Writing

Friday Story-Time: Dark Tower

So a few of you who are my long-time and amazing blog-readers know that I came into blogging from a site known as Fiction Press, where I curated my imagination with many, many (Sadly) unfinished stories, as well as a few completed ones. You probably know that I adore writing. It is the one “job” that I would love to have: write novels. You likely also know that I haven’t written in over a year. More like nearly two years. Life and inspiration kind of just kicked me down in the writing world, and I haven’t written more than one paragraph of a story (which I have been deleting because I hated the ideas) in way too long.

But, if you’re one of my old Fiction Press comrades, you probably know that November, in the writing world, is also known as the National Novel Writing Month.

And I have decided to kick myself back into the writing game and participate  For those of you that don’t know what NaNoWriMo is: basically, it is an insane month where us writers attempt to write a novel– which is 50,000 words or more– in thirty days.  It is crazy, it is fun, it is hard, and it is inspirational… and I am determined to win this year. I hope that this year, NaNoWriMo will help me get back into the writing I love and miss so much.

As motivation for myself, I have decided to share my NaNoWriMo writing with you all. Don’t expect too much:  the only rule of NaNoWriMo is don’t edit anything until the month is over, and I haven’t written in much too long. So the story probably won’t be incredibly original. I’ve decided to write a sort of mash-up of various fairytales and insert my own ideas into it as well.

But it should be fun, and hopefully I will not stop writing once NaNoWriMo ends.

So I present to you, the first chapter of my NaNoWriMo Novel.

Enjoy.

Dark Tower

Everyone told her that life would start when her true love found her. But now, with her father dead and her mother eager to control his throne, she no longer had the luxury to wait, and true love was nowhere on the horizon. It was time to take fate into her own hands.

x

It was a foggy morning when her father’s body was brought to its final resting place. The bare trees were covered in a thick mist that sullied her vision and coated her skin with a chilling sheen as it enclosed the world in a shimmer of mystery.  She followed the procession to her father’s grave and bit back the tears and the anger, knowing that her mother lay with a lover the night her father had died, that her mother had broken the King’s heart; her mother had killed him with her cold calculations, her treason against his love, her greed.


And now, her mother headed the procession, emblazoned in a red gown, entrenched in a fraudulent act of theatrical grief, supported by the King’s jester, her lover. The kingdom, mourning their beloved king, showered her with undeserved sympathy.

Rosalyn hung back from her mother’s entourage, wincing when her father’s subjects touched her hands and her arms in pity, biting her tongue when they pressed flowers into her arms, holding back when they murmured how much her mother would need her now. Did they not know her mother’s unfaithfulness? Did they not know the Queen would have many lovers to make her forget the King? That she had already forgotten him in the throes of a new affair?

No. They knew nothing. The Queen was well versed in deception; even now, she fooled the funeral attendants with her tears and wailing. They believed the overwrought Queen to have been fully faithful to her King. She may have torn his heart to pieces within the castle walls, but the Queen was excellent at misleading her subjects into a deep love for her. She was, in their eyes, the perfect queen. Loyal to her King. Loving. Gentle. The lie was so intricate and deep, Rosalyn wondered if perhaps even the Queen herself believed the facade.

But when Queen Lilith took her hand, Rosalyn knew she could not pull it away. The kingdom was watching; they would see her resistance as disrespect, as rebelliousness. They would brand her an ungrateful princess, tastelessly showing her secret loathing for her mother at the funeral of her father. It was not the time to denounce her mother as a hussy. It was time to put on a show, as the Queen did. To unify the kingdom.

Everything she did now must be for the good of the kingdom. Now that the King was gone and the Queen was free to reign with her blood-tipped hands and icy heart, Rosalyn had to preserve what good was left of her father’s legacy before her mother ripped it to shreds as she had his heart.

So, she tightened her grip on her mother’s hand and forced herself to endure the outpouring of attention that followed. The Queen wrapped an arm securely about her daughter’s shoulders and heaved a great sigh of fraudulent grief. Her face was hideously twisted in her act, wet with contrived tears that smudged the kohl from her heavily lined eyes and turned her nose an unsightly red. But in her swollen gaze, Rosalyn saw no sadness. Her mother was completely in control of her seemingly unmanageable grief.

“No tears, my daughter?” Lilith whispered, resting her head against Rosalyn’s in a show of motherly comfort. “It seems a bit heartless, does it not?”

Rosalyn held herself stiffly in her mother’s embrace, wishing for the end of this procession, wishing for a moment to grieve her father in the privacy of his tomb. “Perhaps,” she answered her mother. “But I will not prostrate myself before the people and disgrace my father’s name.” It was a direct jab at her mother’s despondent act.

