Thursday, September 4, 2014

Works-in-Progress Wednesday: "The Princess of Undersea" Excerpt--Walking Through Overcliff

The Overcliff Market (Image from a Google search)

"Look out, girl!"

The harsh cry grated over Ylaine's ears, jerking her from the introspection. She shrieked as a large wagon pulled by a strange animal bore down on her. The staff fell from her grasp as she tumbled out of its path.

SPLAT!

Ylaine felt like she was back in the sea as she landed headfirst in a cart full of fish. She flailed her arms, but the fish would not let her go. Unexpectedly, a human hand grabbed hers and pulled, bringing her up and out of the cart. Ylaine frowned to see that the fish had left stains and slime on her dress.
"Hello, there!" A voice laughed.
Ylaine looked up. Her rescuer had dark hair and twinkling brown eyes. He smiled at her. "Are you all right? That was quite a tumble!"

"Y-y-yes," she stammered. Her cheeks burned to hear her dead, clumsy voice—the reminder of what she had given up. She turned and began to hobble away.

In three strides, the tall young human had caught up to her. "Have we met?" He asked abruptly.
Ylaine didn't trust herself to speak, so she only shook her head. She was quite sure there was no possible way for him to have seen her anywhere on land.

Her companion shrugged easily. "Oh, don't worry, it'll come to me. What's your name?"
Oh gracious! She didn't know if she could manage her own name.

"Y-y-la-laine-ne," she sputtered.

"What? Ill—Illeinina?" He mistook her stutter for extra syllables. "Hmph; is that all? Have you no other title or family name?"

She shook her head again; the only title she could claim would be Princess, but surely that did not matter here in the human kingdom. She could be plain Illeinina the human for as long as this form lasted.
"You must be poor, then," the young man continued bluntly.

The remark stung Ylaine; the royal coffers of Undersea made her richer than any human could ever hope to be! She turned to hide the flush of shame and did her best to flounce away from him in a huff. Ylaine was careful to give a wide berth to everything around her, shrinking back from the slightest noise. Once, a large animal let out a loud "Moooo!" just as she was very near, and Ylaine whirled away with a scream—
right into the waiting arms of the young man.

"St-st-stop f-f-following-g m-me!" She spluttered.

He only laughed. "Oh come," he said with a merry twinkle in his eye, "if not me, then who else would you have to save you from the great and terrible milk cow?" He nodded toward the animal.
Ylaine frowned and tried to change direction once more. "I d-don't n-n-need y-you."

She and he were the same height, but he had more command over his legs than she did. He caught her again. "Illeinina, wait! Are you sure you have never been to one of my—of the palace's gala events?"

She jerked her hand away, "I h-have n-n-never-ver b-been t-t-to O-o-Over-c-c-cliff b-be-f-f-fore."

"Really?" The young man frowned. He surveyed the tattered dress and the tilting walk. "What are you doing here, then?"

"I n-n-need to f-f-find s-someb-b-body."

"Who is it?"

"N-none of y-y-your b-b-business!"

He still would not leave her side. "Illeinina—" he sighed. "Look, I'm sorry about the cow thing. That was unbecoming. Let me make it up to you: you could use a guide, since you're new here, so why don't I buy us a picnic, and after we eat, I'll help you find whoever it is you're looking for. Does that suit you?"

Ylaine almost refused him yet again, but she knew that what he said about a guide was true; maybe he even knew the man she sought. She had no idea what a picnic was, but it sounded like some kind of food, which she hadn't had since leaving the water. Finally, she nodded.
"Y-y...yes!" The word came out short and sharp, like the bark of a dog.

The man smiled and held out his arm to her. "I was hoping you'd say that," he said.

Ylaine wasn't sure what he was doing with his arm. She held hers up in the same way. Maybe this was a special way humans walked—

The young man laughed and took her left hand, bringing it through the crook of his arm.
"Pleased to meet you, Illeinina," he said. "My name is Nathan."

[...]

"In all seriousness, Illeinina, I envy you; you come to my country having freely left your own to begin a fresh start in a whole new world. I wish I could have that chance!"

