Hello! Here's the draft of Chapter One from Power Born, the first book of my new original fantasy series. If you've read my Reversed Retellings series, in the very last chapter of The Cursed Prince we meet the heroine of Power Born. Not sure when the book will be finished, but it WILL be done. I did lots of research, outlining, and character sheets for this; plus, the cover is already done! Behold:
I'm pretty excited to be doing a slightly different genre this time (no need to adjust the story to a fairy tale!). Inspiration came from Naruto, Keroro Gunso, Strong Woman Do Bong-Soon, though the setting is (very) loosely based on Renaissance Italy. Which means the story might be weird and anime-ish, but then, my books usually are a little atypical : )
chapter one (draft) of power born
The fairy mage was supposed to grant me the gift of beauty. Instead, she gifted me with superhuman strength. At age three, I could knead dough enough for twenty people with no sign of exhaustion. At age five, I could gather firewood bigger than my body and carry the logs into the house. At age ten, when our horse tripped over a rock and injured its leg, I towed the cart home. You’d have to see me do those things, because at my towering height of five feet, I looked more like a doll than a monstrous, brawny troll.
On the other hand, my twin brother Cristian grew up as dazzling as the rising sun. People couldn’t believe we were related. He had flawless, sun kissed golden skin; mine was the color of sour cream, and during the sweltering heat of summer, my skin would break out in red spots that were not only unattractive, but also was itchy and prickly. Cristian’s hair was always silky smooth, while mine looked like a bird’s nest if I didn’t brush it at least twice a day, so I prefer to wear it in a thick braid.
Life was unfair.
It wasn’t just our looks that gave my brother the advantage. My father passed away when we were three months old, making me the man of the family. I was called on to move furniture, chop wood, haul sacks of flour and sugar and oats from the cart to the kitchen. All my brother had to do was flip his hair and bask in the attention of adoring females while I had to do all the hard labor.
To make things worse, my mother warned me not to show my strength--especially in front of young men.
“No man wants a wife who can beat him to a pulp,” she said. Literally, she purposefully omitted. “Don’t let anyone know that you can punch through a brick wall.”
I pictured my future. My husband, sitting with one leg crossed over the other, cracking chestnuts while I swept the floor. He wouldn’t even have to move--I’d pick up his chair with him sitting in it, sweep up the dust, and dump him back on the ground. I’d grow frustrated and end up punching him into a wall.
Not the most pleasant idea.
And so I hid the truth. Except for my family and close friends, everyone assumed I was a normal girl who screamed at the sight of rats. When in fact, a single whack from my broom would render the rat into mincemeat.
Keeping my power a secret was easy—in the beginning. I would be twenty-two in a few months, but everyone said I looked more like fifteen or sixteen. The few times I came close to being found out, I’d feign innocence or Cristian would cover up for me. Recently, however, it had been more difficult for me to conceal my strength. When I turned eighteen, which was considered of age for Masaro women, my strength also increased. Previously, I could pick up ten sacks of flour while clutching them stacked up against my chest. Now I discovered I could pick up ten sacks with just one hand, as long as the sacks were securely bound together.
I was horrified. So were my family. Luckily, I met a mage who moved to Panola. She discerned my power when we first met, and offered to help me. She gave me a pair of gloves infused with a magic spell that reduced my strength to the level of one normal man, instead of ten. Not ideal, but at least I needn’t worry about demolishing furniture. But I couldn’t wear kidskin gloves all the time. I already got strange looks when I wore gloves in the peak of summer. And they were too thin for winter.
I got up from the cushion I was sitting on and went to the window. After I yanked the leg off about twenty tables and chairs, Mama decided I should use cushions in the future. The same went for my bed--we replaced the slanted wooden one with a mattress. My table was a slab of flat stone. It looked like I was living in a cave. Cristian teased me that I should wear a costume of striped fur and a necklace strung with sharp teeth. I told him I’d be happy to strangle him with the necklace.
Looking outside the window, I sighed as I watched the men who crossed the street. Siesta was almost over, and everyone was returning to their shops.
How was I supposed to find a decent man when there were so few to choose from? Our town was nice, but it was the westernmost city of Masaro and a long way from the sea. The men who stayed behind weren’t the best of the bunch. Most were either lazy (like my brother) or stupid, or a bit of both.
“Chiarina!” Mama’s voice floated to me. “Come down!”
I pulled on my magic gloves and trudged downstairs. The aroma of savory cheese, dark chocolate, and cinnamon filled the air. Mama was taking a tray out of the oven, and I felt my mouth salivate at the sight of rows of golden-brown egg-custard tarts, their tops bubbly and melting.
“Take these to the storefront,” Mama said, placing the tray of egg-custard tarts on the table. “They’re our bestsellers today.”
