Methinks we have but one more contestant to post in our contest Once Upon a Time, which required each author to submit to their favorite editor at A Word with You Press (Moi) a prologue, a first chapter if you made the semi-finals, and chapter kedua/dos/du/zwie if you made it to the finals.
Before I post our final finalist, I would like to post a few first and second chapters of those who would like to share their work but are not in our finals.
Mike Casper submitted a prologue, but because I am his editor for this, his first novel, “The Sing-Song Child,” I disqualified him from the competition to win our $250 first prize, even though he offered to split it with me if he won, as did our eventual winner.
Here is the start of an inspiring tale.
The Sing-Song Child
by Mike Casper
~SSC~ Chapter One ~SSC~
The year 1574 Anno Domini
In the sovereign country of Tierary, nestled between France and the Netherlands
Around a washed-out bend in the road came a quickly moving formation of armed riders escorting a horse and carriage. The carriage hit a muddy rut in a particularly rough stretch and lurched to the side. The occupants, a boy and a middle aged woman, were tossed about; the boy bounced hard off the sidewall. The vehicle lurched again, prompting the driver to slow the carriage almost to a crawl and the driver to call back, “Sorry.”
A woman’s voice replied, “Andrew and I are fine, Penn, we’re used to the bumps.” As the passengers steadied themselves, movement out the window drew the boy’s attention to a peasant family collecting the remaining potatoes of the season. A girl his age looked toward the carriage and rubbed away a splotch of dirt from her nose. Barefoot, except for rags tied around her feet and desperately thin, she stood and waved to the boy. Their eyes locked. She felt a flutter in her heart. He smiled and waved back. Her stepfather’s sharp, “Sophie” broke her gaze and she turned away. She drew her threadbare shawl tighter around her shoulders and blew into her hands. In a reedy voice she said out loud to herself, “A carriage and smart looking lad my age, too. Good for him.”
She looked at the Heavens. Fog had coated the landscape much of the day but now, as evening fell, the sky overhead looked like the rough woolen blanket on her straw mattress. She could almost see bedbugs.
Her shoulders sagged a little and a tear trickled down her grimy face. She scratched an itch. “Yet, where’s the fairness, Lord? He gets a carriage and I get potatoes and bugs. Why?” As if in response to her plea, for one spectacular moment the entire bottom of the cloud layer burst forth in a blaze of pink, purple and orange, giving life and color to the land. She smiled to herself, murmured a quiet “thank you” and started digging with her worn hand-me-down potato shovel. It slid underneath a potato then hit something else, something hard and unyielding. The blade of her shovel sheared off and its shaft snapped in two. Frustrated, she squatted and tugged hard at the defiant potato. To her surprise, the tuber shot out of the earth and the girl sat down hard. Red faced, she rubbed her bum and turned towards the boy in the carriage. To her immense relief she could somehow tell he was smiling with her misfortune, not at her. Sophie smiled back then dug in the hole to retrieve the rest of her shovel. She partially unearthed what broke her tool: the tip of a large, smooth white rock.
Alongside the stone was a palm sized shard of reddish pottery and a round disk of grey clay. There was an unusual black line painted on the pottery and, curious, she unearthed the fragments. A well-placed gob of spit rubbed on the pottery exposed the image of a man with a prominent nose reclining on a couch. She glanced over her shoulder at Stepfather, who by now had a tankard of ale in his hand and was sitting in the back of their battered wagon. She again peeked back at him then looked into the hole and moved more dirt. She could see more disks and a larger piece of pottery. She pocketed the shard and one of the disks then filled in the hole. Just then her mother called, “Sophie, that’s enough for one day. Let’s go home.” Sighing, she rose and gathered her potatoes. She missed her daddy. Mother had re-married shortly after his death a year ago, for she had children to protect and feed. Unlike her real father, the new head of the house would become angry if she lingered in the field. Nice to her at first, Stepfather had turned out to be a harsh man, especially when he had been drinking a lot of ale. She had learned to not anger him, and to dodge his efforts to catch her alone. That he might succeed one day made molten bile rise in her throat and revulsion shake her frame. She would have to stay quiet in the shadows till after he went to sleep tonight and then hide in her safe place behind Mother’s spinning wheel, and pray he did not wake up.
