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19 February 2012 @ 11:24 am
Nothing to do with Fandom  
For my Creative Writing class, I had to write a short story, no more than 15 pages. That limit concerned me just a little because I have been known to go on and on and on and.... well, you get the picture.

Anyway, I finished my short story last night and thought I'd post it here. If you take the time to read it, I'd love to know what you think. We have to "workshop" them in class and that part makes me nervous! I admit I don't respond well to constructive criticism. So if anyone is interested it letting me know what I might need to change, before the rest of my class has the chance, that would rock.

Thanks!!


the ones they never see

            Rarely has the banquet hall been adorned with such splendor. But certainly it is unprecedented for the King to gather the nobility to announce that his eldest, heir to his throne, is betrothed. No one present will be surprised by his words. The negotiations have been held for months behind closed and locked doors, though that does not prevent the gossip from spreading within the buckets of the scullery maids and on the cloaks of the livery drivers. Everyone knew why the emissaries from the Edward’s kingdom were paying secretive, frequent, and lengthy visits to this castle. Some have asked that I confirm but I politely and firmly refuse to do so.

            “It will be a fine match,” those who heard said. “She is lucky her father made arrangements. Otherwise she would surely age and die alone.” Even the kindest of souls could not truthfully call Matilda beautiful. Her round face lacked the classic beauty of her sister, her hair invariably tangled and unkempt, her figure echoing the plumpness of her mother. The coldest of the courtiers would not say she was grotesque – unfortunate, plain, perhaps homely.

            Dessert is being served as King Leopold rises, the conversations at the tables extinguished in anticipation. He smiles, the practiced, broad smile of royalty. Matilda stands at his gesture, as does Theodore, her intended. Matilda’s expression is one of absence, her physical appearance stately. The maroon velvet of her dress highlights her coloring, and her hair has been arranged into sophisticated swirls. Her attendants were heard complaining about the hours that it took them to complete the transformation. Tomorrow, she will return to being plain. But for tonight, she is very nearly a beauty.

            Matilda is detached from all that is occurring. She barely listens to her father as he says the expected celebratory words of congratulations to them both. Detached or not, she’ll do as Leopold commands, as she has her entire life. Her marriage to Theodore is a duty. No more. No less. Even though the border between Edward’s kingdom and this one has been secure for generations, a marriage between our royal family and theirs ensures the peace will remain for future generations.

            Theodore is the second son of Edward. What future does he have other than servitude to his older brother or to the armies of his kingdom? Marrying Matilda is as gilded a prison as anyone could find themselves in.

            Eleanor the Queen dabs delicately at her eyes. She maintains the façade of delight that her daughter will make such a worthy marriage. Hers to Leopold has been cordial, growing more comfortable as the years passed. Their two daughters have bridged much of the distance they originally felt. Eleanor would never say she was in love with Leopold; nor would she say she regretted the choice made by her father. She successfully discharged her duty as will Matilda. This is what royalty does.

            Theodore and Matilda move to Leopold’s right side as he speaks of the alliance between the two ancient and revered houses, the uniting of two mighty kingdoms. His regret that Edward is absent is genuine, his understanding of the necessity equally so. The burdens of the monarchy are not laid down so easily, Leopold reminds us all. Theodore nods, paying attention. Matilda gazes over the nobles gathered, wondering what life would hold for her had she been one of them instead.

            Once the announcement is completed, the formalities solidified publically, the servants will clear the final plates and the entertainment will begin. Derek shifts in his chair across the way. The two hundred guests obstruct most of my view of him but I know that he is restless, the soft jingling of his bells a signal to those of us who know him best that he will spring ready at the first indication from the Lord Chamberlain. Derek has perfected his performance to make it look effortless, as though his was born juggling and bounding from the center of the hall to the front. Although I cannot catch sight of him, I am able to picture Jaspar, his little dog, standing underneath the chair, reflecting the restlessness of his master as their performance quickly approaches.

            The formalities of the evening have been discharged and Derek bounds up from his wooden chair, Jaspar scurrying out after him. His seat, like mine, is part of the buttress that supports the vaulted ceiling so far above our heads. I have a small writing desk, a quill, ink well, and parchments. Derek has his chair. He pretends to talk to his marotte but I know that it is purely for show. Jesters are considered eccentric at best and insane at worst -when they are considered at all. He tells me he doesn’t mind being a part of the furniture. I pretend I don’t see the truth in his eyes.

            His trip from chair to stage is met with appreciative applause. The forward handsprings are always met with this reaction. Feet and hands precisely centered in the marble squares that make up the floor. Six flips, three on feet three on hands, and he’s before the table that hosts the royalty. Their table is perpendicular to those of the guests, giving them dominion over those in attendance.

            Derek’s performance is an extended version of that which is more common. He juggles six apples rather than four. He dances, he bounces, he impresses, just as he always does.

