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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Mankowski

Writing Sample: The Silver Scepter

Below is an excerpt of J.D. Mankowski's YA Fantasy series 'The Silver Scepter' (currently available in paperback & e-book).

 

While dodging wagons and large crowds of people, Deirdre kept her eyes on the winged cat fluttering up ahead. It swooped and perched itself frequently enough for Deirdre to follow. In larger openings, it dropped to the ground and scampered about playfully. Deirdre was so enamored with the creature that she did not realize how far off she had wandered.


It was only when the winged cat darted behind a stack of wooden crates and barrels that she gave a second thought about finding her parents. But then the white-winged cat gave a distinctive trill and appeared between her legs. It purred loudly, caressing her ankles with the right side of its body. Deirdre bent over to pet it, but the creature slipped away again. It dodged and flew around her, causing her to spin into a spell of dizziness.


“Careful now, dearie,” said a woman as Deirdre accidentally stumbled into an area of vibrantly colored awnings.


“Sorry,” Deirdre replied absently. She had lost sight of the creature.


“Looking for anything in particular?”


Deirdre refocused her attention and found herself surrounded by four handcrafted carriages and a few merchant stands displaying potted plants, smoking pipes, and oddly assorted trinkets. The carriages themselves looked more like tiny traveling homes than means of transportation. They had little doors and windows, which faced into the gathering space. One carriage was painted sky-blue, the second a barn-red, the third was golden-sun yellow and the fourth a deep-evening purple. Their rooftops were made of sloped wooden shingles. Deirdre looked around as more people dressed in odd tunics and floral dresses appeared in the doorways.


“What are you looking for, dearie?” the woman asked Deirdre again.


Deirdre shook her head when words failed to come. Both her mother and father had warned her about going in the Narrows and begged her to never talk to strangers. Of all the strange people Deirdre had seen in Marketfair from a distance, this group of people was by far the strangest. The woman standing before her was old, with untamed black and pink hair, pale skin, and a piece of metal hooked through her left nostril. There was an excessive amount of jewelry hanging from her neck and wrists, not to mention the beads that were woven into her hair. A large leather belt tied around her waist held nearly a dozen pouches of pollen.


“Where are your mum and da’?” the woman asked.


“The-they’re coming,” Deirdre stuttered. She contemplated running away, but the other strangers from the four carriages moved in closer.


“Well, I think it’s best you stay with us until they do. There are a lot of people who’d mistake you for an orphan and carry you south to Blaemede.”


“I’ll be okay.”


The woman’s lips spread into a rather repulsive grin. “Don’t be silly. Come, come and see what we have to offer while you wait for your parents.”


Deirdre glanced around as the other strangers continued to step closer. “Are you in need of a new stuffed bear, a pocket-sized pony, or dancing teacups?” asked the woman.


Deirdre shook her head, though she could not help but gawk at the thought of owning a set of dancing teacups.


“Perhaps you’re more mature for your age. How about a tickling potion, a book of firetales, or a pollen pouch?”


“I’m too young to call pollen,” Deirdre said quickly.


The woman smiled. “Of course, you are. Of course,” she said apologetically. “And you’re probably too young for these firetale stories.” She moved around to another booth. “What about some marbles or buttons?”


Deirdre looked straight at the woman, saying all she had to without speaking a word.

“Marbles and buttons it is. Keep your feet there.”


Deirdre had not moved an inch since she had stumbled into the woman. Fright had rooted her deep into the ground.


“What’s your name, dearie?”


“Deir-Deirdre.”


“Deirdre, what?”


“Deirdre,” she sputtered. The group of merchants chuckled. Her parents had always warned her not to give her last name to strangers. Mr. Heart had even given Deirdre a false name to say in case a stranger inquired, but she was too scared to remember what it was now.


“Well Deirdre-Deirdre, my name is Vespra Rathmor,” the woman said. She then pointed towards a stout man behind the smoking pipe booth. “That’s Match Maksin.” Her hand moved to a towering dark-skinned man. “That’s Laz Reyson.” And finally, her finger settled on a younger, prettier girl resting in a chair near the red carriage. “And that’s Amalia Gift.”


