Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Works-In-Progress Wednesday: "Princess of Undersea" Excerpt--Undersea and Overcliff


Undersea....

"Your highness! We have found the Princess!"
King Davor turned as two mer-guards entered the chamber.
"Well?" He prompted, his amber eyes flashing. "Where is she?"
The second guard flexed his tail up behind him and stretched his arms toward it, bending his head forward in a gesture of respect. "My liege, Princess Ylaine requested that we escort her to her royal chambers."
"Her royal chambers?" Davor was so furious, his tail went as stiff as a pike's. "The Royal Undersea Convention is gathering, and my daughter thinks she can just go to her room?"
Neither guard met his gaze; they were too busy bowing mer-fashion. With a twist of his tail, the irate king exploded out of the chamber's opening and toward a round coral colony on the other side of the palace.

Ylaine drifted with the current in the middle of the space. Her violet hair hung in a purple cloud around her face.
Davor paused to cool his fury before entering.
"Ylaine?" He called softly.
"I am here, father," she answered as he swam inside.
"My dear, are you ready for the Convention?"
Ylaine sighed and swam froward, letting the water pressure carry her tresses aside to expose her blue-skinned face. She turned the mournful aquamarine eyes upon her father. "Not today, please, Father. I do not feel well."
Davor's throat-gills snapped impatiently. "Ylaine, please; just once, that's all I ask."
Ylaine snapped her gills too, though considerably a smaller noise than her father made. "That is just what you've said every time, father."
"Ylaine," Davor continued evenly, "You know I like to hear you sing."
Ylaine pressed her lips in a smile. "Then why don't you listen, father?"
"Such a gift as yours is only fitting for an event like this one."
"I am quite sure the fairy did not give it to me to be used in such a manner."
"Please, Ylaine—"
"I told you," Ylaine twisted so her hair concealed her face again. "I'm not well. I need to rest."
Davor folded his muscled arms across his smooth torso. "This wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that I'm sure the guards found you trying to slip through the boundaries in a school of barracuda, would it?"
A single flicker of the aqua eye among the purple haze confirmed his suspicion.
"I just wanted to see the surface, just once!" she complained.
"Ylaine, you know that this cannot be—"
"Oh yes, because humans are careless and cruel and they'd as soon chop off my tail as look at me!"
"Ylaine!"
"Nayidia says that it used to be a tradition for all merfolk who so desire to swim to the surface at the Great Moon Rising." She babbled without looking at him. "Nearly three hundred Great Moons have passed, and never have I seen another mermaid pass your precious boundary! We have delved deeper into the seabed, when we might be rising up, and on!"
"Enough!" Davor ordered. “You know those boundaries are placed there for your protection.”
“Protection from what?” Ylaine demanded. “You know me, father; I would never willfully place myself in danger. You have taught me to pay attention to my surroundings—“
“It is the humans, Ylaine,” Davor began.
Ylaine twisted away from him and began swimming around the room, picking ropes of seaweed and placing them in her hair. “Oh yes, father,” she grumbled. “Tell me again how evil the humans are, how dangerous are their crafts in which they sit, waiting for the odd flash of fish-scales to strike with their harpoons. You know,” she stopped and confronted her father as her hair splayed out around her face, “I am sure the human world has changed since the fairies left. I bet if you went up and saw for yourself, no harm would come to you, and you’d call off this wretched vendetta you have created for yourself!” She sat before the obsidian mirror and turned her back to her father.

"Please, Ylaine," Davor placed his hands over his daughter's shoulders. Plucking a white starfish from the side of the obsidian, he folded his daughter's hair back from her face and fastened it there with the star. Still, she kept her eyes down. He tipped her chin up.
"You're beautiful and I love you," he murmured.
Finally, Ylaine met his gaze. "Love me, and conduct the conference using your own words to convince the merfolk that your plan is worthwhile.”
“You know that is impossible; I cannot convince them of something no one has confirmed.”
“Then perhaps war against the humans is not such a good plan after all.”
“They must be stopped,” said Davor, handing his daughter a rope of seaweed with which to tie her hair.
Reluctantly, Ylaine accepted it and began binding her wild tresses into a long braid that hung behind her head. This she wound around itself in a large knot, which she held in place with another sea star. She paused to watch her reflection, staring at her father’s reflection pointedly.
“What are they doing, that they must cease? Are their divers reaching lower and lower depths? What happened to trading with them, as in the ancient days?”
Davor hesitated; it is true, there was once a time when fairies and merfolk traded freely with the humans, surfacing regularly to barter rare and fascinating items from the seabed.
“Those days are over,” Davor said slowly. “Remember what happened to your mother?”
“Only what you have told me,” Ylaine replied quietly, giving her father a mournful glance. “But father,” she rejoined in earnest, “that was one boat, that was one time—“
“I have lost one love,” Davor said, embracing his daughter. “I will not lose another. I love you, My Princess.” He held her for a moment, and nodded to the guard that respectfully appeared at the entrance overhead.
“It is time,” he said, pulling away and looking at his daughter. She was growing more and more beautiful every day. King Davor made his request one last time.
“Will you do this for me, daughter? For your mother?”
Ylaine sighed, her gills popping in her throat as they flexed. “Very well, Father.”
Davor nodded and handed her the golden cowrie shell that marked her as royalty. “Your mother would be proud to see the gift she witnessed put to such a noble use,” he told her.
Behind his back, Ylaine felt the shell bounce against her neck as she muttered, “No, she wouldn’t father. Not this… not at all.”
>>>>>>>>

Overcliff....

Within the palace, a dark-haired young man with sharp features crouched in the shadows, curled up as small as he could make his lanky frame. He waited, counting silently to himself.
“Five… four… three… two… one!” He slipped out just as the guards were changing. Hugging the wall and keeping well below any windows, the grey-clad young man crept toward his goal. One more corner, one more hallway—
At last! The mischievous rogue squeezed into an alcove and surveyed his quarry: a fresh berry tart on the windowsill. He would have to slip past the pastry chef, the cook, the cellar-maid, the baker, and the footmen traipsing in and out of the kitchen as they readied luncheon for His Majesty—

“Your Highness!” The cry hurt his pride almost as much as the fierce grip hurt his ear.

“Aww, Giles!” he whined, gripping the servant’s wrist in a vain attempt at getting him to relax his grip.
Giles never relented. “Prince Nathan, what do you think you’re doing?” His eyes immediately went for the tart. “Devising plans of insubordination, I see. And tell me, Prince—would it really have tasted as sweet to gulp it down in the last few minutes before luncheon so that you would not get caught, or to wait until you had finished your meal, at which time you would be able to call for it and consume at your leisure?” Giles laughed and hauled the prince ignominiously out to the hallway. Only then did he release him.
“Ow, Giles,” Nathan rubbed his tender lobe. “I could have you whipped for that, you know.”
“I am fulfilling the duties laid down by your father, of looking after you, Prince,” Giles replied soberly. He snorted, “Besides, if you whipped everyone who dared speak against you, Prince, what sort of king would that make you?”
“One with less bruises, that is certain,” Nathan muttered. “Now go and fetch my boots!”
Giles glanced at his stocking feet and shook his head. “Ah, nay, My Prince. You and I both will return to your chambers. It would not do to stuff those sorry, dusty scraps into your nice clean boots that I’ve just shined, now would it?”
Nathan groaned and followed Giles back to his room.