            Jaspar jumps repeatedly and tirelessly through the hoop Derek holds out, raising it higher with each pass. The multi-colored collar around Jaspar’s neck contrasts with the sleek white fur of his body, all muscle and excitement. His long tail acts as a rudder, his pointed ears pinned to the sides of his head so as not to hit the hoop held by his master.

            The King is pleased. Matilda is disinterested. Eleanor’s smile is indulgent. Theodore watches with a facile smile, one that is well practiced enough to look sincere.

            To Matilda’s left is her younger sister Abigail in a stunning purple gown, her blonde curls freely flowing down her back. She is mesmerized by all that Derek does and all that he does not do. She watches in fascination while Jaspar flawlessly performs as Derek’s companion throughout the show.

            In her eyes, Derek’s costume is not the same multicolored breeches and shirt sewn together that he always wears, bells secured to the tips of his pointed collar and shirt hem. His shoes are not the curved and pointed slippers with the precise same blocks of yellow and red, blue and orange. To Abigail, he wears the finest vestments, more ornate than any in the actual banquet hall. He is not a jester. He is a courtier.

            Perhaps tomorrow I can steal a moment with her, away from her duties as the second born and mine as the court scribe. I can plead once again that she remain circumspect in her admiration for Derek. The court does not know of her regard for him nor would it be of any favor to either of them should they suspect.

            Derek unties and sweeps off his tri-pointed hat as he bows in acknowledgment of the applause from the gathered nobles. His face is red from exertion, his expression one of pleased exhaustion. The reaction begs for an encore and with a nod from Leopold, Derrick and Jaspar perform for several minutes more. His abilities to juggle and dance while Jaspar weaves invisible patterns between his moving feet brings more appreciative responses from the audience.

~o0o~

            The knock on my chamber door surprises me. It’s late, the kitchens on the far side of the wall in that rare interval of stillness. My chambers remain warm even though the fires of the ovens are banked for the night. The fires are welcome in the winter, oppressive in the summer when Derek and I often seek refuge in the haybarn to sleep in the cooler night air.

            “I must talk with you,” Derek says without preamble when I have the door opened. Jaspar scurries in, his master following quickly.

            “What has happened?” Derek is pacing six steps in the center of my chamber, six steps to the door, six steps back to the wall. Jaspar sits and watches.

            The dark expression on Derek’s face matches the black wool breeches and jacket he’s wearing. The black hat pulled low on his head does not hide his unhappiness from me.

            “Tell me,” I urge, reaching out a hand to stop his restless steps.

            “I have to leave,” he finally says, looking down at the stone floor, unable to meet my eyes.

            “Leave?” I repeat. Maybe if I hear the word in my voice, it will make more sense. “Leave the castle?”

            “Yes,” Derek says, some of the tightness draining from his body at the word.

            “What has happened?” I ask, hoping to get an answer this time. He shakes his head and I think he’s going to continue to refuse to answer. “Does this have something to do with Abigail?” I guess, sitting on my bed to look up at him.

            “Yes,” he whispers, so much contained in the that one word. “I went up to her chamber. I know, I know. You told me to be cautious,” he says, still not meeting my eyes. He would not see the disapproval he believes would be there. His choices are his to make. I only worry about his safety should the King discover their secret.

            “Did she refuse you?” I prompt. He’s lost in his thoughts and quite possibly has forgotten I am here.

            “No. I had just entered her sitting room when….”

            “When what?”

            He sinks down on the floor, absently petting Jaspar’s head when he sits in the space created by Derek’s folded legs. “Theodore.”

            “Theodore saw you go in?” I ask quietly. Of course I understand the ramifications of Derek being caught in Abigail’s chamber.

            “Worse,” Derek says. “He was coming out of her bed chamber.” This last is barely a whisper. I lean closer to make sure I have heard correctly.

            “Oh.” I find I have no words to respond to his admission.

            “He…was surprised. Drew his sword.”

            “He threatened you?” I ask.

            “He was concerned I was a threat to Abigail. She came out when she heard the yelling. She did not even pretend to explain.”

            “Does he know who you are?”

            “I don’t know. She didn’t call me by name. Hardly matters. I know the truth. It won’t be hard for him to find out who I am. I must leave before that can happen.”

            I nod. I don’t wish to lose my friend but if he dared to stay, I don’t doubt I would lose him to death. “Do you have coins?”

            “Yes,” he says with a faint smile. “I have saved up.”

            “Where will you go?”

            He shakes his head. Even if he has an idea, it is safer for me not to know what it is.

            “Be well, my friend,” I say as he stands. He holds me tightly only for a moment before slipping out of my chamber, Jaspar silently following.

            I cannot sleep the rest of the night. When the sun finally appears, I leave my chamber, trying to pretend nothing has changed, that the world is as it was yesterday. When I catch a glimpse of Abigail, I know that her world has also been upended.