Deirdre imagined the girl would have stood closer like the others, but her foot was bent in an unnatural direction. Amalia looked like some of the older girls at her schoolhouse in Bellebrook — the type of girls that teased boys back.


“Nice to meet you,” Deirdre said softly.


While reaching behind a booth, Vespra whistled a single note through her lips, and from inside the purple carriage came the white-winged cat. “You’ve already met my Pahlah, yes?” Vespra asked as Deirdre watched the creature flutter onto Vespra’s shoulder.


Deirdre nodded.


“Have you ever seen a folisangel before?”


Deirdre’s head shook in a different direction.


“Well, they don’t typically inhabit the Riverbed towns.” She walked over to Deirdre with a tray full of buttons of every shape, color, and size.


“I don’t have any pollen,” Deirdre confessed.


“No pollen?” Vespra gasped. “But what if you see a button you like?”


Deirdre looked back towards the long colorful alleyway for her parents. She wondered if they knew she was no longer under Farmer Hutch’s booth. What would happen when they realized she was gone? Deirdre worried they might not find her, or that if they did, she would be in trouble. What if they canceled her tea party as punishment?


A few moments passed. Match disappeared into his carriage. Laz picked up a watering pail and began nurturing an assortment of exotic potted plants. Amalia continued sitting and staring at Deirdre.


“I’ll tell you what, dearie,” Vespra said cheerfully. “If you find a button you like, you can have it at the cost of one palm reading.”


“A palm reading?” Deirdre repeated with uncertainty. “What’s that?”


“You’ve never had your palm read?” Vespra said in the same shocked voice. She showed the inside of her own hand, tracing the lines and wrinkles to indicate that there was something to be said about them. “I can tell you who you are, and what futures lay ahead… if you fall in love with a handsome prince or a daring knight.”


Deirdre looked at her own palms with a touch of skepticism. She’d seen her palms dozens of times and never knew they could tell her future. And if this woman was telling the truth, how come her teacher had never said anything at the schoolhouse? Or her parents at home?


“What pretty nails you have,” Amalia remarked.


Deirdre could not help but smile. “I’ve had them painted for my tea party.”


Vespra and Lazarus both laughed. “How charming,” Lazarus said.


“Well, go on,” Vespra prompted with a shake of her tray. “Pick something you like.”


Deirdre took little to no time at all. Her eyes had already been sifting through the various colors of buttons. She scanned their shapes and sizes while thinking of her rabbit’s favorite jacket. Her nimble fingers pinched a round, black button that had a polished white streak through its center.


“A perfect choice,” Vespra praised. She placed the tray of beads and buttons behind her. Pahlah flew over to Amalia as Vespra knelt before Deirdre. “Are you ready to have your palm read?” she asked and waited for Deirdre to nod. “You can place your right hand in mine with your palm facing upwards.”


Not knowing what to expect, Deirdre did as she was instructed. The group of Wayfarers no longer frightened her. In truth, she was quite fond of them. She even thought about inviting them to her tea party.


“I’ll start with this line, your namesake line,” Vespra began. “This tells me who you are, and who you’ll be.”


Deirdre felt the tip of one of Vespra’s long nails slide over her hand. “You’re eight years old, no siblings yet, but you have two loving parents…”


Deirdre looked up at the woman just in time to see her left eye change its appearance. Like Pahlah, Vespra’s iris had become a swirling storm of blue, gray, and white. The nail on Deirdre’s hand paused. Vespra said something out loud towards Laz in a tongue Deirdre had never heard before.

“That morning cup of tea must still be troubling your mind, Vezi,” Laz replied after noticing Deirdre’s inquisitive look.


“You’re right,” Vespra replied. She looked back at Deirdre. “Do you think your mum and da’ will be here soon?”


Nodding slowly, Deirdre tried to mask her own worries. “What else does my palm say?” she asked.

At this, Amalia reached for a walking stick and stood. “I’ll read her palm,” she said while pulling her fire-red curls back behind her shoulders. Vespra accepted the offer, and Lazarus carried a stool over for Amalia. She thanked him.