As Sophie was walking back to rejoin her family, on a whim she turned around and tossed the broken shaft of her now unusable shovel on the ground close to where she had found the fragments. From across the field a partridge’s raspy call made her smile and she tried to trick the bird to reply with her own call as Daddy had taught her. Success. Another glance at the retreating carriage confirmed the handsome lad was still looking at her. They smiled, her heart leaped again, and then they both turned away.
The carriage crested a rise and the boy looked back at the shrinking figure in the field. In the valley ahead was the high protective wall of their destination, Whittleford town. The carriage picked up speed and after a moment the girl was gone.
The carriage’s other passenger, Crestina, a plump, flaxen-haired nanny leaned forward. “Andrew, pay attention, my boy. You’ve let your blankets fall away and the coverlet is a family heirloom.” She reached down and tucked a woven woolen blanket around the boy’s spindly legs, then added a green, blue, and red embroidered silk coverlet on top. “There, Andrew, as good as new.” She leaned closer and looked at him with a bit of alarm. “Are you feeling okay? Andrew? I know. Shall we sing a song? I haven’t heard you sing for hours.”
Andrew’s face was flushed, his pulse raced and his mouth was dry. He felt stronger and more vital than ever before. As he tried to commit every detail about the peasant girl to memory, he was aware of a great yearning in the pit of his belly. Tears trickled down his cheek as he looked with frustration and disgust at his useless legs. Yet again he begged God to let him skip and jump and run about in the sunlight as a normal boy. A chance, Lord, please, just a tiny hope of being like them.
Just then the leader of the armed men called back, “Whittleford town in sight.”
Andrew and Crestina leaned out their windows; she to see the city ahead but Andrew looking backward for the girl with the dirty face and pretty eyes.
The carriage and entourage passed safely through the high gates of Whittleford. With friendly waves, the armed escorts wheeled their horses away toward the stables. The carriage slowed to an easy pace as it navigated busy cobblestone streets. They passed a small but bustling marketplace where a dozen or so merchants were concluding their business day, hoping for a last minute sale. Dodging traffic and piles of fresh horse dung, a boy about half Andrew’s age carried a covey of quail in a woven wicker basket while leading a fat pig twice his size by a leather leash. The next morning would end badly for the pig, but well for patrons of a local tavern.
Enthralled by the city, Andrew’s attention was brought back upon himself by a strange, hot feeling that started in his lower back, spiraled down his legs, then traveled up his torso. His hands and feet started to tingle. For the first time in his life the toes on his right foot, then his left, responded ever so slightly to his command. The heat spiraled up his neck to the top of his head; his throat burned as if he had eaten a chili pepper. He tried but was unable to utter a sound. Then the feeling faded as suddenly as it had come.
He wiggled a big toe and said a silent, fervent Thank you to God.
The carriage came to a brief stop and Andrew looked out the window toward the city, trying to understand what had happened. He noticed a white dove watching him from its perch on the canvas roof of an adjacent surrey. It cooed twice and, with a flap of its wings, disappeared over the rooftops.
Smiling his lopsided smile, his heart soaring alongside the dove, with great effort he stroked a two-week-old raggedy line of rough blonde hairs sprouting on his upper lip.
Crestina noticed Andrew’s grin and smiled as she smoothed his blanket. She squeezed his hand. “We’re almost there, Andrew. Just a little while longer and we’ll be there.” He squeezed back ever so slightly but she did not notice. In his slow and hesitating speech, he said, “Kesy, ou illse. Ill alk. Omeay.”
Crestina smiled sadly, “Yes, you will walk. Someday.” She kissed his forehead and pointed out his window, “Oh look, Andrew, the city is always so beautiful in the evening.”