HENGE - Preview
The book release is near! I got the HENGE proof back and am preparing to release the book in two weeks. Below, I am sharing a sneak preview of the book! It's a portion of the first chapter. I hope you enjoy meeting Morgan and Merlin for the first time!
After the audience stops clapping, the announcer looks down at his list. “Next… sixteen-year-old fire user Morgan le Fay from Tintagel!”
I swallow. I won’t have time to warm up after all. I rush toward the stage, trying to keep my head up though my legs are quivering. The crowd of people from all over the country is a sea of shadows below me. Camera flashes glimmer like stars. Below the stage, the King’s Cabinet members are seated, wearing fancy suits, gesturing with their cigars. Though they are chatting with each other, they eye me intently.
Music plays: aggressive drums and a flute that follow along with a woman’s haunting song. Putting my hands up, I focus on my fingertips turning as hot as coals. As I concentrate, I grow heavy as force accumulates throughout my body. This is my favorite feeling in the world. Hot energy spawns in my heart like the sun and travels through my arms. My veins burn. My body becomes like the earth, sizzling with flowing lava. The energy sails to my hands, down to my fingertips. Fssssttt—fire sputters to life centimeters from my fingernails. Instantly I become as light as a feather, all the weight having been channeled out of me. The crowd oohs and aahs.
I dance and whirl, trailing fire behind me. It arcs high into the air, drawing gasps from the crowd. Sweat trickles down my forehead, but I do my best to look elegant as I create brilliant, roaring ribbons of fire that hug and spin around my body. I have never performed fire in front of anybody before, and I feel like I’m revealing a big secret. Out of the corner of my eye a young man peers at me from backstage, his eyes full of wonder. I glance at him only once through a blur of gold and red sparks.
Letting the fire retreat back into my hands, I bow as the music finishes, making sure to keep my hot, and possibly still-sparking, hands away from my clothes. Setting my outfit ablaze would be an embarrassing finish. The crowd erupts in applause and cheers. I crack a smile and bow again.
As I walk backstage the young man who was staring at me beams with perfect teeth. Suddenly the temperature in my face rises, and it doesn’t help that I just got done working with fire. I wipe the sweat from my face with the back of my hand and study him. The bright light above shines through his long lashes and illuminates his ash-blond hair and blue eyes, which are the shade of a partially cloudy sky. A somber and wise blue. A smattering of faint freckles dots his nose, like raindrops. He even smells like rain. I have seen a few good-looking boys on the streets of Tintagel before, but I’ve never been hit multidimensionally by someone’s attractiveness.
“You were amazing,” he says to me with a slightly Welsh accent. “I’ve never seen fire like that. Where did you learn it?”
I want to tell him that my grandfather was Hector de Maris. Though Grandfather died of old age ten years ago, he left behind hundreds of articles and interviews that chronicled his life: he was the Maven to King Constantine II; he was rumored to have touched the Grail. But I can’t mention him. I can never speak of Mother’s side of the family. Father warned me that I would never get a job anywhere if people knew Morgause de Maris-Orkney was my mother.
“Thanks,” I simply say. “I’m self-taught.”
“What’s your name?” he asks.
“Morgan. What’s yours?”
“Oh, neat—Merlin, like the falcon.”
I vaguely remember merlins occasionally soaring through the forest during my childhood. Merlin certainly is not birdlike, though he does seem like an ethereal creature that stepped out of some sun-dappled woods. I study his clothes. He wears a light blue suit and matching tie. He notices my stare.
I clear my throat. “That’s a nice tie. Did your parents get it for you?”
Merlin averts his eyes but maintains his smile. “I don’t have parents. These clothes were donated to me.”
I color as a pang of guilt pricks me for making an assumption. “Ah, well, it’s really nice. Better than my old clothes.”
“I think your clothes look nice too,” he says.
The way he looks at me gives me a boost of confidence. “I see that you’re dressed in blue,” I say, smiling. “Are you a water user?”
He nods. On TV, water users are often categorized as boring splash makers. Maybe he chose formal wear because he doesn’t plan on physically moving around too much.
The announcer speaks. “Next, we have a water user… sixteen-year-old Merlin Ambrosius from Wales!”
“You’re up. Good luck,” I say and give him a quick wink.
He blushes. I don’t think I’ve ever given anyone a wink in my life. Maybe performing fire has given me a rush of boldness.
Still pink in the face, Merlin keeps his head down as he walks onto the stage. As the light centers on him, he looks up at the ceiling like he’s spacing out. As I watch him, waiting for him to do something, I become embarrassed for him. What is he doing? He blinks a few times. Regardless, the pianist begins his song. Classical—clean and simple.
A ball of water appears in the air above his head. It wobbles around in a circle, fighting gravity as the water bloats. The crowd laughs, watching the struggling blob. Merlin continues to look up—he blissfully closes his eyes, as if he’s under a spring rain shower.
The blob starts to quiver like jelly, precariously close to collapsing. Before I can flinch, it’s falling. Then the blob sprouts wings. Dovelike wings. The crowd gasps. The water bird rises up above Merlin and flies with glassy wings that undulate and catch the light with each flap.
I scrutinize the water bird, my neck craning. The complexity of manipulating a thin sheet of water without breaking form… how is it possible? The delicate but heavy wings fight the laws of physics.
The bird splits up into more birds—all equal in size, which means that Merlin can produce water with ease. My fists clench as I continue to watch him. I’ve never seen someone so young able to make complex shapes. Six gleaming birds fly in circles around Merlin. They then separate above his head in a geometrically perfect hexagon. Merlin also understands spatial precision. The birds all turn toward the center, above his head, then fly at each other, collapsing with a succession of splashes. The crowd gasps again.
The water doesn’t fall down. It turns into a rose. Wavering, crystal petals. Diamond thorns. A water rose that traps the stadium light inside it.
The amount of control it must take to fight gravity, to form water into those petals, those thorns.
The piano music cascades as the rose divides and loops into the air, bending into letters.
My cheeks grow hot. The letters turn into six roses again, twisting together, winding, winding. The roses coil into a caterpillar. A butterfly bursts from the caterpillar. Then the shimmering butterfly flies into his hand. He closes his hand around it with gentle slowness, his eyes cast down. When he opens his hand again, it’s dry.
Then he bows.
People are so stunned that they forget to applaud. Slowly someone begins to clap, and then everyone is screaming and hooting and cheering. The applause crashes into my eardrums, each clap striking at my heart. A standing ovation. Some people are even wiping tears from their eyes.
I stare, bewildered. I couldn’t have anticipated this. Merlin was supposed to be like those kids I watched on TV who accidentally used water, making a little splash, staining their clothes as if they wet themselves. So where did Merlin learn his magic?
The show goes on in a fog as my mouth goes dry. In my peripheral vision, as distant to me as figurines going round and round on a jewel box, other contestants dance and show their magic. Nothing directly catches my eye. I want to fast-forward to when the judges rank us. All my childhood, I stayed sheltered with no friends while other kids went to school and played. I spent my time practicing fire magic by the sea. I have no distractions from my goal. My will is pure, driven by madness. “Nothing is more powerful than madness,” my mother used to say.
After the final show the announcer talks loudly, but his words don’t reach me. I hear him say my name, and I walk up to the stage with mechanical stiffness. It feels as if it’s all happening in slow motion. The crowd is still a blur. He swings a heavy medallion around my neck.
It bears the number two.