Susie posted an update for #NaNoTeamIB on Insatiable Booksluts with a few writing prompts to help with NaNoWriMo. I accepted the challenge, and since I have been talking about posting some fiction on here in my Metablogs for months now, here’s some fiction for you. This is an excerpt from the novel I’m writing, which I will be using as a flashback in my story.
The prompt was, “Write about a childhood experience in which either your protagonist or antagonist experienced humiliation or triumph.” Problems are more interesting, so I chose a humiliation.
From the image in the mirror, nobody would be able to tell that they were looking at a girl who grew up as the daughter of a humble fisherman. Aylesh wore an enchanting blue dress with its cuts in the style that only grown women were allowed to wear–none of the high necklines and long sleeves of the young girls. For the first time in her life, she looked like a lady.
It was quite an accomplishment. She had grown up with hands that stank of fish guts, dirt, and worms, and her elbows and knees had always been scraped from climbing trees, running races against the boys, and getting up from falls without checking to see if she had been hurt.
Nariss, nursemaid to Aylesh and her two older sisters, had worked a wonder, weaving her hair into tight coiffure, and covering her sunburned cheeks with just the right shade of makeup to make her skin appear fair and perfect. For the first time, her lips were painted red, black ink lined her eyes, and a dusting of pink powder highlighted her cheeks. She felt like she was wearing a costume.
“You are a gorgeous sight,” Nariss said. “Wait here. Let me get your father!”
A moment later, Nariss came back with Papa in tow.
At first he was speechless. Aylesh saw him behind her in the mirror, and his eyes were glistening. “I wish your mother were alive to see you, my child.” His voice was strained. All the lectures about, “Can you not act like a proper lady” and “Why can you not be more like your sisters?” were gone. “I will be the proudest man at the Lady’s First Dance tonight.”
Aylesh felt tears well in her eyes.
“No, no, no!” shouted Nariss. “You cannot cry, Miss Aylesh! Your eye makeup will run and your face will streak with black! Get it under control!” She had a handkerchief out, and was preparing to dab up all the moisture from Aylesh’s eyes, but the scolding was enough to quell the emotions of the moment.
Papa came close to give her a curt embrace–much more affection than she was used to–and she had to fight her emotions again.
She heard the clopping of luxurious shoes as her sisters entered the room. Helesh, the oldest, was already betrothed, so she wore a traditional golden yellow dress and a red ribbon around her wrist to show that she was taken. Vayleen, the middle sister, still accepting suitors, wore a green that matched her eyes.
“You look lovely!” Vayleen said. “You will be betrothed before me, looking like that!”
“Lovely,” Helesh said, unenthusiastically. “I cannot believe they got a boy like you to look so pretty in a dress.”
“Helesh!” Papa’s tone was one of warning, but Aylesh was already immune to Helesh’s venom after fourteen years. Perhaps her bitterness stemmed from not having a suitor until she was eighteen years old, and a traditional arranged marriage at that. Still, she was marrying up; her husband-to-be was the firstborn son of the mayor of a much bigger city than Beriliwath.
Another servant came into the room and whispered into Nariss’s ear. “Your carriage awaits,” Nariss said.
Aylesh, Papa, and her two sisters hustled out the door and found their way to the carriage drawn by muscular, well-groomed felp dogs. A servant held the door open for them, and the they loaded into it. Aylesh sat by Papa, and Vayleen and Helesh sat across from them.
The driver shouted a command, and they felt the carriage wheels rolling beneath them. Aylesh was so excited, she felt like she was flying.
A few moments later, they pulled up in front of the town hall, the nicest building in all of Beriliwath. They had arrived early so Papa could fulfill his duty as host and finish with the preparations.
“Girls–ladies, I mean–wait here and receive any guests graciously. Make me proud.”
He left them at the door so he could check the food, the drinks, the entertainment, the accommodations, and everything else. The guest list included all of the unmarried girls in the town, but it was especially to celebrate those who had turned fourteen: the age they were eligible to marry. Several very important people would be in attendance, including Helesh’s husband-to-be and his father.
As the girls waited in the foyer of the city hall, Aylesh was walking on clouds, daydreaming about the evening to come. It was the first time in her life that she had ever felt like a lady. She was now the age of majority for a young woman–old enough to drink pala wine, old enough to dance with a man . . . but she was also old enough to marry. It was a sobering thought, and she was not sure if she wanted it. Not yet at least. But if nothing else, she knew she would remember this night for years to come.
Vayleen greeted the guests as they came in. Aylesh could not concentrate, filled with dread at the thought of marrying and excitement at the thought of the coming event. Helesh sat in a corner, disinterested until her betrothed came in, and then she was only interested in him (and impressing his father).
Several others arrived, including Lomar and his friend Telban, neither of whom cleaned up as well as Aylesh. Only a few days ago, Aylesh had gotten both of them to say, “I give” in a wrestling match. At the same time.
But now it was time for her to leave those kinds of childish games behind her, she supposed. After Vayleen had greeted them and politely complimented them on how they looked in their matching shirts and trousers, Lomar saw Aylesh and his eyes grew wide. He could not think of anything to say to her. He tapped Telban and pointed, and Telban laughed. “You want to marry her now! Ha ha! You are a fool if you marry a girl who can beat you up.”
“She beat you, too.”
Telban scowled. Neither of them had taken their eyes off of her.
