The Chalice and the Crown
by Kassandra Flamouri
Genre: YA Fantasy
Driven, talented, and determined to live up to her family’s fame, Sasha Nikolayeva is ballet’s crown princess. But just when Sasha lands her most prestigious role yet, she falls prey to a host of disturbing neurological symptoms that threaten to end her career and her very life. As her mind and body deteriorate, Sasha spirals into a nightmare world where beauty and cruelty exist in the same breath and villains rule from the shadows.
In the glittering, sharp-edged City of Roses, Sasha is no princess. She’s a thrall, a slave. Thousands like her suffer in cursed silence while citizens enjoy the splendor of the City, blissfully unaware that their servants are anything more than living dolls enchanted to do their bidding. But the City’s slavers know the truth, and they are always watching. One misstep could cost Sasha her life—or her soul.
Even as she endures the violence and indignity of captivity, Sasha can’t help being drawn to the beauty of her nightmare world and the underground rebels who offer her friendship, shelter, even love. Before Sasha can break her chains for good, she’ll need choose between the life waiting for her at home and the countless lives she could save if she stays. To choose a nightmare over her real life, her future, would be madness…but maybe a little madness is just what it takes to change the fate of a city built on lies.
Dreams and reality perform a captivating pas de deux in this tale of legacy and longing. A lyrical and original fantasy that, like its heroine, has the soul of a dancer.
– Adi Rule, author of STRANGE SWEET SONG
In retrospect, I probably should have realized a lot earlier that I was meant to be a writer. Even as early as kindergarten, I struggled to pay attention in class because the outside world was just not as interesting as what was going on in my head. By that time, I had already made my storytelling debut (“Squirm the Worm,” delivered at age three) and had spent countless hours playing make-believe with my 284 stuffed animals, every one of whom had a name and detailed backstory.
Though I quickly learned to pay attention (or at least look like I was paying attention) during school hours, I retained a tendency to daydream and a love of stories. When I left high school to attend the Sunderman Conservatory at Gettysburg College, I learned to translate both emotional and programatic content into music. Now, as an exam prep and college essay tutor, I have the time and flexibility to really dig into fiction again. My work has appeared online and in print in such venues as Timeless Tales Magazine and Quantum Fairy Tales.
Would you like a chance to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card? Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
“The legends say that in the earliest days, we lived and died in darkness and despair.” Luca’s voice tickles my ear, and, though he drops his hand, he stays close. “Farmers toiled in the fields without respite, never tasting the fruits of their labor. Blacksmiths forged tools and weapons, never toys or lovers’ trinkets. Housewives gave birth to children who grew too quickly into adulthood, never knowing laughter. Soldiers killed and were killed without mercy—without knowing why, even. But for all their toiling and striving, they were pale, listless, fearful beings. There was no beauty or courage in the world, only survival. Only hardship.
“But one day, a young blacksmith dreamed of something better. He dreamed of the three Graces: Joy, Passion…and, shining like a beacon, her arms around the other two, Beauty. When the blacksmith awoke, he wept, for now he knew all that his life lacked. He wept a lifetime of tears that had never been shed, and, when his tears ran dry, he fell to his knees and prayed.
“When the blacksmith rose, he went to his forge and fashioned a chalice from gold—a soft, silly metal that served no useful purpose. So he had been told, and so he had believed until he dreamed of Beauty. When the chalice was completed, he went to the vineyards, where the vintner made vinegar to preserve food, clean wounds, quench thirst—useful, practical, necessary tasks, of course. But the blacksmith told the vintner of his dream and showed him the golden chalice, and the vintner in turn showed him what he had discovered: His casks of vinegar, if opened early, produced a liquid with a pleasant taste and even more pleasant warmth.
“The blacksmith and the vintner filled the chalice with wine and offered it to the villagers, who began to laugh and then to sing. When the chief’s suspicious soldiers came to investigate, they, too, drank the wine. One soldier after another faltered in the march, and they began to dance.
“And so the chalice performed its miracles, passing from hand to hand, intoxicating the people not only with drink but with joy and wonder. ‘There is beauty in the world,’ one villager would say. ‘Drink deep.’ ‘Life is sweet,’ the next might say. ‘Drink deep.’ The villagers drank deep from the chalice and began to expect more from life than mere survival. As they sought out beauty and amusement and love, they also found genius and passion for good works, for excellence, for innovation. They found their Gifts.
“The villagers transformed their huts into houses, then villas. The villages grew into towns, then cities, then a kingdom. To this day we gather in the Temple of Graces to seek out the beauty in the world and in ourselves, and every year we celebrate the blacksmith and his Chalice of Gifts.”
Luca falls silent. I blink, still entranced by his story and dazzled by the stars. Finally, I look at him and feel a smile spread across my face.
“I love it,” I tell him, and it feels like something more, something like… I love you.