*UPDAE*: RELAUNCH AS EBOOK! DULCINEA is being released today as an e-book! If you buy it on Saturday, maybe we can test the theory of the Amazon rankings and how many books must sell within a 24-hour period.
Only $2.99! Check it out at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0753JQYNS/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1503635785&sr=1-1
DULCINEA opens with Raz'a magical audition, using Dulcie as the willing Nellie. The audition is funny AND during it, Dulcinea sort of falls in love with the older boy . . . to her consternation.
Do you love high fantasy with comedy like this? Fans of Rick Cook, Diana Wynne Jones, and other high fantasy/fantasy stuff may like it . . . a lot. And Harry Potter peeps, I had many of the same ideas years before he crossed the Pond. Oh, well. I'm told people like the Colonial level of technology and the somewhat Southern dialect of Ladenia. I miss being in this world to write her adventures. I still like it a lot. Do you?
Or Wizardry A-Flute
by Shalanna Collins
I was scraping orange logan-bark crystals off the coated sides of one of my alchemist’s bowls--a delicate operation any time, let alone in the heat of the harvest-time afternoon--when I heard my Daddoo calling.
“Dulcinea! Ho, child! Come up front at once, my girl.” Then, as an afterthought: “Be ready to have yourself bespelled. And bring my mage’s-sack.”
“Yes, sir.” Another aspirant had turned up, I reckoned. Soon after our old Chiro's entry into the next world, Daddoo had decided that he needed a new apprentice. Preferably younger this time. Over the past fortnight, we’d welcomed a constant stream of unsuitable youths.
I kind of missed Chiro, like I’d miss a splinter after I’d worried it a-loose. And I was ready for some company around this shop besides Daddoo, who could be difficult in his way. It wouldn’t hurt if I had a little help, either. In an apothecary, so many tiresome daily tasks demand attention, including collecting logan powder without scratching the precious bowls, tending the herb garden out back, and keeping the wizardchamber swept clear of majick.
These days, all the fiddly, exacting parts of making up products were left to me. Until Da could acknowledge that I was grown up--I’d turn seventeen next Colinsday, though people thought me younger because the top of my head barely reached Da’s shoulders--he would keep me at this level without even testing me for majickal talent. When I’d hinted that I might make a good apprentice, he’d laughed and patted me on the head.
I grabbed Da’s mage’s-sack from the kneehole of his big loganwood desk, careful to touch it only by the drawstrings, so as not to discharge any wards he might’ve laid on it. Backing out of the wizardchamber, I quickly rewove the spellweb protecting it. I threaded my way through the stacks of supplies in our storeroom, mentally noting several items ready to be restocked, and reached the front just in time to keep Da from hollering for me again.
I pushed aside the beaded curtain separating our downstairs rooms from the shop and squinted against the bright mid-afternoon sun shafting in through our front windows, much brighter than the magelight in the back. Stepping behind the counter, I visored my hand and blinked until my vision adjusted.
Sunlight softly illuminated the merchandise lining our shop’s walls, which were shelved floor-to-ceiling all around. The implements of majick and of the healing arts lay all up and down the shelves. Mortar-and-pestle sets and scrying bowls sat side by side with muslin bags of herbs and lengths of soft linen. Liquids sparkled in light amber and cobalt bottles, and powders crouched in their translucent jars, gleaming with secret power and mystery. Silhouetted in front of the medicinals that lined our west wall was the figure of a skinny young man.
In front of the counter stood Daddoo in full majicker’s white, arms crossed and head tilted, sizing up the young man. Da has always been a great pot-roast of a daddy, so round that people would whisper, “He’s wealthy enough to be greedy at table.” But he wasn’t particularly gluttonous, just generously sized all over. It was unfortunate that his ponytailed red hair had recently started to thin, backing up towards his crown like a tonsure (I kindly said he wore a horseshoe haircut) at just around the same time when he'd decided to grow a graying red beard. This made him look as though he had his face on upside-down.
I bowed my head and bobbed a knee-bend, splaying my feet like a duck’s and going into a momentary half-squat as a proper sign of respect. “Sirs.”
Da shot me a look. “Dulcinea, you dawdler. You look a mess.”
