Title/Author: Little White Hands by Mark Cushen
Excerpt (from Chapter 1):
If I were to tell you that there was once a humble little kitchenhand who
struggled through many perils and pitfalls to become a venerated hero, would you believe me? Probably not.
Most likely you would say, “Pah!” or “Nonsense!” or “Never in a million years!” and then go on about the business from which I had disturbed you. I can almost hear you say those things. And maybe you would be justified in saying them.
But what if I then told you that it was not uncommon at all for such things to happen, because the call to adventure would often come chap, chap, chapping on the door of a young girl yearning to be free from the tyrannical grasp of her wicked stepmother, or fall at the feet of the seventh son of a seventh son seeking to go out and win riches and glory. Would you believe me then?
Maybe you should just read on. Let me take you to the kingdom of Faeland, in a period long since forgotten to time, when dragons soared and giants roamed, and the animals could still speak the same words as the people with whom they shared the world. And when we get there, perhaps you will learn the truth of it for yourself.
Our young kitchenhand’s name was Garlan, and he looked like most—well, what he really looked like has actually now been forgotten. But if you closed your eyes and had a good think, and tried to imagine what he looked like for yourself, there’s a very good chance that the image of him that you conjure up in your mind won’t be so far off the real thing.
Now, Garlan worked in the castle of Altenar, who was the High King of Faeland. Working in a kitchen could be difficult—working in the kitchen of the royal castle, even more so. Meals had to be prepared on time and to the highest grade for the king and queen and all their noble guests, several times a day, every single day. And then there was the clearing up that came after. But Garlan was no less hard working at the end of the day than he was at the beginning because he knew that the harder he worked the faster the day would go by, and then he got to go and do what he was most passionate about, which was practicing with his sword. You see, more than anything else, Garlan truly wanted to be a knight. He dreamed of one day taking a knee before King Altenar to feel his blade fall upon his shoulders, and take his place among the ranks of those elite warriors that he revered so much.
In his heart of hearts, though, Garlan knew that a dream was all those desires would ever be, and a certain castle guard took no pain in reminding him of that at every turn. “You? A knight?” that guard scoffed, and not for the first time that week. “Don’t make me laugh! You’re just a scruffy kitchen boy. And what’s more, you’re too soft! Too clean! I mean look at those tiny little hands, not a scratch or callus to be seen. Sir White Hands, that’s what they’d call you. What knight by that name could ever slay a dragon or win a championship at the lists? Never going to happen.”
I’ll show you, Garlan thought as the guard walked off to continue his rounds, chuckling as he went. One day I’ll be the best knight that ever held a sword. You’ll see.
But almost as soon as those thoughts were thought, he reproached himself. Only, I can’t be. Not ever. Kitchen boys can’t be knights. He looked down to see that in his frustration he had scrubbed the pots so hard that a thick bubbly froth had filled the basin, almost to overflowing. The pots were sparkling, though. He examined his hands and saw that the guard had been right—they were pinky-white, wrinkly, and soft.
Juran, a man in his fifties who was the head cook and Garlan’s uncle, came in just as the guard left, and said, “I’ve a mind to introduce the flat of my frying pan to old Rotter’s face,” when he saw that his nephew’s head had sunk low, just like it would when he retreated into that place in his mind where the self-doubt lived, and realised that the guard must have said something to upset him again. “Pay him no mind. If you have a dream, a desire of any kind, you hold onto it. You must go after it with all of your heart and soul. Do you think I sat by your mother’s deathbed and promised her that I would support you all of your life, just to let you give up on your dreams at the slightest discouragement from an idiot like him? Absolutely not! He’s just a guard, Garlan. He walks around in circles all day—like a wind-up toy, but with fewer manners. He doesn’t know the first thing about what it takes to be a true knight.” The cook had gotten himself quite worked up now, but as always had managed to bring the smile back to his nephew’s face just when he needed it.
Later, as the day came to an end and the final meal for the king and queen was cooked and served and cleaned away, Garlan said his goodbyes to the kitchen staff and collected his things to make the walk down through the evening-time hustle and bustle of Kingfisher’s Nest. He enjoyed the walk home from the castle because there was always something going on in the streets, and even though he had no other standards against which to measure his hometown, he loved it with all his heart. It was the middle of autumn, and all the leaves on the trees had turned orange and brown and were shedding, decorating the pavements with their earthy tones.
His route would begin in the upper town outside the castle walls, where the houses and other buildings were made with thick beams and well-cut bricks and roofed with fine slate, and the windows all had the loveliest glass panes and shutters with iron hinges that protected them from harsh winds and rain. The farther downhill he went the more modest the buildings and businesses became, until nearer the water were situated the dwellings of the people who made their living off the lake.
It was here, in a small wooden glade by the cliff’s edge, that Garlan lived alone, in the simple little house that Juran had helped him build, when the kitchen boy insisted one day not so long ago that while he was grateful for all the years that Juran had raised him like his own trueborn son in the comfort of his apartment next to the castle’s kitchens, he needed to learn to stand on his own two feet.
About the author:
Mark Cushen has loved the fantasy genre since he accidentally stumbled onto Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion masterpiece, “Jason and the Argonauts”, while channel-hopping one Christmas-time Saturday afternoon, somewhere between the ages of 5 and 8.
Ever since then he has been obsessed with stories of sword-wielding heroes battling monsters in fantastical lands, and is now attempting to create his own. Little White Hands is the first of (hopefully) many.
I’d definitely want to read this book if it were a standalone because it sounds so intriguing! But alas,…it’s a series! So I had to, rather reluctantly, decline the offer to read and review the book 😦 Thank you for understanding, Mark and congrats on your debut!
Oh and guess what? To those who have read this, good news. Mark is already working on its sequel! Kudos to you, Mark!
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to start the series? Let me know your thoughts!