Guess what? I came across an even earlier draft of Vodnik today–the original first draft, that I only got halfway through before I decided enough needed to be changed that I should just start over from the beginning. This might not be that exciting to you, but I was tickled pink to come across it. I knew it existed, but I thought I’d just written over the original draft when I was editing it.
Now I know I actually kept a copy. (Which is very like me. I don’t like throwing things away. Especially not digital ones.)
Anyway–one of the coolest things about it was that I found the original prologue, which I haven’t read in six years. It’s the scene where Tomas drowns as a child–something which is only referred to in the book as it now stands. Yes, some of the characters have changed personalities some in the meantime, and it’s much darker than the final book became–but I thought it was cool enough that I wanted to share it with you all today. I’ll resume normal commentaries next week. For now, I hope you enjoy . . .
The festival was just winding down when Tomas saw him: a strange little man in a top hat and dressed all in green, sitting on a rock and piping on a small flute. The man looked at Tomas and winked. For his part, Tomas was suspicious. His parents had always warned him about talking to strangers, but this was the day of the festival. Over a hundred people had flocked to Trencin castle to meet and trade and do the various things medieval reenacters did, like fencing and juggling and archery.
Tomas looked around him. There were still plenty of people there, haggling over last minute purchases. The sky was free of clouds, and everything was bright. He looked back at the little man, or to be more specific, at his flute. Tomas was only six, and he loved anything that made music.
Finally his curiosity overpowered his fear, and he walked over to the man, who continued to play. It was a strange song, full of runs and trills, and it reminded Tomas of the stream up by their cottage in the mountains.
When Tomas was close, the man took the wooden flute out of his mouth and held it out to the boy. “Do you like it?”
“I have another, you know,” the man said.
Now that he was closer to the stranger, Tomas noticed some details that hadn’t stood out as much from farther away. First, even the man’s hair was green. It flowed out from beneath his hat like water from a spring, and it matched the green of his hat and coat perfectly. As for his clothes, he was dressed formally, in a suit with tails and a vest. Curiously, he didn’t wear any shoes.
“Where are your shoes?” Tomas asked, his suspicions roused again.
The man laughed. “It’s been such a long day, I took them off to relax a while before I went home.”
That was a reasonable answer, even to a six year old. The man put the flute back to his lips and resumed his song.
Tomas listened to it for a while longer before he asked, “Where is the other one?”
The man stopped and smiled. “Beg pardon?”
“Where is your other flute?”
“Of course. It’s right over there.” The man pointed up the path a little, toward the main keep. “Right by the little pool.”
Tomas turned around to see where everyone else was. People were beginning to break up and leave now. He could see his parents over at the far end of the castle terrace, by the Lover’s Well, talking to Uncle Lubos. Tomas always felt safer when his uncle was near. He lived right next door to them, in the same building, in an apartment he had all to himself. Tomas looked back at the man again. “Can I see it?” If anything went wrong, Uncle Lubos would take care of it.
The man leapt off his rock like an acrobat and smiled even wider. “Come right this way, then.” He held his arm out in invitation, and Tomas started up the path. It was a steep climb for a six year old, but he was used to that. When they got to the pool, Tomas looked around for a bag or a box where the flute might be. There wasn’t one there, only a fire that was on its way to going out. Smoke wandered around in the air, tickling Tomas’s nostrils and making him scrunch up his face.
“Where is it?” he asked.
“Don’t you see it?” The man pointed. “It’s right there. By the edge of the pool. See?”
Tomas didn’t. He went forward a few more steps. There was nothing there. The pool had developed as runoff from the castle’s gutters had slowly carved their way into the rock over the years. There was a large stone pipe that led into the ground, and a lot of stagnant, green water, but no pipe. “Is this some sort of a trick?”
The man’s face turned serious. “I assure you, it is not.” He looked over his shoulder, and Tomas noticed that they had gone out of sight of the rest of the people.
In a flash, the man grabbed Tomas by the shoulders and jumped into the pool with him.
