Here is the first chapter of Marian’s novel-in-progress, Aakroveil, which she has been writing for a couple of years now and worked on over our three-day-novel madness. Enjoy!
Dorian looked down at the crumpled corpse. A hundred pairs of eyes were on him, seeing how he would react. He could feel the horror and fear streaming from the people around him. They all held their breath, waiting for him to fix things. But he couldn’t bring her back.
She was face down in a puddle of blood, and there was a trail of blood on the grass, leading back to the woods. The woods which were at least a mile away. He knelt, and gently turned the body. Her face was unfamiliar to him, but she had been pretty once. His eyes swept down her, looking for the wound. Several people gasped. Her stomach had been gashed open. The cut was so deep that there was more than mere blood on the ground. Dorian, sickened, turned the body back to its original position.
“Who found her?” he called out. A young boy stepped forward. His face was ashen and streaked with tears.
“I, sir.” He answered timidly.
The crowd lost their hushed silence, and began to murmur anxiously. A few shouted questions. “Was she killed by an animal?” “Is she really a faerie?” and so on. Dorian nodded permission to the undertakers to wrap the poor woman’s body up and take her away. Yes, she was definitely a faerie. Her damaged wings and soft, ethereal features made that plain. No, she was not killed by an animal. She was murdered, and her murder could start a war. He thought these things to himself, but spoke no more to the crowd. He pushed past them, ignoring their pleas and hysteria. It was if there had never been a murder before in Wenton. His head was exploding, and he collapsed into his carriage with relief, as the closed door muffled the sounds of the crowd.
Dorian leaned his head back against the cushioned seat with his eyes firmly closed. He wanted to swear loudly and angrily, and break something costly. Never had there been a murdered faerie in all their land. Not during his time as Lord of Wenton, and not anytime before that since the faerie kingdom of Brightveil and the human kingdom of Aakroveil signed a treaty; a treaty that had been upheld for over a hundred years. Now, suddenly, someone gets it into his mind to go into faerie territory, brutally kill a faerie woman, and drag her back unto human land so that there would be no confusion as to which species had done the deed. The treaty was broken, and Dorian knew who had done it.
“I’ve never seen one up close before.”
Dorian jumped and opened his eyes. He saw a figure sitting in the dark corner of the other side of the carriage.
“I didn’t scare you, did I?” she asked innocently.
Dorian relaxed. It was just Lady Winters. Actually, it was a good thing she was there, he thought. It was easier for him to think when she was around. He often thought of her as his second brain.
“Well, when you sneak into my carriage, I’ll admit it is quite frightening. You will forgive me,” he added, “if I am a little on edge.”
“Understandably so.” She swiftly moved over next to Dorian. “Here,” she handed him a glass containing a hot substance, “drink this.”
“What is it?” he sniffed suspiciously.
“Dorian!” she chided playfully, “don’t you trust me?” He glanced over at her wearily and took a sip at her coaxing.
“Tea.’ He muttered, again closing his eyes. “Thank you. I won’t ask how you managed to brew some all the way out here.”
“That’s good, because I wouldn’t tell you.”
They sat in silence for a little while. The rocking of the carriage and the clip clop of the horse were the only things to be heard. Dorian was surprised at Meg’s silence. She had been on his council of advisers for seven years ever since her husband died and always had an opinion on every matter of importance. How she could be silent at a time like this was beyond his understanding.
“What am I going to do, Meg?” he finally asked.
“That’s not for you to decide.” She responded. “This needs to be taken up with the king.”
Dorian grimaced. King Harding had been a good ruler, but he was currently incapacitated by grief. Queen Olivia had died a few months before, and Harding hadn’t been thinking straight ever since. His daughter, Princess Emma, was also gravely ill. She was so ill that she’d been sequestered to her rooms for the past three months. Dorian prayed that she would not die; Harding’s grief might kill him is she did. Dorian doubted he would realize the gravity of the situation or propose any possible solutions with the weight of his wife’s death and his daughter’s illness upon him.
“How long do you think we have before the faeries retaliate?” he asked, avoiding the subject of their King; although, he knew the answer better than she could.
