I queried extensively, and was not successful in getting a literary agent for Priscilla. But I'm still really attached to this story and the characters, and it would make me happy if there were people out there who enjoyed reading it, so I'm going to share it here. This book is complete and I will try to add a new chapter every week or every other week.
1 The Queen Escapes
Madame Bhut's Finishing School in the town of Whut was known across Amalthea as a respectable place to send your daughter if you were hoping to marry her to a gentleman; not for producing evil queens with ideas of world domination. That is, until Priscilla Martin escaped.
Even before she escaped, Priscilla was less than a model student. Priscilla's parents had sent her to Madame Bhut's hoping it would make her a nice, normal girl who they could find a nice, normal, boring husband for when she was old enough. Priscilla wasn't about to let that happen. At the age of thirteen, Priscilla considered herself just about done being a child and just about finished with the school.
"Miss Martin!" Miss Ash, the drawing teacher, nearly shouted, and Priscilla nearly jumped out of her chair.
Priscilla looked up from her easel as Miss Ash pulled at her grey braid of hair and stared in wide-eyed horror.
"What is that?"
"It's a chupacabra," Priscilla said politely and smiled up at her teacher. "Isn't it cute?"
The thing she'd drawn looked like a large, hairless dog with bulging eyes and spines coming out of its back. It sported a set of huge fangs, appeared to be foaming at the mouth, and had a claw on every toe.
Miss Ash closed her eyes and took several slow breaths. Priscilla had gotten used to this routine and waited for the teacher to calm herself down. A few of the other girls slid out of their seats and shuffled over to see what was causing all the fuss. Priscilla ground her teeth when she heard them giggling behind her. Finally, Miss Ash opened her eyes and tried to look at the picture without shouting.
"No, Miss Martin, it is not cute."
Priscilla tilted her head to the side and looked over her picture. "But look at his big eyes!" she said, pointing.
"Miss Martin, it has fangs."
"Well, it has to have fangs," Priscilla said. "They're for sucking the blood out of goats. But I gave him a cute curly tail."
"Miss Martin!" Miss Ash snapped and then took another slow breath. In a voice so quiet everyone hushed to hear it, she said: "From now on, when I tell you to draw a cute woodland creature, I mean what is cute to other people. Not whatever you think that word means."
"No more, Miss Martin. You had better learn to keep your strange ideas to yourself!" Miss Ash snapped.
"Yeah, Prissy, keep it to yourself," one of the other girls jeered.
She received a certain look from Miss Ash but no actual reprimand.
"All right girls, that is enough for today. I'm glad most of you are doing so well. Off to lunch you go."
Chattering broke out immediately as the girls rose and gathered their things. They held their notebooks in the prescribed manner, with their pencils placed just so. They kept their backs straight and their heads tilted at polite angles as they walked and talked down the hallway. Priscilla wanted to throw her notebook at someone's head and run past them all while shouting at the top of her lungs. Instead, she followed quietly, grinding her teeth. Occasionally, some of the other girls would giggle and then one or two would glance back at her. Then they would all giggle again.
Priscilla Martin knew three things with the same absolute certainty with which a troll tells you the toll for its bridge. It was the unmovable kind of certainty that just had to be based on some deep, inner knowledge or secret truth. The first thing she knew was that she wasn't popular. She wasn't even liked by the other girls at her finishing school; tolerated sometimes, but definitely not liked and certainly not respected. The second thing she knew was that she desperately wanted to be popular. She wanted to be treated like what she said mattered. She wanted somebody to look up to her more than anything else in the world, more than other girls wanted a rich husband or the latest dress. The third thing she knew was that secretly everyone wished they could be at least a little bad. That was why the girls in her school who were absolutely horrible to everyone they didn't like were popular. That's why evil people were respected. They were bad and for some reason she hadn't figured out yet, they got away with it.