Lilith’s eyes narrowed for just a fraction of a second before she turned her face to the sky and pressed her hand to her forehead. Another display of heartbreak that she did not feel. “They see me mourn, and they love me for it.” Lilith’s grip on her daughter did not loosen as they approached the tomb where the King would be put to rest. With her daughter in one arm, leaving her jester behind, the Queen entered her dead King’s tomb, away from the crowd, into silence.

As soon as the bearers of her father’s coffin set him on the stone that would be his grave, the Queen swept them away with a flick of her hand and emitted one last, convincing sob. They left with sympathetic expressions clouding their gazes.

Extracting herself from her mother’s embrace, Rosalyn turned a scornful eye on the bowed and weeping form of the Queen. “You can give it up, mother,” she said, voice low in the cold stone tomb. “There are no crowds to appease now.”

Lilith slowly looked up at Rosalyn, stretching her hands out. “Daughter, will you not mourn with me?”

Rosalyn raised an eyebrow, her anger burning hotter than her grief could bear. “Do you have no decency, mother? No respect to show him the truth, even in his death? You shattered him with your affairs, yet he adored you. I will show you no such love, but for the facade we must keep for the good of our people. That is all.”

“Where is your loyalty?” the Queen thundered at her, all semblance of tears gone. “I am your Queen!”

Rosalyn lifted her chin, feeling no love for her mother. “My Queen,” she said coldly, bowing stiffly. “Excuse me while I mourn my father in peace.”

Casting one fleeting glance at her father’s still face, Rosalyn pushed open the doors of the tomb and left her mother to seethe behind her, finally letting the tears begin. She barely held them to a slow trickle as she made her way back up the path lined with those waiting to pay her father homage, past the guards standing at the castle gate, past the servants who curtseyed and bowed as she fled through the halls.

And, finally, as she reached the sanctuary of her room, the grief poured forth. Aching, deep, furious, raging grief that would not be controlled any longer. She dropped to the floor and pressed her hands against her mouth, trying and failing to quiet the sobs. As if empathizing with her grief, rain began to pound against her windows.

“Oh,” she cried to the ceiling, “please, let this be a nightmare from which I wake in the morning.” Memories of her father flooded her mind; his joyous, booming laugh, his love for the people, his care to spend time with her no matter how busy his day. He had ruled his kingdom with a firm but just hand, and there were none who spoke ill of him.

And now he was dead.

Pulling herself up onto her bed, Rosalyn buried her face in the rich velvet pillows and felt them begin to moisten with her tears. There was nothing for her but to weep today, for tomorrow she had to show the kingdom her strength. Tomorrow, she had to pull herself together and devise ways to prevent her mother from ruining her father’s throne altogether. Until she was wed and there was a new King, Rosalyn could not take rule, and she feared that her mother would decimate the kingdom with her frivolous and greedy ways.

Turning onto her back, Rosalyn stared at the ceiling and wondered: would she find a King in time to stop her mother’s destructive reign? She had always been told that her life would truly begin with marriage, that she would then experience the joys of being Queen, of having peoples to guide and rule, a husband to support and rule with her. But it had been twenty-three years since her birth, and no matches had been made.

Many princes had come to negotiate for her hand, but her father had not been satisfied with them, and they were sent away. Had it been up to her mother, Rosalyn would have been betrothed at birth to the richest prince of a neighboring kingdom, but her father would not have it. If not for love, he had always at least wanted his only child to marry someone she could respect. Perhaps because in his own marriage, respect was not something he had.

How she missed him. Fear crept into her heart with the knowledge that he was no longer there to protect her and intervene in the Queen’s plans. She knew that her mother would immediately begin to bargain out Rosalyn’s hand to the richest Prince that made an offer, and it would be all Rosalyn could do to stop her.

But what could she do? She was trapped in this tower room of hers without a father to endorse her actions, without the solid belief that his people would be with her if she committed treason against the Queen. The masses did not see her mother’s dark heart, and those few who had attempted to expose her were put to death swiftly and surely.

Subtle manipulation might be her only tool. That, or running away. But to run was folly… or was it?

Rosalyn was too exhausted to consider any longer. As her thoughts began to jumble, her vision wavered and swam until finally, relief came and she slept.

xxx

Dragons did not usually worry Tristan. They were large, yes, and quite dangerous with their massive claws and firebreathing, but dragons were also slow and stupid, and easy to outwit. He had slain enough to know that with a quick mind and a long sword, most any dragon could be taken down.

But trapped in a corner, swordless, his men dead, and the dragon infuriated to the point that smoke boiled from his nostrils, Tristan was worried. He might not bring this one home. This dragon’s heart might not be used to aid his mother’s magicks. This dragon’s tooth might not be added to his chain.

