Secondary Color – A work-in-progress

Okay! I finally got so tired of not posting anything, I decided I’m going to post EVERYTHING. Well, maybe not everything, but I’ll at least give you part of a short story I’ve written. Maybe you can help me get some traction on it. Read and enjoy, and let me know what you liked, disliked, etc. about it. The ending has yet to be written.

Also, disregard the (Name) markers I left throughout the story, and feel free to suggest names. 😉

Secondary Color Draft 2

When I first got the letter from my young disciple at the Priory, I was happy.

What a fool I was. What a complete and utter fool. I knew the inner workings of that place — the Priors at Rivest were unable to touch anything without trying to rope it in, make it belong to them. That included me, but I had been down that road before, three years ago when I — well, abdicated – my position as Sixth Executive Prior, however politely it had been given me.

Feiruse, my letter-writer, my once-savior, said she was getting married, but that was a lie, too. Nothing was ever simple with the girl, and the fact that she was writing to me at all indicated she needed something badly enough to take advantage of my debt to her. I reminded myself of that over and over as I packed my bags – she was there when I swore I’d never set foot in Rivest again, and she though she seemed fond of trying my patience, she never tried it lightly.

The journey there was uneventful, as resulted only in the roilingly nauseous experience of seasickness and acute boredom with the way the captain, a leather-thick woman with hair a few shades shy of true magenta, bent and scraped after I showed her one lock of my cyan hair to avoid paying the boarding fee.

By the time we docked I was about ready to forsake my own values and destroy one of the knots on the woman’s ship to make her leave me alone – I had stared at the walls of it long enough, seasickness pushing me in and out of color-sight, to know its palette as acutely as I remembered the churning in my stomach. The sight of Feiruse dancing from foot to foot on the shore was therefore a mercy. She had put on some bulk around the waist since we had last met, but her face, peering from out her magenta strands of hair, looked decidedly drawn.

I disembarked with a less-than-lovely demeanor. Feiruse hugged my neck, and I suppose that helped, but I was tossed back into my dark mood when I looked in her eyes, noticed she hadn’t assaulted me with words as she was wont to do, and knew the reason I was here was worse than I originally suspected.

I grasped her by the shoulders and stopped walking. Plain-haired passers-by gave us a wide berth. “I’m not sure what you’re about to tell me or ask me to do, Feiruse, but remember that the Priors don’t know where I’ve gone, and I’d prefer to keep it that way.”

She nodded, then glanced over her shoulder. Rivest was a big city, but that was little comfort.

“You’re not getting married, are you?”

“No,” she managed.

“Not a man involved, then. Good.”

Her cheeks abruptly flushed to the vivid shade of her hair. “Well. I wouldn’t say that.”

My brows pinched down over my eyes. It took a moment, but a phantom fear I’d long harbored concerning the girl took form. “No. You didn’t.”

She looked away.

“A baby?” I hissed, and was given affirmation by Feiruse’s silence. “A Secondary baby?” I had to clarify as much as I feared to.

“(Name),” she looked at me suddenly, desperately, “He has black hair and black eyes.”

I made sure I used all my worst curses for the situation, and hustled us out of the thoroughfare.


We sat at the table in Feiruse’s house, nursing bone-white porcelain cups of tea.

“You want me to what,” I said flatly.

“It’s not like it was a secret to me, what you did,” Feiruse muttered poutily. “When you accepted the position as Sixth Executive Prior and asked me to help you disappear so soon afterward. I had plenty of time to think about it. Even I know that there’s some kind of mutual knot that the Priors share with one another. You saw something you didn’t like – big surprise – and untied the knot, and everyone was shocked.” Her hands waved about as if she were swatting flies. “You aren’t supposed to be able to do that. So. I figure if you can untie a palette knot, you can do something to prevent an outside knot from being tied against one’s will.”

I hated her when she made sense. “You think the Priors will try to control your son.”

“He can untie knots. If you were a Prior, wouldn’t you?” Feiruse played with her teacup. “These were my favorite color blue not two hours ago,” she commented innocently.

I blanched. Black. The absorber of color. The color of teacups was the most minor of the palette knots the baby might accidentally untie.

“Well.” I cleared my throat. “Minor correction. I didn’t technically untie the Prior’s knot, I broke it.”

Feiruse threw her hands up. “Okay, that’s it. Nothing about you will surprise me anymore, I swear it. And before I set about interrogating you on your insane methods, can you help my son, or not?