Everyone knew the witches and evil queens in stories and plays were far more stylish and interesting than the heroines, who just sat around waiting to be rescued. The bad girls were fun; they did things; they had adventures. No good girl ever had an adventure. Well, nothing Priscilla would count as an adventure. Wandering into the woods and getting stuck cleaning somebody's house for years and years wasn't an adventure. Getting locked in a tower until somebody rescued you wasn't an adventure; it was pathetic. Some girls might want to be a princess rescued by a handsome prince but no one could help looking up to the evil queen who tamed the dragon and tricked the dumb princess into touching the spindle.
Priscilla had come to a conclusion: if she wanted to be popular, she would have to become evil. Not only would she become evil, she would become the evilest queen the world had ever seen. She still might not have friends when she was evil, but at least people would secretly want to be like her and admire her instead of laughing at her. She already had her title picked out: Priscilla Carey Circe Helen Lamya Lilitu Lorelei Nyx Martin, Regina, Her Most Evil Majesty, the Queen of Air and Darkness. She was still considering whether or not she would drop the Martin in favor of something a bit more regal and evil sounding, like Maldevira or Maledicta.
Embroidery was Priscilla's next class and she took her seat near the back of the sunny room, where it was harder for the teacher to see her. They didn't have easels in here; instead, long tables covered in fabric and thread filled the room. The girls sat on wooden benches, while the teacher, Miss Birch, stood at the front so she could draw patterns on the blackboard for the girls to copy. After her first month at school, Priscilla had gotten tired of stitching different types of flowers and started coming up with her own, much better designs.
She took her sampler out of her sewing box and reached for more black thread. The girl next to her took one look at what Priscilla was doing and scooted as far away as she could. Priscilla's designs meant she got as much elbow room as she wanted, not that she really understood why. She would be the first to admit hers wasn't the best skeleton she'd ever seen. The school's head groom, Ronnie Underhill, had a much better one tattooed on his left arm, not that any of the teachers knew about it. But then, the teachers didn't sit around the stables before dinner, playing cards with the grooms.
Embroidery went slowly, but Priscilla hated it less than her other classes. After the first three handkerchiefs covered in skulls and crossbones, Miss Birch had just stopped checking Priscilla's work. She seemed to have decided to pretend that Priscilla was putting flowers or cutesy sayings on her samplers. Or maybe she was pretending that Priscilla wasn't in her class. Either way, both of them were happy with the arrangement. It was the other girls that had a problem.
"All right girls," Miss Birch said when time was up. "Put away your sewing. Miss Oaks will be here in a moment."
The teacher breathed a sigh of relief and left the classroom as Priscilla continued stitching her new, queenly name in a circle around the skeleton. Without warning, the girl in front of Priscilla, Lucy Luxcasta, snatched Priscilla's sampler right out of her hands.
"Priscilla Carey Circe Helen," the girl read loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear. "What is that supposed to be, Prissy, your name? You got it wrong, you know it's really Priscilla Crazy von Looserpants. And is that supposed to be a person?" Lucy said, pointing at the skeleton. "It looks terrible. You should probably just stick to easy shapes, like squares, even you shouldn't be able to mess those up."
Priscilla ripped the sampler out of Lucy's hands and clamped it to her chest. With long blonde hair, the most fashionable clothes and the most ladylike everything else, Lucy was the most popular girl in the school. It was whispered that she was the granddaughter of a baron and already engaged to the third or fourth son of count.
Lucy never got bored of commenting on whatever Priscilla was doing. When Priscilla had been listing necessities for an evil kingdom, Lucy had demanded to know what 'terrible troops' were. When Priscilla mapped the finishing school's grounds in order to plot her escape, Lucy had told everyone that Priscilla was sneaking out at night to see a boy. When Priscilla denied it, she ended up with the nickname Prissy.
"Bug off," Priscilla said after a moment of glaring at Lucy.
