The Same Old Story

In the old days of two years ago, I posted the prologue to my NaNoWriMo 2013 novel, ‘The Ritual of DUELS’. You can find that post here: https://racheliliffe.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/a-nano-sample-of-nano/

Today I thought I’d entertain you by showing you what that prologue looks like now, after two years of going back and editing it every time I read it again to remind myself what happened in it, having just read someone post about the dos and don’ts of prologues, because according to the dos and don’ts of Rachelloon, you don’t take other people’s advice for writing prologues, because you inevitably disagree with them.

All thoughts on the words are welcome. If you can be bothered to read the November 2013 version and compare it, those thoughts are welcome too; the main difference between them (apart from the revised one being somewhat longer) is that the new version explains more about the premise of the story since I’d been told the following chapters were difficult to follow by someone who read them.

*~*~*

The Rings were spinning again.

Each of the seven brass coils spun in a different direction; floating in the air—all seven adorned like a massive charm bracelet with seven of the crests of the Custodians each, spinning on more than one axis with a speed that challenged the Custodian Heads to follow with their eyes.

Tension was thick in the dark recesses of the windowless, amphitheatre; rivals giving one another sidelong glares and allies worried glances as they lost track of their crests in the golden blur the rings had become. Only two of them had lived long enough to have seen the Ritual of DUELS before, and neither had been Head of their families at the time.

This once-in-a-lifetime experience was putting even the most confident in the group on edge.

“You see the outcome with your powers yet, Chamoiseau?” muttered one man.

“My magic eight-ball told me to ask again later, Alkadhi” replied another, sarcastically.

The lights from the rings grew brighter every moment, shivering against the high stone walls. Some rings scraped against each other as they turned and made sparks, while the sound of spinning became ever more high-pitched and the long moments passed. Not even the most stalwart Head could stand to look as the spinning reached its crescendo.

Then 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 were a mixed bag; many of them displeased to say the least, some unconcerned—they’d known no family members were eligible this time, perhaps—but some were probably even more relieved not to have the responsibility thrust upon a daughter of their family.

One Ring still spun upright, like a wheel of fate. But in time it too slowed to a stop.

The de Alvear crest glowed apple green at the top of the Ring.

“Isabella,” whispered the shadows.

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 and respect them more for it. Elena’s trembling hands slowly clasped together 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.

It was even more awkward than the usual meetings of this group, and that was saying something.

“Well, congratulations,” said Ray Bartlett—breaking the ice so to speak. He made the valiant effort to hide stark disappointment; they all knew his great-niece Amanda had been a favourite to be chosen as the Princess, but it wasn’t like Isabella de Alvear had been a wildcard. One by one, each of the closest representatives copied him with faux-sincere congratulations.

Isabella de Alvear; seventeen years old, had been chosen as the Princess of Two Worlds for the next eighty-one years. With almost complete certainty, it would fall to her to control the Shifting Shadows that lead from the Human World to the realm of the Shaedai, and to preside over any matters that could not be resolved by the local Custodian courts.

It was a power unparalleled. Many of the forty-nine had coveted it.

But it was more than disappointment or jealousy in that respect that was bothering Ray and most of the others. There were still ten more choices to make.

Nine boys to be Suitors for the Princess’ hand; the main players in this old and dangerous ritual.

One other girl to be the Challenger, and test Isabella’s worthiness of the title. To ‘keep the Princess Human’ as the Shaedai put it. Hers was the unluckiest fate, and every girl the forty-nine Custodian Heads might have hoped to be the chosen Princess was now in danger of being selected for the other role.

Elena said a prayer of thanks to God, and the Rings started spinning again.

They did so much sooner than the gathered Heads had expected, making the selections of the Suitors much faster than they had the Princess.

The Roesdahl-Kessle crest was first, accompanied with a whisper of “Arne,” and Sven Roesdahl-Kessle let out a bark of laughter in response. It was difficult for the others to guess why he did so, because few of them had heard of an ‘Arne Roesdahl-Kessle’.

Still, to a man they scrambled for pen and paper to record the names—most being too old-fashioned for tablets. However, Giles Rhys-Revailler, Lord Constanton, surprised his colleagues by being one of the few despite having only a few years to go before his centenary.

“Look at what my granddaughter gave me, Noni,” he was saying to Noni Okino, solemnly. “They call it an ‘i-pad’, and you touch the keys here just on the screen, and look! The words are right there. Genius, isn’t it?—the things they come up with these days.”

Noni tried not to laugh.

Lang was the second Suitor chosen, but it was the crest of the old former Hopi line rather than the main branch that shone; the Ameri-Langs as they were often known.

“Xiangfei.”

Jiaoqi Lang nodded to himself grimly. Shifan clicked his tongue when the exiled branch of his family was chosen, 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. “But one’s considered a bit more… princely.”

“Ah.”

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, with James Henderson-Sembene being selected much to his father’s delight. In recognition of their traditional enmity, Clarence Henderson-Sembene looked particularly to Noni Okino 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?” Phyllis McKinley blurted out. “You don’t have—”

“Tarquin,” said the shadows.

“Tarquin?” Phyllis repeated. Giles himself looked just as confused.

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 would be pleased someone of his blood had been chosen for DUELS, even if they weren’t of his House.

“He’s a quarter McKinley too,” Ravi told her gently.

“Not from the Irish side, I bet,” Phyllis replied, and Ravi left it there so she was probably right.

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.

For although times had changed, and no one expected that the Challenger would be executed as a matter of course this year… historically, the fates of even those who had survived their Challenge had been grim. Save for the one time the Challenger had prevailed; and no one wanted that either.

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, even the rings which at that very moment spun for no other reason than to choose a girl who would be given one, unrefuseable mission.

To kill the Princess.

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 ended up being too distracted by the spinning. Pablo thought he saw him mouthing ‘not Amanda, not Amanda, not Amanda’ to himself as he watched.

Round and round and round the brass Rings went. Brighter they glowed, until a second flash of lightning that sounded like a thousand crashing cymbals filled the room and made the Heads’ eyes close again. The Rings fell into position one by one, the proverbial wheel of fate made its choice and the last crest of this generations’ DUELS fell into place with a click.

Okino.

“Elodie” said the shadows.

As they had when Isabella had been chosen, each Head turned to look at Noni Okino in a ripple of swivelling necks. Even Elena de Alvear spared her a glance, though her glance was wary. But for the others, jealousy was replaced with sympathy—sympathy even from disagreeable sorts like Fernando and Shifan, 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 in 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.

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One thought on “The Same Old Story

  1. W.R.Gingell says:

    I flamin’ LOVE this idea! Also, it reminds me in a very tangental way of Diana Wynne Jones’ HEXWOOD, which you should definitely read 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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