Last week, I shared chapter 1 of my upcoming book, The King’s-Horse with my newsletter subscribers. Today, I share it with everyone else (while the newsletter gets the next one!) – also available on WattPad.
This is a raw, pre-beta chapter, so if grammar mistakes and typos make your eyes bleed, look away! Otherwise, enjoy! And for those wondering why the placeholder cover says “A Mondus Fumus Series”, well that will be explained in this week’s newsletter and next week’s blog post!
— Chapter 1 (Raw, unedited, un-beta’ed) —
The dusty, battered horseless-carriage coughed to a halt between the front steps of a collapsed palace and its once manicured garden.
“As much as I love machines, horse-driven carriages are much better,” sniped Oskar, his arms folded. He shook his sparely haired head.
His younger sister, Petra, glared at him and reached for the door. The driver banged twice, and she opened it up.
“You are wasting money on luxuries like this. I should be managing your money again. You could get some real value out of it, instead of hiring a sad, second-rate wagon.” He stared at the driver and grunted at him.
The leather of Petra’s gloves moaned as her hands curled into fists. “It was the only means available.” She stepped out and handed the driver several bills from her pocket. “Return in an hour.”
It had taken everything out of Petra to get past the history with her brother. The idea of showing in the horse statue terrified her, but there was no one else she could trust. Oskar had taken toys and opportunities out of her hands since she was born, but he’d never completely abandoned her.
Three days after she’d sent him a letter by the Neumatic Tube service, he’d shown up at her store. Since then, he’d done his best to make her regret it.
The brisk morning air whipped around Petra, and she hastily buttoned up her elegant, aquamarine long coat and flipped up its protective high-collar.
“And where are all the workers you supposedly have? I see nothing.” Oskar got out and pushed the door closed. The carriage immediately pulled away.
“I gave them the day off so that we could discuss things by ourselves.”
Oskar shook his head. “More money wasted. Where are you getting all of this money?” He fell silent and did a double take on where they were. “This was President Marcus Pieman’s palace, where he was arrested and taken for a Trial by Royals. No, it can’t be.”
He spun around again. “It is. How could you possibly be allowed here? No one in Teuton has been allowed here for the past three years, since the very day that he was toppled. Does this have to do with the royal family having taken power?”
“What, afraid that I am no longer a little nothing of an antic dealer? It’s been six years since we last saw each other dear brother, I have been busy. Now, pay attention to the path my workers have cleared, there are still chunks of marble from the fallen columns or shards of tiles that were too big or dangerous to move.”
Oskar followed, glancing about, frowning. “You have the same tiny store as you did then, and the same little warehouse.”
“Actually, it’s three times the size, but I wouldn’t expect you to notice.”
“And that coat, clearly you have borrowed it from someone just to try and impress me.”
Petra cracked her neck to the side and clenched her teeth. “Just so you know, in the chaos of the past few years, I took a grand risk and helped a few people who are very close to the newly crowned King of Teuton.”
“How really? How influential? The assistant to the—”
“Let’s see. They have land, title, homes, special privileges, and a stipend every month. They also sit on a special council advising the king.” She gave a mocking look and put a finger to her lips. “What do you call those people? Oh, King’s-men.” She continued walking.
Oskar’s eyebrows shot up. “You know Kings’-men? I don’t believe it.”
“How else do you think I was given exclusive access to this site? Me, a little nothing of an antic dealer.”
With a laugh, Oskar rushed up beside his sister, nearly tripping over a broken chair. “Ah, you take my jokes too much to heart, Petra. I was teasing you.” He dusted a sleeve of her coat. “I know you are important. It has always been your destiny, but I always feared you would not be ruthless when you needed to be. Now we are here, together. This is a great day. You know, I’m a very important person too.”
“You fix tools and broken machines in a Teutonic border town that no one cares about.” She glared at him.
“I…” He lowered his gaze to the debris-covered ground. “I deserve that. So, can we start again?”
Looking up at the sky, Petra shook her head back and forth. “Yes, we may.”
For a minute, they walked in silence.