Tomas managed to get a gasp of air before he went under, and he struggled against the man’s grip. There was no give at all, at least none that a six year old could overcome. The water was dark–too dark to see anything except the dull light of the sun seeping down through the surface. And none of this made any sense to Tomas. He kept fighting, but his breath was running out, and his lungs were beginning to burn. The man, on the other hand, gave no sign of tiring.
Tomas was saved as suddenly as he had been put in danger. The water blazed alight, and he felt his entire arm sear with flame. The pain was too much. He blacked out.
His parents found him by the pool, stretched out and soaked except for his right arm, chest, and part of his neck, which were black with char. Worse yet, he wasn’t breathing. His uncle pushed them aside and rushed to the boy’s side, administering CPR quickly and efficiently. After a few repetitions, Tomas coughed out an alarming amount of water, sputtering for air as his body automatically fought for life. He opened his eyes for a moment, screamed, and then just as quickly lost consciousness once again.
The next ten minutes were a bustle of activity. Some of Lubos’s friends made a stretcher, and they rushed Tomas down the hill to a waiting ambulance. With a roar of sound and commotion, his parents and the boy were whisked away, leaving the rest of the revelers staring after the ambulance, confused. How could a boy who was drowning receive third degree burns at the same time?
But night was coming, and tragic accident or no, they still had to leave the castle before closing. Tents were packed up and wares put away, and Lubos, who worked as the night watchman at the castle, saw the rest of the group out. Only once all the people were gone did two other forms emerge into the open, the little man in green from the pool where the boy had almost drowned, and a much different figure from the smoldering campfire next to it.
It was definitely a woman, but her skin, hair, clothes–everything about her was made up of what looked like solid fire. Her hair was a burning red in the shape of a woman’s long locks, but where normal women would have strands of hair, she had strands of fire, each strand pulsing and flickering with the same light as the campfire. Her skirt had stripes, alternating shades of flame, and her blouse was the blue of the inside of a candle. Her skin was a lighter shade of orange, with her features well defined and beautiful. The air shimmered around her, like it does above pavement on a hot day, and when she spoke, smoke came out of her mouth.
“You are an idiot.” She glared down at the man beside her.
“Well why did you have to go intruding like that?” he said. “You nearly got yourself killed.”
The woman shuddered, the fire inside her rippling as she did. “I couldn’t just let you kill the boy. He’s practically the only human left who can still see us. Still talk to us.”
The man sniffed and adjusted his green tie. “They don’t have to chat with me for me to take their souls. What’s the difference? They all talk to me once their dead.”
“The difference is he was my friend.”
This was met with a bark of laughted. “Friend? A human? For a fire vila, you certainly have a strange choice of companions.” He flicked his fingers, and drops of water sizzled where they touched her.
“You are a pest. I’m just glad the boy’s out of your reach. He’ll think twice before he comes near you again.”
The smile on the man’s face turned from one of enjoyment to one of contemplation. “Ah, but they forget. They always do. I’ll get him eventually. The boy’s uncle works here. He’ll be back, and one day, he won’t be watching.”
“Not while I’m around,” the fire vila said.
The man looked at her. “Of course. I forgot about you.” He shrugged and walked back into the pool, his head disappearing below the water, leaving only ripples.
The fire vila watched this happen, then smoothed off her blouse where the water had touched it. While she was looking down at her clothes, the man resurfaced and let forth a stream of water from his mouth, right onto the few remaining flames of the campfire.
The vila shrieked in pain as steam hissed from her body. The man kept up his spout of water, moving it around the fire and thoroughly soaking it. The woman staggered to the edge of the water. “Stop!” she managed to get out.”
The man shook his head and kept the water coming.
The fire vila was fading now, with large holes appearing in her clothes and body as first an arm, then her legs, and then her torso started to fade. “The agreement,” she gasped, and then in a puff of smoke, she was gone.
“Agreement.” The man came out of the water again and stomped a wet foot on the now sodden campfire. “Outdated and overrated. What sort of an idiot creature makes itself out of something so easy to get rid of?” And with that, he walked off in the direction of the well, brushing off his suit coat as he went.