Welcome to Writer in Motion Week 3!
This week we were to send our edited drafts of our short story to two different critique partners, randomly chosen from members of the Writer in Motion community. My two critique partners were HM Braverman, and Melissa Bergum. I also shared the story with my in-person critique partner, Karen Engelsen. Their feedback was invaluable in helping me give my protagonist more agency, cutting down on unnecessary description and dialogue tags, and incorporating some of the exposition more fluidly into the text. So, without further ado, here is Exiled, Draft 3:
High up in the hills, where the wildflowers bloomed and the grass grew tall and brown, lived a boxy little woman in a boxy little house. To all appearances, they were well-suited, but appearances lie, for this was no mere dwelling, and she was no simple crone.
She was the most powerful sorceress in seven worlds.
But she had not the freedom to come and go at will.
Now here ye sit, forgotten by all. The old woman swallowed down what she hoped was wine, not some toxic elixir she’d brewed and forgotten. It hardly mattered any more.
Not long ago, she had joined a band of rebels to take down a tyrannical king. Rumor had it, he practiced black magic. Rumor, as it turned out, was wrong. Madam Sorceress could have told the rebels that. But their money was good, and she was beguiled by their earnest manners, the youthful vigor with which they spoke of their cause. She had once been so idealistic herself. So, 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, with these cautionary words: “Drink and ye shall disappear completely. Your footfalls will be as silence. No hound will smell you and raise the alarm. No guard will feel the breeze as you sneak past. Twill perplex all the senses, even your own.” Her voice grew quiet, and she locked him in her gaze. “Hold tight to both your purpose and your name. Else your mind shall weaken, and you will disappear even to yourself.”
The leader swallowed, ran a finger around his collar. “Dangerous magic indeed.” Yet he drank the potion in one gulp, and promptly vanished from view.
She should have suspected something right then and there. Who would drink her noxious brew without a second thought? What cause was worthy to risk one’s very soul? But the young believe they are invulnerable, and perhaps she overestimated his devotion to the cause.
The rebel had snuck into the tyrant’s palace, made quick work of the king and slew the queen, ending the dynasty before she’d even a chance to scream.
A week later, the new king summoned the sorceress before him. 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.
It was the zealous young rebel she had lent her magic to, but oh, how he had changed. He wore dark robes, and his golden crown seemed darkened to black. His eyes still shone, but the fervor she’d taken for idealism now seemed feverish, not quite safe. You want to see someone what works black magic, that’s him right there. A chill crept over her heart.
The sorceress swallowed and curtsied as best as she was able, arthritic joints and all. “Your Majesty.”
The king inclined his head, so young and handsome. “Sorceress.”
She tasted her doom as she rose and met his eyes. “To what do I owe the honor of this summons?”
He clasped his hands and leaned back in his throne. “You’re here to discuss your new accommodations.”
She cocked her head, confused.
“I’m afraid you cannot be allowed to remain in my kingdom. You are far too dangerous.” Though he looked as handsome as ever, his voice creaked worse than the sorceress’s old joints.
Tyrants oft replaced tyrants, it seemed. “Nothing went wrong,” the sorceress protested. “You got your throne. I never asked for more than what was fair.”
The king looked down at his lap, almost chastened, humble. “That potion I drank could have cost me my soul.”
She eyed him warily. I’m not so sure it didn’t.
The king snapped his fingers and a flame arose in the palm of his hand. “It is a magic I have yet to master myself.”
Her mouth dropped open. He didn’t need me; he was testing me. And now that I’ve passed, I fail.
The king gestured grandly at the mirror. “Behold your new home.”
The sorceress crept forward, squinting. The mirror did not reflect her surroundings. Instead, it showed an unfamiliar land, hilly, with brown grass and wildflowers . . . and a tiny boxy house.
An old sorceress is nothing more than an old woman. Both are easily tossed aside. Well, not if she had anything to say about it. She scrunched up her face. “Can’t live in a tiny place like that.” It was humiliating, that’s what it was. Sent away to live in a box. Pet toads and mice got more respect. She crossed her arms. “You’ll never make me go.”
“You may fight me, if you wish,” said the king. “I am younger than you, and stronger. I will take your magic, your will and your life. Go, and your magic remains to you—if only inside the house.”
Something rattled in her chest; her extremities suddenly went cold and dry. Yet there remained a spark of hope inside her, waiting to be stoked into a flame. “I can keep my magic?”
The king nodded slowly, his face a mask.
While I have magic, I have hope. She pulled her shawl about her, and hunched over, her steps halting and slow. Let him think she was cowed, let him forget she was aught but a retiring old woman, no fight left in her. She knew better. With a deep breath, she entered the mirror, and walked towards the house little than more a casket, more a prison than any home she’d ever known.
From that day forth, she lived there, the greatest sorceress in seven worlds, now forgotten and ignored by eight. She spruced up and stretched the interior with her charms, so it was spacious as a sprawling manor. She practiced her magic and she schemed in her heart.
And then came a knock on her door.