            After a month, the guards report to the King that no trace of Derek can be found. Vanished into thin air. I am relieved that no one has asked me if I have any ideas. I have never been adept at lying and feared I might tell more than I meant.

            Abigail never speaks to me of the secret she knows I harbor. I cannot decide if this is a relief or a disappointment. I had believed well of her and can now only pretend I hold her in high regard.

~o0o~

            Ten years have gone by since Derek left the castle. Abigail now reigns over the kingdom. She has been married to Theodore for almost six years, their relationship officially consummated a year after Matilda died in childbirth. It is entirely possible that Eleanor died of a broken heart, following Matilda to the grave six months after losing her first daughter.

            There is great excitement throughout the castle as preparations continue for Dedrick’s seventh birthday party. The heir-apparent has requested entertainment for his celebration. He wants to see the stories read to him by his father acted out for him.

            “Hearing them is fun,” he told Theodore. “Seeing them is better.”

            Theodore had laughed, agreeing that a troop of actors would be hired to perform his favorite tales. “Your sisters will also enjoy it,” Theodore had said even though they were only four and not yet two. Their next child would be born before spring thaw and perhaps this time Abigail would deliver a son of her own.

            The day of Dedrick’s birthday dawns bright, beautiful, and cold. His excitement is contagious, the entire royal family enjoying breakfast in their chambers with laughter and merriment. Abigail spares a moment of quiet to wish that Leopold were still with them, her sadness at his death diminishing but not disappearing over these past four years.

            I am present as is customary although few significant decisions effecting the entire realm are made at the first meal of the day. I enjoy being with the family and being allowed to eat the same as they do, a change from the previous ruler.

            The Queen and I have agreed never to speak of Derek, a silence that we have both kept through all the years.

            Dedrick’s celebration begins precisely on time, the banquet hall easily accommodating the guests and their children. The smaller tables fit to the children were finished by the carpenters earlier in the week, Theodore alternating between promises and threats to ensure that they would be in place for the party.

            Food is delicious, simple, dishes that the children all enjoy. Before the cake is served, Theodore announces that it is time for the players to enter. Both doors are opened with great fanfare and the troop enters, four abreast, three deep. There are men and women among them, already dressed in costumes appropriate to the characters of Dedrick’s favorite tales – a witch complete with tall hat and broom, a fairy princess whose gossamer wings look too delicate to be real, an actor dressed as a troll, a tall man on stilts playing the giant we all expect to accompany them.

            The stories come to life, the actors embodying the characters flawlessly. There is a dance of the fairy and the giant, her wings fluttering as she weaves in and out of his stilts. The witch threatens to cook the children, shaking her broom with great enthusiasm at Dedrick, receiving gales of laughter from all of the children.

            The troll shuffles about, scowling at one and all, the tattered hood of his cape nearly obscuring his face. But I know him. I know his movements, his expressive hands, the slope of his shoulders. I fear I will betray him if my expression changes and I make a study of the other players, concentrating on writing down all that occurs as though the playacting is a negotiation of the utmost importance.

            I spare only a glance at the Queen and see the recognition in the lines around her eyes, the tight closure of her mouth. Is she planning to reveal his secret? Announce to all that the long-lost jester has returned? I only relax when her glance turns to me and she smiles, a faint, understanding curve of lips that tells me Derek is safe.




 
 
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a geek in such the wrong wayhaldoor on February 19th, 2012 05:55 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, this is awesome. I wouldn't change a thing. ;-)
Are 6 dogs too many?: beach chairtkeylasunset on February 19th, 2012 06:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!! You don't know how much I appreciate you saying this!!
--♫ Anna--: trustrocsfan on February 19th, 2012 06:40 pm (UTC)
I like it! It was easy to understand the setting and the characters by what was was implied and described. That's so much better than just stating who is who, if that makes sense.

Nice ending, with Derek returning so quietly. I like that better than a surprise revelation. The subtleness fits the character quite well!

I have one little nitpicky thing (because I'm like that). It should be "decisions affecting the entire realm," not effecting. XD

Hope that helps! Fiction is not my forte.

Are 6 dogs too many?: mcdannotkeylasunset on February 19th, 2012 10:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! Honestly, I tend to avoid using effect/affect for that very reason. I can never keep them straight!!! I'll fix it.

Thank you. Seriously. I'm still worried about what the class will say but I feel better about the entire thing now!
--♫ Anna--: Win!rocsfan on February 20th, 2012 02:22 am (UTC)
We all have those little things that always trip us up! A good rule of thumb is that most of the time, if you need a noun, it's "effect." If you need a verb, it's "affect."

Of course we feel nervous as writers, because someone is not just critiquing the work, they're critiquing us because we put so much of ourselves into our work. I write and edit nonfiction, and I even have a personal vested interest in my work. I can only imagine what it's like when you've put more of your personality and vulnerability into your words. Actually, as a musician, I totally understand! Just keep the perspective that it isn't really personal! It's professional.