As regular readers are probably aware, I'm not writing a new story this month - I'm NaNoEdMo-ing. That is, editing my WIP: Kingstone. It seems to be going well.
Here, for your amusement, are the first 1000 words of Kingstone, a fantasy adventure novel for 9-12 year olds, third draft.
King Bertrann’s ship slid past Indigon’s famous purple-grey cliffs, far enough out to avoid the deadly rocks jumbled at their base, yet near enough for those on deck to make out the black holes of the mine entrances pockmarking them.
A bubble of happiness swelled inside Katia’s chest at the sight. Home at last, after six months that had felt like a lifetime. Thank the gods she hadn’t had to wait the full two years to return, unlike those she’d left behind at the Academy. No wonder they’d made things so uncomfortable for her after the announcement.
Mind you, no-one had been more surprised than Katia herself, when she was told she’d be part of the king’s entourage for this unexpected and hastily arranged trip; she wasn’t exactly top of any classes and there were plenty of other novices who deserved the honour much more than she did.
But – and this was the important thing to remember – you didn’t say no to the king’s priest when she picked you for something. Not if you wanted to get on in the temple. And more than anything else, Katia wanted to get on…
Tiny lights twinkled high up on the cliffs, lighting the wooden walkways which connected the separate indigolite caverns. Somewhere up there, Katia’s Da and brother Ned would be nearing the end of their ten hour shift, having worked hard to earn their money.
A pang of guilt stabbed at Katia but she squashed it quickly. It wouldn’t be wasted effort on their part, not if she tried really hard–
“It looks as though the rock is sparkling.”
“Gods!” Katia yelped, and with more haste than care made the greeting to the woman who’d appeared noiselessly at her side.
Right hand, circle for the sun. Left, a crescent round the circle for the moon. Now fingertips of both hands together: mountain.
The woman sighed. “Left for sun, right for moon, Katia. Like the symbol.”
“Sorry.” Katia dug her nails into her palms and hid the fists deep in the folds of her skirt. She was still getting it wrong, even after six months at the Academy. Her right hand took the lead every time… She sneaked a sideways glance at Elder Sevanya, whose attention was fixed on the lights high above them.
How did the king’s priest manage to look so perfect, even after days of travelling? Sevanya’s purple dress was uncreased, her grey travelling coat unmarked by salt, and her pale hair was still tightly braided – as expected of Senior and Elder female priests.
By comparison, Katia’s own cream novice’s robe was watermarked at the hem and stained with gravy because plates refused to stay still on board a ship. There was a button missing from her brown wool coat and her hair was sticking out at all angles despite every attempt she’d made to tame her dark curls. No wonder her fellow novices were always finding fault and telling her she’d never make it to Junior priest…
The beads woven into the ends of Sevanya’s braids rattled quietly when she turned away from the cliffs. “Tell me, Katia, have you ever been up there, on the walkways?”
“Yes, Elder. Once, at night.” Katia shivered, remembering the sheer drop to the rocks and sea, hundreds of feet below. “My brothers bet I was too scared, but I went to the first entrance and back. At least the wind wasn’t blowing when I did it. Da says when the wind blows strong, the miners hug the cliff face and make sure their safety straps are clipped to the ropes, otherwise they’d get blown off.”
“I should think a fair few prayers get said to the mountain god, asking for firm footing up there.”
“Definitely. I know I said lots.” Katia tried to ignore the fact that Sevanya was watching her closely. She had the feeling that the priest was looking for something, but what?
Suddenly, Sevanya sighed. “Katia, are you sure that you want to give your life to the temple of the triple gods? You don’t have to be a novice to say prayers, you know.”
“What?” For a moment, Katia was so startled, she couldn’t say anything else. The bubble of happiness which had filled her chest just moments previously burst, leaving a hollow sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Yes, of course I do,” she managed eventually. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“And your family? Is it what they want for you too?”
She had to think hard before answering that one. “No, not at first.” In fact, they’d positively discouraged her, thinking the training beyond her and far too expensive. “But once they got used to the idea, they supported me completely.”
By taking on extra jobs and working all hours the gods sent, scrimping to make ends meet, and standing up against those who thought your dream was impossible to achieve…
“But things are not going very well for you at the academy, are they?”
“No, but–” Katia swallowed hard. How did Sevanya know that? Surely keeping track of the novices and their training wasn’t a job for someone in her position?
“Your tutors have repeatedly informed me of your poor progress. It is that which made me decide to bring you on this journey.”
They picked you because you’re so bad?
Katia tried to concentrate on what Sevanya was saying through the buzzing in her ears.
The priest looked serious. “I am sorry to say that, during our time here, if you cannot demonstrate to my satisfaction the duties expected of a novice after your first six months of training, I shall have no option but to leave you behind when we return to Eraton and consider your novitiate at an end.”