl of burning energy within her, ready to overflow. She bent her knees, preparing herself to sprint.

The two towering statues of Alexandros and Gaios, kings to the city before King Saulos and King Ananos, flanked the sparring ground, saluting the rising sun. Constance straightened her sword-bearing arm, tilting her wrist. She moved into position and leaned on her back foot. "Ready when you are."

Eris moved to flank her sister, but feinted, choosing to run towards her instead. She swung forward, but Constance in one swift move parried her sword aside. Their blades locked at the hilt.

"I still don't understand why you're in the hospice when you're so good at this," Eris said, disengaging and hopping back.

Constance let her guard down to shrug. "There's more meaning in giving life to others than taking them."

Eris huffed, advancing towards her sister with a series of short swings with her weapon. How fortunate for her. Constance was a physician - a damned good one, according to her husband - and yet she sparred almost as well as any of the men here when she found the time to do so. Her lack of regular practice didn't make her as swift or sharp as she could have been, but she seemed content.

Constance deflected the blows, leaping to the side. Eris's momentum carried her forwards, and Constance spun around, pointing her rapier at Eris's throat. Eris gritted her teeth, hopped backwards and responded with a swing to her left. The swing was slow, too slow, and Constance swept her foot out from under her.

Eris threw her arms to the ground, her knees sheared with dust and skin. Constance's blade rested on the corner of her neck once again.

"Damn the two kings," Eris laughed, reeling from the euphoria of the fight.

The slightest trace of a frown appeared on Constance's otherwise smiling face. "The two kings mean well. Try not to speak ill of them."

Eris tampered the mild annoyance at her sister's zealousness. "All right, all right."

"And you need to go to the Temple more often. You and Victoria both."

"I do, Stazi, but there's so many people, I can't breathe when I'm in there."

"The one in the hospice, then."

"I'll do that this evening."

Constance released her sword on Eris, stepping back to bow. "I know I nag too much, but give thanks to them, and they can see the good we've done. I hope they see the good I've done."

"Stazi, you'd rescue even an ant if it was caught in a house on fire," Eris said, raising an eyebrow, "you don't need kings-turned-gods to validate your actions."

"Ah, but what if it's my belief in them that makes me good?"

"You mean that you'd start murdering people in the streets if not for your faith? Then I know less about you than I previously thought," Eris said, dusting herself off.

Constance laughed. "No, perhaps not to such extremes, but I think everyone faces their own temptations to do bad things. That's why the Creature swayed so many so easily."

Eris decided to play along, humoring her sister. "So let's say if the Creature came back today, all roar and spittle, and wanted to tempt you into becoming evil with him, what would it say?"

Constance's smile faded as she looked at the statues in the distance.

Eris hurried to correct her offense. "Sorry, I didn't mean to say that it'll come back-"

"Do you remember the times when I used to cry before I went to bed every night?" Constance asked, ignoring Eris's apology.

Eris squinted in her direction, trying to remember. A faint outline of a figure was heading towards them. "The times when Victoria sang lullabies to you so you could go to sleep."

"I used to think the failed harvests were my fault."

Eris frowned at the back of Constance's head. "Weather's usually the cause, not fourteen year old girls."

A bloodied apron and hands smeared with red sharpened into view. The figure shouted Constance's name across the sparring ground before he bent over to catch his breath. "Sivas sent me," he panted, cupping his hands over his mouth. "We need you urgently."

"We'll talk about this some other time," Constance said to Eris, sheathing the rapier and returning it to its place.

Eris watched until Constance's figure disappeared down the hills of the City, and then she returned the blunted dagger to the rack. Above her, Victoria's white and maroon dress appeared in the window of the administrative offices that abutted the Temple. Even from the distance where she stood, Eris could see the thinned lips and upturned nose in Victoria's features.

All the happiness she savored during the duel vanished. Victoria knew.
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JBeachum
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« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2017, 11:22:58 PM »

Lovely.
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Repped by Marisa Corvisiero of the Corvisiero Literary Agency
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