'Satin: A Stitch in Time' by Payal Dhar is published by Harper Collins India. Set in a world where the lines between magic and technology are often hard to see, and age- old conflicts simmer, Satin: A Stitch in Time is the first of an exciting new series by Payal Dhar.
Here's an extract from the book:
Though nobody believed her, Marik Fahe was really walking away when it happened. She was so angry that her head was pounding and a red mist invaded the edges of her vision. But she was still walking away.
A few dry leaves and dirt swirled in her wake as she stormed past. And even though the hot, dry summer afternoon was still, a magical breeze fuelled the dust into a tiny tornado that went unnoticed. The pain in Fahe's head rose to a crescendo and she clenched her fists tight, till something exploded inside her head.
A moment later, someone screamed.
The sound of running feet was all around her. Fahe stared with her mouth open and her heart sinking.
'Oh, perfect!' she said out loud.
Far, far away in the Kuzerazi mountains, like Fahe, El'Karich Keas had problems of his own. He sat at his favourite spot behind his house, uncaring of the cold wind that buffeted him from behind. He pulled his overcoat closer around him and thought about his mother.
From his vantage point, Keas could see the mountain roads winding down towards the tiny village of Karich, the place of his mother's birth, from where he got his name. It was odd, he thought, that all his life he had carried the name, but he hadn't really known her and only felt a vague indifference towards her. It was even odder that right then he had the distinct feeling that he was missing her.
He looked down at his hand, which clutched a letter written on thick, creamy paper, embossed with a logo of a silver-blue flame encased in a five-pointed star in the top right-hand corner. It was addressed to him in neat calligraphy. It crumpled in his hands as he clenched his fist.
Sounds of traffic reached him from the road, muted by the distance. Most of it was headed into the town of Saje, and the bus station-with its newly acquired electronic displays-had a long line of buses waiting to enter. People were returning home from work at the end of the day. Some way to his left, a little distance below him, he saw two children skipping down the purple heather-clad mountainside towards the bus station. As Keas watched, one of them slipped and landed on her bottom, looking startled. The other one laughed and pulled her up. Keas smiled. He knew them. He knew just about everyone in the town of Saje. And, of course, more people knew him too. Though that had more to do with who his father was.
They were well into the summer month of Yaz. Dusk came late this time of the year in the Kuzerazi Low Lands, but the shadows were already lengthening, forming mysterious shapes in familiar places. Keas leaned back on his elbows. The thought of leaving Saje was wrenching. He had grown up in these mountains; they were part of him. And he was pretty certain that, given the circumstances, once he stepped out there would be no coming back.
Like almost every child in the world, Keas dreamt of being a mage. But for children in Kuzerazi, this remained a secret dream. For, Kuzerans despised and mistrusted mages. They resigned themselves to the fact that their children usually always coveted magic, but by the time they were in their teens, most of them grew out of that yearning, realizing that to yearn for such pagan powers was wrong. The Flame was to be revered, not exploited to draw power from. That was sacrilege.
Keas wondered what it was that made him different. To despise something as strongly as Kuzerans felt about mages and magic seemed wrong to Keas. But these were dangerous thoughts, and he was wise enough to keep them to himself. His father was a disciplinarian. He did not tolerate dissent. He knew of only one person who had ever matched wills with his father and won, and that was his mother.
She had been a travelling bard, and had been unable and unwilling to settle into the sedentary life that living with Keas's father brought. And so she had left when Keas was a few months old, seeking to follow her dream of gathering and telling stories. Thus, he had never known her, and this was the first time that he missed her. She would have understood what it meant to make your own way.
Keas felt something vibrating in his pocket. It was the alarm on his comm handset, reminding him to set off for home for dinner. He put the letter away and stood up to make his way down the narrow path.
Back home, he hung his coat up, washed and walked down the corridor to the kitchen. The house was warm, courtesy
the wire-mesh baskets of crushed baskel leaves coated in mud and soaked in a weak water-reed sap solution that hung in every room. The combination gave off heat, but no smoke, and cost nothing in electricity. Another of his father's discoveries. He might have made a lot of money selling that idea, but no-that wasn't his way.
Keas greeted his father and took his place at the table. He ate his bowl of meat and vegetable curry silently, without tasting it. He didn't even notice that they were having drip breads today instead of plain ones. Every now and then, he watched his father.
Win ate with his eyes not on his bowl of food or on the dripping buttered bread in his hand but straight in front of him. His forehead was creased in intense concentration, like it always was when he was deep in thought or doing something important.
