Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Beginnings: KERI

Here are the first couple pages of KERI. What do you all think?

* * *

“They say Lord Dorric is dying,” Tassel told Keri, swinging without ceremony into the bakery kitchen. She let the door slam shut behind her. It banged hard because its frame had warped in the wet spring weather, an event predictable as the blooming of crocuses and daffodils. The bell chimed, once and again and a third time as the door bounced against the frame. The chime was a bright cheerful sound, but it reminded Keri that she needed to hire someone to replace the warped frame.

Keri’s mother could have got out a hammer and a handful of twopenny nails and fixed the doorframe herself. If Keri tried to do that, she would probably bend all the nails and crack the doorframe and knock the head off the hammer. But since her mother’s death, the bakery never seemed to earn enough in a week to pay a carpenter to repair the door, so from week to week the door continued to bang in its frame. These days all such tasks seemed to go undone, until both house and shop creaked with neglect.

Keri sighed, blinked, and looked back at the immediate task facing her – one she could at least address properly, and one that would earn decent coin. Maybe this cake would even pay for a carpenter at last.

Tassel began to hitch herself up to sit on the edge of the scarred kitchen table, but then, careful of the lace on her gown, sat on a stool instead and only leaned an elbow on the table. The gown was pearl-gray and pink and frothy with lace, certainly nothing sensible for a working kitchen. If Keri had tried to wear a dress like that, even if she hadn’t been working in the bakery kitchen, she would have stained the fabric and pulled out bits of lace within the hour. Tassel was the sort of girl who never tore or stained anything.

Tassel watched critically as Keri piped frosting around the circumference of a cake layer and then spread peach jam over the layer. “Did you hear what I said?”

Keri produced a wordless murmur, more interested in keeping the peach jam from oozing out of bounds than in Tassel’s far-from-surprising news. She placed a second cake layer on top of the first and repeated the piped circle of frosting and filling of peach jam.

“Yes, but my cousin says you can stand in his back pasture and actually watch the mist thinning,” Tassel persisted. Her voice dropped portentously. “He says, some days lately, you can see right out through the mist. He says you’d swear you can glimpse the tips of mountains against the sky.”

“Um?” said Keri. She placed the third layer on top of the second and began to spread frosting in large swirls across the sides and top of the towering cake.

Tassel clicked her tongue in exasperation. “Not Gannon, and not Timon either. It’s Cort who says he’s seeing mountaintops through the mist.”

Her attention momentarily captured, Keri glanced up. She tried to imagine Tassel’s youngest and most humorless cousin standing in his back pasture, gazing into the border of the Demesne, frightening himself with vague shapes in the mist. Her imagination failed her.

“There, you see?” said Tassel, satisfied that she had finally impressed Keri with the significance of her news. She then spoiled her portentous air by asking in an entirely different tone, “Are you going to use all that frosting? It’s the kind you make with soft cheese and whipped cream and white sugar, isn’t it?”

“It is,” said Keri heartlessly, “But yes, I’m going to use all of it.”

Tassel widened her eyes in a woebegone look and blinked, dark eyes filling with tears. It was a trick she had used to great effect as a child. Tassel had been an exquisite child, all huge eyes and curls and porcelain skin. She had been able to weep beautifully, with never a blotch or a reddened eye, even before she was steady on her baby feet.

Keri would have envied her friend that skill except it would have been wasted on her; she had never been pretty enough to make tears charming, and besides, Keri’s mother, unlike Tassel’s parents, had never been in the least susceptible to charm. At least, not since falling, briefly, for the charm of Keri’s father.

Tassel was still exquisite, although no longer a child, but Keri only raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “If you want some frosting, next time offer to whip the cream.”

“But that’s hard!”

Keri snorted, but she also relented so far as to dip a spoon into the bowl of frosting and hand it to her friend.

Tassel accepted the spoon cheerfully. “Mmm.”

“So what else does Cort say?”

“Only what I told you. But if it’s true, doesn’t it mean the Lord must really be dying this time?”

Keri only shrugged. Dorric Ailenn had been a fixture of the Demesne for forty years at least – more than twice Keri’s whole life. She had imagined the Demesne with a different Lord; of course she had. She probably spent a good deal more time on such daydreams than most people of the Demesne. But Lords of the Demesne were generally long lived. Keri thought Dorric would probably rule for another twenty years. No matter who imagined he could see through the boundary mist.

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7 Comments Beginnings: KERI

  1. Elaine T

    What flavor is the cake?

    I’m getting the impression of approx Georgian/Regency level world. It’s a small world, with magic, and magical boundaries, northern-ish limate if crocuses and daffodils are common in spring. I wonder why the Demesne exists, and what the Lord dying is going to trigger. I assume Tassel is correct. I also keep trying to call her Tansy, don’t ask me why.
    Both girls are related to the Lord in some fashion, one legit, one not. Probably daughters of a brother. Bet Cort will have a large role.

    I am interested and would read on.
    Do they ever see the sun?

  2. Cheryl L

    Ooohh! I like the everyday detail of the bakery combined with the hints of magic. It feels a bit Robin McKinley-ish to me – always a plus in my opinion.

  3. Rachel

    Oh, good to know I’m hitting the right tone! a) yes for Cort being important; b) no, only Keri is related to Lord Dorric. Um. I think.

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