Ylaine couldn't help feeling that there was something familiar about the longing in his eyes as he spoke.
"Not...really," she spoke slowly, quelling the relentless urge to stutter over each consonant. "Truly... I...feel I...changed...so much th-that maybe...I...didn't leave...at all...but...that... someone...else... not...me... left...in my...place."

Nathan shrugged and drank from his jug. "That's an interesting point: why leave if you have to be someone other than yourself? I can't help feeling that I certainly wouldn't want to risk not being myself. I don't know; you seem like a genuine article to me. In fact—" he peered at her searchingly, "I can't shake the feeling that we've met somewhere before."

Ylaine blushed and dropped her eyes. How could he know the impossibility of such a thing?

Nathan soon dispelled her confusion. "Oh now I remember!" he cried. "You remind me of the girl in my dreams." He looked at her with eyes alight.

Ylaine glanced up in alarm. What if he—no! It couldn't be! "D-d-dreams?" she forgot all about covering her stutter.

Nathan shook his head. "Not like that!" He tried to explain, "Okay: a few days ago I was out boating with some friends. A storm hit and the boat sank. I survived when they didn't, and just before the world went black..." He had been speaking very animatedly, but suddenly he recalled himself and stopped. "Never mind," he muttered, "I sound ridiculous."

Ylaine felt the realization flooding over her heart. "You...wonder...how... you... woke... up... on.... the... rock... in... the... Channel."

Nathan blinked in astonishment. "How did you—oh gods, you are her!" He seized Ylaine's hands with sudden energy. "You're the girl who saved me!" He reached up and smoothed her hair from her face. It was the same! The pale skin, the ethereal eyes! He had not recognized the raven-colored hair. "How can I repay you?" he gasped.

She blushed; isn't that just what she wanted him to say? Why did she feel so unworthy, then? "Well, you saved me at the market," she mumbled.

Nathan shook his head at the stuttering girl's modesty. "From the fish barrel?" he chuckled, "Come, that was nothing; I only rescued your dignity. That is far less than a life! I am still in your debt; tell me what you—"

"Your highness!"
The pair looked up as a well-dressed courtier approached from the road. He seemed to be waving to them—for a moment Ylaine wondered how a human could know she was a princess, but then Nathan was pulling her to her feet and straightening his appearance. He smiled as the courtier bowed. Suddenly the young lady felt her heart thudding within her as she realized she had grossly underestimated her new friend.

"On second thought," Nathan was saying with a grin, "I have an idea. How about a room at the royal palace?" He winked at her.

Ylaine's brain was spinning out of control. "P-p-p-p-palace! H-h-highn-n-ness!" She was so astounded that she would have run away, but he still held her hands. She did not know what to think. "Y-y-y-you! You're th-th-th-the-the—"

The courtier frowned at the stunned young lady in the tattered, sodden dress, and told Prince Nathan, "Your father requests that you return for supper--and I do believe you have a certain royal guest to prepare for?"

Nathan sighed and dropped Ylaine's hands to run his through his hair. "Oh yes, the Queen." He sighed, "I'd forgotten about that."

The courtier couldn't help casting a worried glance toward the strangely tall woman behind the prince, who had ceased jabbering and lapsed into petrified silence. "I beg your pardon, Highness, but what is that?"
Nathan stepped aside and led Ylaine forward. "Don't be rude, Giles! I want you to give her a room, and servants, and dresses befitting a lady who saved the Prince's life!"

Giles' eyes opened wide. He had been among those concerned for the Prince's safety during the storm that claimed so many lives, and elated at his miraculous rescue. He now smiled at Ylaine. "Oh! Right this way, Milady!"

Hearing mention of her new friend's identity only sent Ylaine into another bout of stuttering. "Th-th-the-the-the p-p-p-p-p-p—"

Excerpts from "Princess of Undersea":
-"Undersea and Overcliff" 
-"The Wish" 
-"The Witch and The Storm" 
-"The Bargain" 
-"Fish Out of Water" 
-"Dining With The King" 
-"Enter The Queen" 
-"Exposed" 
-"The Exchange" 
-"Carnival Showdown"