When, Keas wondered, looking at him through hooded eyes, had his father stopped being his hero? Ever since he'd learnt to walk and talk, Win had involved Keas in his work as a herbalist and apothecary. He took the young boy to the forest to gather plants, taught him to identify them by smell and touch, as well as sight. He let him watch him make potions, preserves and concentrates. In time, he let him stir, measure and bottle. It helped that Keas seemed to have a natural talent too.
Keas was five when he learnt that letters put together made words, and since then had regularly read to his father. They were mostly books on plants and potions and healing. At first, they made no sense to the child. Then, one day, sitting by the river with some friends, he discovered otherwise. Fooling around like ten-year-olds generally do, one of them had fallen into the water. He came up, sputtering, some strange tendrils hanging from his mouth. He spat them out, but in under a minute he was feeling strange. Moments later, he had passed out.
While the others had panicked, Keas had reached into the water, pulled out a thick stem, broken it and held it under the unconscious boy's nose till he came to. He couldn't tell how he had recognized the symptoms or known the cure. Instead of being filled with a sense of pride and fulfilment at having saved a life, that was when Keas began to see how he was different from other children. He never had toys or books like them. He never got money to go to the theatre or spend on sweets. His father never played with him or talked to him about ordinary things.
Ever since Keas turned fourteen-some two weeks ago-his father had been asking him to make up his mind if he wanted to leave school to apprentice with him. Everyone assumed he would agree sooner rather than later. Win took few apprentices-though they came in droves from all over to learn from him, from the towns and villages of Kuzerazi, and even from the east, from across the mountains-and Keas was envied for having that privilege by birth. But it was a privilege he didn't want.
Kuzerazan apothecaries were famed the world over for their natural healing with plants, and El'Idrin Win one of the most famous. Practitioners of modern medicines in the east, known as physicians, were often derisive of them, but Win's knowledge and wisdom were much sought after, and not just in Kuzerazi. People from the Nizrah plains and Far Darom were referred to him as well, sometimes by physicians themselves. Even mages had approached him, it was said. He had seven other apothecaries and three herbalists working under him, not to mention two apprentices.
His selfless devotion to his work had earned him the respect of the community. His humble home and lifestyle spoke of his single-minded determination to serve people, save lives. Of course, with skill and fame of that magnitude, it was impossible not to have detractors. There were people who questioned him-in some circles, Win's reputation was controversial because people thought he made use of eastern magic to achieve the results he did.
In general, though, everyone admired Win. But his son hated him. Keas hated his overbearing personality. He hated being Win's son. He hated not having a choice in his own life. He hated his father for thinking that anything he decided was all right with Keas.
Yet, with his ticket to freedom in his pocket, the boy was filled with dread.
Fahe tapped the pencil on her worksheet. With her quick mind, she ought to have raced through the numeracy problems, but she was preoccupied. When her brother Yavi had called her early that morning, informing her that she would be having a bodyguard, it was indication enough that this was to be a bad day. A Really Bad Day.
Then Inos, her closest friend (former friend, Fahe reminded herself), had announced that she was leaving Koda at the end of the summer. She was travelling to Far Darom with her parents to continue her studies there and learn about the family trade. She didn't know when she would be back.
And then there was the incident with the fire at her triangles game.
The only silver lining was that Mother was too busy to give her a hard time about it. That didn't mean she wasn't livid, though; in fact, her personal assistant had been waiting for Fahe with a very stern message when she got home from school. It was amazing how fast bad news travelled.
Fahe sighed and flung down her pencil. To Mother, I am just the tool that keeps the title in the family, she thought bitterly. As for Inos-the Flame consume her! I am going away to the Academy, so why should I care if she leaves? And, finally, now that I'm fourteen, I can't compete with the juniors anyway, so they can ban me for all I care. In short, to repeat myself: I. Don't. Care.
'Don't care about what?' said a pleasant voice behind her, as someone slapped a bag on the table and sat down next to her.
'Go away, Yanik,' said Fahe rudely, embarrassed that she had spoken about loud. 'Go and cuddle up with your pretty Sera, why don't you?'
Yanik pulled up a chair next to her. 'You know,' he said, 'there are certain things fourteen-year-olds mustn't say to adults. Including their brothers. That was one of them.'
'What do you want, brother?' said Fahe sarcastically. 'How may I be of service to you?'
'What's this I hear about some trouble at the game?' Yanik asked. 'There was something about a fire. Please tell me you had nothing to do with it.'
Like her brothers, Fahe had been playing for the junior trianglers of Koda with some distinction for the past few years. Both boys had played till they were no longer allowed to play in the mixed junior league and their education at the Academy had taken up too much of their time.
'Mind your own business.'