As an apology, I ducked my head toward the young fellow. His clothes seemed oddly matched: they were simultaneously prim and disarrayed. His shirt’s ruffled cuffs and jabot I judged somewhat dandified; peeking out of the jabot was a silver sigil, gleaming on a satin neck-cord. Over all this he had thrown a gently worn purple robe. The robe was only knee-length, too short for his stalky frame; it hung loose on him, its satiny sleeves rolled to mid-elbow on his lanky arms and tied in place with gold braid. He must be at apprentice level two already, then, because he’d never dare wear the purples unearned. But just barely, I judged, because he looked scarcely old enough for it. Maybe twenty.
He grinned back with his big, squared-off, horsy teeth. “It is indeed a distinct pleasure to make your acquaintance, Dulcinea Brown.” His deep, resonant voice surprised me, booming out of such a rawboned lad. He seemed exceptionally bony, his face all angles and points. Perhaps this was made more prominent by the way he wore his long raven hair, combed straight back and reaching down to his midback. Exactly the way that mine used to until a fortnight ago, when I’d done something I regretted. He sported bushy, surprised-looking eyebrows, mutton-chop sideburns, and a black mustache which drooped down to crescent-moon curls on either side of the smile below. I couldn’t get over how much nicer-looking he was than any of the village boys, or our previous aspirants, for that matter. His green eyes sparkled with excitement, as if he actually looked forward to undergoing majickal examination.
As his emerald gaze fell on me, I wished I had taken a moment to tame my flying hair and throw off my stained apron. At least I could’ve cleaned off some of the logan powder with its sharp, chalky scent. I could feel the dust from the crushed crystals on my cheeks. The layer of orange powder on my hands and forearms gave me the look of jaundice, reminding me of that foolish village girl last Quitain who’d bungled turning her faithless suitor into a pumpkin. I brushed ineffectually at myself. Nothing works but a bath; the stuff’s a nuisance, but fortunately inert by itself.
Da dragged over a round burlap-covered ottoman that we used for spellcasting and waved me towards it. “Sit.” He reached around the curtain in our front window and stuck in our “Back Shortly” sign.
I sat, squarely in the center of the large stool. Apparently, I was to be the nellie of the audition. A nellie is a willing recipient of a spell, but the spell has to be a benevolent one, the kind of spell that won’t work on a body who balks. I assumed the first devotional position, in which each foot rests on the opposing knee and the elbows fit into the hollows between the legs and the arches of the feet. It’s sort of like a vertical cat-curl.
“No, no. Please kneel here for me.” The newcomer wiggled his fingers to indicate my new location and position on the edge of the seat. I glanced over at Da, who nodded his approval. I untangled my legs and resettled.
“Dulcinea, this is Raz. Raz, my daughter Dulcinea.” Daddoo was one for belated introductions. Of course, Raz would have known better than to give his real name; this would be his traveling name, the one he gave at inns and to acquaintances who had no need to know a man’s full identity. The fewer who know a majicker’s true name, the safer. “Raz shall now prove to me the level of his skills. You’ll kindly behave and do whatever he tells you.”
I smiled politely and met Raz’s gaze. He seemed nice enough, but I was always slightly wary of doing just whatever someone might tell me. Of course, Da wouldn’t let anything happen to me, the worst fotchfinger notwithstanding. Anyway, aspirants hardly ever fumbled their demonstration spells, though it could be touchy. Once I had itched for a blessed quartermoon.
I whispered a quick prayer to Saint Alyncia that Raz would be more talented than the previous three.
Raz clasped his knuckledy hands in front of his chest. “First, Dulcinea”--something in the way he said my name made it sound musical, not clangorous, as I had always heard it before; I couldn’t quite place his accent, although he wasn’t from around here--”I’m going to set wards on you. So I’d like you to place your hands on your ri-”
Da interrupted Raz’s instructions. “Not quite so fast, please.” To me Da said, “First, off with all the wards you now have.”
That didn’t seem to me such an outstanding idea, since it would leave me open to whatever mistakes this Raz might make. But I knew there was no arguing with Da, particularly not before a stranger.
I did need to make sure what he intended, though. “All of them, sir?”
Da’s eyelid twitched. “All.”
“Just checking.” Wondering what Da was up to, I pulled my safestone necklace over my head and handed it to him, to go safely back in his mage’s sack until he felt like reconsecrating it. He motioned for me to unlace my charged wrist-dangle as well, which I did. Between the two, I’d had a pretty fair set of physical protections.
Da wasn’t satisfied. “Take off the intangibles, too.” He reached into his mage’s-sack and handed me the consecrated silks. Inwardly, I winced. I hated silking; it made the fine white hair on my arms stand on end, and it could itch or sting, depending on the weather. Still, I obeyed, taking the knotted bundle of silk and starting to rub it over all my exposed flesh. The stubborn orange tinge didn’t budge, naturally; it merely sank in deeper.