“It depends. That faerie could have been the daughter of a prominent family in the community, or she may have been a loner. Her absence may be discovered this minute, or it might go unnoticed for months.” She grabbed his tea, took a sip, and handed it back. Dorian was about to protest, but decided against it.
“It is safe to say,” she continued, “ that we have a week or two before anything dramatic happens. Dorian,” she stared at him intently, “we have to find the killer.”
Impossible, Dorian wanted to tell her. The man who killed that woman cannot be found, unless he wants to find you. In which case, you’re probably already dead. Yet, Dorian could not tell her this, so he simply shook his head.
“No, Meg. This is beyond me and my soldiers. We are dealing with a mad man. You would have to be utterly mad to kill a faerie.”
“Agreed, but we can’t let someone get away with this. It’s murder, Dorian.”
“I know what it is!” he replied, fiercely. She set her jaw, but turned her face away, and let the matter drop. They had left the country behind now, and were nearing the city.
“I’ll tell the driver to take you home.” He said. Meg stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“No, need,” she said. “I instructed him before you came in.”
Dorian smiled, ever so slightly. It was the first hint of a smile all morning. “Lady Winters, you never cease to amaze me,” he told her with gallant admiration.
She smiled back as some tension released. “I hope I never will.”
Dorian’s carriage pulled up in front of his fortified castle. He was relieved to see home after such a tumultuous morning. He had left Lady Winters at her home a few miles away. “No doubt we shall see each-other soon,” she said as she exited the carriage, “once the king finds out about this, he will surely call together a council and you will have to be prepared for it.” Dorian prayed not. The last thing he wanted was to discuss this matter with an ailing king and unconcerned nobles. No one, not even Meg who had a better head on her shoulders than most, really knew the danger that was about to come. Dorian stepped out of his carriage and stormed into his home through the massive wood doors. They slammed shut behind him.
Once inside, Dorian took a deep breath, and then proceeded to yell at the top of his lungs. It was something akin to a deep-throated scream. His servants nearby jumped at the sound, but carried on their duties quietly. Dorian had been known to make loud seemingly unwarranted noises at times.
At the sound of Dorian’s yell, an old man hobbled down the hall toward him. He was quite an amusing sight: a few days’ stubble dotting his face, shaggy, long hair sloppily thrown back into a ponytail. He was still in his dressing gown, even though it was almost midmorning, and he had a book and pen tucked under his thin arm. His bright eyes spoke of intelligence and delight. He moved as fast as he could toward Dorian, who signaled him to follow away from the servants. The old man let out a little chuckle as he nodded to the serving maids and half ran, half stumbled after Dorian.
Once they were out of sight, he burst out excitedly, “Dorian, my dove! You’re back! Fantastic!” he clapped his hands together like a child at a circus. “Tell me all about it. Was it gruesome? Who was murdered? I’ve been waiting in anticipation all morning! What took you so long?”
Dorian rolled his eyes. “You know, old man, I don’t know why I tolerate you and your babbling. Someone has been killed. Could you show a little more respect?”
“Ah,” the old man coughed and collected himself, “of course. Forgive me, Dorian. It’s just been a very exciting day.”
Dorian groaned. “It is eleven o’clock in the morning, and already the day has been horrible, Toepoh, not exciting. I shudder to think what will happen during the rest of it.”
Toepoh said nothing, but looked at Dorian anxiously. Dorian saw the eagerness in his eyes, sighed, and consented to tell him about the crime. He mentioned everything from the number of spectators to the size of the pool of blood. He carefully left out that Lady Winters had snuck into his carriage, as Toepoh had the ridiculous assumption that the woman had feelings for Dorian. Toepoh hung on Dorian’s every word and wrote down all the details dutifully. It grieved Dorian to tell the story, but Toepoh was quite thrilled to copy it down. Lastly, Dorian mentioned the cause of death. Toepoh stopped writing and looked up at Dorian, a little of the shine in his face diminished.
“Goodness me…you don’t mean-“
“Yes. This was Draven’s doing.”
Toepoh involuntarily shivered. “We’re in danger, then?”