In the Great Hall, King Theodore pored over the sheaf of documents his advisors had delivered to his desk. A blanket of melancholy settled over his brain and fairly muddled the propositions for new taxes and laws, of reports on the royal treasury and the state of the kingdom. Pushing them aside, he picked up the map that outlined the various farms in the kingdom, and the amount of fertile ground that was used for planting, with small sections in each farm set aside for the royal storehouses. Theodore pulled at his thinning grey beard as his sagging, wrinkled forehead creased in bewildered concern. He would have to get the Royal Archivist to bring him the last map of such kind, but he could have sworn the areas left for the farmers and their families grew smaller and smaller each year, as were the merchandise reports from the marketplace. Meanwhile, the census seemed to increase for a few years, and then drop sharply—where did people go, anymore? King Theodore set aside his papers and rubbed his aching head. He could tighten his belt to one-course meals during the day—but what about Nathan? The Prince was a growing boy, and he ought to have all the sustenance he required.
He returned to the petition from his advisors.
“The coffers are low,” they complained. “And Overcliff has little hope of ever recovering from the last bad harvest. Trade has suffered since the banishment of the fairies, Milord; perhaps we might consider rescinding the order?”
King Theodore’s face hardened. The meeting had ended there; he was too overcome to utter another sound, and he had sent them all out of the chamber as fast as their plump and doddering legs could carry them. Welcome the fairies back? After what they had done to incur their banishment? By no means!
The king’s chin trembled and he covered his mouth as the memory of his beloved wife washed over him yet again. Queen Theresa, with her shining smile and those star-like eyes she passed on to her son! King Theodore had never been stronger than with his beloved wife at his side, whispering her wise words in his ear when the shouting advisors would poison his mind with their suggestions of taxation and reaping the best from the people merely because he was king and they could not gainsay the king’s word. Trade with the fairies had benefited the kingdom, surely; but then a mysterious plague came at the same time as a certain delegation of the Fae, and many citizens fell ill with little hope of recovery—including the queen. The king had first begged their assistance, but when the disease escalated beyond even the fairies’ skill, he forthwith banished all Fae and forbid any more trade. Since that day, more than twenty years ago, King Theodore was faced in his advancing age with the prospect of leading the kingdom alone, with no one to speak boldly in his support. He had entrusted the tutelage of his young son to a worthy servant named Giles, in the hopes that young Nathan would eventually grow as wise as his mother had been—but that day had not come yet. Still, King Theodore hoped.

The great bell sounded, announcing that all was in readiness for the midday meal. King Theodore smiled and pushed aside his papers as Prince Nathan came into the room, booted, laughing, and fairly exuding life and vitality. Close on his heels followed his faithful valet, Giles.
“Ah, my son!” Theodore gushed, as Nathan took his seat at the right-hand corner of the table nearest his father. The foot-servants entered, placing several dishes before the Prince, and a few before the king.
Nathan didn’t seem to notice, and dug into the repast with a relish.
“Have you had a good day today, Nathan?” King Theodore asked, picking slowly over his simple meal of roasted meat and vegetables.
Nathan paused in his consumption of an entire roast hen and shrugged. “Well enough, if Giles would not insist on dragging me off to practice sparring or learn geogramy and tripe like that. But I was able to catch Tom this morning on his way to university.” Nathan grabbed a handful of grapes from the platter in front of him and began decimating the cluster, still talking all the while. “I think we’re going to go hunting once he finishes his studies this afternoon.”
Theodore nodded, grinning at his energetic son. “A worthy pastime, indeed!” he said. “I am sure Giles will be of great assistance; perhaps you may bag your dinner!”
“Giles?” Nathan glanced at his silent valet and shrugged. “No, I don’t think I’d want him around. He might make me chart the circumberance of the forest or something boring like that. If it’s all the same, I think Tom will do just fine.”
“What about the village boy in your patronage? What was his name?”
Nathan paused and considered very hard. “Oh yes, the one whose mother needed money to send him to school, so I’ve been sending regular sums to them? Hmph, I cannot remember! Giles, do you know?”
Giles kept his expression neutral as he replied, “I believe the young lad’s name was Simon, your highness.”
“That’s it, Simon! How old must he be now, you think?”
“If I recall, highness, he is but five years your junior.”
“You don’t say!” Nathan fiddled with the bones on his plate as he mulled over the plan. “I bet it would be very kingly of me to invite a layperson such as Simon along on a hunting trip, wouldn’t it, father?”
“Of course,” said King Theodore. “A king ought to be a man who is willing to associate with his people. Go to, my son!”
“Thanks, father!” Nathan sprang up from the table to receive his friend Tom and send for the boy Simon.

Theodore laid down his napkin and moved away from the table to allow the servants to clear the dishes. Giles remained where he was until Theodore beckoned him to join him at the window.
"I worry about him, Giles," said Theodore heavily. "I am nearing the end of my reign, and he seems to have no interest in kingly things."
"Aye, Milord," agreed Giles, "if it was a lady distracting him that would be one thing, but Nathan's diversion seems to center on himself."
Theodore's face folded on itself as he pondered this. He wagged his head. "No, I do not think romance is necessary for a King. I would that he showed a little more interest in matters of the kingdom." He chuckled. "My mind is not as spry as it once was, and yet my duties do not get any simpler."
The valet pressed his lips. "If I may speak freely, sire," he began slowly.
Theodore nodded, watching his son ride out of the courtyard flanked by his friends. "I will hear it, Giles. I always have."
Giles chose his words carefully. "If you were to invite your son to these council meetings, or to assign him some small part of kingly duties, just to give him some impression of what will be expected of him—"
Theodore turned away from the window and began pacing back to the pile of documents at the table. "No, no; I am old, yes, but Nathan is still young—what, only just past a score, is he?"
"A score and five, I think, my lord."
"Ah me! Time is a sprightly dame, is she not? But, be that as it may, I think the Prince shall have time enough to settle down; these things can wait till he has the mind for them. If there is one thing I have learned, Giles, it is that one's family is more valuable than one's rank. Let the boy have his play. He'll be a man soon enough."
>>>>>>

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Welcome to the BlogRoll: Characters Count!

 

This blogroll is all about characters.
Writing them, editing them, defining them, and playing favorites with them.

If you’re participating in this blogroll, just answer the following questions, include the previously tagged authors and their blogs, and add some new authors/bloggers below.  
*Note from your host, A. Wrighton: I’d appreciate you including the blogroll image above, but I won’t chase after you with any red pens of doom if you don’t. Yep, it’s really that simple.

What is your favorite part about writing characters? 
I like making the characters real--real enough that they leap off the page, and their dialogue rings in your ears like they're actually speaking to you. I like writing characters that evoke an intense emotional response from the reader: evil characters that make them cry, "Ooh, I hate that character!" or secondary protagonists whom the readers adore.

What is the hardest thing you have to do when you create a character and what’s the easiest? 
Hmm, I'd have to say that the hardest thing for me is describing the character's actual appearance. Sometimes I am able to "cast" my characters, and so I have a certain actor's features in mind to be able to incorporate into the narrative, but a lot of times, I mostly "see" the action of any given scene through the eyes of each character--and honestly, how many times does the average person consider how to describe their appearance over the course of a normal conversation?
The easiest thing would have to be naming the character. I love coming up with unique names, themed names, or just names that kind of fit the personality of the character.