“Not enough. Do all of yourself.” Da’s jaw was firm.
I gaped. “Sir?”
“All over.” He spread his palms and wiggled them for emphasis.
I blinked. “But. . . .” I couldn’t believe Da expected me to go skyclad before this boy--no, this young man. As though I were still a little girl. And this was hardly like changing my tunic in front of my own Da and that dried-up raisin Chiro. I felt my face go ablaze with shame.
Daddoo’s left eye began winking erratically. The tic meant he was getting cranky, so I jumped to my feet and reached shyly for my buttons. But Da grabbed my hand away, then stretched behind the counter and tossed one of our burlap robes over to me. I wasn’t ready to catch it, so it landed practically in my face. “No, silly porcupine. Go on back and change.”
“Oh.” I felt the rest of me light up with scarlet. Da made a noise down in his throat, and in his silent gaze danced merriment. Raz’s fist flew to his mouth, where he bit down on his lumpy knuckles.
I’d never feel dignified again. “Of course. Pardon me for a moment, gentle sirs.” Quickly I backed toward the door to the storeroom. Unfortunately, I forgot to duck, so I bumped the back of my head right into one of the bunches of herbs that I’d earlier hung from the ceiling to dry. It showered me with withered flower buds and twiggy debris. That startled me sufficiently that I dropped the robe into a basket of assorted soaps. I opened my mouth again, then shut it because talking was useless. I knew Raz must think me a complete cudge. I snatched up the troublemaking garment and disappeared through the curtain into the back rooms, wishing I knew a spell of vanishing.
I stripped off my dusty apron and tunic, wrapping them into a ball around my leggings, boots, and dainties, then donned the ceremonial burlaps. This was a set of short-sleeved tunic and knee-length breeches, made to be baggy on a normal person, but managing to be ill-fitting on anyone. The tunic was scratchy and rode up in the back on my rear. The orange stain on my skin, especially my forearms, was so hopeless that I couldn't even see my freckles. After rubbing my hair with the silk until it practically frizzed straight out on end, like a crown of five-inch spikes framing my powdery face and ears, I supposed I was as ready as I could be. I trusted Da knew what he was doing.
I stomped back out into the front room barefoot, keeping my eyes looking determinedly at the wooden floor, and knelt again on the round seat.
His voice betrayed no suppressed merriment. “Clasp your hands together on your right knee, please, Dulcinea.”
Still too shy to meet his gaze, I grasped my kneecap through the burlap. At least Raz (or whoever he was when he was at home) hadn’t made some sly or smart remark, as I felt certain some of our past auditioners would have. This thought put me a bit more at ease.
Raz already had some sweet herbs cupped in his hands. He crumbled them, muttering something, and sprinkled them on my head. Then he took what smelled like pewterbark and cinnamon, mixed together and made into a salmon-pink paste, and daubed that on my Seven Holy Points: between my eyes on the bridge of my nose, on each earlobe, at the hollow atop each shoulder blade, and at the midpoint of the arches of my footsoles.
I supposed this was his invention, a new anointing he’d come up with to replace the foul brown salt Da used. This ointment smelled like hedge-roses. I knew then that it couldn’t work right; certainly this fragrant concoction was preferable to Da’s stinging mudsalt, but how could one expect majick without mess and discomfort?
But I sat still for the treatment, because Raz deserved his audition. Like a round-eyed toad I goggled up at him, playing the trusting nellie despite my growing apprehension. His lips formed into a slight smile, as though I amused him, yet his concentration never wavered.
He took his flint and lit a cat’s-tail branch with its majicking flame. With the resulting fiery torch, he traced a majick square around me, pressing its imprint into our packed dirt floor. While he worked, he murmured something that might or mightn’t have been “cherosa bisanker.” Then, going sunwise--never widdershins--he traced the contained ellipse, the one you draw inside the square to focus the spell, and marked its foci. A splash from Da’s drinking-jug properly quelled the firestick.
At the corners of the square, Raz marked the four runes with his sanctified blade as Da looked on, nodding. Then he took a spark of sacred flame by lighting a stick of incense off the banked flame in our brazier of purification. At the powerful points of the rune-square, he set candles--cherry, fern, cherry, fern--and lighted them in turn from the stick. Finally, he placed tapers, one black, one white, at the foci of the contained ellipse. He lighted them by setting black taper to red candle and white to green. I had to admit he seemed to know his stuff.