Or _knot, _I thought, mentally chuckling to myself. All nerves now, I told myself I had a choice, whether or not to help the stupid girl. I told myself that she and her son would be fine without me, might even do better for themselves. Then when I opened my mouth, all that came out was, “Damn you, I suppose I can.”


The days following were spent in taking care of a helpless human being, something on the bottom of my list of enjoyable activities. In order to effectively protect him from the Priors, I had to be around him long enough, steeped in color-sight, to learn just what the palette of this Secondary baby looked like.

I had no idea what to expect. A black-haired and black-eyed child – one parented by two Priory-trained Casters – had never before been born. Anyone with both Colorcasting and significant skill in it was, upon discovery, hustled away to the Priory as a matter of course. There were few enough of those as it was, and even fewer with the gall – or was it apathy? – to throw away honor, status, and livelihood to risk procreating with another Primary Caster.

Then there was Feiruse. The girl who, unlike myself, never seemed to use her inconoclast bent to do something useful. I sighed, shook my head. Hands on hips, I faced down her child as he lay squirming in a makeshift bassinet. “Okay, rat. Do your worst.”

With each passing emotion, something within the baby’s line of sight changed color, sometimes texture, and on rare occasion, shape. His palette was so complex I was reduced to a heap of profanity-jabbering helplessness on the floor following my attempts to touch it, and finding myself repelled over and over and over.

There were weeks of this.

Finally, the baby and I found ourselves at something of a stalemate. I caved and began to swaddle him, change his soiled wrappings, and generally take care of him, something which the ever-devious Feiruse never warned me I’d have to do when she left him with me. These things done, he stayed calm enough to let me peer at his palette undisturbed for longer than a few seconds. Feiruse often appeared and consulted me on what I was doing, even practiced lacing the color strands in a more or less accurate reproduction of my attempts.

I had a smile in my mind the day it all fell apart. I had been making progress with the babe. Feiruse was at the Priory again, pretending that she didn’t have a child and that everything was as normal as it had always been, and I was in charge of the baby when he decided to foil my plans and pitch the grandest fit I’d yet seen. I told him I wasn’t a milk cow; I couldn’t help him, but his vociferous retort finally sent me into town, with a ache throbbing in the front of my skull, in search of some goat’s milk.

Hair covered, eyes darting every which way, I picked my way through hauntingly familiar streets feeling as if I were dreaming. I felt stabs of fear, whispers of pain from long-faded bruises. I hated being here, and suddenly, more than ever, longed to jump aboard a ship and sail back home. My breath picked up, my vision swam, my head still pounded from the baby’s screaming. I should’ve rested before leaving, after so much Colorcasting, I told myself, and promptly stumbled face-first into a grocer’s stall.

When I opened my eyes a few minutes later, my headscarf had been removed and the plain-haired, blunt-faced grocer was explaining to (Name), Second Executive Prior, “I’m glad you were here…she just fell, and when I saw that hair, your Honor, I’m just glad you were here…”

I lurched to my feet and would’ve tried to run if it weren’t already too late. (Name) held my arm in a show of beneficence that only I knew was actually imprisonment. “Thank you. We do guard our own very jealously,” (Name) told the grocer, but I knew his words were actually for me.

We walked along the road toward the Priory on the west side of Rivest, the only sound to my ears the slap of our feet against the dust of the ground. I glanced down at the now-sore spot on my arm where (Name) gripped me. “You’ve always had such a way with women, (Name).”

He jerked his hand away as if just now realizing he had foiled all attempts at seeming amicable. “You were bound to come back here, you know. Your type always does.”

Was I not the first one to run away? Had others tried and failed before? The Priors had said the system was meant to break the students, and for the first time in three years I believed it could happen to me. “And what is my reason for coming back, oh omniscient one?”

His mouth turned down sourly. “Don’t pretend you don’t remember the power you held as a Prior. And, don’t assume you’ll get to hold that power again – it’s the First Executive who will judge you for breaking your original contract.”

I chewed on that for the remainder of the walk, from the moment we stepped into one of the Priory’s surreys and were whisked away to what had been both home and holding cell from childhood.

I reverted back to a mental state I hadn’t really ever left in Rivest, just let lie dormant until I needed it: repeatedly blessing my board-stiff will, the personality traits that made me as unpredictable as, well, a Secondary baby’s color palette. My mental conditioning didn’t cease until I felt (Name’s) arms enfolding me in a paternal embrace, as we stood before the steps leading up and into the slate-gray Priory building, flooding me with a feeling that could only be called the line between loathing and need.