The other girl let out a high, tinkling laugh and shook her head in disbelief. Priscilla wondered briefly if cutting off another girl's hair while she slept counted as being evil or just catty. She didn't want to be a common kind of evil after all; there was nothing classy about just being mean. Anyone could do it. Everyone did do it.
"I'm just trying to be helpful, Prissy, no need to get all worked up. You're so weird."
"I am not weird. I'm tired of you all calling me weird!"
The classroom went silent, which rarely happened after the teachers left, and the girls all turned to look at Priscilla.
"Ooh," said Lucy with a roll of her eyes. "One day we'll regret it or something? Are you trying to scare us, Prissy? You may be a witch but you're failing household charms. It's hard to be scary when you can't even light a candle."
All around the room girls burst into giggles and some began whispering to each other.
"No," Priscilla said as she got to her feet and slammed her sewing box closed. "I'm tired of it, so I'm leaving. You'll have to find somebody else to pick on. And I hope this school gets you the worst husband in Amalthea, Lucy. I hope he's gross and mean and in love with one of the maids!"
With that she jammed her notebook under her arm and climbed out the window. The classroom was on the ground floor, but it was still more dramatic than walking out the door. It also meant she didn't run into their next teacher, who was headed down the hall that very minute to start their next lesson.
If any of the teachers had seen her, out of class and running across the grass with her skirt hitched up above her ankles, she would have been denied town privileges for a week. That meant being trapped in the tidy set of buildings that made up the finishing school, with their pink lace curtains and their perfectly symmetrical flowerbeds and the 'keep off the lawn' signs. That was another thing Priscilla hated about the school, she couldn't go where she wanted when she wanted. If she wanted to go to the chocolate shop it had to be approved by Headmistress Bhut, who hated approving anything and thought the girls should spend their free time sitting still and speaking softly about the weather. At home, Priscilla had come and gone as she pleased. Her parents didn't care where she was as long as it wasn't in the room with them, and Nanny thought climbing trees was healthy exercise.
Nanny had taken Priscilla for walks through the village every day. She let Priscilla play with the tailor's children instead of their neighbor's snotty kids even though Priscilla's parents thought she should spend time with 'more suitable companions.' By which they meant people who had a house that was even bigger than theirs. Nanny was always there, always smiling. Until Priscilla's parents decided Priscilla needed to go to school. Then one day Priscilla woke up and Nanny was gone, her room empty, and the maids were quiet and red-eyed as they led Priscilla downstairs to her mother's parlor to hear the news.
Priscilla snuck into the girls' dormitory through the open windows in the sitting room and crept along the hallway to the first years' hall. Inside, the bright and cheerful room had pink rugs on the floors and paintings of dolls and kittens on the walls. Priscilla swore that when she had a castle there would be no pink allowed and certainly no pictures of fuzzy animals. Goblins would fit the mood better but even she did not like looking at them much. She decided there would be lots of paintings of her doing awesomely evil things to impress the peasants and maybe a few of some less disgusting monsters.
Now, it was time to put her battle plan into action. She'd begun preparations the month before, mapping the layout of the dormitories, the teachers' quarters, the school buildings and the streets immediately around the school, along with the fastest ways out of town. With a quick look to make sure the room was empty, Priscilla crouched beside her bed and pulled the maps of town from beneath a loose board. She would liked to have said she'd found a loose floorboard but really she'd gone in with a hammer one afternoon and pried up the nails herself. It was no use waiting around until a real loose floorboard presented itself when you needed a hiding space.
The space under the boards formed a cubbyhole for things she didn't want the teachers or her fellow students finding: her hand-made maps of town and a real map of Amalthea and the surrounding countries; her allowance, which she had been saving up for two months; and little odds and ends she thought were the sort of things an Evil Queen should have. Like Julia Grisdon's worry dolls. Priscilla had accidentally taken them one evening after Julia had accidentally spilled an entire pot of tea on her in front of their whole year.
