Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sunstroke: Chapter 1

This is my first installment of a novel I'm working on, entitled Sunstroke. It's a fantasy loosely based on The White Cat, a literary fairytale by 17th-century French writer Madame d'Aulnoy. I'm not nearly as confident in my prose as I am in my poetry...but I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I've been enjoying writing it. :)


"Other loves may sink and settle, other loves may loose and slack..."
- G. K. Chesterton


Genevieve dreamt only rarely, but in this moment, she knew that she was asleep. The sun was there with her - or, at least, there was something very large and warm that shone above her head. There was fruit in her mouth, too; at least, she tasted something sweet and ripe. It was the ripeness of peaches, or plums; the bleeding dark of cherry-meat.

And then, there was something hard at her throat – sharp, and cold, as of a sword’s edge.

No. No, that’s the locket.

It was the locket that drew her through. Genevieve realized with a pang that it was morning, and that she was lying in bed.

She attempted to unfold her arms, which had been bundled up beneath her while she slept, and had fallen asleep. She worked her fingers slowly, feeling the claws glide in and out. Once the prickling had ceased, she burrowed once again into the sheets, and her hand pulled the locket out from under her nightdress.

It was a large, golden heart, upon a matching chain. She opened the delicate clasp. Inside was a minutely - detailed portrait of a young, blond gentleman.

She hid the image by closing her fist a little harder than was necessary. She shifted her focus to the white canopy that arched over the bed, and frowned. She had forgotten to close the drapes the night before – either that, or she had had a visitor in her sleep.

Oh, of course she knew that he stood at her left side. He seemed to be always beyond her shoulder, always just past the corner of her eye. She took a deep breath, and twisted to look out of the window that the bed-curtains had left for her. A tall, young man stood there, dressed all in warm, yellow brocade and white lace. He had golden hair, and a beautiful face.

Genevieve allowed her gaze to dip in and out of his blue eyes, travel down the gentle line of his jaw, and across his lips. He smiled. Genevieve waited and didn’t let herself blink.

“It’s you,” she murmured, her voice raspy with sleep. That tipped the scales. Her eyelids wavered, and she looked away.

“Careful, Gen; you’ll tear that pillow.” His voice was soft enough to drive a knife through her chest. She felt her face crumple and fall apart.

“You still come and catch me - you still tell me what I need to hear! Nothing could ever keep you from that; isn’t it true?”

There was a long silence. Then - “You wanted to speak to me,” he said. She spoke.

“I wish I could sleep for a thousand years and wake up when things are different.”

“That is not what you truly want, Gen.”

“I dare you to say otherwise.”

The echo of the last words wafted over her, leaving a fine frost on each attentive whisker.

When she opened her eyes, he was gone.


Percy hated the mornings, at least lately, and as he fluttered into consciousness and blinked at the dark bed curtains, he remembered that he hated this one especially.

He crawled out of bed and shuffled into his slippers. He shuffled over to the window. Shuffling seemed to have become his primary mode of locomotion in recent weeks.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. What if I puttered, for some variety? He puttered towards his chamber door, where he was met by the entrance of a somewhat flustered valet.

“I beg your pardon, your Highness, I didn't hear you ring.”

“Oh.” Percy blinked. “I forgot to. I'm sorry about that, Marion.”

The valet bowed his head.

“How's father?” Percy asked, looking down at his toes. There was a long pause.

“His Majesty is the same as he has been,” Marion answered gently. “Although you know that it's not my place to speak of such things, your Highness.”

“I know. You know that I'm simply very concerned.”

Percy didn't speak anymore to his valet, except to briefly answer questions about his clothing preferences. The old servant moved deftly about him, with the ease that comes with years of familiarity. Percy felt like a knight being suited for some formidable battle. He stared bleakly out the window of his bedchamber, which showed a sky still dark with night. He yawned, and his eyes bleared with fatigue. He waved away the offer of a breakfast tray.

“Wait,” Percy said, just as he was about to leave. “Where's my mother's charm?”

“Here, Sire,” Marion said, holding up a little golden sun strung upon a length of twine. “It was under the bed. Must've come off in the night.”

“Thank you, Mar,” Percy said, slipping the twine over his head and placing the sun against his heart.

Percy trudged down at least five corridors and as many flights of stairs, accompanied by guards. (He wondered if guards were truly necessary.) They stopped once they arrived at the large double-doors of the king's meeting hall. They waited a few moments before the doors swung open and the king's prime minister stepped out.

“Good morning, your highness. His majesty will see you now.”

Percy said nothing. He stepped forward into the hall, and made his way towards the center of the floor. The king stood facing him, leaning forward against the wooden railing on the judge's platform. His eyes were roving about the room flightily, without resting anywhere for long. His fingers tapped continuously – the railing, his leg, the back of his neck – just as they had been doing for months.

