Writer in Motion, Week 2

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:

EXILED

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.

Writer in Motion, Week 1.

So here we are! Week 1 of Writer in Motion. The week we get to share the messy, mucky, wonderful first drafts of our Writer in Motion projects! Kind of terrifying, ain’t it? The impostor syndrome is strong in me today.

As a reminder, the prompt was to write a story inspired by this photo:

Small house on hillside with mountains behind it. Photo by Rahul Pandit.

So this image didn’t immediately grab me. The mountains are pretty, but I’m more of an ocean person, or perhaps a forest gal, as long as there are no bugs. And maybe there is a forest somewhere, down that hillside to the left, but everything also looks pretty dry. It also seems very isolated, and I’m a big introvert, so you might think that I’d welcome the isolation, but I also don’t drive, so this image really says one thing to me: trapped. Yes, the view is great but if I lived here, I could never leave. Which probably explains the title of my story, come to think of it. So, without further ado, I present the messy first draft of my Writer in Motion story:

EXILED

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. Her hair was grey like stone and dry as straw; she was short and had a pinched little face, like one of those high-strung dogs heiresses carry around in their bags. To look at her, was to immediately forget her; rather, to look at her was to overlook her, and for most of her life she had preferred it that way.

From appearance alone, you would never know she was the most powerful sorceress in seven worlds.

She’d have far comfier housing had she not been.

Not long ago, she had joined the band of rebels taking down a tyrannical king. Rumor had it, he practiced black magic; he’d certainly looked the part, with his flowing robes, pointed beard, and beetle-black brows.

Rumor, as it turned out, was wrong. Madam Sorceress could have told the rebels that much, had they bothered to ask. But as long as their money was good, and they thought they needed sorcery to defeat sorcery, she was willing to work on their side. She had brewed up such a potion, filled with frog livers and bat wings, the last breath of a dying outlaw and the first tear of an abandoned bride. In a vessel shaped like a dragon’s claw, she served it to the leader of the rebels. He grimaced at the smell, but gulped it down quickly, almost immediately vanishing from view.

This was not a potion of invisibility. The sorceress would never lower herself to use such as that. The potion did not only shield the rebel from view, it enveloped him in silence, and stole away his very scent. No dog would ever smell him, no guard so much as feel the breeze as he passed them by. Until he slit the king’s throat, there would be no evidence to any of the senses that the rebel leader had even passed by.

“Be careful,” the old sorceress had warned him. “Keep in mind both your purpose and your name. This is no mere hedge witch’s brew. 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 name as he snuck past the guards and their dogs, up the stairs into the king’s bedchamber, where he made short work of the tyrant and slew the queen before she had even a moment to scream.

The dynasty was all but ended. The throne went to the rebel leader, who vowed to rule his people with fairness and respect.

Twas a week later the new king summoned the sorceress to his presence. She had expected as much, though she had already been paid. 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 king in the throne room.

Behind the throne stood an ominous figure, clad in dark robes, with 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. But she did not look at the figure, nor at the large mirror that stood at the king’s right hand. Instead, she curtsied as best as she was able, arthritic joints and all, and tasted her doom as she met the young king’s eyes.

“Your Majesty,” she said.

The king inclined his head, and she noted again how young and handsome he was, but there was not a hint of warmth in his eyes. “I’m afraid,” he said, “you are far too dangerous to be allowed to stay.”

Tyrants may replace tyrants, the old sorceress thought, and a witch is nothing more than an old woman, easily tossed aside.“Well, what’d you summon me for, then?” It was meant to be a joke. No one laughed.

“Not in the palace,” said the young king. “In this very kingdom.”

“In this very world,” said the figure behind the throne. Its voice was dry, and creaked, worse than the sorceress’s old joints. D-d-d-death? she thought but pressed her lips together so it would not come out.

The young king tilted his head, a cruel smile on his handsome 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.”

“Nothing went wrong,” the old woman snapped. “You got your throne, and I ain’t 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.

The sorceress peered at the mirror, scowling. “What am I supposed to be seeing?” The mirror did not reflect her surroundings. Instead, it showed a different 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. “It’s too tiny. Can’t nobody live in a place like that.”

 “It does not have to be,” said the king. “Any sorcerer worth their salt could surely shape it to their needs.”

That wasn’t beyond her capabilities, it was true. She had raised palaces for third-born sons, made bridges appear overnight, just with a flick of her wand. “I suppose I can work with it, spruce up the place a bit . . .”

“Only on the inside.” The dark figure spoke again; this time his voice sounded like roaring flame.  “This world is bereft of magic. All of yours is at your disposal—but only inside the house.”

The sorceress felt something rattle in her chest; her extremities suddenly went cold and dry. “I must live there. Alone. All the magic I ever had at my disposal, but I can never leave.”

The king’s face was a blank 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 a hand to her back. The sorceress recoiled, wanting anything other than to feel that dreadful touch upon her skin. Breathing deep, she entered into the mirror, walking towards the little box, the house that seemed more a casket, more a prison than any home she’d ever known.

From that day forth, she lived in that tiny little box house, the greatest sorceress in seven worlds, now forgotten and ignored by eight. She charmed the interior so it wasn’t too unbearable to live in, and she practiced her magic, for something to do, and because she didn’t know who she was if not a sorceress. It was all she had ever been. And if the sorceress was not entirely happy, the king had been right; it was better than losing her life.

Until there came a knock on her door.

Writer in Motion, Week Zero

Hello, and welcome!

I write this, my inaugural blog post, because this month I am participating in Writer in Motion, round three.

Writer in Motion is a challenge meant to show how much our written work transforms between first and final drafts. You can learn more about it here: https://writerinmotion.com/about/

Basically, the idea is to take a writing prompt, which was revealed today, and write a short story inspired by it, around 1000 words or less. In week 1, we are to share our unedited first draft of it (gulp). For week 2, we will revise the short story on our own and post the revised story. Week 3, we revise our story with the aid of critique partners, or CPs, and we post the final version of the story in week 4. Week 5, will be our final thoughts, what we learned from the experience, and so on.

I thought joining in Writer in Motion would be a fun exercise for me, and a great way to give my blog something to do. Some of my online writing buddies are already involved, and as I seek out feedback and new critique partners in the forums, it could be a great way to make new writing friends!

So, without further ado, here is the prompt for this round:

(Photo by Rahul Pandit on Unsplash)

Right now, I don’t know what to do with it. Here’s this little tiny building up in the hills, with the beautiful mountains behind it. Who lives there? How do they get from place to place? I don’t see any roads, and the house seems quite small. What do they do for groceries, going to work, or school?

I mostly write fantasy, so there are all sorts of intriguing possibilities swirling around in my mind. Stay tuned this week to see where I decide to go!