by Aoife Doyle (@1adoyle)
Editor: Maria Tureaud (@Maria_Tureaud)
Upper MG Fantasy
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You can’t save your family if you have no idea who, or what, you are.
Finta can’t remember anything before the curse. All she wants is to reverse it so she remembers who she is, and how to change her sister-turned-wolfhound, Skyo, back into a teenager. To survive in the wilds of Erri, Finta charges villages a fee for her ability to magically calm, and remove, otherworldly creatures from their homes. It’s a good way to make money to survive, and the magical creatures of Erri have been so agitated lately that Finta has a lot to keep her busy.
But when word of Finta’s magic skill reaches Casith—a nonbinary magic user on a quest of their own – they offer the sisters a deal. In exchange for helping Casith stop the mysterious being responsible for riling up all the magical creatures, Casith will introduce the sisters to an ancient magic that will not only restore Finta’s memories, but will turn Skyo from a wolfhound into a girl again.
Anything that sounds too good to be true, likely is. And when Finta’s forgotten past catches up to her present, the idea of losing her family—both born and found—forever, becomes all too real. If Finta is to restore Skyo’s body, and keep her part of the bargain made with Casith, she must face who she once was, and learn to do the hardest thing of all: forgive.
A RevPit 2021 winner, ICOBAR is an MG Fantasy inspired by Irish mythology and folklore. Complete at 60,000 words, it combines the wild Irish magic of The Storm Keeper’s Island series (Catherine Doyle) with the voice and style of The Windwitch series (Susan Dennard), the vivid setting and worldbuilding of Skin Taker (Michelle Paver) and the atmosphere and wit of Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart).
I’m a queer, non-binary writer from Dublin, Ireland, have an Honours Degree in English & Film, and study Irish Mythology. My first book, THE LOST LAHSRÍ, was runner up in the Guppy Books YA Open Submission, chosen from 377 entries. My third, MG fantasy THE MYTH GUARDIAN, received a grant from the Arts Council of Ireland which I used to secure a mentorship with author Kate Lee.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
First Five Pages
CHAPTER ONE: The Guardian Of The Lake
There was something wrong with the kelpie. Hunger blazed in its purple eyes, but it didn’t want food. It wanted Finta. Its hoof clacked against the cobblestones, water flowing from its seaweed mane. Its tail flicked as saliva dripped from its open jaws, stinking of the depths of the lake it had climbed from. Fangs framed its wicked grin as it took another step towards her. Finta stood her ground. She wasn’t afraid of wolf-mouthed lake horses. No matter how many children they’d stolen.
The faintest click of claws on stone told her Skyo stalked the shadows, keeping a perimeter. Ready, Finta knew, to leap to her defence if needed.
It wouldn’t be needed.
Kelpies were easy. Dangerous, sure—all the behi’alta were. That’s why there were deep, ancient laws to keep the magical creatures in check, as well as the people of Erri. It was also why the villagers had paid her to send this magical water horse back to its lake. But Finta wasn’t a normal twelve-year-old. That was one of the only things she could remember about herself. Banishing an out-of-control lake guardian wouldn’t take long—she’d guaranteed it. It’s why she got to charge so much.
Even so, she and Skyo should have left this village days ago. It wasn’t their home—not that Finta knew where home was—and it held no answers for them. Her grip tightened on the tools she’d need to do the job, the familiar textures soothing against her fingertips. She took a breath heavy with the tang of lake water and blew it out slowly. She shouldn’t complain. They were almost out of money. Really, it was lucky the kelpie had arrived a few days after they had. Lucky the villagers’ attempts to coax and drive it back to its lake had failed.
Lucky she had her fiddle.
Finta slowly lifted the instrument, letting the kelpie follow the movement, and settled it under her chin. She tapped her bow twice against her leg before bringing it fluidly to the strings. She had to be careful now. Not with the kelpie—that big beast would be hers in a matter of minutes—but with her bow. There was a thin break along its length thanks to Finta being a big eejit and whacking it against something it shouldn’t have been whacked against. She couldn’t remember what exactly, she’d been too busy trying to stop a bunch of angry skrissers from the last village trying to kennel Skyo, because they decided she looked ‘wild’ and ‘vicious’ and they were worried about their ‘sheep’. It had taken her a long time and several whacks—oh, maybe it'd been someone's head?—to get them to listen to her over Skyo’s snarling, which hadn’t helped, and now she had to deal with this kelpie with a cracked bow. Which meant she had to pay attention and couldn’t float away on the tune like a puff of dandelion fluff. But Finta was used to that. She had to take care of Skyo, and that meant earning pingin, and that meant sending this dripping kelpie back to its lake. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to be fun.
“The villagers of K’nuk Byug told me to tell you they’re closed for business,” she called out casually, settling her fingers over the waiting wires.
The kelpie snapped its jaws and half-charged forward, white hair silvery in the low light. The clack-clop of its hooves on stone was a drumbeat, and Finta grinned. It was taunting her. Daring her to play.