“Did you know, that Marcus Pieman was toppled by the very secret society he thought he was leading? The Fare. Of course, I know that there was a splinter group of the Fare that sought to tear him down. I even had friends who were—”
“You’d never heard before a year ago. You said so in a letter to me, where you asked for money.” Petra let out an exhausted sigh and rubbed her eyes. “This better be worth it.”
He’d been complained and badgered her ever since he’d arrived two days ago. It had taken all of her strength not to strangle the life out of him. Despite her being petite and wiry, and him being stout and muscular, she was convinced that this time, her drive would win out over his brawn.
“For your edification, what’s left of the cathedral ceiling used to have stained glass in it. This was all originally designed by Queen Pastora Willard over two hundred and forty years ago, and Pieman had it restored. I sense that the current royal family will want to erase any signs of this, given that they aren’t Willards.”
Oskar eyes darted as he noticed colorful pieces of smashed vases or torn paintings here and there.
They arrived at a grand staircase that was covered with pieces of the room and fallen plaster from the walls. Petra started up the thin river of a clear path.
“Is the second-floor stable?” asked Oskar.
“If it weren’t, I would have had you go first.”
Oskar chuckled and wagged a finger at her. “Oh, that’s classic Petra. Very wry. I like that. You always were good with those.”
She hid her smile.
Most of the walls on the second level were still intact, though they were severely stained from rain and snow.
“Where are the doors?”
“Those that were in good condition we took and had already sold. Each one fetched fifty crowns. New Teutonic crowns, not old ones.”
Oskar slapped his sister’s shoulder. “You lie. Tell me you lie. Fifty crowns? Who would pay fifty crowns for such things?” His face was twisted in excited skepticism.
“The Grand Library in Kondla.”
“You’re shipping them all the way to the coast? Oh, you were taken. Fifty… that won’t cover the cost of getting them there. Ah, Petra, you were taken.”
“I have no strength for this.” She rolled her eyes and entered a large room with several thick, grey tarps covering something that rose twelve feet in the air.
“Help me take the tarps down.” Petra went to one of the iron spikes that were driven through the floor. “Pull the knot.”
As the tarps slipped away, Petra stepped back and watched the sheer wonder that took over her brother’s face.
“What… what is this?” Oskar stared at it, his eyes wide, his mouth open.
Before them stood the form of a shiny black bodied horse, reared up on its hind legs. What seemed like the statue of a shiny black bodied horse statue. It had an oversized wooden head made of small strips of cedar and a broken mane.
“Have a look in the holes.” Petra pointed at one of the half-dozen shadowed areas that appeared here and there on the horse.
He peered in, and a nervous laughter escaped. “There are gears in here? This is a joke, yes?” Turning to her, she waved at another one, and he darted over to it. “Belts and gears?”
Stepping back, Oskar scratched his face and muttered to himself. “This… this can’t be real. No, it cannot. Such a thing would be impossible.” He glared at his sister.
“Marcus Pieman had airships that did battle with those of the northern Queen, Caterina. Do you not think that he could have something like… whatever this could be?” Petra waved at the horse.
Oskar gazed about. “I think living in such opulence, a man who saw himself as an emperor-to-be, he would just have such things as to inspire him. This is just a statue with pieces of a random machine. Nothing more.”
Petra ran a hand through her shoulder-length dark hair violently. “There was one thing that pushed me to contact you.” She walked over and forced the rusty mouth of the horse open. With her eyes firmly fixed on her brothers, she reached in and pulled something.
Just as Oskar wound up to say something, she pulled hard again. There was a mechanical clanking and cough from within the chest of the horse that lasted for several seconds.
They stood there in silence.
He licked his lips and rubbed his hands together, slowly approaching the horse. “I need to examine this somewhere.”
“I’ll have it brought to my warehouse tomorrow. I need an answer soon though. You can’t take months to do this.”
“Whatever you need,” he said, his mind a million miles away.” He caressed the back of the horse. “This body, it’s metal. It’s cool to the touch. It’s like nothing I’ve seen crafted before.” Arriving at the face, he put his hands on either side of it. “I knew that my visit here would have a purpose. I knew it. This is why I came. The one thing I can’t imagine is if you are truly a mechanical horse, who could have invented such a thing?”
End of Chapter 1 – Unedited edition