Who is your favorite character that you’ve written?
Wow! Yeesh, I don't know... I think I'm going to have to go with Athelron, from my longest-running, on-again-off-again novel (it was my first fanfiction--took a couple years to finish, and then I went back and rewrote it--then earlier this year I tried rewriting it again... still not finished...) called Laurel of Andar. 
"I would hold my tongue, or cut it out,
ere I called an Elf-friend 'liar,' little maid...."
He's kind of my gibe at the stereotypical "Tolkien-ish" Elf, with his attempt at aloofness and a rampant superiority complex: all Elves in my fantasy world value purity, but Athelron's country--Bregundia--takes it to a whole new level of exclusivity, keeping largely to themselves and defying any country who dares challenge them. An army coming against Bregundia will find their reputation besmirched, their army demoralized, and their allies turned against them before they even leave their own borders. The only person ranking high enough in any kingdom to receive deference from a visiting Bregundian Elf is the King. Everyone else must give way to the Bregundian.

This is where Athelron comes from--but then I took that and threw his lot in with a traveling troupe of performing pygmies led by a human who saved Athelron from a band of ruffians--so Athelron owes him a life-debt, which his sense of honor dictates he must serve. He's finding it harder and harder to distance himself from the people he has to travel all over the country with, more difficult to maintain his dignity. But underneath all his bluster and derision lies a heart of gold, fiercely loyal and courageous. I like him a lot. Plus... I may have "cast" David Tennant in the role... It was just too perfect an opportunity, what can I say?


Who is one character you wish you had written?
Oh gosh, this really isn't fair! There are so many good books I've read in the last year, with characters that I positively adore! But, pressed for an answer, I think I'd have to go with "Any of the characters in a David Baldacci novel--particularly Sean King or Michelle Maxwell." He has pretty much succeeded as my all-time favorite author, and I love the way he balances his characterizations and develops their personalities like real, level-headed people. His characters are awesome in every way, every time. I have yet to read a Baldacci novel that I didn't instantly love by the second chapter. 

Is there a character type that intimidates you?
As a matter of fact, yes! I'm not one for in-depth, super-technical research, so if the kind of character I want works in, say, the engineering, computer, military, or political field, I am kind of at a loss for exactly how much the character should and would know.


Is there a character type that you’re really good at?
In my stories and my novels I tend to have really sarcastic characters, and at least one noble, "steady" type. I like my characters to be a little flawed--no Mary-Sues for me!--and they learn to deal with those flaws as the story develops.

Best tip/trick you’ve learned while writing characters?
Writing is the closest thing to mind control humans (in general) can have: the art of making whatever is going on within your head, happen in someone elses head. If there's one thing I've noticed, it's that the great writers can have full pages of sheer dialogue, but the reader can still track with who is speaking, because of the distinct characterizations. If your characterizations are clearly defined, you won't need a lot of "he said/she said" because the reader will automatically know (or at the very least assume correctly) who is speaking at a given moment.
When writing characters, don't worry about racial diversification if you're not going to make the dialogue any different. The reader won't care if you have an American, a Hispanic, and a Frenchman in a room together, if the only difference between the manner of the characters is that the American swears all the time. Give the characters distinct speech patterns as well as their appearance, and the distinctions will become clear without you having to specify. Sometimes, a certain personality will take on a distinct racial appearance--let it happen, but don't force a race on a character merely for diversity's sake. It's more fun to let the characters introduce themselves!

Did You Enjoy This? Any Further Questions? Leave A Comment! Meanwhile, check out these awesome blogs where the BlogRoll has been:

A. Wrighton – genre-bending novelist, screenwriter, and creative evil genius
Rachel Bolton – blogger, writer, designer, marketer…
Heidi Lillian – a lovely writer with many hats and stories
The Upstream Writer– A literary blog with a little bit of everything

Where Is It Going Next? 

Kimberly Rogers – Writer, reviewer, fantasy lore-master....
Olivia C.– Inkspots... Where the ink drops... 
Emily Ecrivaine Reviews – A blog by avid writers with a penchant for all things fandom!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Coming THIS SATURDAY....






IT'S THE SUGGESTION BOX, PEOPLE! (Scroll down the page on the link till you get to #3)

I tried it last year when I couldn't think of anything to post for Serial Saturday, and I must say, the response was pretty awesome... so I'm doing it again this year.

So What is The Suggestion Box?
The way this series works is: I will contact any interested parties and request a list with four things on it:
-A Name
-A Place
-A Time
-An Object

Each week, my challenge is to craft an excerpt, a news article, a book-jacket blurb--something or anything, using all four items. (You'll want to follow me for this one... you never know how each week is going to turn out!)

Who Can Participate in The Suggestion Box?
I will start out only taking Suggestions from followers. (See why I said you'll want to follow me?) If it comes down to a week that I don't have a list for, I may seek additional contributors--but if you're a follower, you get first crack at it!

How Long Will This Last?
As long as we can make it! I managed to stretch it out to 13 weeks last year... but I also allowed some people to submit more than just one list. This year I'm willing to see how long I can go with no "repeat contributors." It lasts as long as you let it, folks!

So there you have it, Ladies and Gents! Feel free to poke around last year's Suggestion posts, leave a comment on any that you liked... and be sure to click the blue "Join this Site" button on the right if you want a piece of the action! I look forward to getting your list!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker," Part FINAL

She fell into his arms still running at full-tilt. Father and daughter embraced for the first time in what Karthey felt had been forever. He was laughing with tears in his eyes as he hugged her. It was several minutes before Karthey found her voice, and once she did, it seemed as if she would talk until she ran out of breath.
            “Dad! Oh my word, I don’t believe this! What are you doing here? How did you get in? I missed you so much! I don’t believe it! You’re here! You’re here! I don’t believe it! You’re here! I love you, dad! I missed you so much! How did you get inside the gate? Oh!” she hugged him again, and sobs rose in her throat and prevented her speech.

Mavis pulled his daughter’s head back, saw that those sensitive features had not changed (beyond growing more sensitive) for being in the morose company of Cramwell Fornberg, saw that his daughter was just as beautiful as ever, and spoke the words he’d been waiting for a very long time to say.
            “It’s over, Karthey,” he informed his daughter, “We caught Beric, and it’s over.”
            Karthey felt like wriggling with happiness, “It’s over?” With the pronunciation of the word, a great weight seemed to lift off her mind and heart. “You caught him? No more kidnappings?”
            Mavis nodded emphatically. Karthey could hardly contain the excitement and freedom she felt. She clapped her hands. “I’m so glad!” she cried. Then she remembered the man waiting for his paper at the top of the Hill. “Oh!” she cried, “I’ve got to go tell Cramwell!” She planted a kiss on her father’s cheek. “Will you wait here for me?”
            Mavis nodded, “Of course!”
           