She dragged the bow over the strings, and the first note was pure as struck glass. It hovered delicately in the air, almost shy, as though not wanting to disturb the night’s waiting quiet. The second note was lower—a growl—warning any who might interrupt to hush up. Finta nestled her chin more comfortably into the pad and held still as excitement thrummed through her, and her fingers sung a slow tune, the last note ringing with the barest shimmer.
The kelpie halted. Whipped its tail. Kept its gaze on Finta, ears pricking forward to catch the music. Then it lunged, jaws open, baying defiantly.
Finta giggled. She waited until it was too close to manoeuvre, then spun out of the way, the edges of her coat flying. The kelpie’s tail slapped against her shoulder and it whinnied in frustration. Finta leapt aside, never missing a note. Beaming. Sweet Danans, kelpies were fun! It whirled, water flying as though trying to fence her in, and kicked hard with its hind legs. One muddy hoof made contact with the bow, forcing it to screech over the strings as Finta reeled back. She grimaced at the sound and her stomach trembled at the thought of snapping bowstrings. Finta gentled the pressure, quieting the note but keeping the music going, and checked the bow. It looked okay, the hair still tensioned, the wood still bowed. Finta’s shoulders relaxed. Skrissin’ beast! Behind her, Skyo barked a warning. Finta hadn’t even time to hope Skyo hadn’t seen that. Overprotective as always.
Finta danced away as the kelpie lunged for her, fangs bared in a long, dripping snarl, eyes bright with anger. Finta side-stepped then took a running leap and rolled over the kelpie’s back, black hair flying, and landed neatly on its other side. Before it could react she sprang away, gaining a few feet of space to play.
The music pulled itself from the fiddle like a strand of spider silk arcing into the wind. It sailed harmlessly on the night to curl around the kelpie, sneakily wrapping the creature in its spell like some eejit fish swimming into a hidden net. Finta’s heart skipped along faster than her feet, relishing every moment of her magic singing through the night air.
Behind Finta, Skyo skulked forward, pads absorbing the whisper of claws. A low growl that meant hurry up already! rumbled under the melody.
With a sigh, Finta pressed her fingertips into the neck of the fiddle with new purpose, the muted bite of strings as comforting as a warm blanket.
The melody quickened. So did Finta.
She glanced back at the houses. Faces peeked from behind curtains, and Finta knew she probably looked a right eejit, dancing with a fiddle around a hunting kelpie. But she knew what she was doing. She’d get their kids back.
The wind rose. Not, as the watchers may suspect, from the weather but from the fiddle held securely in Finta’s sure hands. It played with her wavy black hair and pushed curiously against the thick strands of deep green seaweed hanging over the kelpie’s neck. It moaned its own melody through the village streets, adding a soft harmony to the magic and carrying a gentle scent that Finta had never been able to place but always reminded her of green fields and calm seas.
The fire in the kelpie’s gaze cooled.
Finta came to an abrupt stop and the kelpie mirrored her, dazed. The music was taking its toll. Its ears flicked forward. Posture relaxed. It closed its wolf jaw, but held its hunting mouth ready. Finta swayed closer, keeping her movements as fluid and graceful as the music filling the night. The kelpie moved backwards, keeping its distance. Finta could feel Skyo lurking close behind her, probably never looking away from the kelpie.
Finta poured herself into the music and it broke like a wave crashing against a harbour. She took two quick leaping steps forward and the kelpie bucked its head, whinnying uncertainly. Its purple eyes couldn’t look away from her. The muscles in its neck rippled under its mane as it wove its head to the rhythm of her music, to the flow of her dance.
It forgot to step back.
Finta danced closer, music loud and confident now, like the rush of a river, or the slow, deep wisdom of a lake. The kelpie’s jaw rippled. Its hunting mouth vanished, replaced with the tamed, velvety muzzle of a horse.
With a nimble skip of agile fingers Finta nudged the music into its final phase. It went willingly, sailing into the final movement like a flock of starlings flying at her command, and Finta forgot about Skyo and the villagers and how early she’d have to be up tomorrow to get back to their endless wandering. She even forgot about her forgetting. All that mattered was her fiddle, her bow, her music, and the wild kelpie that was now hers too.
Keeping a careful eye on the water horse, Finta slowed her dance and walked alongside it, music urging it to follow. It nickered good-naturedly as it cla-clopped after her, mesmerised. She led it off the village’s main street—not quite able to fully stop dancing yet—and out through meandering roads connecting the farms, now tame as an old carthorse. Skyo was never far behind, a final defence should the kelpie break free and gallop back towards the settlement. But Finta knew it wouldn’t. It was hers. Skyo was just a worrier.
Finta stopped several feet from the stony shore, avoiding the wet pebbles. She faced the kelpie smiling at it like the friend the music had made it, and eased the melody from its wild peak to a quiet whisper. The kelpie followed it, stepping calmly into the black water as the music lulled the waves. It moved deeper into the lake, until the moon-dappled surface covered the kelpie’s ears and finally the last flick of its seaweed tail vanished under the ripples. She held the final note for a long moment, wanting to make sure the creature was safely settled on the lake floor before releasing the bow from the strings.
She looked over her shoulder and met Skyo’s approving gaze.
Finta smiled. See? Easy.