He gathered in his big hands the fine silver chain he’d use for my bindings. Suddenly I was filled with shame; I knew he couldn’t fail, as he apparently had up until now, to notice my extra digits.
I’d been born cursed--or blessed, depending on who you talked to--with a doubled middle finger on each hand. Once people got to know me, they usually forgot about it, but sometimes at first they were afraid of me; some people believed I carried a witch-sign. Would Raz show his revulsion? Worse, he might be abruptly cowed, shrinking from my touch. I braced myself against whichever emotion he betrayed.
Raz took hold of my hands. His expression registered nothing, not even curiosity. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.
I tingled at his touch as he wrapped chains around my index fingers, crown, and big toes, then joined them with the blessed twine. I was starting to prickle with fear and excitement. Or maybe it was just the aura of impending majickal enchantment. Little shocks stung my skin all over, as if somebody were shooting stretch-bands. It was like being caught out in needle-sharp rain, yet remaining dry. And I could feel that the power was coming from Raz.
The familiar fiery glow began to trace round first the square, then the ellipse. A pale apricot line strengthened to dark clay-pot red as the working gathered strength. While we waited for the power-wall to peak, Raz looked me full in the face and winked. He certainly was good-looking.
“We have a moment, now. Shall we make you a personal charm?” He plucked a hair from my crown.
“Ouch!” I rubbed at the pricked place with the heel of my hand, without thinking, disarranging my tie-ups.
Raz quickly set them right again. His green eyes gleamed as he took my measure with his gaze. I felt naked as a peeled egg. For once, I found my mouth empty of words, without a smart retort.
Testing the hair by pulling it, Raz looked pleased when it stretched at least two thumbslengths before it snapped, curling. “This is delightful. In excellent condition, and quite saturated with your life-energies. May I take a proper lock?”
“Seems easiest.” I shrugged, feeling a spot of apprehension, but knowing that anything he did to my head would be less damaging than what I had done to it myself a fortnight ago, and by accident, sort of. My braids had vexed me, constantly falling into the solutions as I tried to learn how to titrate herbal liquors, so I’d tried to bind them atop my head as the mature ladies of the village did--in fact, all the girls who’d already had their coming-of-age rite had developed elaborate upbraids or birdnests in which they stuck feathers or combs. Some of them, I thought, could hide a dozen eggs in their coiffures with no one the wiser.
But I had no one to show me, and Da was completely oblivious to my need for feminine advice. I had picked up a handful of hairpins and stabbed my head with it at first, ending up with a sore scalp. Then I’d gotten curling-twigs all tangled in when I tried to roll my hair into a twist like the Widder Groop’s next door. Finally I’d just grabbed the knife in anger, intending to cut the ribbons that fastened the ends of the braids and start over; but, instead, without really meaning to, I kind of lopped one plait half off, where it looped over one ear. Then I had to bob the other. That made each side collar-length, but when I unwound the stubs of the plaits, I hadn’t got the sides even, and had to repair that. It wasn’t easy. Hair, I noticed, could not be uncut, and was strikingly easy to whack away. So it all ended up not quite touching the bottoms of my ears.
The loss of its accustomed weight then frizzed out my babyfine hair, creating a headful of ugly, angry-red twirls that cascaded down hopefully but ended too early, like an embarrassed drapery that’s shrunk in the wash. It was exactly the mess that the Widder Groop’s glance said it to be (perhaps I should’ve swallowed my pride and asked her to help, but I thought of that too late.) I hadn’t fretted too much over repairing my hair, because after all I never saw anybody but the customers and my Da. Now I was sort of sorry I didn’t at least have on a hat.
Raz snipped a lock from the front. If my hands hadn’t been all arranged in the proper position, I would’ve grabbed. “Hey, watch it! That was a long piece.”
“I was careful to take only from the bangs.” He quirked a black eyebrow, challenging me.
“I’m growing them out.” I winced.
“Don’t be peevish.” He pulled away the lock of hair--quite a thick one, and I felt another pang, similar to when I’d first ruined my hair. Instantly repentant, I had kept the hacked-off braids rolled in sad little coils in Mawmoo’s cedar chest. A good thing, too; I hadn’t thought at the time about how powerful hair-charm was if saved for majickal rites. I was glad I hadn’t let it go to the dump, where whoever found it could work all sorts of spells on me. Thinking back, I realized I’d allowed that to be done with the results of all past trims, some of them also pretty drastic, as I remembered. Who could tell which hands that power might’ve fallen into? I absolutely needed this charm.