Finally! Dorian thought. Someone who understands.
“Yes.” He replied. “I cannot help but think that this killing is a message, to me: a warning that something more is coming.”
“No doubt, no doubt.” Toepoh babbled energetically, “Dorian,” he paused, and the gleam in his old eyes returned, “this is fantastic!”
Dorian shot him an angry glare. “Fantastic? Toepoh, a woman is dead, and our entire kingdom is in great danger.”
“Indeed, but things like this make great stories! Think of it – murder, mayhem, a national pandemic of terror! War, suffering, intrigue!”
“Stop!” Dorian held up his hand, and then put it to his forehead. “This is not fantastic! This is frightening.”
Toepoh softened a bit. “Are you really frightened, Dorian?”
“Yes.” Dorian said. “I am.” They stopped walking outside of the door which led into the Scriptorium. Dorian unlocked the door. “I haven’t seen Draven in ten years. Suddenly, he is in my life again, and I want nothing to do with it. You don’t understand how powerful he is, and his innate capability to destroy lives. The worst part of it is, I don’t know what he wants or where he’ll strike next.”
“Maybe this will help you then,” Toepoh gestured inward to the Scriptorium.
The Scriptorium was the largest, most organized, and beautiful room in Dorian’s mansion. In it were all the things Dorian held most dear: books, desks, paper, ink, stories, and imagination. Whenever one opened the door to the Scriptorium, they could not help but be overwhelmed by its glorious majesty even if it was their hundredth time visiting the room.
Dorian’s Scriptorium was carpeted, something that was considered quiet a luxury. It was furnished with two fireplaces, the walls were lined with oak bookshelves (at a safe distance away from the fireplaces), chairs and couches, desks and tables, and even a small pantry if the men were working too hard to eat a proper supper. It was like home within home, Dorian often thought. He and Toepoh came here when he was upset or couldn’t sleep.
“What would you like to work on today, my dove?” Toepoh made his way to his desk and began arranging his paper, ink, and pen. Dorian threw himself down on a couch, exhausted.
“I don’t think now is the time for stories.”
“You’re tired, bitter, and emotionally distraught. It’s the perfect time for a story.”
Dorian truly did wonder why he kept the chintzy old man around. God knows he had tried to get rid of him. Toepoh had been his scribe for over ten years, and more than once, Dorian had fired him, but somehow Toepoh didn’t seem to think that affected his ability to work for Dorian, live with Dorian, and eat his food.
Their first adventure together, the time they met, took place on a blistering hot summer day. Dorian had been a wanderer back then, traveling from distant country to distant country. He was running from his past on foot and through pen. Dorian was at this time staying in the village of Mertz. It was small and quiet for the first few months he lived there. One day he was taking his daily walk, and he happened upon a mob ready to lynch a man. He hardly had time to think before he rushed into the crowd. He tried to ask the men and women aside him what on earth was going on, but they were too busy hurling insults at the old man on the scaffold. Dorian saw the executioner pull a dirty hood over the man’s face, and knew that the condemned man had but a minute to live. Dorian pushed furiously through the crowd, reached the scaffold, and jumped atop it. That got the crowd to silence their cries. They all stared at him angrily and with bloodthirsty eyes.
“In the name of God, someone tell me what is going on here!” Dorian shouted.
A young man stepped forward. “Move aside, stranger. This man is being hanged for slander.”
“Slander?” Dorian scoffed. “Hardly a hanging offense.”
A voice came from behind the hood. “Oh, you don’t know what I said.” Dorian yanked the hood off of the prisoner. The old man’s blue eyes smiled at him. He seemed to be thrilled about his impending death.
“Shut up.” Dorian said quietly. He threw the hood down authoritatively. “What has this man said that could get him hanged?” He addressed the crowd once more.
“He wrote unspeakable things against our high lord! Lies!” Several cries of agreement and outrage rose from the crowd.
“They weren’t lies!” the old man screamed back at them. “Ha! Why don’t you go ask your precious high lord if what I said was true or not?” The crowd was in uproar. The young man who had answered Dorian’s questions tried to run up as If he were going to strangle Toepoh himself, but the crowd was too dense. He gave up, reached into his pocket, and threw a knife.