            Karthey flew lightly up the hill with almost as much speed as she had descended it. She burst in the door of Fornberg House, calling, “Cramwell! Cramwell! Come quick!”
            Cramwell strolled leisurely out of the sitting room, dressed in is usual tweed suit and still bearing his cane. “What is it?” he asked with a tone that suggested he already knew.
            Karthey ignored his tone and babbled excitedly, “It’s over! We did it! We were right! They caught Beric! He’s gone for good! We’re safe now! Everyone’s rescued! Come quick, my dad’s waiting!”
            Cramwell looked at the young woman before him, her hazel eyes alight with joy, her red hair askew from running in the damp air, the wide grin on her face. Her whole appearance seemed to invigorate the soul just from looking at it. Karthey was out the door and running the minute Cramwell moved to follow her, and Cramwell, as he watched her, did not doubt that if Jelilah were alive, she would be running alongside the redhead.
            Cramwell cast his eyes upwards, to where he believed his wife viewed the whole scene laughing heartily as she always did. “You’d probably race her, wouldn’t you?” he asked softly, choosing to follow the young woman who had been his impromptu ward for such a short time—but what a time it had been!—at his own pace.
            Mavis was still waiting at the gate, as he had promised Karthey, when the two of them approached, Karthey with enough time to catch her breath by the time Cramwell approached them.
            The journalist immediately extended his hand as the respectable man approached. “Mr. Fornberg, I want to thank you for your assistance in this case. We would not have been able to solve it without your help. In fact, we would probably still be in the thick of it if you had not demanded that I stay at your house, and accepted Karthey in my place.”

            Cramwell nodded in acceptance and shook Mavis’ hand. Mavis glanced at the quiet, strange man and cleared his throat.
            “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, sir,” he began hesitantly, “Mayor Heartlin, when he heard of how you had been a key figure in this investigation, expressed his desire to thank you personally. Would you consent to join my daughter and I, and come into town with us?”
            Cramwell hesitated momentarily. He dreaded going down into Precinct and risking a glimpse of his old enemy. What would Beric do at the sight of him? What would it be like for Cramwell to make an unscheduled appearance with the Mavises? Karthey and her father patiently waited for his answer. Finally, the strange man tipped his hat firmly on his head.
            “Very well,” he replied quickly. To do it and have done was the better way to go instead of sitting up in his comfort worrying over it.

            Cramwell Fornberg should not have worried. When they reached the town, everyone was so happy to see the victims returned safely that only a few actually noticed the nondescript man. Cramwell saw a dark, windowless van parked at the east side of the square. Beside it, a shock of dark hair he would know anywhere he saw it made him shudder. The police were just loading Beric Richmond into a squad car. Impulsively, Cramwell lunged forward to get a closer look at his vanquished foe, his incarnate fear.
"They were just loading Beric Richmond into a squad car..."
            What he saw was a man crushed beyond human capacity. He was used to seeing the mental instability in Beric’s face, the vacant expression, but cruelly calculating gleam in his eye. But it was as if every spark of energy in Beric had been completely snuffed out. His eyes were dead, sightless black holes in his head. His head lolled from side to side as the cops almost had to carry him to the waiting car. Beric had no volition of his own. As they guided him down into his seat, Beric’s head raised, and Cramwell’s heart flip-flopped as he and his enemy made eye contact—or should have, at any rate. But Beric held Cramwell’s gaze without giving any sort of recognition. The officer closed the door between them, and it was over. Beric the Red was gone.
            Cramwell turned to his left and was relieved to see that Mavis and Karthey had followed him.
            “What—“ Cramwell tried to form the question that was nagging him since the first sight of Beric, but the words would not come, “…how—“
            Mavis understood, and answered him softly, “We traced Beric through an alias he used to come to the States; apparently all his gall was against you for marrying Jelilah, and evidence seems to suggest that perhaps he thought that in addition to defaming you he could win Jelilah as well.”
            Cramwell shook his head, knowing full well the pain he had carried over the last decade on account of his knowledge of Jelilah’s passing. How much more pain had Beric taken upon himself, thinking she was alive?
            “He didn’t know?” he asked the journalist.
            Mavis sighed and looked somber, “No, sir; he was so fixated in his anger that he had no idea she was no longer alive. He’d been living just an hour away, in a small mining town just across the Rhode Island border, all this time. More than likely he hatched this whole scheme to either make you suffer because he would lose all his friends, or perhaps eventually he hoped you would be incriminated and incarcerated, leaving Jelilah unprotected from his ‘wooing.’”
            Karthey spoke up as her quick mind saw the warped logic in this, “Which might have happened, since all the evidence pointed to Cramwell.”
            “Right, and before you went up the Hill, no one knew enough about him to be able to refute it, nor was he comfortable enough around other people to be able to defend himself, if such a litigation had come to pass,” Mavis nodded, prouder than ever of his daughter. “That van over there is the one he rented in Rhode Island, and he would take his victims when no one was looking, drive across the border, and to a house he owned there, and keep them in the attic. They were never objects of his wrath. He viewed them as mere pawns in his plot against you, Cramwell. Probably if Jelilah had still been alive, he would have been more open about his identity, perhaps found the chance to play the hero when he would ‘find’ the people taken, with the hope of impressing her enough to leave Cramwell, the implicated criminal, and live with him.” Mavis sighed, not wanting to expound further on the horrifying “would-have-beens.” He gestured to the square where numerous reunions were taking place, “But, thanks to you, look at how it all turned out!”

            Cramwell was so unused to witnessing the interactions between the people of Precinct that he was still trying to comprehend the reunions of the victims. Absently, he murmured, “Yes,” and automatically began walking over to where the Mayor stood.

            Karthey and her father watched him go. Then Mavis turned to his daughter.
            “Karthey,” he said, “according to the agreement with Mr. Fornberg, since the kidnapper is caught and the mystery is solved, you are free to come back home!” he smiled happily, “Your mom’s still at home; she doesn’t know I came and told you. We can get home in time for lunch and surprise her! Go back to Cramwell’s house and pack your suitcase, and we can leave it for good! I’ll wait here for you.”
            Karthey was caught up in the enthusiasm of her father, and immediately ran back toward Fornberg Hill. By the time she reached the doorstep, however, the energy dissipated and an odd feeling came over her. She entered the door, trod meekly through the entryway, and did not run, but walked slowly up the stairs. She had almost memorized every inch of this house already. Fornberg House had become in a week almost as familiar to her as her own home—it had been over a week since she’d seen it. As she folded the few articles of clothing she had removed from her bag and replaced them into her suitcase, she felt compelled to take a tour of all the rooms, and bask one more time in the countless memories they now held for her.
            The dining room, where she had been afraid to set foot in while Cramwell was there at first, where she had found the article about Cherry that had inspired her to conduct her own investigation, and where she and Cramwell had ended up sharing meals in the last few days.
            The library, with its “forbidden cloister” and so many reproductions of Jelilah’s likenesses that had scared her so badly at the beginning, but lately she had come to realize its warmth and coziness.
            The study, where she and Cramwell had thought, brainstormed, and eventually hit upon the key elements of the mystery that culminated in its resolution.
            The sunroom, where she had mustered the courage to approach Cramwell on her own, and had received in return the last key to the puzzle that had baffled an entire police force.
            The music room, with its booming clock; the sitting room, where she had frequently thought about spending the day, as Cramwell’s “usual” schedule never took him there; and the kitchen, where she cooked, ate and cleaned almost every day.
            Last of all, Karthey lugged her suitcase out to the garden, the magical garden that had filled her with as much joy as it brought Cramwell grief. She took one turn around the bushes, sad that she had not been able to visit it more than once, basking in the heady scent that still hung around the bushes—
            Karthey stopped her reverie. Cramwell was standing at the gate of the garden, watching her with those keen blue eyes that never failed to pierce her to the quick. She noticed the odd curve of the thin line his lips made; was he smiling? On the one hand, she was unused to looking at any sort of emotion on Cramwell’s face; on the other, that face had become increasingly familiar to her, so that any change was noticeable immediately. Cramwell was still as much of an enigma to her as ever, a complex puzzle with unexpected layers and discoveries waiting for just the right person to unfold and reveal them. Now he was standing before her; had he followed her all this way? Karthey wished him to speak, while at the same time, she wished he wouldn’t so that she could put away the conflicting questions and feelings that had arisen within her and return to her home….where she belonged…she belonged at home, didn’t she? And yet—Karthey shook the inexplicable doubt from her mind and tried to smile congenially at Cramwell.