Clenching his teeth, Tristan swiftly scanned his surroundings for anything that might help him out of this corner. The rocky ground offered nothing; the dragon had pounded and worn everything into a solid mass of stone and metal, including the swords and armor of many foes before him, and the cracks in the wall behind him were not wide enough to use as grips to climb his way out. Faced by the gold-scaled fiend preparing to fry him to death, Tristan could see no escape.

The green eyes of his foe stared him down, and he could feel the heat of its breath on his skin.  It was scorching; Tristan could already imagine the pain coming to him when the dragon let loose its hellfire and turned him into a mass of burnt flesh. Closing his eyes, he begged any higher power listening for a dash of inspiration.

Nothing.

Peering from a squint, Tristan could see only the heat waves coming off of the dragon’s body and the angry gold-red glow of the beast’s fury.

“Well,” he said to himself, “this is not how I expected to die.”

The dragon drew in a heaving breath, and Tristan felt his heart jump. It was the first time in a long while he had felt real fear; fear of pain, fear of death, fear of the retribution the gods might rain on him in the afterlife for the lives he had taken. His would not be a happy life after death, just as his impending doom promised to be excruciatingly painful.

But, as he closed his eyes and braced himself against the lick of flames that began to pour out of the dragon’s snout, death did not come. The flames singed his brows and caught his sleeves on fire, yet suddenly the dragon’s attention turned elsewhere as a high, loud voice shouted “Hoy!” and a figure sprang from behind and distracted his foe.

Tristan darted out of the corner just before the dragon was slammed with a force that he could not identify. It emitted a loud, angry groan and staggered backwards, breaking down the wall behind it, where Tristan had just been crouched and waiting to die. Dashing towards his fallen sword, Tristan snatched it up and whirled, but the work was already done. The dragon was defeated, wheezing its last lungful of weak flame and black smoke into the empty air.

Cautiously, patting out the last of the small flames that ate their way into his sleeve, Tristan called out “Who goes there?”
He could barely perceive a darkly draped figure bending over the dragon’s neck, performing the ritual he had planned to do to remove the dragon’s heart, stealing the valuable organ. Not that Tristan minded; it was a price he would gladly pay to the one who had saved his life. Yet, he was not sure whether he should wait to thank the person, or remove himself before the dragon-slayer took his heart, too.

Before he could make a move, the dark figure was at his throat with a knife and a chuckle. “I don’t want your heart, you foolish man,” she said with a low purr. “It would be useless to me.”

Tristan’s surprise at it being a woman who had saved him was equally met by his immediate fascination with her appearance. She was tall, nearly eye-level with him, and waif-like with brilliant green eyes and fiery red hair. Her smirking lips were full, her skin lustrous and white, and one eyebrow quirked upward as she tilted her head and regarded him.

“I know,” she said, drawing the blade slowly and lightly across his neck, making him tense with expectation, “not many men can accept that they have a woman to thank for their salvation.” Her dagger dropped to her side and she stepped back. “But I can see in your eyes and thoughts that it is not an unpleasant situation.”

“Milady,” Tristan tried not to stammer. “I am forever grateful for your interference. I had no wish to be the dragon’s supper. I owe you a great debt.” He bowed, and she chuckled once again.

“You are sweet.” In a flash, she was back at the dragon and pulling out its heart. “And you shall repay me highly for your life.” She placed the heart in a leather sack and tied it to her belt. “Come, I desire a companion.”

Tristan did not refuse her, though by now he knew fully what she was, and how dangerous she could be. Witches were not lightly snubbed, and it would not be easy to repay her the debt she now held over him. Yet, she was beautiful and Tristan felt himself drawn to her with some power that was beyond him. A spell, perhaps, binding him to her until she felt he owed no more.

“I have no other choice,” he said, with no ill feeling toward her. He could see that, at present, she did not intend to kill him, and he could only hope that her intents would remain the same in the future. Still, better to die at the hand of a beautiful woman than at the wrath of a fiery dragon.

“No,” she replied, taking his hand, dazzling him with her tricks of quick movement, “you don’t.”

With that sentence uttered, he felt the spell squeeze his heart into full submission to her wishes. He did not resist as she led him to her horse, mounted, and pulled him up behind her. They left the dragon’s body behind them for the beasts of the forest to devour, and rode fast into the darkening forest, away from the decrepit castle and its now-dead occupant, away from the nightmarish trees and dangerous pitfalls and into a land that was much, much worse.

Yet, Tristan felt no fear. As they entered the Witching land, he beheld its dazzling and deadly beauty with awe and wonder. His eyes were enchanted by the twisting and grotesque statues of frozen foes, the sharp and jutting rocks, the bare, glittering black of the place.

And in his captive heart, he felt it: this… was truly  home.

x

P.S. If you are a writer on NaNoWriMo, add me as a writing buddy! My username is  eccentricowl, and my profile is here.

All writing herein is copyright to me, and you may not use or repost it for any purposes without my express permission or without linking directly to and giving all credit to me.