When it was time for the event to start, Aylesh and Valeen found their way to the tables with Papa, Helesh, and a few other well dressed people whom Aylesh did not recognize. She was introduced to many people that evening, and she forgot the names as soon as she heard them.
Once everyone was in the main hall and seated, Papa rose and moved to the front. Behind him were several young women with instruments and rust-red ceremonial tunics which were lined with gold. They stood abreast, perfectly upright in a straight line facing the crowd, as still as statues.
“Honored guests! I would like to welcome each and every one of you in celebrating the young ladies of this town who have just come of age! Tonight I am very pleased to present you with all of the young ladies in this town who have reached the auspicious age of fourteen. And I am proud to say that among them is my youngest daughter, Aylesh!” He went through a list of important people who were attending, who stood and waved as their names and titles were mentioned. Aylesh did not recognize any of them.
After mentioning the distinguished guests, he introduced each of the newly eligible young women in the town, reading the names from a list. Finally, he introduced the women who stood behind him. “Tonight we are honored to have the musicians from the Beltharch Legion to play for us!”
The young women gave a salute in unison, and one of them shouted a command. They marched to musical instruments behind them, every time their feet hit the ground, they all made a single sound.
Aylesh thought for a moment that she would like to be a part of such a group. She would be old enough to join the Legion next year if she so chose, but that would be a much different life from that which she was being groomed for now.
The women of the Legion struck up a dignified tune on their drums, horns, and pipes. Aylesh had never heard such fine music.
The kitchen slaves brought out the dinner and set it down on the tables before them. Aylesh and her sisters had grown up with a modest palate, but since their father had ascended to become mayor, they had grown accustomed to the delicacies that had come available. The food before her now was fancier than Aylesh had ever seen. Roasted redbird, sea squid with wamash sauce, stuffed umeli mushrooms, the list went on, and each course was even better than the last.
“You may want to skip a few courses if you intend to dance,” Vayleen said.
Aylesh only took a few small bites of each, and by the time they were bringing out the sweets, she could hardly eat another bite.
Then it was time for the dancing. Vayleen had taught Aylesh to do most of the dance steps that they expected to see tonight. She had practiced until she could do them all without thinking about it, which she considered quite an accomplishment.
The men and ladies lined up across from one another, and the men bowed to the ladies. The women of the Beltharch Legion struck up a new tune, and the dancing began. The men stepped forward and took the hands of the ladies, leading them through the steps. Lomar had placed himself across from Aylesh. “He must fancy me now,” she thought.
He spun her around on the floor, and then passed her off to Telban at the part of the dance where they switched partners. “No!” she heard Lomar whisper sharply. Telban laughed, but she was not sure what he laughed about. Then there was a crunching sound and a sickening smell. She felt something wet running down her back and soaking into her dress.
She noticed that Telban was holding brown speckled eggshells, which he tossed away at the first opportunity. Rotten eggs.
Aylesh tried to continue with the dance, but she found that she had forgotten the steps. She bumped into the wife of one of the important people her father had introduced earlier in the night who said, “Mind your step, foolish girl!” And then the woman wrinkled her nose at the rotten egg smell.
Others off the dance floor were beginning to stare, and Aylesh was becoming aware of it. Her face reddened under the makeup, and she lost the battle to fight back tears. As a streak of black ran down her cheek, humiliation and rage traveled down from her burning face and her pounding heart and released themselves through a balled up fist that struck Telban so hard in the jaw, he slumped to the floor unconscious.
Although the guests were no longer dancing, the music continued; the Beltharch Legion prided themselves on discipline.
Aylesh ran for the door with black smudges all around her eyes. On the way out, she tripped over her dress, falling quickly to smack her face on the floor. Bright red blood gushed from her nose, staining her dress, which already reeked of rotten eggs. Her father caught up to her, taking her by the arm to help her up.
“Aylesh, this is no way for a lady to act.”
She shook free of his grasp and ran out the door. She walked at a brisk pace, leaving the town hall behind her, making no effort to stop her nosebleed or stop the running eye makeup. Vayleen came running from the doors of the town hall, and caught up to her. She made no effort to slow down for her sister.
“Ay, Aylesh,” Vayleen said, winded. “Are, are you . . . alright?” She breathed heavily still from the running and trying to keep with Aylesh’s quick pace. Aylesh still would not speak.
Their home was not far away from the town hall, and when they reached it, Aylesh threw the door open–not waiting for the door man–and rushed to her room. The servants had been playing bones in the parlor, but they now scurried to see what the commotion was.
Vayleen followed Aylesh into her room and watched as she tore the dress off and let it fall to the floor. Her hair had somehow remained perfect, but she pulled the pins and ties out of it and let it fall tangled, and then she wiped at her face with a clean cloth. The cloth quickly soiled with blood and makeup, and Aylesh’s face was a smeared, filthy mess.
Nariss came in with clean water and a new cloth, not daring to ask what had happened. Vayleen helped Aylesh wash her face and stop the nosebleed, and then she held the sobbing girl until she fell asleep.
Days passed before Aylesh left her room or spoke to anyone. When she finally did, she spoke only to Vayleen.
“I am finished with this business of becoming a lady. I was never meant to be pretty or dainty.”
“Aylesh, you are so beautiful, and you do not even know it.”
“No, I am not.” Tears threatened to spill from her eyes again.
“Of course you are. Anyway, if you are not a lady, then what will you be?”
“A warrior. I will join the Beltharch Legion when I come of age next year. Then I will trouble you all no more.”
“Aylesh, this is madness!” But there was no swaying her.