Genre: Fantasy. Lars-centered prequel to the novels
Read An Excerpt:
On the morning before his ninth birthing day, Lars struggled to keep up as his nanny dragged him down the road. His hard, flat-soled shoes were too small and made walking, let alone running, impossibly painful, but Nanny didn’t care.
“We have to hurry, boy,” she said, huffing down the hill. “Can’t be late.”
He dared not ask why they had to hurry, or even where they were going, for fear of being impertinent. He wasn’t sure what impertinent was, but every time he spoke, and sometimes when he didn’t, Nanny slapped him for it. Slapped him hard.
Lars couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken more than a word or two, surely not since before Mama was taken to the hospital, back when snow still covered the lawn. Not that he’d talked much with Mama. She wouldn’t stand for real talking, only simple words and baby talk, as if he was still in diddies.
But he didn’t need diddies, even though Mama made him wear them. When Mama went away to the hospital, Nanny gave him real undershorts to wear and he hadn’t seen a diddy since. He’d waited for other clothes, regular kid clothes. They never came. But tomorrow he’d be nine and everything would change. Father had told him so.
“Tomorrow, you will begin a life far different than anything you have ever known,” Father had said, patting Lars on the head. “Make us proud, Boy.”
“Yes, Father,” he had said, and Nanny had dragged him away to run down the road. He had wanted to stay with Father. Father had never slapped him or made him wear baby clothes, like the rotten hard shoes. No, Father wanted him to wear trousers and shirts he could button himself, and soft shoes he could tie or buckle. Father even wanted him to play outside, maybe ride a horse.
Mama wouldn’t stand for it, and she had told Father so
But Mama was at the hospital now. Father wanted him to grow up, so maybe Nanny was taking him to get new clothes, maybe even real trousers with pockets! Lars hoped so, but the more they ran, and the sorer his feet got, the more he doubted it. Nanny seemed to be taking him to a funny little shack sitting in a patch of weeds, just a roof on poles with a bench underneath.
“Sit,” Nanny said, pointing to the bench as she dropped a cloth sack on the ground beside it. She walked about, panting and waving her face. “Lordy, I hope we made it,” she said, holding her hand to shade her eyes.
Glad to get off his throbbing feet, Lars sat and looked up the road. The trees were brilliant green with budding leaves, and the sky was an amazing blue. Lars smiled. Everything looked distant and foggy from the window in his room, not so bright and fresh. As he sat, swinging his sore feet, he tried to remember the last time he’d been outside, in the sunshine. Mama used to lay a blanket under a tree for him when it was nice outside, but he had to sit on the blanket, not run or play. She wouldn’t stand for it.
It’s nice to be in the sunshine, he thought as a carriage came over the hill. Father was right. It’s all different now.
“Oh, good,” Nanny said. “We’re not late.” She knelt before him and opened the sack.
Sunshine happiness forgotten, Lars swallowed when he saw that the sack held his clothes and the stuffed horsey Mama made him sleep with. “What? Why?” he asked, shaking his head.
Nanny pulled an envelope from the sack and slapped his face. “Don’t be impertinent.”
Lars bit his lip and nodded, looking away as Nanny pinned the envelope to his shirt.
She grabbed the sack and made him stand. “You do just what the driver says, you hear?”
Not knowing what else to do, he nodded. He had no concept of where he was, only under a funny shack all by itself beside a road, and no had idea how to run back home. He’d never been so terrified in all his life.
“Don’t you start crying!” Nanny snapped, glancing over her shoulder at the approaching carriage. “You’re going to be just fine.”
He nodded again and wiped the tears away with a ruffled sleeve, but nearly cried out as the carriage stopped right in front of them.
“Thought I was only pickin’ up one,” the driver said, looking down at them.
“You are. He’s going to Castle Faldorrah.” Nanny tossed Lars’s sack of clothes onto the top of the carriage then opened the door.
It looked like a cave inside, dark and shifting. Lars shook his head and took a step back.
“That’s a whole day and night’s drive,” the carriage driver said. “You ‘spect me to babysit him that long?”
“I don’t expect anything,” Nanny said, pushing Lars up rickety steps to the darkly gaping maw of the carriage. “He’s quiet, won’t cause no trouble, and I got his fare right here.”
Lars held onto the edges of the doorframe, struggling to stay outside. It stank in there, like piss and smoke and sweat. From inside, a man muttered, “Awful big for a baby, ain’t ye?”
“Need more’n the reg’lar fare for babysittin’,” the driver said.
“Fine.” Nanny shoved Lars through the doorframe. He landed on his face on foul-smelling carpet. “It’s just one day. He don’t need to eat.”
Then she slammed the door.