            “I’m ready to leave,” she told him. The statement felt very brazen, the way it hung in the air between them, very nearly a challenge. Was she really challenging him? Why? Challenging him to what?
            Cramwell nodded slowly; the wild impulse in Karthey immediately jumped to the hypothesis that perhaps he felt the same way she did. “Your father is waiting at the gate,” he said simply. Cramwell stepped aside to allow Karthey to pass him. The impulse and its hypothesis died in Karthey’s mind, and she walked down the path and out of the garden. Her heart suddenly felt weighed down; but what could it mean? Why should her heart feel heavy? She was going home, for crying out loud! Why did she feel so—

            “Karthey!”
            Karthey heard Cramwell call her and immediately obeyed. She stopped and turned back to him, feeling the heaviness in her heart lessen somewhat. She stood at the edge of the path that would take her around to the front of the house and down Fornberg Hill. He was still at the gate of the garden. He would have to raise his voice to talk to her, and she saw that he knew it. He fidgeted with his coat for a moment, and then began making his way toward her, his cane swinging easily at his side.
            Karthey waited for him.
            Cramwell walked until he was right in front of her.
            She looked up into his eyes expectantly, still waiting.
           
Finally, he spoke, “Karthey, I—“ his voice caught, and Cramwell tried to relieve the tension in his throat by inhaling deeply. “Fornberg House is always open to you,” he said warmly, “whenever you want to visit.” There was that odd turn of the lips again; it must be a smile. “You know where to find me.”
            “Thank you,” Karthey responded gently. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the cell phone. She tucked it into his open hand. “Here, I… won’t be needing it anymore.”
            Cramwell released it and left it in Karthey’s hand. “Keep it,” he said in a strange voice, as if he had something lodged in his throat. “You can text me sometime.”
            Karthey stood, cell phone in hand, and for a moment she completely forgot why on earth she was outside the house with her suitcase packed. She turned back toward the path down Fornberg Hill and remembered. “I’d better—“ she began walking and did not finish the sentence.
           
            “Karthey!”
            Karthey stopped a second time and turned back to Cramwell. “Yes?” she inquired.
            He pressed his lips, but his blue eyes glimmered brightly as he extended his hand toward her. In it was a bright-red rose. “Thank you,” he said simply.
            Karthey accepted the blossom, reveling in its unforgettable scent. “You’re welcome,” she replied, and made her way down the hill to rejoin her father.

            Standing there at the top of the hill owned by his ancestors, alone yet knowing that as long as Precinct stood below he need never feel quite alone in the world, Cramwell Fornberg really and truly smiled.

<<<THE END>>>

<<<<<Previous

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Merely Meredith: A Modern Persuasion" Excerpt--The Runaway Steed

The Mangroves came early to help set things up. I noticed that Helena seemed a bit distracted, and it didn't take long for her to approach me and explain why.
"Meredith," she began softly, a bright blush stealing over her cheeks, "When we ride today, do you think anyone would mind if we headed in the direction of Clover Hill?" Her eyes sparkled, and I knew why. Clover Hill was where Chuck Braunmann lived.

Chuck was the oldest son of a farming family on Clover Hill. He was an enthusiastic, bright young man, but it just so happened that the Braunmanns were so poor that Chuck was the only one in his family who completed a college education, getting a Bachelor's Degree in History from Austin Community College.
Helena had met Chuck at a Fourth of July celebration, and the two hit it off very well. Her family, however, wished for her to marry better than Chuck; he was all right for a friend, but she should still consider herself "unattached."  Only Charlie disagreed with his family (and his wife, who felt strongest of all in the matter), for he saw past the lack of money and the menial education and saw that Chuck was a diligent worker, very skilled, smart, honest, and very considerate of Helena, which were all qualities Charlie believed in. In spite of everyone else's opinion, it was obvious to anyone who watched Helena and Chuck that they both considered each other far more significant than merely friends.
I was not one to refuse a romantic tryst when it could be made, so I told Helena, "I don't see why not." I smiled at her.
Helena nodded her thanks and winked. "Don't tell anyone," she begged me. "They'd all tease if they knew! And you know Cassandra would refuse to go."
"I won't breathe a word," I promised.

We all headed out to the stable to get our horses. Barbi helped Cassandra mount Brownie, while Charlie assisted Helena with her horse. Adoniram helped Sofia, and Walter held Dierdre's horse steady as she swung her leg over the saddle. I looked to Lily, but Donny was already helping her up, which left only—
"Are you going to get on or not?"
I whirled around to face Fred, who patiently held the reins of my horse, a skittish palomino known as Painter.
"Sorry," I choked, unable to think of anything else to say. I went to lift my shoe into the stirrup, missed it completely, and would have fallen over if I hadn't been gripping the saddle so tightly. Painter whinnied and looked as if she might bolt at any second. Fred never moved to touch me; he soothed Painter and continued to wait. I fought to regain my composure, at last got my foot in securely enough to swing my other leg over the horse's back. As soon as he handed me the reins, Fred walked away from me and mounted his own horse smoothly on the first try.
"Everybody ready?" Charlie called from astride his horse Sarge.
"Ready!" Adoniram called back, holding his reins loosely and relaxing in the saddle like he was right at home.
As we all headed off of Mangrove Row, I worked my way up to alongside Charlie.
"Hey Chaz," I usually used his nickname only when I was asking a favor, "Can we head due west?" I nodded my head toward Clover Hill and winked.
Charlie laughed, "My sister put you up to this, didn't she?" I didn't bother replying since he knew the answer already, so he continued, "I don't see why not; Chuck should be home anyway, and glad to see us."
"Thanks," I told him, and he turned Sarge toward Clover Hill. I fell in behind him and Cassandra as we took off across the wide plain, toward the quaint farmhouse standing in the shade of the iconic rill.

