Balance (my queer fantasy romance as advertised on w/b) - Chapter 1
Posted June 11th, 2018 by AlgebraAddict
Okay so I really meant to just write a short story but it's been really slow so far so idk what's going on. What I'm saying is that maybe it will be a full length novel but it's also possible that it'll be a long short story with like four or five chapters.
This is the first story I have started writing with a disabled character- The heroine is a disabled queer woman, which I've never done before. With the way it's presented, it's actually not a medical problem so much as a magical-potion-screwing-up-her-body, but despite not following an irl medical diagnosis, I really want to write her as honestly and realistically as I can. I am not physically disabled myself, so if anyone has any feedback or concerns with the way I portray Helen, please please please let me know.
Balance: Part 1
No one knew what caused the sickness. At the time, Helen was certain that the gods were punishing her, but that notion faded with time. Six years later, she couldn’t even recall what sin had prompted her hunch of divine retribution. In fact, she barely remembered anything from the days of the sickness, and nothing from the days before. It was amazing to her that for eleven years of her life, she had lived a normal childhood. She had played in the yard with other children—or so she was told—but when Helen stared out her window and saw kids playing in the grass, it didn’t give her flashbacks to a happy childhood. She couldn’t identify with them, even just from a memory. Her late caretaker, the ever-cheerful Rosalind, had tried so hard to uncover even a single memory for Helen to cherish. She would tell her stories about Helen’s youth.
“You would run down that hill, right there,” Rosalind might say. “Sometimes you’d fall halfway down and tumble the rest. See, just like that little boy did just now.”
Helen would nod, maybe smile a little, but she couldn’t bring herself to tell her caretaker the truth: seeing a boy run was the same experience for her as seeing a crow fly. They were just two different creatures doing things that were natural for them, but things that Helen couldn’t fathom doing for herself. At least she had flown a few times in her dreams.
Sometimes Helen had wished Rosalind would let it go and talk about something else, anything else. Now, a week after Rosalind’s burial, Helen found herself missing those conversations. Rosalind was Helen’s caregiver and mother-figure and best friend and teacher, and she had plenty of strategies to keep Helen’s mind busy that did work. Before Rosalind, Helen had gotten a lot of sympathy, and anyone who visited rarely came again. When Rosalind came along, she immediately saw something in Helen that no one else had: creativity. It was Rosalind who started Helen’s instruction in piano and calligraphy and started Helen’s collections: a box of smooth stones, another of shells, and her shelf now packed with poetry anthologies.
Through the door, a muffled voice announced, “Your parents are eating breakfast in a few minutes, and they would like you to join them.”
“I’ll just eat in here, if that’s okay,” Helen answered, trying to sound polite and unbothered. Her parents had failed to hire another caretaker between Rosalind’s death and now, so the people who talked to Helen were just rotating staff members, and Helen didn’t want to give any of them reason for worry.
“They really wanted to talk to you. They seemed to think it was important. May I come in?”
“I—” Helen’s thoughts interrupted her speech, while she tried to think of reasons her parents would choose today to pressure her into a family breakfast. “Yes, come in.”
The maid opened the door, and Helen noticed the two guards on the other side of her bedroom door and wondered if they had been there all night. If they had, she doubted they would be much use in case of an attack.
“Have they increased security again?” Helen asked the maid, as she helped Helen out of bed.
“I’m not sure.” It was a smooth lie, but Helen caught it nevertheless. She knew for a fact that the maids gossiped to no end, and if there was even a whiff of change in the household, they would know for sure what was going on and why. Helen didn’t feel like pushing it, though.
“I can take it from here,” Helen assured the maid, taking the shaky two steps across the wood floor to get into the chair.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m not paralyzed,” Helen said with a small smile. “I can even walk; it’s just that I’m physically…”
“Weak?” the maid finished. A second later, she seemed mortified at the word she had just uttered.
“Unstable,” Helen corrected, before the maid had time to apologize. “When the witch doctor found my cure, he warned it would affect my physical strength and balance. For as long as I take the prescription, I’ll need the wheelchair to get places, but I can still move a little on my own.” Helen didn’t bother to mention that most days, those two steps to get into the chair were enough to make her want to stay in bed. Her legs violently shook, ready at any second to collapse beneath her, but trying to balance upright was a thousand times worse. The world swayed from side to side; the floorboards rippled beneath her feet as if they were determined to throw her to the ground. Before Rosalind had been killed, she would urge Helen every morning to just try. Helen had tried once, almost a year earlier, and the experience was such that she refused to do it again.
“We all fall on our faces,” Rosalind said once. “Some more literally than others. But if you don’t fall now, you’ll fall later, and then you’ll have no idea how to get up.”
Helen had known in her heart that Rosalind knew what she was talking about. Nevertheless, every time it came down to it, Helen’s own terror drowned out any small inspiration Rosalind gave her. And so, she didn’t stand up. She made Rosalind carry her from her bed to her chair— just two steps. Those steps were a deep, dizzying chasm that Helen refused to cross. On the morning of Rosalind’s death, she pleaded with Helen for the last time: “Two steps, dear one.”
Helen woke up cross that morning, so much so that the politeness and meekness that defined her character lapsed and she snapped at her caretaker, “Rosa, I’m sick! I can’t walk- not even two steps, and you know this, so just stop.”
Rosalind nodded, and lifted Helen into her chair. “What’s first today?”
“I want to go to the city,” Helen had said.
“They paid me for the cards I did, so I’m going to buy more ink.”
“Maybe we should stay in. You can take your piano lesson now instead of later–”
“I want to go to the city.”
And so they went to city. Rosalind seemed a little agitated—anxious, even—but Helen assumed it was just frustration with her. Later, no one seemed to talk about the caregiver’s rumored powers of foresight, because if she really had been a prophetess of some kind, she wouldn’t have died in the ambush. But Helen, who had never believed the rumors, finally started to give them some thought.
Helen wheeled herself out the door, trying to ignore the armed guards at the door. As she approached the small dining room, where her parents at breakfast, hushed voices caught her attention. She prepared to enter anyway, but she stopped before she reached the door.
“Despite our increased security, our daughter has not been herself since the attack.” It was her father’s voice, eternally gruff and anxious.
“She was almost killed,” another voice answered. This one was different—low, but feminine. Helen had never heard it before. “She may just need time to heal.”
“She won’t leave the house,” Helen’s mother chimed in.
“Did she use to?”
Her mother hesitated, but answered, “yes, almost every day.”
“And who accompanied her?”
“Her caregiver, Rosalind.”
“And Rosalind was killed in the attack?”
There was no audible answer, but Helen guessed that someone had nodded yes, because the feminine voice continued, “That’s sad, but if you are trying to replace her, I’m not the one. I’m closer to a mercenary than a caregiver. So why don’t you tell me why you’re trying to hire a warrior instead of a nurse? Surely a single random act of violence wouldn’t cause such a change of heart?”
A silence fell on the room. Without even seeing them, Helen could feel the tension. Finally, her father spoke up. “There was another attack.”
“Two nights ago. An assassin was in the garden, preparing to enter Helen’s room by way of the window.”
Helen caught her breath. No one had told her anything about this.
“Did you capture him?”
“We did, but he slit his own throat before we could interrogate him.”
“How do you know he was after your daughter?”
There was a sound of something sliding over the table. A piece of paper, perhaps.
“He had the drawing of her on his person?” the woman with the low voice asked.
Again, there was silence. After a moment of hesitation, Helen raised a shaking fist to the door and knocked.
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