“Ready?” Amalia then asked Deirdre with a gentle smile. When Deirdre confirmed that she was ready, Amalia began. “Oh, look here.” She pointed at a line in Deirdre’s palm but didn’t explain. “Ah, and this one!” she exclaimed before falling silent for a long minute. “How interesting,” she concluded.


Deirdre tried her best to hold still and wait patiently to be told about herself.


Eventually, Amalia looked up. Her gentle features helped settle Deirdre’s nerves. “I see you surrounded by friends, tons and tons of friends, who admire and adore you. You’re smart now, but you’ll be even smarter in years to come. You’ll have many adventures before you become a woman, and these adventures will lead you to your one true love.”


“Are you sure?” Deirdre asked quizzically. She was not certain how all this could be written on her hand.


“Of course, I’m sure,” Amalia said. “See these lines here?” She ran a finger along the two deepest creases running horizontally to each other. “The top one is your lifeline, and the second is your destiny. They’re in perfect alignment, which means nothing in your life is a coincidence. Everything that happens will happen for a reason. The little lines here by your thumb indicate how many friends you’ll have in life — and as you can see, there are a lot.” Amalia paused to watch Deirdre grin. “And that scar between your pinkie and ring finger… it looks like it came from climbing a tree?”


Deirdre nodded. She was impressed that Amalia could make such a guess. “There’s an apple tree behind my house that I fell out of last heatspell.”


“Well, there you go. A scar from an adventure that halts beneath your ring finger… adventures will lead you to your one true love.”


“Do both hands say the same thing?” Deirdre asked, but before any of the Wayfarers could answer, her mother’s voice called out from behind her.


“Deirdre!” she shouted in both anger and relief. “Deirdre, how did you get over here? What have we told you about running off?”


“I’m sorry,” Deirdre said as her face burned with embarrassment and shame. “I found Pahlah under the table and followed it here.” Deirdre pointed towards the folisangel perched on a chair.

Mr. Heart appeared a second later. “Little Dove, what were you thinking?” His eyes were much quicker to lift from where she stood to the surrounding carriages.


“We kept your daughter in good hands, Da,” Vespra ensured. “Don’t forget your button, dearie,” she then said to Deirdre while holding out the black and white button she had picked. Before Deirdre could retrieve it, however, Mr. Heart stopped her with an outstretched arm.


“She doesn’t need the button. Thank you for keeping her in your care.” His tone was even but lacked real gratitude. Deirdre had never seen him so stern.


Vespra stepped forward. “But she purchased it. Foul trades bring misfortune to all.”


At this, Laz agreed and said, “So claims the ceaseless tide.”


“Darling,” Mrs. Heart said softly as she knelt beside Deirdre to examine her inch-by-inch.


“How did she purchase it without pollen?” Mr. Heart asked.


“With a palm reading,” Amalia explained.


Mr. Heart frowned. “Palm readings are not a form of currency.”


“Not for you perhaps, but there can be great value in palms for us,” Laz interjected. “And the reading wasn’t finished.”


“We don’t mean any disrespect, but we will be leaving without that button.”


As Deirdre was led away by Mrs. Heart, a loud crack and swirl of purple smoke forced them to stop in their tracks. Match Maksin appeared. “Foul trade!” he sneered. “Foul trade for us!”


Deirdre began to cry.


“Fine,” Mr. Heart snapped. He withdrew his pouch of pollen, and from it he extended a pinch of white powder towards Vespra. “Accept this as compensation so no misfortune comes about.”


Vespra moved swiftly about her alcove of merchant booths. She brought over a brass scale. In the right cup, she placed a pebble. Then she beckoned Mr. Heart forward. He rubbed his thumb and index finger together over the scale’s left cup.


With two swift strokes, Vespra grabbed hold of Mr. Heart’s hand and pried his fingers open. Her left eye changed back into its mystic swirl of ice as she pressed her thumb forcefully into the center of his palm. “Now the trade is fair,” she said.


Mr. Heart retracted his hand and turned to see Match offering the button to Mrs. Heart. Vespra said something to her companions, and they all suddenly bowed.


“The truth will find you soon, Mum and Da.” Her words were sharp with warning. “The Black Star will fall.”

 

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