The crowd gasped as Dorian caught it mid-flight.
“Now,” Dorian said, calmly dropping the knife to the floor and wiping a little blood from his hand, “How much is this man’s life worth to you? I have fifty pieces of silver here.” He reached into his coat and produced a full money bag. “That is more than enough to compensate for any dishonor done to your high lord. Take it, and let this man go.”
It is amazing how quickly attitudes can change when the subject of money is introduced. The mob became more civil almost instantaneously. After a few of the people discussed the matter together, they accepted the bribe on condition that Toepoh would never show his face in Mertz again. Toepoh agreed to the terms, and he was cut down. Dorian nodded to him and hopped down from the scaffold to join the dispersing crowd.
“Wait!” Toepoh called after him, heaving himself to the ground. He had to run after Dorian, for he wouldn’t stop. “Are you simply going to walk away without giving me the opportunity to say thank you?”
“You have said it.” Dorian replied. “Good-bye.”
Toepoh chuckled. “Well, that was a close one! Never been so close to death in my life. It was an exhilarating experience. I feel a good ten years younger! Ah, it is too bad I shall have to leave Mertz.” Dorian glanced askance at Toepoh as he dug around in his pocket. He drew out a book. “Let’s see…” he scanned down a list, “Hebron, Alidar, Urrmon, and now Mertz! Soon I’ll be banished from all of Aakroveil!” He wrote Mertz in at the bottom of the list.
“Have you been banished from all those towns?” Dorian asked, astonished.
“Indeed, yes! Each experience livelier than the other! My mother was wrong to tell me that writing would be a boring career for me. I have found it to be life-threatening and life-enhancing!” Toepoh turned to Dorian. “Would you care to hear about the incidents? Let’s see…in Hebron-oh, listen up, this is a good story-you see, there was this woman, she was married to a wealthy lord, and she…”
Has he already forgotten that I just saved him from death a few minutes ago?
“Go on your way, my man.” Dorian cut him off as quickly as possible. “I must return to my lodgings and you must pack your things and be gone.” Toepoh looked at him, utterly incredulously
“You…erm, what do you call yourself?”
Dorian paused a moment, deciding whether or not this was advisable. “Dorian.” He said uncertainly.
“Yes, Dorian, darling, you saved my life…”
“And I am not about to walk away and let you forget about it.”
“What?” Dorian stopped walking.
“Oh yes.” Toepoh chuckled once more. “You’re going to wish you had let me die on the scaffold…it would have saved you the trouble of having me indebted to you for all earthly life and heavenly life too.”
No matter how much Dorian slapped, ordered, or yelled at him, Toepoh refused to leave his side. He became his “humble manservant”, although there was nothing humble or servile about him. He became Dorian’s companion and scribe. In many ways, Dorian owed a lot to Toepoh. He helped him to open up to the world, and he encouraged him to keep writing, even when it seemed like the project would rob him of his sanity if he continued. It was also Toepoh who learned that the high lord of Wenton had died. The two of them traveled to Wenton, and it wasn’t long until the people there realized no man would be better for the esteemed position than Dorian.
That was ten years ago. Ten long, wonderful years passed. They were safe and loved in Wenton. Dorian ruled his city wisely, and rekindled a love of learning. Dorian finally found an outlet for his writing. He wrote mostly for children, and once a week, the young ones would gather in the town square to listen to him perform his work.
“So, Dorian, what do you want to write now?” Toepoh asked for what was probably the hundredth time. Dorian closed his eyes, opened his mouth, and spouted off what came to the top of his head. The two of them worked until supper. Toepoh blew on the many pages of the story Dorian had conjured, and put it in an envelope marked “Adults Only”. After a day of violence and fear, the story’s contents hadn’t been much different. Dorian declined to eat, sat in the Scriptorium, and sketched for a few hours. Finally, he fell asleep on the couch he had spent most of the day on. Toepoh gently laid a blanket over him, and went to his own rooms. He had never bothered to change out of his dressing gown.