It didn't take my sister long before she realized where we were going.
"Oh Charlie!" she moaned, "We aren't going to Clover Hill, are we?"
"Why not?" Charlie countered, "I'm certain Chuck is in town, and it's been a while since we've seen them. I don't doubt we'll all be welcome there."
"What about Fred?"
"What about him?"
Cassandra rolled her eyes, "I know Helena's the one who put you up to this! She's always been very close with Chuck Braunmann!"
"So?"
"Oh! Why do you have to be such a—a man, sometimes!" Cassandra scoffed, "Can't you see it? Fred likes Helena."
"Fred likes Helena's sister, too."
"But he must like Helena better!"
"And why is this, hmm?" Charlie queried, separating from the other couples but ignoring the fact that I was following close enough to hear every word. "Why must Fred like Helena better? She's the one already spoken for!"
"Yeah, by a farmer!" Cassandra retorted. "The best Chuck can hope for is a desk job in some cubicle on the thirteenth floor of a high-rise." Cassandra made a noise, and I could tell she was sneering, "Hardly the right sort of life for a Mangrove!"
"Just because my 'desk' is frequently on the back of a horse doesn't make a real desk job any less than mine, dear wife," Charlie reminded her.
"Yes, but you're a cattle rancher, with a ranch, Charles," Cassandra returned, "And what does Chuck Braunmann have? A farm!" she spat the word as if it were something terrible.
"And a good-sized farm at that!" Charlie retorted.
"But just think, Charlie!" Cassandra persisted, "I'm sure once he starts working for NASA they'd give him all sorts of honors, perhaps make him captain of the space mission, wouldn't that be lovely? Or I'll bet it would be easy for a man as smart as he is to get a PhD, even. Then she'd be Mrs. Dr. Fredrick Winston! Oh! How wonderful that sounds!"

"There's a chance that Lily can become the Mrs. Dr.," Charlie noted.
Cassandra sighed and played with her horse's mane. "Well, there's still hope that she'll catch the eye of some young millionaire and be set for the rest of her life."
Charlie threw back his head and laughed, "Oh, so Helena is the one in the objectionable relationship, so it follows that she must be coaxed out of it with a perfect man like Fred, while Lily has yet to receive her significant assignment, is that right?"
"Well, I don't appreciate you putting it so bluntly, but yes—"

Just then, who should ride up but the young man in question.
Fred completely ignored me (I suppose I would have to get used to that) and guided his horse alongside Cassandra.
"Hey," he called over to Charlie, "Sofia wants to know where we're going, and how much longer it will take to get there."
Charlie chuckled, "She's saddle-sore already?"
Fred shook his head, "Adoniram rode the horses; my sister rode bikes growing up, but, yeah, she's gotten out of practice since she married."
"Oh!" Cassandra seized upon this moment, "How about we all gather at that clump of trees there," she pointed to the northwest, about thirty yards away. The fences of Clover Hill Farm were already visible on the horizon, but I could tell my sister was just looking for an excuse to get out of visiting the Braunmanns. "And we'll discuss it."
Fred cocked an eyebrow at her, but Charlie shrugged. "Sounds good; let's do that." He let out his loud, sharp whistle and waved his arm at the stragglers. At the very least, Lily and Helena would recognize his "Follow Me" signal and pass the information on to the others. Meanwhile, the four of us headed around to the bracken.
"We were thinking about heading over to see some friends of ours," Charlie started to explain, but Cassandra hastened to add, "Nobody high-profile, and they aren't really our friends, per se, they're more like..." she faltered at the look Charlie gave her, and censored herself. "I've never set foot on that farm more than twice in my whole life," she continued as if the fact was some mark of her own merit. Cassandra was an Elliot to the core: all about pedigree.
"I don't know if we should give you a medal or feel sorry for you, Cassie!" Lily had caught her comment as the remainder of our group rode up. I could see the distinct blush on Helena's face, though she tried to hide it by keeping her head tucked and fiddling with her reins.
Cassandra glared at Lily, but Charlie began informing everyone else of the plan as they gathered around. Adoniram held the reins of Sofia's horse as she slid from it gratefully. She grimaced and rubbed her aching thighs.
"Well," Charlie began, "Out yonder is Clover Hill Farm." He pointed to the fence. "A few of us were fixing to pay the residents a visit, but those who don't want to don't have to." He glanced significantly in Cassandra's direction, who nodded her approval. Sofia raised her hand with a chuckle, "As much as I would enjoy meeting such lovely people, I'm sure, I just don't think I'm in any shape to do any more riding!"
"I'll tell you what," Walter proposed, "Dierdre and I can ride back to the ranch and get a car for those who don't feel like riding all the way back, and y'all can leave your horses here and walk to the road to wait for us."
Sofia smiled at them, "You would do that for us?" she asked.
"Of course!" Dierdre exclaimed, "I'm in only slightly better shape than you in the fact that I'd probably make it back to the ranch; as sore as I am, I can't imagine how you must feel!"
"Thanks, Dad," Cassandra nodded mildly.
"Yes!" Sofia cried emphatically, "Thank you so much!"
"Honey," Adoniram walked his horse forward, "Do you mind if I go back with them? Then the two of us could ride together in the car."
"Are you sure you wouldn't mind?" Sofia asked.
Adoniram shrugged, "It would be no trouble at all." He turned back to Walt. "I'd like to come with you, if that's all right."
Walt nodded, "Shouldn't be any trouble."
Walt and Dierdre left with Adoniram, and Charlie stood, "Well," he sighed, "The farm's only a short ways from here. Shall we go?"
"Sure," Helena responded, trying not to seem overeager, even though everyone knew she probably was.
Cassandra sniffed, "Sofia and I will wait here," she stated.
Sofia glanced at her, "Oh, I'm sure we'll have time to go over for a quick visit, won't we?" she asked.
Charlie mounted Sarge again, "You'll have time, but it would involve more riding."
Sofia shook her head, "Oh, well, in that case, I'll stay here with Cassandra."
"What are you going to do, Meredith?" Lily asked.
As much as I didn't want to appear that I disliked the Braunmanns as much as Cassandra did, there was also the issue that Fred would be there, too. Would he attach himself to Helena like everybody wanted, just to test Chuck's mettle? Did I want to be the odd one in the group?
Cassandra saved me the bother of answering, "She'll stay with us, I think," my sister answered. "It will work better that way, I think." She gave Charlie a meaningful look.
Charlie shrugged, "Is that okay with you, Meredith?"
"It's fine," I replied with a shrug.
"All right," Charlie raised his voice like a wrangler. "Move 'em out!" The four of them rode to the fence and out of sight of the trees.

After about five minutes of waiting with still no sign of the car, Cassandra began to fidget.
"It's so hot out here!" she whined.
"Come around to the other side of the tree, Cassandra," Sofia offered. "I'm sure there is better shade there."
Cassandra followed her, but twenty seconds later, she cried, "You can't see the road from here!"
They moved back to the front of the tree. Cassandra waited, pacing with agitation as she searched in vain for the most comfortable seat.
"I think I should be quite comfortable with a saddle spread on the ground to sit on!" She eyed me suggestively. "Meredith, would you help me take Brownie's saddle off?"
I had just begun to get comfortable in my own little nook in the tree roots, but I got up and took down the saddle for her. She settled on it, and I returned to the tree.
Five minutes later, my sister was up again, peering anxiously at the road.
"Honestly!" she muttered, "How long does it take to ride out and drive back?"
Sofia, rather than be put off by my sister's spoiled behavior, sought to accommodate her.
"Look," she said, "There's a thicket right next to the road. There will be plenty of shade there, and we can see the car right away."
Cassandra liked this idea and at once stood and grabbed her saddle.
"What about the horses?" I reminded them, for the seven mounts still stood by the tree.
Cassandra waved her hand, "You wouldn't mind staying with them, would you, Meredith?"
Sofia gave me a sympathetic look as the two of them waltzed away toward the thicket.
I sat there alone with the six horses. Five minutes trudged by…ten…fifteen…
At that point, I had to face the facts: sitting there with a half-dozen horses while my sister and her friend waited by the road, and the rest of my friends (and ex-friend) and family were visiting acquaintances just a short distance away. The horses would be fine; there was no reason I should have to sit there as if I was Cassandra and hated the Braunmanns. I had the will to choose; what reason did I have to choose not to?