'Yes, yes,' said Yanik, settling in more comfortably on the chair. 'I heard about it from Sera.'
'Lovely,' said Fahe. Sera was Yanik's partner and she was a teacher in Fahe's school. 'That means she's already grassed on me and you know very well what happened. Why are you asking me then? Just stay out of my life.'
'Trouble is, whether you admit it or not, I am part of your life,' Yanik said patiently. 'Now, please tell me why you set fire to the triangles shed.'
Fahe looked at him. His face was sunburnt and the permanent scar from a particularly bad case of teenage acne made him look very young. He hated that, and was trying to grow a beard. Right now, he looked like a teenage boy trying desperately to look older. His dark reddish-brown hair was clipped unfashionably short, combed and pinned back neatly. Light-brown eyes regarded her with concern. Fahe knew that she was supposed to be a spitting image of him-though she didn't have a beard, of course-and she wasn't sure it was much of a compliment.
She crumpled the edge of her worksheet moodily, without replying. She knew she was behaving like a ten-year-old.
'You've not been suspended from school, have you?' Yanik asked quietly.
She had already had two suspensions that year. A third would mean her invitation to the Academy would be withheld pending a hearing. What was worse, at fourteen-plus, under juvenile criminal laws, she could be arrested and detained. A Marik with a criminal record... Fahe didn't
want to contemplate what sort of reaction that would have in the family.
'No,' she said quietly.
'What happened exactly? Look, do you want to tell me now or do you want me to find out by asking people?'
Fahe glared at him. 'You wouldn't dare.'
'Try me,' Yanik said, mirroring her stubbornness.
'All right!' Fahe said, flinging herself out of her chair. 'I had a fight with Inos and was angry. I mean, really angry. Then I was sent off from the game for an unintentional foul... and sort of accidentally set fire to the games shed.'
'The Flame consume you!' cried Yanik, standing up as well. 'What is the matter with you?'
Over the years, Fahe had been showing some erratic powers, which made it all the more important that she go to the Academy as soon as she was old enough and get proper guidance. Lately, she hadn't been very good with keeping her anger in check, which often resulted in unfortunate incidents in her vicinity.
The Mariks had always been only moderately talented mages. However, the family was also one of the patrons of the Academy of the Flame at Koda. Which meant that unlike other prospective initiates who applied in hordes every year, Mariks only needed to be born to be assured of a place.
'I'm not so Flaming perfect like you and Yavi, all right!' burst out Fahe.
'Mind your language,' said Yanik, his tone stern.
'Why? You were just swearing!'
'That's... different. Do you realize what you've done? You're old enough to have a sense of accountability. Don't you ever think of consequences before you do anything?'
'Why do you care?' shouted Fahe. 'You can take your stupid triangles and stick it...'
'Fahe!' Yanik grabbed her shoulder. Her face was red with anger. 'Enough!'
Keas's conversation with his father wasn't going all that well either, though it had started innocently enough.
'Very quiet today?' his father said to him as they ate. 'Something the matter?'
'Not... er...' Keas cleared his throat. His voice still went squeaky without warning. He searched for a more grown-up pitch. 'Not hungry.'
'Trouble at school?'
He shook his head. 'No trouble.'
He knew he had to tell him. Sooner rather than later. Now.
He gathered his courage.
'Father,' he said tentatively.
Win turned his head. 'Yes?'
'I... er, I've been thinking. You know, of the future. Of my future.'
'Good. About time.'
'And, I, er, have... have decided-with your permission, of course-now that I am fourteen, I should be allowed to leave school and, er, pursue a... a direction.'
'Keas, I will be happy and honoured to have you as my apprentice,' Win said. 'However, I would like to make the formal announcement next month at...'
'No, Father,' said Keas. 'I... I didn't mean that.'
'Oh,' said Win, taken aback. 'Then what did you mean?'
'I don't want to be an apothecary. Or a herbalist,' said Keas in a rush. 'I... I want to make my own choice.'
Win's face took on a reddish tinge, contrasting oddly with his dark hair. Keas knew he was trying to control his rage. 'I see,' he said tightly. 'And what choice is that?'
'I have decided,' he said. Now that he had said it once, it was easier. 'I don't want to be an apothecary.'
'Are you mad, boy?' his father thundered. 'People come from the ends of the world to avail of the opportunity you have because you were born in this house.'
'Accident of birth does not make me a prisoner, Father,' said Keas warming to the subject.
'What sort of nonsense is this? All right, if you feel it's too early for you to leave school, so be it. You're young yet, and there's time.'
'But Father, you've never asked me what I wanted.'
'You are just a boy. You don't know what you want!'