“Welcome home,” he said.

I forced my walk into the Priory to be one of dignity rather than defeat. They were going to force me to play their games, and the only way to win was to quit as soon as possible. And anyway, there was a baby waiting for me.

So, when (Name) took me through a hallways of arches, down shallow steps into an open double-doorway that led into a jarringly spartan chamber where the First Executive Prior was waiting, I made my move.

I had been rehashing the Priory’s color palette in my head; this room, in particular. Such a simple way to prepare, and yet one they couldn’t have prevented me from doing even if they had known what I was about. The First saw the distant look pass over my face that meant I was entering color-sight, and he jumped from his seat. After that, all I saw was the rainbow skeins that made up the beams on the ceiling.

I did the most efficient splice I could manage – after my earlier blackout, I lacked the energy required to pull the skeins completely apart – and heard the crack of wood as pieces that made up the beams rearranged into a shape that could not hold. I was able to watch them fall before having to come back to myself, dive from (Name’s) loosened hold and scramble for cover before the First could reach me at the dead run he was now effecting.

Even as I immersed myself back into color-sight one thought kept echoing through my mind: I couldn’t let any of this come back to Feiruse and the baby.

I made a gutsy dive underneath a table pushed against the wall, and scooped up one side, toppling it over and interrupting the First’s frightening speed. I fell back into wild color-sight. I had seen the First’s eyes and knew he was doing the same. It instilled cold, hard terror in my gut.

The skeins of the table were right before my eyes, a glowing spectrum of colors. My panic made me revert back to the novice practice of grabbing at the skeins as if I could physically hold them, but I still had enough presence of mind to splice one long braid so that, when my sight returned to reality, I saw a corner of the table peel away and wrap around the First’s waist, trapping him.

That, however, didn’t last long. I was conscious long enough to look up and see one of the ceiling beams barreling toward me, sweeping back like a hand preparing a blow. I spun on my heel and tried to make it to a sconce in the corner of the room, but the speed of the First’s magic was incredible, and the beam took me on the back of the head with a sound crack that reminded me of the particular hardness of my skull before I went under.

When I awoke, I was in a cell. The smell of chicken wafted toward me, and my stomach growled loudly.

(Name) turned his head. He was sitting at a small table laden with food, tapping his foot on the floor, smiling at me. I wondered how long he had been sitting there – the fact he had been watching me sleep made me shiver.

“Your timing is impeccable, (Name),” he said.

I didn’t favor him with a response, but I wondered what he was plotting, for plotting he most certainly was. I didn’t have to wonder long. Only a few minutes passed before I heard the sussuruss of fabric across the floor.


(Name) picked at the chicken on his plate and pointedly failed to invite the dark-haired girl whose voice belonged to Feiruse to sit in the empty chair across from him.

At his silence, Feiruse plowed forward impatiently. I could almost hear her thoughts, wanting to finish with the day of lessons and practicums, get back home to see how the babe and I had fared.

“Why am I here, if you don’t terribly mind? I was working on a project for (Prior) and I know she won’t be happy if I don’t finish soon…”

“Have you ever thought about becoming Sixth Executive Prior?”

There was a long and pregnant silence. Feiruse may have been dense at times, but the girl knew when she was being mocked, even if she didn’t know why.

I could almost see her opening mouth, working to form an answer.

The chair shifted on the floor as (Name) moved. “Come here. I want you to see something.”

Feiruse steps tapped forward hesitantly. I sympathized with her discomfort in being in such close proximity with the snake of a man. “This way,” (Name) directed, and I winced at the soft footfall making its way toward my cell.

When Feiruse came around the corner, dressed in the slate blue of the Priory’s elder students, face washed and hair neatly pinned, I must admit I felt a momentary pang that had nothing to do with my current situation. I was transported to some years ago, when I still believed in the purpose of my life at the Priory, tutoring Feiruse with a mixture of pride and dismay. A lifetime ago, a world away.

To her credit, Feiruse’s only reaction was the slight widening of her eyes and a sudden tightness across the brow. She even had enough presence of mind to say something not completely moronic. “I—what’s her Honor the Sixth Prior doing here, (Name)?” Her obligatory curtsy to me came a few seconds too late.

“Perhaps,” his voice, so calm and courteous, made me shudder like an unwanted caress, “you can tell me.”


%d bloggers like this: