My most excellent good friends! How dost thou?
Today I figured I’d foist an excerpt of my NaNo project, ‘Shaedai’ on your undeserving eyes, that way I don’t have to think of anything new to write. For those of you who are interested, my current wordcount is 16676, so I’m ahead of the game so far.
This is the prologue for ‘Shaedai’, or a first draft anyway; I know there’s a lot of character’s names in this, but it would be clear from the back-of-book blurb that these characters, the Heads of House, are not going to be main characters in the story, and thus their names aren’t really important right now.
Well, with those excuses out of the way, I present to you the magnificent prelude of… stuff.
The Rings were spinning again.
Each brass coil spun in a different direction, floating in the air; all seven adorned with seven of the crests of the Custodians and spinning on more than one axis, with a speed that challenged the Custodian Heads to follow with their eyes.
Tension was thick within the room, rivals gave one another sidelong glares and allies worried glances when they lost track of their crest in the golden blur the rings had become. Only two of them had lived long enough to have seen the DUELS before, and neither had been Head at the time; this once-in-a-lifetime experience put the usually confident group on edge.
The lights grew brighter every moment, shivering against the high stone walls. Some rings scraped against each other and made sparks, while the sound of spinning became ever more high-pitched as the moments passed. Not even the most stalwart Head could stand to look as the spinning reached its crescendo.
It was as if there was a flash of lightning, the brightness and the sound of it was so similar, some Heads even flinched back as the point of choosing was reached, and then the Rings slowed down, and one by one they hung horizontally in the air.
Those who recognised their crests in the hanging rings made a variety of reactions, many of them displeased to say the least, some unconcerned—they’d known no family members were eligible this time, perhaps—but some were even relieved not to have the responsibility.
One Ring still spun upright, like a wheel of fate; but in time it too slowed to a stop.
The de Alvear crest glowed green at the top of the Ring.
“Isabella,” whispered the wind.
Each Head turned to Elena de Alvear, even those who tried not to look, as if the others would decide they were too confident to care. Elena’s hands were clasped in front of her chest, her eyes wide, her lips just stretching into a wide grin etched with giddiness. Fernando Páez hissed a ‘T’ noise in disgust, but Elena hardly noticed.
“Well, congratulations,” said Ray Bartlett, breaking the ice so to speak. He was obviously not happy, and they all knew his great-niece Amanda had been a favourite to be chosen as the Princess, but no one was really surprised that it was Isabella.
Still, it was more than disappointment that was bothering Ray. Not being chosen for the Princess was unfortunate, but there was still a yet more pressing concern. There were no boys of age to be Suitors in the Bartlett family, and that meant Amanda could still be chosen as the Challenger.
Elena said nothing for the moment, but Shu Fan Lang snapped “Hush!’, in his soft, hoarse voice. The Rings were spinning again, much sooner than the gathered Heads had expected.
And they made the selections of the Suitors much faster, spending less than a minute on each.
The Roesdahl-Kessle crest was first, accompanied with a whisper of “Arne,” and Sven Roesdahl-Kessle let out a bark of laughter in response.
Some of the Heads had pen and paper at hand to record the contestants; or tablets if they used that sort of thing—Custodians tended to be old-fashioned, and Elena was one of the few that had one to hand. Giles Rhys-Revailler Constanton was another, which was a surprise as he’d be ninety-seven years old in a matter of weeks.
“Look at what my granddaughter gave me, Noni,” he said to Noni Okino, solemnly. “It’s called an ‘i-pad’, and you touch the keys here just on the screen, and look! The words are right there. Genius, isn’t it?”
Noni was trying not to laugh.
Lang was the second Suitor chosen, but it was the crest of the old former Sioux line rather than the main branch that shone; the Ameri-Langs as they were often known.
Jiao Qi Lang nodded to himself grimly. Shu looked annoyed that one of the Ameri-Langs had been picked, but that selection had also caused a more general murmur throughout the room; Xiang was heir to his House, after all.
The Mwangi crest came next, and Njau Mwangi was chosen to compete in DUELS, to the great pleasure of his father’s cousin; while when the Páez crest glowed on the turn after that, Fernando seemed still too bitter about his hated rival’s daughter becoming Princess to be pleased his nephew Lorenzo now had a chance to become Prince.
