Welcome back to my Writer in Motion posts! We’re in Week Two now, which means I get to share the second draft of my story “Exiled.” It’s been a challenge for me, going back to short fiction after a long time away, and writing new words after spending a long time revising. But it’s fun, and my main character has rather charmed me, so yay for that!
For this challenge, since we are seeking critique partners and each draft is meant to take a week, our drafts are supposed to be no more than 1000 words. My first draft came in at 1192 words. So I had a bit of pruning to do. I knew even as I was writing I was including too much description for a work of flash fiction, so my main goals as I revised were to tighten my prose. Cutting adverbs, choosing stronger verbs, and focusing on one or two salient details rather than lengthy description was how I chose to go about it. So here are the results:
High in the hills, where the wildflowers bloomed and the grass grew tall and brown, lived a boxy little woman in a boxy little house. Her straw-like hair was gray as stone; she had a pinched little face, like one of those high-strung dogs heiresses carry around in their bags. To look at her was to overlook her, and for most of her life she had preferred it that way.
But now, living on this lonely hilltop, she who was once the most powerful sorceress in seven worlds had been forgotten by all.
Not long ago, she had joined a band of rebels taking down a tyrannical king. Rumor had it, he practiced black magic, and any subject who dared appear before him quaked in their shoes.
Rumor, as it turned out, was wrong. Madam Sorceress could have told the rebels that, had they bothered to ask. But their money was good, and they thought they needed sorcery to defeat sorcery, so she agreed to work on their side. She brewed up a potion, with frog livers and bat wings, the last breath of a condemned man and the first tear of an abandoned bride. She served it up to the rebel leader, who grimaced at the smell, but gulped it down.
Then he vanished.
This was not a potion of invisibility; oh no, it was so much more. This potion perplexed all the senses: enveloped him in silence; stole away his scent. As he snuck into the palace, no dog would smell him and raise the alarm; no guard even feel the breeze as he passed by. Until he slit the king’s throat, there would be no sign of the rebel leader at all.
“Be careful,” the old sorceress warned. “Keep in mind both your purpose and your name. This is powerful magic. Should your mind weaken, you will disappear completely, as if you never were.”
And so, the rebel snuck into the tyrant’s palace, murmuring his own name as he crept up the stairs into the king’s bedchamber, where he made quick work of the tyrant and slew the queen before she had time to scream.
Thus, the dynasty ended. The leader took the throne and vowed to rule his people with fairness and respect.
Sometimes, even rebel leaders lie.
A week later, the new king summoned the sorceress to his presence. Lad wants to thank me in person, she told herself. Knows he’d never have won the throne were it not for me. So, she dressed herself in her finest garments, mustering as much elegance as a squat old woman could, and stood before the new king seated on the ancient throne.
Behind him stood a figure in dark robes, his hood pulled down to shield his face. Now, you wanna see one what works in black magic, thought the sorceress, that’s him right there. She dared not look at him, nor at the large mirror standing at the king’s right hand. Instead, she curtsied as best as she was able, arthritic joints and all. “Your Majesty.”
The king inclined his head, so young and handsome, but she tasted her doom as she met his eyes.
. “I’m afraid,” he said, “you are far too dangerous to be allowed to remain.”
Tyrants may replace tyrants, the sorceress thought. “Well, what’d you summon me for, then?” She meant it as a joke.
No one laughed.
“Not in the palace,” said the young king. “In this very kingdom.”
“In this world,” said the figure behind the throne, voice creaking worse than the sorceress’s old joints.
The king tilted his head, a cruel smile on his lips. “Did you really think we would only have one sorcerer on our side? Oh no. That’s much too dangerous. You’re much too dangerous, you and that spell. We needed a check . . . in case something went wrong.”
An old witch is nothing more than an old woman, thought the sorceress, easily tossed aside. “Nothing went wrong,” she snapped. “You got your throne. I never asked for more than what was fair.”
“I know,” said the king. “Which is why you shall live. But not here.” And he gestured grandly at the mirror. “There.”
The sorceress crept forward, squinting at the mirror. Then her eyes grew wide. The mirror did not reflect her surroundings. Instead, it showed an unfamiliar land, hilly, with brown grass and wildflowers . . . and a tiny boxy house.
“Your new home,” said the king.
The old woman scrunched up her face. “ Can’t live in a tiny place like that.”
“Any sorcerer worth their salt could surely shape it to their needs.”
That wasn’t the point. It was humiliating, that’s what it was. Sent away to live in a box. Pet toads and mice got more respect. And after all she had done.
The dark figure spoke again; this time his voice roared like flame. “This world is bereft of magic. Yours remains at your disposal—but only inside the house.”
Something rattled in the old woman’s chest; her extremities suddenly went cold and dry. “I must live there. Surrounded by my magic. Completely alone.”
The king’s face was a mask. “It is better than losing your life.”
The sorceress swallowed. There wasn’t much to say to that.
The dark figure came forward, reaching for her. The sorceress edged away from him and towards the mirror. Breathing deep, she entered it, walking towards the little box, the house little than more a casket, more a prison than any home she’d ever known.
From that day forth, she lived in that tiny box house, the greatest sorceress in seven worlds, now forgotten and ignored by eight. She spruced up and stretched the interior with her charms, and she practiced her magic, because if she wasn’t a sorceress, she didn’t know who she was. As the king had told her; it was better than losing her life.
Until the day there came a knock on her door.