“Come forward, Percival,” the king said. Percy shuffled forward a few more steps. He glanced up and over to the seats on the left, where two girls - one dark and slender, the other red-gold and petite - sat huddled together. Percy noticed that his breath was visible in the chilly air, and he gave a sigh, sending out a sleepy puff of steam. It's too cold, for April. Too cold...

“Percival, you need discipline,” the king began. “You're twenty-one now, and who knows how much longer I'll be here. You need to...become a different person, Percy. It's not enough to earn good marks in your studies, and be well-liked, and be able to handle a sword decently.”

The words tumbled out in a harsh, halting wave. The king was pacing back and forth, as if explaining a war strategy. Percy stared at the floor.

“You're too soft, Percy! You spend most of your spare time with your little sisters. Boys your age are going hunting with their comrades on a weekly basis! Their male comrades,” the king added, shooting a glance at the girls in the seats above. “I haven't seen you socialize with boys your own age for weeks, Percival!”

“That's because the ones I know are all animals,” Percy said quietly.

The king clicked his tongue impatiently. “Oh, please. It's not all that bad.”

“Most of them.”

“You're not being trained to be a perfect gentleman, you're being trained to be able to intimidate! To be someone who will be feared and obeyed!”

“If you say so, father,” Percy murmured.

The king was now practically stalking about on the platform. He looked rather unsteady; Percy wondered if he might be drunk.

“I am sending you away, tomorrow. You're going to take a good, lengthy holiday. It will last a month or more. You'll stay with some distant relation of your mother's, one Mortimer, who has kindly offered to open up his estate to our family as a location for retreat. I've decided to take him up on his offer immediately. He's going to train and school you. With any luck, he'll turn you into a real crown prince.”

Percy blinked, stupefied by this sudden news.

“Oh, and you'll go along, too,” the king added, waving at the two girls. “Someone needs to shape you into normal, fine young ladies. You'll get the finishing school treatment, so to speak. Learn how to walk properly and make pleasant conversation, and so on.”

Percy stole a look at his sisters. They were too far away for him to really read their expressions, but he saw Musetta gaping in indignation, and Soleil's head dipping wearily beneath its great crown of auburn curls.

“Naturally,” the king continued, “you'll be separated. Girls, there's been enough of this coddling your brother. This problem is all the result of having shared a nursery all together for too long. And your mother certainly didn't help, filling your heads with all that fairy-tale nonsense. What a shameful waste of your precious time.”

Percy bit the inside of his cheek. The stone floor blurred over.

“Please, father,” he spoke up, trying to keep his voice steady. “Don't speak of mother in that way.”

“In what way?” The king drew up stiffly. Percy bit his lips, at a loss as to how to respond. “Your mother and I understand each other perfectly. We have our differing opinions regarding our children's upbringing, but we're both willing to make compromises. The only thing that I require is that all three of your start being treated like normal adults from now on!”

Percy felt sick. “Father,” he said helplessly, “Father, please. She's not here anymore. She's dead.”

The king turned his back on his children and walked slowly to the far end of the platform. He held his arms taut at his sides, his large, pink hands balled into fists.

She's dead. The words echoed, bouncing off of the walls, off of Percy's temples.

She had been a faerie-woman. She'd glided through the castle corridors, spreading magic in her wake. (It seemed to stream from her long, auburn hair.) Most of her subjects secretly held that she was elven, and outside of the castle walls, the people made no secret of it at all. Tales abounded of a green-eyed, redheaded lady in hood and cloak coming to ill peasants by night and healing them. No one knew whether or not the king was aware of these rumors, or, if he was, what he thought of them; but it seemed as though Queen Viviana had the power to mollify anyone - even him - with her sweet, sparkling smile. She was queen of the kingdom; she was queen of the kingdom's heart.

And she had become suddenly, incurably ill.

The healer had fallen sick. The lively one. It didn't make sense. It was stupid, and unfair. Percy bit the words into the inside of his cheek.

He looked up from his black shoes and stockings to his father, who was dressed in a ridiculously flamboyant ensemble of red and blue. The only person in the room not in mourning. He had never dressed like this as far as Percy could remember, not even when his wife was still alive.

Percy knew what had happened: Father had always had a hot temper, and he and Mother had quarreled, right before she fell ill. Initially, Father had treated her sickness with haughty indifference. By the time the physician realized that she was dying, she was too delirious to hear Father's apology.

Percy felt the simmering anger that had been building inside him subside. She's dead, he thought. And now he's dead too. Mama, why did you have to go? He needed you most of all.

“You're all dismissed,” the king said. He still stood with his back to the court. Percy noticed his hair – gray, rumpled, and greasy-looking.

Percy turned and made his way up to his sisters. Their faces were white and blank. He took them each by the hand and led them out of the hall.

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