When the Himori crest lit up cherry-blossom pink on the next turn, Juichiro Himori looked happy at first. Then the gathering heard the whispered name of “Yuusuke,” and his face fell.
“Yuusuke?” murmured Vladimir Milescu. “Isn’t it Takanata they thought might be picked?”
“They’re both his great-nephews,” said Marie Ahanda. “Only one’s considered a bit more… princely.”
If Juichiro had heard that he made no mention of it, and had his features schooled back to serenity by the time the Henderson-Sembene crest was glowing in the chosen position, and James Henderson-Sembene was selected, much to his father Clarence’s delight. Clarence looked particularly to Noni for her reaction, but was disappointed to find she didn’t seem all that bothered.
The next colour that bathed the room was a dark blue; ultramarine, the family called it, and that family was Rhys-Revailler Constanton.
“What?” said Phyllis McKinley. “You don’t have—”
“Tarquin,” said the wind.
“Tarquin?” Phyllis repeated, confused. Quite a few of the others looked the same, including Giles himself.
“Is there someone in my family called Tarquin?” he asked, looking around the room.
“Your cousin’s great-grandson,” Ravi Khamavant supplied, and rather than looking annoyed with Giles inability to remember his own family members, he looked pleased. “The younger of my sister’s son’s boys.”
Phyllis rolled her eyes. Obviously Ravi was pleased someone of his blood had been chosen for DUELS, even if they weren’t of his House. Odds were against any House being selected after all, there were forty-nine Houses and only eleven places in DUELS; and one of those places was the one no one wanted to be chosen for.
“He has McKinley blood too,” Ravi told her.
“Not from the Irish side, I bet,” Phyllis replied, and Ravi left it there so it was probably true. A lot of Custodian family members who strayed away from the main line mixed with other Houses to try to keep the connection to the Shaedai strong.
Delmonte was the eighth House to have a suitor chosen, Juan Delmonte the Suitor in question. His grandfather’s expression didn’t change at all at news of the selection, and a few of the Heads weren’t entirely sure the man hadn’t fallen asleep. He had been known to do so at Court in the past.
The final House to be given the opportunity to put forward a contestant in DUELS was Nkosi-Elzevir, and seeing his family’s crest light up at the top of its Ring made Jeremiah Nkosi-Elzevir jump up and down like an unruly teenager. Jeremiah’s young cousin Matthew was chosen for DUELS, the ninth for this round, and a collective breath was exhaled in defeat from most of the remaining Heads.
But the spinning was not over. A scant few moments passed before the Rings spun again, and this time much slower than before, as if the Shaedai enjoyed drawing out their Custodians’ agony. The thirty-nine Houses that had not been chosen were mostly disappointed, but when those Rings moved they all remembered there was a worse fate than not being chosen to participate in DUELS.
A much worse fate.
Spinning as slowly as they had when first the gathering had arrived, the Rings soon accelerated again, while the Heads watched in various stages of anxiety. Even those who had no daughters eligible looked nervous, even those who had already been chosen and were therefore safe, all except Elena de Alvear, whose joy could apparently be dampened for nothing.
At one point Pablo de la Vega, whose daughter’s fate was one of those on the line, dropped the notebook he was holding and startled Ray Bartlett, who looked about ready to slap him in turn but was much too distracted by the spinning.
Round and round and round the brass Rings went. Brighter they glowed, until a second flash of lightning like the crash of cymbals filled the room and made the Heads’ eyes close again. The Rings fell into position one by one, the wheel of fate made its choice and the last crest of this generations’ DUELS fell into place with a click.
“Elodie” said the wind.
As they had when Isabella had been chosen, each Head turned to look at Noni Okino in a ripple of neck-swivelling. Even Elena de Alvear spared her a glance, though her glance was wary. But for the others, jealousy was replaced with sympathy—even from disagreeable sorts like Fernando and Shu, even from Clarence Henderson-Sembene, whose family hated the Okinos.
Noni ignored all this and kept her eyes fixed on her family’s crest, spreading shadows over the room like the black that was the family colour; right up until she threw her cane on the ground and folded her arms with clenched fists.
“Well, damn it!” she said.