a/n: I'm posting chapter one of my second draft in two parts to get some reviews and revise it before I submit it for a scholarship! Any feedback - big-picture or line-by-line - is appreciated, since this particular chapter needs to be as good as it can be.
Last week, on The Chosen Grandma...
Edna is playing bingo - or rather avoiding playing bingo - when a wizard appears in the nursing home cafeteria and demands to speak to her.
Methodius tugged at his beard some more and considered her from beneath those bushy eyebrows. Her eyebrows had all but disappeared at this point in her life, and she had to color them in every morning if she didn't want to look constantly surprised by everything. But that was one of the perks of being an enchanter. He might be nine hundred years old and have white hair and wrinkles, but he probably didn't have arthritis or a botched hip replacement or hearing loss.
“Have you heard of a sorcerer called Redway?” he asked.
Edna counted her stitches. “He's been all over the news. Something about dragons?”
Something about dragons, but she couldn't quite remember what. Dragon attacks had been on the news a lot in the last year or so, dragon attacks and a sorcerer, but somehow she'd never quite caught the connection between them.
Methodius nodded and tugged harder at his beard. It seemed in danger of coming out.
“Dragons have been attacking Knights.”
Edna thought suddenly of her son but pushed it away. Time for that later. There was a wizard here to talk to her, for goodness sakes.
“Dragons are always attacking Knights,” she said, knitting faster. “It's been that way since the first dragon stole the first maiden and spirited her back to his hoard of gold.”
Not that it wasn't terrible. The Knights had driven dragons largely into Dominion, but it took a lot of men and weapons and work to keep them there, and men and weapons and work cost money. Dragons had been a particular problem during the Cold War, when the government had cut funding to the Knights in favor of throwing it at Russia. Edna's son and his elementary school classmates had practiced hiding under their desks from atomic bombs and dragons, neither of which could be withstood by something as insubstantial as a silly little piece of wood.
Then they'd all come of age, just as the Cold War dwindled and the Knights had funding again, and they'd all gone and joined up to fight the dragons they'd spent their childhoods hiding from.
Methodius held up a finger like a professor making an important point during a lecture.
“A dragon might attack a person or city at random,” he said, “but these aren't single dragons. These are whole flights of dragons, attacking so many bases it's like they're targeting the Knights. Which they can't. They're dumb beasts. It's this sorcerer. Redway.”
Edna thought she could see where the wizard was going, but the idea that she might be involved was ludicrous. Her knitting had taken a back seat in her mind and she'd probably have to redo the stitches later.
“Then I imagine,” she said, “the Council will be naming someone to stop him any day now.”
Methodius stopped tugging on his beard, which looked relieved. Its owner, on the other hand, pursed his lips. “It's already done.”
A Chosen One hadn't been named in more than fifty years.
“I don't mean to sound...it's not that I think I...well—am I—will I be mentoring them?”
The wizard looked sourer than ever.
“It's you,” he said.
Edna blinked at him. “What's me?”
“You're the Chosen One.”
She stopped knitting.
Perhaps she should have been amazed or excited, but, well, there was something lacking in the delivery of this pronouncement. Methodius' lips were twisted in disapproval, and although part of her took offense to it, she could hardly blame him. She was eighty-three and could have been the poster child for old white ladies: pasty, wrinkly, with an old-lady perm and old-lady glasses on a chain so she wouldn't lose them, and a blue housedress that hadn't been in fashion since the 1960s, and a faded floral handbag that had never been in fashion at all.
Besides, old people weren't Chosen Ones. Old people were mentors.
Notwithstanding the fact that all she could hope to teach someone was knitting.
She didn't know how to respond to this momentous news, so she asked the obvious question.
“Aren't teenagers traditional?”
The wizard snorted. “Traditional, yes. But Philostratus did the naming, and his methods are, shall we say, unorthodox. You'd think good, old-fashioned prophecy would be as good for him as for the rest of us, but no, Science has to be involved in some way. Algorithms and equations and the Internet, if you can believe it...”
He was talking more to himself than her at this point and soon devolved into muttering about the offending Philostratus. Edna tried not to worry about the fact that, evidently, the Internet, rather than an oracle, had decided she ought to be the Chosen One. Then again, in her experience, fortune-tellers tended to be fraudulent.