'I am a person,' said Keas, starting to lose his composure. 'With a mind of my own.'
'You are nothing but a silly child!' said Win. 'Choice? You want a choice, right? Well, your choice was made the day you came into this world. You would do well to remember that, and be thankful for it.'
'But Father, that is not right! You always said that knowledge is the most powerful of weapons. I want knowledge. In other things.'
'For you, there are no other things. The sooner you understand that the better. Ten generations of your family have been apothecaries. You will be one too. So will your children. It is in your blood. You do not fight blood and tradition.'
This talk of tradition always incensed Keas. What was the point of having the ability to reason if your choices were already made for you? 'Then it's time to change that,' he said boldly. He took a deep breath and added: 'I want to be a mage.'
The silence in the room was thunderous. The blood drained from his father's face.
'What... utter... nonsense!' his father gasped. 'El'Karich Keas, have you been bitten by a rabid dog?'
'I am serious,' said Keas. He pulled the letter from his pocket. 'I sent my application and have an invitation to be an initiate at the Academy at Koda.'
'You are Kuzerazan!' Win said, raising his voice in anger. 'Have some respect.'
'Being Kuzerazan is no crime,' cried Keas, deliberately misunderstanding.
'You are not going,' said his father firmly.
'You can't stop me,' countered Keas.
'I will lock you in your room if I have to! Hear this, Keas, the day you leave Saje, you stop being my son.'
'I don't want to be your son!' said Keas, shouting as well. 'That's all I've been my whole life! I want to be my own person. I want to decide my own path.'
'You are a fool,' said Win. 'But at this age, all boys are fools. I am prepared to forgive you.' Pushing away his bowl of half-eaten curry and plate of breads, Win stood up. 'This conversation never happened. Good night.'
Marik Yanik was frustrated. There were eleven years between him and his sister, and sometimes he felt more like a father
than brother. Father and mother, to be honest. In the six years since he had left the Academy as a trained mage, he had spent a significant part of his time being a de facto parent to Fahe.
His marrying Sera a year ago had made things worse. Fahe had just become difficult and erratic. He had moved out of the family home-for not only was it Fahe's by rights, his mother had not been pleased with his decision. Sera was much older than him, which was fine, and she might even have overlooked the fact that she had a child from an earlier relationship. But that she was a commoner had been the very last straw. According to Mother, marriages were for making political or business alliances. By that measure, Yanik's was useless.
Their mother, Prefect of Marik, had considered her duty done after she had produced a daughter to inherit the title, a daughter she never really noticed except when she needed her for strategic reasons. As for their father-Yanik never stopped wondering how he had managed to get himself elected to the city council in between lying in a drug-induced stupor at one of his 'poet parties' (everyone knew that that was just a polite euphemism for his group of pot-bellied middle-aged rich friends who dabbled in illegal drugs) and avoiding Mother by disappearing for days on end. Since he wasn't Mother's official consort any more, he hardly ever went to Marik either. In fact, Yanik couldn't remember when he had last seen his mother and father in the same room, let alone talking to each other.
Fahe had been little more than a baby when he had gone off to the Academy, and he only saw her when he came home for the holidays. Yet, he hoped he had somehow managed to be there for her whenever she needed him. When she was younger, it was obvious she completely worshipped her older brothers, but things were different now.
She won't come running to me with a bruise on her knee like she used to seven years ago.
He sighed. He loved his sister, but she was so difficult to like.
'Listen, it's just two weeks, all right?' he said reasonably. 'Grit your teeth through it. I promise you, things will be different at the Academy.'
Fahe turned away. Her anger seemed spent all of a sudden.
'Believe me, the Academy is nothing like you can ever have imagined,' Yanik went on. 'And I think it will do you good to get away and live with different people-people of your own age. The discipline also teaches us to control ourselves. I was as much of a hothead as you are, but one year as an initiate significantly altered that.'
Fahe shook her head, staring down at the floor. 'You don't understand, Yanik,' she said quietly.
'I don't understand what?'
There was a long silence as Fahe stood perfectly still.
'What's wrong?' Yanik prompted.
Fahe shook her head. 'Nothing. Maybe I am wrong.'
'Oh, don't be silly. Just... could you please stay out of trouble? Do it for me.'
She stared at the floor sullenly.
Yanik sighed. He knew what he was going to do. Sera wouldn't be best pleased, but he'd deal with that later. 'Tell you what-you come and stay with Sera and me for a while.
Till this thing blows over. Mother is leaving for Marik today, and Father... well, Father will distract himself, no doubt.'
'All right,' said Fahe with not very good grace.
It was Fahe's turn to sigh. Being nasty all the time was so tiring.