I snagged a tart before she could stop me. Frankly speaking, with my strength, not even ten men could stop me from getting a tart. The creamy filling made me sigh as I crammed the tart into my mouth. Egg-custard tarts were best eaten hot. Even when the weather was getting hotter--it was mid-spring now--I was vulnerable when it came to dessert. As any Masaro would be.
“Watch your figure, Chiarina,” Mama chided. “If you keep sampling every pastry we make, you’ll resemble a pear soon.”
“Just one,” I whined. What was the point of running a bakery if you couldn’t enjoy a bite once in a while? “Wasn’t this one of Papa’s signature foods?”
A soft light lit up her dark eyes. “I’ve tried to imitate the proportions of sugar and cream, but he never followed exact measurements. He relied on intuition. But with twenty years of practice, I think this is very close to what he used to make.”
Mama dusted flour from her hands and turned back to the oven. At forty-two, she was still pretty. Her oak-brown hair was thick and luxuriant, and she didn’t have any dark spots or wrinkles on her face. Sometimes when we walked together, she’d receive more catcalls than I.
Her friend told us Papa won Mama’s heart through his bread and pastries, but from the stories Mama told us, I knew it was more than that. He was mild-mannered, patient, and kind. His compassion eventually became the reason why he died.
Papa. I had always wondered how he looked like, what his voice sounded like, what it would be to taste something he baked. Mama told us stories; every time her eyes would soften and her cheeks glowed. I wanted a partner like that. Someone who gave so much love and joy in Mama’s life that she would always smile when she talked about him.
Papa had died saving a powerful mage. He was returning to town with a cartful of flour, when he heard someone cry. He stopped the cart and found a man advancing on an elderly woman with silver hair, a gleaming dagger in his hand.
“He didn’t even think of his own safety,” Mama had said. “He threw a sack of flour at the man, who easily blocked it and attacked your father.”
Papa might have died instantly, if the old woman hadn’t thrown a bolt of magic at the murderer. The man died. The old woman tried to save Papa, but the fatal damage was already done. She carried him back to Panola, and upon learning his wife had twins that were three months old, decided to bless us with extraordinary gifts, as her token of gratitude for Papa’s sacrificing his life.
“The fairy mage was more than a hundred years old, though she seemed only about seventy. She said she was going to pass away soon, so she decided to repay your father by sacrificing her remaining years. After she transferred her magic to both of you, she died within days,” Mama said. “She intended to give Cristian strength and you beauty. But the two of you looked so alike in the cradle that she made a mistake. I didn’t notice it either, until you broke the tub when I gave you a bath.”
I rubbed my gloved hands on my sides before I took the tray. It was more a curse than blessing, as useful as super strength might be. Men would run away screaming if they knew I could lift them up with one hand.
Customers, most of them women, were chattering and squabbling in the storefront. I wanted to leave as soon as possible; it was like having a thousand magpies crowded in the bakery. Two old women were arguing about who should have the last piece of focaccia. I eyed their canes, wondering whether I should step in if they were to start a cane fight. It would look suspicious if I broke up a fight between two brawny men, but between two seventy-year-old women, I should be fine.
The aroma of food mingled with the scent of perfume. There was the subtler scent of rosewater, accompanied by the sharper scents of bergamot and lavender. I had a small bottle of lavender perfume in my bedroom, tucked away in a small chest. I rarely used it unless during the summer, when the sticky sweat on my skin was too much to handle.
“Ladies, please. There’s plenty more coming up; no need to push.” Cristian held up his hands, trying to appeal to the customers. There was a small smirk at the corner of his mouth, showing how much he enjoyed the attention. Unlike me, he was satisfied with his gift. Every time he strutted down the street, heads would turn, men and women included. Since he was a child, he managed to keep business brisk by wheedling the adults to purchase our bread, even though it wasn’t as good as other bakeries. Gone were the days when Mama had to scrimp and save. We weren’t rich, but nor did we lack for material comfort. Mama even talked about moving to town square, as a prime location that would definitely bring in more customers.
I’d never admit it to his face, but I envied my brother. If the fairy mage didn’t mess things up, I’d be the one at the counter, surrounded by lovestruck swains, while Cristian hauled sacks of flour and carried buckets of water from the well. If I had his looks, I could have picked anyone in Panola. Including Franco, someone I could only dream of but could never have.
“Get off me!”
“That piece is mine!”
The two old women who had been quarreling over the focaccia had started fighting. One pushed the other, and the latter rammed into me, just when I was approaching a table with my tray. Startled, I was knocked sideways, stumbling towards the table. With one hand I clutched on my tray, while my other hand gripped the hard wood of the table, which was groaning under a pile of crumbly cake and raspberry tarts.
I heaved a sigh of relief. The egg-custard tarts slid around the tray, but none toppled to the ground. They were safe.
But the wood under my fingers didn’t feel right. I looked, and was horrified to see a jagged line running from my palm to the other end of the surface.
The next second, the table collapsed, taking the cake and tarts with it.