He took the lock between his middle fingers, in the center of its length, and twisted. The ends fanned out like little brushes. Raz tied them with blessed thread about every thumb-joint-length or so. “This is what mages call a ‘broomstick.’”
“You don’t say.” I hoped I sounded properly nettled, letting him know I knew perfectly well what he was up to.
“Hush,” said Da from his vantage point in front of the counter. I’d almost forgotten he stood there.
Raz knotted the rope of hair in the middle and threaded it with center-drilled tiger-eye beads at each knotted station. He fastened this into a hangman’s loop, which he threaded onto a brown leather thong and put round my neck. His tasseled sleeve-cords tickled my ears, and I felt feathers all over the surface of my skin. Solemnly he tapped the amulet against my breastbone, and I imagined I felt power flowing into it, heating it from within.
“Wear this inside your neckline.” He spoke so softly that for a heart-stopping moment I thought he didn’t mean Da to hear; it seemed just the two of us in the ellipse, sharing an intimate secret. “Out of view. Else people will wonder what charms you fear.”
“None.” I couldn’t help popping off when I was this nervous. “I can take care of myself.”
“Quiet,” said Da. “You’ll scotch the working. It’s nearly ready, if you please.” In fact, the red glow had reached its strongest, the lines looking like rows of banked coals ready for cooking over.
“We’re doing quite well, quite well.” Raz’s tone was mild. I didn’t know whether he meant to reassure himself, me, or Da. “Charm’s done. Now lift your hands in front of your face.”
I knew he meant to focus the power he’d collected. Now he would lay his palms against mine and generate the field of warding. I squirmed; irrational as it was, I felt as though once we touched, he could sense all my secrets.
I hesitated, then slowly put up my hands. Raz adjusted my posture, leaning me forward by placing both his hands gently on my shoulders and moving me into the precise position he wanted. Then he frowned. Before I realized what he planned, he’d lifted me whole and set my knees on the hard dirt floor. As he stood before me, I could feel the warmth of his body; my nose filled with his strong peppermint smell.
I felt a spark of static, as though I’d rubbed my feet on a woolen carpet, as our fingers touched and our palms met flat together. Then Raz knelt on the hard dirt with me, our knees almost touching. Our gazes met. This gave me peculiar, unfamiliar stirrings around my kneecaps. For some reason, I thought of a dragon.
He raised our hands to cover my face, our forearms together skin-to-skin now, all four elbows resting on my knees as I followed his lead, doubling over. My sensations were unlike any others I had ever experienced during majickal contortions. Surely my strange reactions were obvious to Raz--and, worse, to Da. I felt my cheeks burning and squeezed my eyes tightly closed.
My ears filled with his voice and my lungs with his exhaled breath as he muttered words of power in the language of the mage. Of course I forgot them the moment I’d heard them. Still, I could feel the Words doing their work inside our ellipse. In quick succession, I saw stars, thought I would sneeze, couldn’t get my breath, felt my spine go icy, had a hot rope momentarily laid across my shoulders--all illusory, of course. The power had entered us, sandwiching me between the wardings of protection. I felt myself glowing with energy. The very air was charged--and not merely with majick. I prayed the way I felt wasn’t some kind of sin.
He completed the sequence with an incantation, his hot breath quietly entering--it seemed--into my ear alone:
By moonlight, water, rock and leaf,
We ask thee, Lady of the Green
that while it does remain unseen,
this charge shall keep Dulcinea safe.
The words were a frill, not required for the power’s investiture, I judged. It tickled me to think he’d added a verse meant only to delight me.
Raz “read” me while I was still vulnerable inside the majick’s elliptical field. “You shall have witchsight and rune-knowing.“ As he spoke, he broke our connection by peeling his hands free from mine. The jolt was perceptible as he separated our flesh; I felt an imaginary ripcord jerk loose from my heart. He stepped back to the very edge of the square, peering at me closely, as if to examine his handiwork. “Philtre-making. Dream interpretation. The knack for drawing out poisons.”
I lit up like a Festival float. “You can see all that?” Of course, I’d shown no sign of any of these talents yet, but if Raz were correct, I could be trained in them once I had shown symptoms of majickwake. If I ever did. And if Da could--and would--teach me.