She wanted to believe it was true, but it was so outlandish an idea that her voice seemed to have stopped working. Her brain, too. An empty buzzing filled her head. She clutched her knitting and tried to make her fingers work. It took a moment; they were suddenly stiff, as though they, too, were surprised at her fate. At last, however, she found herself undoing and redoing the mangled stitches, and in the process the white noise in her brain formed itself into coherent thought. She was the Chosen One. She was going to leave the nursing home. She was going to go on a grand adventure and save the Knights the way she hadn't been able to save her son.
“Well, then,” she said, “what do I need to do?”
Methodius raised his eyebrows. “Aren't you going to reject the offer?”
Edna laughed. “Good heavens, what for?”
“Well,” Methodius said delicately, “it's traditional...”
“Yes, and it's traditional for the Council of Wizards to choose a teenager. But here we are.”
The wizard had nothing to say to that, so he didn't. He cleared his throat. “Well, then. Right. Yes.”
He tapped his staff on the floor. Or thunked it, more accurately. Probably he could've managed a mere tap, but the heavy thunk of wood on tile was more impressive. The lights in the lobby went out. The receptionist looked irritably over the top of her computer but returned to her podcast without saying anything.
Now the only light was the glow of the computer monitor, the dim daylight that made it past the awning outside to get through the windows on either side of the front entrance, and a magical blue glow around Methodius. Edna leaned forward, impressed despite herself.
Another thunk of the wizard's staff, and an image appeared in midair: a sword with a glittering, jeweled hilt. Edna knew nothing about swords, but even so she thought it was beautiful.
“This is the Sword of Destiny,” Methodius intoned. “You will find it in the keeping of a man named Theobald Smith. Give him my token, and he will give you the sword.”
Edna was about to ask what token, but the blue glow fizzled for a moment as the wizard's eyes shot over to her. No interruptions, then. Methodius closed his eyes briefly. The blue glow shivered and then stabilized. He opened his eyes and went on.
“You will find Theobald Smith in the land of...”
Edna leaned further forward, hoping for Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, or even France.
“...Michigan,” Methodius said.
She sat back, disappointed. Michigan was only two states away and had more corn and roadwork than magic. Methodius pretended not to notice her disappointment.
“When you have the sword in your possession,” he said, “you will travel to Dominion, find Redway, and end his reign of terror.”
He made it sound so simple.
The blue glow faded, as did the image of the sword.
“So that's easy enough,” Edna said.
Methodius sighed but otherwise ignored her and worked a heavy silver ring off his finger. A round, blood-red stone glinted dully in its setting.
“Give this to Theobald,” he said. “And for the love of Merlin, don't lose it.”
Edna sighed. As if she didn't have most of the nursing home staff treating her like a child already, now this nine-hundred-and-whatever-year-old wizard had to do it.
But at least, compared to him, she actually was quite young.
She took the ring and stowed it away in an inner pocket of her handbag, wrapped in a handkerchief. People didn't really keep handkerchiefs anymore, but somehow Edna could always find one in her handbag. It was like the opposite of a dryer; instead of eating socks, it spit out handkerchiefs.
“And you should take this.” Methodius pinched his fingers together and made a motion as if unzipping the air. A black hand-mirror with constellations carved into the back appeared from nowhere. “I have the other one. I have a spate of meetings with the Grand Coven in the coming weeks, but if you really need something...”
Edna took the mirror and turned it over, examining the constellations etched into the back. She'd never used a magic mirror before, but it couldn't be any harder than using a computer. Probably it was easier. Magic tended to be more straightforward than technology. Or maybe it was just the fact that it had been around so much longer.
“Thank you,” she said, but Methodius wasn't listening. He was more than ready to wrap things up and get out of here. Not that a few minutes' conversation was that long when he'd been around for nine centuries, but he did have other obligations. He hadn't even wanted to come here. He certainly didn't approve of this choice, but someone had to tell Edna Fisher she was the Chosen One, and it was Philostratus' day off.
He fidgeted with the sleeves of his robe for a moment and then said in lofty tones, “Well, if you don't have any questions...”
“Questions?” The white noise was back, despite her knitting. She had the mirror, the ring, a Fateful Object to search for. Beyond that, her destiny seemed far too big to come up with individual questions about it. “No, I don't think so.”
“In that case...” He inclined his head. “Good luck, Mrs. Fisher. The fate of the Knights rests in your hands.”
Her hands. She looked down at them vaguely. Her wrinkled, liver-spotted hands. The word Knights reverberated in her head, and she suddenly remembered that it was her son's birthday, and that she needed to go to the cemetery.
When she looked up, the wizard was gone. It only occurred to her now that she should have asked where in Michigan Theobald Smith lived.