            I saw the cloud of dust that heralded the return of the Mangroves, Adoniram, and the car. Perhaps I could head out to the farm to join those people after my sister and Sofia left. I heard voices behind me, coming from behind the fence, and I saw Charlie approach from the direction of Clover Hill Farm. Behind him came Helena and Chuck with their arms around each other—and Fred and Lily, the latter chattering away as they walked hand-in-hand from the farm.
            Something in my gut wrenched, but only softly. I was moderately practiced in emotionally detaching from Fred; I couldn’t help noticing that seeing him enjoying Lily’s company so much, and looking at her the way he used to look at me made me slightly uncomfortable. As obvious as it was that we were not the item we once were, I still could not face him, not yet. I decided just then that I would join Cassandra and Sofia at the thicket. I climbed on Painter and, after bearing with her customary prancing and pulling at the reins, I guided her in the general direction of the thicket.

I arrived at the thicket almost the same time as the car. I waved at Walt in the front seat, and he honked the horn in acknowledgement.
That set Painter off. She whinnied, she lurched beneath me, and all of a sudden, I felt like I was astride a ballistic missile. Back and forth and around in circles she bucked. By this time, I was pretty sure I had everyone’s attention, because I was vaguely aware of Cassandra’s shrill cries, “Don’t let go! Hold on, Meredith! Oh, you’re going to die!”
I couldn’t see her, and I couldn’t see Charlie as I heard him yell, “Let go of the reins, Mer! Jump off! Don’t stay on!”
Their yells were mixed in with everyone else’s, but it didn’t matter because I couldn’t do a thing. My hands gripped the reins, my elbows locked in the bent position, and all my muscles tensed as my upper body was jostled back and forth on top of the frenzied horse. When she couldn’t be rid of me that way, Painter bolted.

Painter ran as fast as she could in wide, sweeping curves over the terrain, not blisteringly fast, but I still could not breathe as her pounding steps jarred the breath from my body. I could hear Charlie hollering still, as he tried to ride after me, but Painter was faster and younger than Sarge, and he soon fell out of earshot. I couldn't move, and the world moved too fast for any sight to register. I was going to die.
<<<<<>>>>>

I had often wondered what my death would be like. Lately I had considered that it might just be in a nursing home, just as I place the last stitches on my hundredth doily, I would die with the needle in my hands. Probably at no time had it ever entered my mind that "fainting on the back of a spooked horse, falling off and breaking my neck" was even an option. Yet here I was, blind, mute, paralyzed, and unable to help myself.
"Meredith!"
Through the fog, the sound of my name reached my ears; was it Charlie?
"Meredith!"
The voice was familiar...but it wasn't family.
"Meredith!" Fred Winston called to me calmly as he reined his horse to follow Painter in her mad dash to Purgatory. "Grab my arm!"
"I c—I ca..." The words wouldn't even come out of my mouth. My elbows clenched into my sides. I couldn't stretch my arms forward for fear of what Painter might do with free rein, nor could I pull back any further. Fred's horse was panting hard, and I didn't doubt that Painter was too, but that horn had scared her so bad, it felt as if she would go for another half-hour before she dropped from exhaustion—and then where would I be?
"Meredith." Hearing Fred's steady voice made me feel calmer already. "Remember horsemanship at Upton? It's just like the Indian Switch. You know what to do."

Indeed I did; my mind traveled back to those days.
Fred and I were a team, and nearly unbeatable. A competitive two-rider team would have one rider on the ground or sometimes up on a platform, and the other on a horse. The one on the horse had to complete a circuit of the barrels or poles around the arena, in addition to picking up their partner, a move called the Indian Switch. They called it that because the stunt was one used by raiding Indians in the Wild West: either swing up from the ground or jump from above, perfectly timed to land behind the rider and throw him off (the "Switch" part). Typically I was the rider on our team, while Fred had the mental calibrations of a physics professor and the innate instinct to time his jumps perfectly.

Now, with Painter running helter-skelter beneath me, those two simple words sent the techniques snapping together in my brain, and quite suddenly I was in control of the mare again. There was no way I could slow her down, but at least the practice of so long ago enabled me to semiconsciously focus on steering her. Fred brought his horse right alongside Painter on the left, just like the old days.
"Ready?" he asked me. "Go!"
I was still in a blue funk when I felt his left hand clasp the reins at about the same time his body landed behind mine and I automatically scooted forward in the saddle for him as his right arm gripped my flagging body around the waist and his left hand gave Painter's reins a firm, no-nonsense jerk, which the smart (albeit jumpy) horse knew better than to ignore. She pulled up right away and gradually came to a stop, but as I felt Fred's strong hands guiding my right leg over to the left side where Charlie waited to catch me, I felt my heart still racing full-tilt.
Painter whinnied and began stamping again, and I flinched at the sound, almost cowering in my slowly-fading stupor, so Fred slipped off and let her run away.
Charlie kept his arms around me till I could look up to him and tell him I was okay.
I sobbed till I could finally relax just enough to catch my breath and gasp, "I'm... I'm fi—I'm fine," but everybody (myself included) knew that, after what I'd just been through, I was far from fine.
We all stood in awkward silence till Adoniram clapped Fred on the shoulder. "That was some great riding there, Tex! Whoo, boy!"
"I agree," Sofia chimed in, "If it wasn't for you, who knows what could have happened to poor Meredith!"
Dierdre sidled over to me. "Walt and I are taking Sofia and Cassandra back to the ranch in the car," she whispered to me discreetly, "Do you want to ride with us? There's one more open seat."
The fact that the car was the thing that set Painter off so badly, coupled with the thought of riding between Cassandra and my ex-boyfriend's sister all the way back to the ranch house made the offer kind, but wholly unappealing.
"I think I just need some time by myself," I told Dierdre, "So I want to ride—except," I directed the last part of my comment at Charlie, "I don't have a horse."
"What's going to happen to Painter?" Lily asked.
Charlie shrugged like he wasn't worried about it. "She'll probably head straight for the barn now that she has no rider. I wouldn't be surprised if she was there now."
"Did you want to ride back, honey?" Sofia inquired. Patting my hand, she offered, "You can ride my horse, since I'll be in the car."
"Thank you," I responded, and Charlie led Sofia's mare to me and helped me into the saddle.
"We'll all meet back at the house in a few hours," he said, handing me the reins. "It doesn't look like Lil and Helena want to leave just yet."
"Okay," I said, "I'll be there." I clucked my tongue and pulled the reins, grateful for the gentle trot the mare took after my wild ride.
>>>>>>>

Also from "Merely Meredith:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Works-In-Progress Wednesday: "Princess of Undersea"-- Meet the Characters!