The last thing Priscilla pulled out of the floor was The List. The List contained everything she needed to finally be an Evil Queen. One of the things on The List was a kingdom, which, now that she thought about it, wasn't quite right. Priscilla paused, took out a pencil and scratched out 'kingdom.' Over top of it she wrote 'queendom' instead. Other things on The List included a Terrible Monster and Terrifying Troops, along with a Dark Castle and Terrified Peasants. Priscilla thought them important enough to capitalize since nobody was an evil ruler without terrified peasants.
Priscilla's bed was neatly made, the baby blue counterpane free of any wrinkles and her pillow plumped and at attention. Onto this she threw her books and maps, followed by her purse. Then, as she pulled her trunk from under the bed, shoes and dirty socks followed. Priscilla's parents had given her one of the best trunks available as a way to break the news that they had gotten rid of Nanny and were sending Priscilla to finishing school. The trunk was charmed to float about six inches off the ground, even when packed, which made it hard to keep under her bed without rope. It also meant she would only have to tie a rope to its handle and loop the other end around her pony's saddle and there would be no pushing or heaving to worry about. Evil Queens did not heave luggage around.
When the other girls returned at the end of the day's lessons Priscilla was in bed, the blankets pulled over her head in spite of the warm spring afternoon. As Priscilla lay there she could hear them whispering about her but for once she didn't care. There were only a few more hours until she would escape to follow her destiny and these girls would be left behind forever.
The room emptied completely at exactly five thirty as the girls marched off to dinner. Priscilla waited until she heard the last footsteps fade into the distance before throwing back her covers and springing to the ground. She slipped into her boots, grabbed the rope tied to her trunk and dashed for the door. With the entire school at dinner she had no problem sneaking out of the dormitory and across the yard to the stables.
"Heya, Bill," she called to the stable boy on duty.
There were three stable boys and a head groom who took turns with the horses, and all the girls were in love with at least one of them. Many were in love with all three boys. However, Priscilla had decided that a stable boy was not the proper love interest of a queen; so she had managed not to be lovesick around them. Bill teased her the least so she liked him the best.
"Hey, Cilla, what're you doing skipping dinner?" Bill said as he got up from a bale of hay and tipped his cap in her direction. "Want to play Trolls vs. Yaksha? I've got half an hour till Jimmy gets here."
"Not this time. I'm running away from this place."
"Lucy getting to you again?"
Priscilla sniffed and tried to look regal. "Even if she was, I decided I was going to run away months ago, I just hadn't picked a day yet."
"Well, you know you shouldn't let her get to you," he said while picking at his grimy fingernails.
"Are you going to help me or not?" Priscilla demanded. She was starting to feel nervous and wanted to be long gone by the time the other girls got back from dinner.
"Sure, sure," Bill said with a wave. "I'll get your pony, just wait here a minute."
He slouched off towards the stalls, whistling an old ballad as he looked over the horses. It didn't take him long to get the pony tacked and bring her out to Priscilla but she was glancing over her shoulder and jumping at shadows by the time he handed her the reins.
"Now, since you're running away I figured you'd better have something to feed old Sugar here. I put a feedbag on your saddle—" He pointed to the hanging leather bag, "and I put an extra saddle blanket on. Remember to take off her saddle at night and let her graze when you can. The food'll last longer that way."
"Thanks, Bill! I owe you. When I'm wealthy and powerful you can be my head groom if you want," she said as she pulled herself into the saddle and tied the trunk to the pommel.
"Sure, Cilla, just as soon as you have a castle, I'll be there," he chuckled. "Now, take care."
She turned the pony to the gate and gave her a nudge to get her moving. "I will!" she called back over her shoulder. "And you take care too!"
And then, while the gateman took his usual afternoon nap in a chair by the open gates, Priscilla rode out of Madame Bhut's Finishing School and into town.
#1: Escape from School
#5: Pick an Evil name