Undersea
Princess Ylaine: Daughter of MerKing Davor and MerQueen Yssandra.
Appearance: Purple hair, black iridescent tail with a wide, fan-like fin, aquamarine eyes, blue skin.
Background: Ylaine is a dreamer, curious and patient. She loves her father dearly, and though she has made assumptions of her own about the humans (she thinks they "float" through the air like a mermaid floats through the water), she resents the assumption her father has based his impending war on, the assumption that humans are evil. Ylaine is convinced that if it were at all ever possible to be human--even just for one day--she would want to make it so for her father and herself, because she believes if he ever came above the surface and saw the way humans "really" are, it would prove him wrong.
All Fae have gifts to bestow to newborns, but there had been no babe for the fairy to give hers to--until she saw Ylaine. Were this gift of music given to a human, it would have been that she could sing beautifully; a magic gift bestowed on a magic creature intensified its power, so that Ylaine could sense the resonance of the minds and hearts of any creature, giving her a sort of hypnotic control over them.

King Davor: King of Undersea.
Appearance: Dark hair, amber eyes. As is the fashion for all mermen, his hair is chopped short except one long lock that is never cut but wound around the head like a turban.
Background: Davor had only just become king when the news came that the humans were dying of a plague they blamed the fairies for--which also meant that their willingness to trade with the humans suffered. When his daughter Ylaine was born, they took her to the customary Great Moon Rising, where all merfolk--and especially newborns--would rise under the full moon and sit just below the surface (but not more than a forehead above it, because they have gill slits instead of a nose, and so must remain with their faces submerged) to watch the full moon. It was the first full moon after the official banishment, and there was still one fairy just leaving Overcliff. He was very honored that his daughter should receive a gift of a fairy--something like that had never happened to a merperson--and Davor and Yssandra hoped that it meant their daughter would grow to have an important destiny.
Not long after this happened, before Ylaine had quite learned to use her gift or even speak, Yssandra was out hunting with a squad of merfolk when the net of a passing fisherman hooked around her arm. She could not escape and was dragged away and never seen again. The king mourned her sorely, and for the first time, Ylaine opened her mouth and sang the song of his heart, softening it. Rather than being grateful, this made Davor afraid--the fear that Ylaine's power might make him forget his wife. Therefore, whenever she sang, he would be careful to stop his ears and look away from her. Also, he set boundaries at the very edge of his kingdom, and decreed that no merperson shall ever pass them--and he prepared for war. He convinced himself that the humans had taken his wife away on purpose, and that he would make them pay, by attacking and taking away all the women from the human kingdom. He has held many conferences with various merkingdoms, trying to incite rebellion and establish the dominance of the merfolk, and he uses Ylaine's songs to lull them into complacency.

Nayidia: Ylaine's godmother, also a sea witch.
Appearance: Red hair, which she keeps in three long braids wrapped many times around herself. Blue-green tail, with a thin, flat fin (like a marlin's) at the end.
Background: Nayidia was appointed as Ylaine's nurse and godmother upon the disappearance of Yssandra. A few of the merfolk know that at one time in her youth, Nayidia dabbled in magic arts, becoming something of a sea witch, with knowledge of potions. Of course, such behavior was frowned upon, so even when Nayidia had apparently ceased this activity, she was still not wholly accepted by society. She deeply cares for the little princess, though, and has served as her counselor and confidante over the years. She encourages Ylaine to obey her father and wait patiently for the right moment--for it appears that Nayidia herself has been waiting for just the right moment... but what plans the "former" witch has are yet to be revealed...

Overcliff
Prince Nathan: Son of King Theodore and Queen Teresa.
Appearance: Dark hair, brown eyes.
Background: Raised in the castle with an invalid mother till her death when he was eight years old, Prince Nathan has been doted on by his father all his life. He has grown up having everything that pleased him--Giles being the only exception to the constant pampering. Hence, he believes that as prince, the kingdom exists for his pleasure, and will continue to exist as long as he desires. He doesn't much care for the affairs of state, and his father hasn't pressed him, so each day's activity is on his whim. He knows that sometime he ought to be married, but he figures that he can have all the fun he wants till that happens sometime later--and once it does, he will be a man and the kingly attributes will just "come over him."

Giles: Valet to Prince Nathan.
Appearance: light brown hair, hazel eyes; wears a jerkin and trousers
Background: Patient and loyal, wise and brave, Giles received the care and tutelage of the prince after the Queen died, and the King was still wrapped up in the affairs of state. Having lived outside the palace and within, Giles has paid attention and sees that very few of the men in the royal council know exactly how the people are faring, only that the kingdom is steadily weakening. He sees that the marketplace is growing sparse and the farms sparser still, so that very soon--unless Overcliff receives a king that will not just be absorbed by debates, complaints, and reports, but will actually make decisions based on his own observations--the kingdom will dwindle away into nothing. He has endeavored to cultivate such a manner in his young ward, but Prince Nathan does not often listen to him, and frequently resents his even-handed treatment.

King Theodore: King of Overcliff.
Appearance: Grey-haired, brown-eyed, wrinkled face.
Background: Theodore has been king of Overcliff for a very long time. The kingdoms of Overcliff and Undersea had been engaged in trade since before he was born. Fairies, also, brought news and gifts from the mainland to the island kingdom. Then one day, when his son Nathan was eight years old and almost ready for his father to begin the training of his kingly duties, a mysterious plague broke out that the apothecaries swore was of magic origin. The fairies, however, could not remedy the situation, and everyone who caught the sickness--including the queen--weakened and died. In his grief, King Theodore cut off trade with the magic folk and banished the fairies from Overcliff. The kingdom never recovered from this loss of trade or able-bodied citizens. The kingdom has been slowly deteriorating ever since, but Theodore, after losing his wife, threw all of his energy into keeping his son happy and healthy. Prince Nathan could care less that the kingdom is gradually disintegrating because of his father's dotage, and King Theodore, in losing his focus on the kingdom, becomes himself less inclined to renew his attentions.

Crossway

Queen Devaine: Queen of Crossway.
Appearance: Curly black hair, somewhat of a roundish woman, fond of jewels and silks
Background: Little is known of this mainland kingdom since the fairies left. Situated directly across the channel from Overcliff, the castle has always been plainly visible, but no attempt at contact had been made until immigrants from Overcliff who abandoned the deteriorating kingdom caused it to be known that the island kingdom was in dire need of financial unburdening. The Queen arrives with a delegation to offer a treaty between the two kingdoms--provided Overcliff becomes an extension of Crossway. She even offers her daughter's hand in marriage to the prince to seal the deal and combine the kingdoms.

Princess Melinda: Princess of Crossway.
Appearance: flowing golden hair, alabaster skin, bright-blue eyes. Wears plenty of flowing fabrics to show off her form to the fullest advantage.
Background: Not many had heard of Crossway when the delegation arrived in the Overcliff harbor. However, Melinda proves she is every inch a princess, from her aloof carriage, to her delicate demeanor--and everyone agrees she is quite the catch for Prince Nathan. He is smitten with her the instant she arrives, in spite of his camaraderie with the mysterious young Lady Illeinina who--if rumors are to be believed--is the reason he survived the terrible boating accident that claimed the life of his friends.

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