Starting Sparks is a monthly linkup hosted by Emily @ Ink, Inc. and Ashley G. @ [insert title here], in which they take turns providing writing prompts. If you're in a writing slump, or just need to switch gears for a while, prompts are a fabulous solution. Trust me.
When I saw the May Edition, I thought it was too fun to pass up. Dialogue prompts might be some of my favorites, come to think of it. This is also one of my first conscious attempts at something like an omniscient POV. Or a more distant third-person. Or the much condemned head-hopping. I'm not really sure at this point. Anyhoozens, enough dithering. Here it is. Enjoy!
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“No, not you. Anyone but you.” Prince Tyrus—by all appearances thoroughly overwhelmed by the sight before him—covered his eyes, then scrubbed his hand down his face as if resigning himself to meet it head-on after all.
“And why, pray tell, am I not suitable?” Voice prickling with ice, Evaleen shook a fistful of her voluminous skirt. Tiny shards of crystal sewn into the barely-blue fabric tinkled. “I certainly look the part, thanks to your staff. No one will know that I’m a bridgekeeper.”
Prince Tyrus waved a hand. “You could be a digger in the chasms for all I care. Station has nothing to do with it. It’s just—” Again the hand waving. His fingers whisked the air as if to thread words from it.
“It’s just what?” Evaleen crossed her arms. Her toned biceps stretched the long sleeves designed for the insipid girls of Wavening Court, and not for sturdy women who shoveled snow off the bridges all day. The pale afternoon light shining through the palace windows glinted in her defiant gaze.
Tyrus gestured between them. “This. You and I. We don’t exactly get along. The court’s not going to believe me for a minute if I walk in there with you on my arm. They want me to choose a wife, not adopt a sister with whom to squabble.”
A beat of silence passed, during which a sudden wind gusted over the palace turrets and sent a flurry of snow crystals whirling past the windows and down, down, down into the dark abyss surrounding the castle on all four sides.
Evaleen’s ruddy, wind-burnt cheeks lifted in a smile. “But as long as they believe me, things will be just fine.”
Tyrus released a ragged noise that was half sigh, half groan. He turned to the window and stared outside, hands gripping the stone sill. His floor-length fur mantle bristled like it was still attached to the snow bear from which it came. “I never thought I’d tell Wavening Court that I intend to marry the girl who cast me out in the first place,” he muttered darkly.
Tyrus, oblivious to her clothing hardships, let the abyss outside the window suck his gaze downward into its blackness. “For throwing me into that wind glider and launching me south? South, Evaleen. Did anyone ever tell you what kind of people live there? What they do to northeners, especially young ones? I nearly lost my life multiple times, and on top of that, I nearly lost my father’s kingdom.” His fingers kneaded the stone windowsill. Memories a decade and a half old throbbed in his mind . . .
Floating for miles on the cold drafts rising from the network of chasms . . . Touching down in a place green and sticky with heat . . . Clan men jabbering in a foreign tongue, carrying him by his ankles and wrists.
Taking him to the Purification Pit.
Fat slugs crawling over his skin, his face, their acidic slime burning his young flesh. His own screams echoing back to him.
Years of slavery.
Weekly trips to the Pit.
Evaleen dropped her hands to her sides. The sound broke his reverie. “And if I had done nothing, the invaders would have put you in the family plot next to your father’s grave.”
Tyrus’s shoulders stiffened. “’Ware how you speak of the dead, bridgekeeper.”
“My soul is safe regardless of my manner of speech regarding decomposing flesh, Prince. Didn’t the south cure you of such superstitions?”
Lips pinched over a sharp retort, Tyrus finally turned from the window to face her again. Better to scrap the whole conversation and return to the point. “I cannot walk in there with you. Return to the regent and tell him to find a replacement actress.”
“No.” Evaleen tilted her chin up, daring him to a battle of the wills.
And if there was one thing he’d learned long ago as a nine-year-old prince (back when he was still innocent and un-orphaned) crossing the bridges from one massive pillar of rock to the next, it was that the bridgekeepers possessed a will stronger than anyone he’d met within Wavening Court. Hours of sun and unforgiving wind, shoveling the snow constantly blown in, repairing cracks, and salting the ice slicks—those conditions seemed to harden something in the keepers.
Defying Evaleen, commoner though she was, would be of little use.
Tyrus shook his head, defeated before he’d begun. “They have to believe we’re betrothed.”
She flashed her left wrist, bound in a silver strand of metal. “The regent provided me with a betrothal band.”
“They have to believe you’re of northern blood.”
She pointed to her head of blonde curls. “This doesn’t get any more northern.”
“They have to believe you’re of the Court.”
“I’ve tended bridges crossed by hundreds of Wavening feet. I know the part better than you do, long-lost prince.”
“They have to believe I chose you.”
She pointed at him. “That part is up to you. Get rid of that crease between your eyebrows and smile a little. Keep me close when we walk into the ball, give me all the dances, and pretend I’m the most interesting person in attendance.”
Tyrus opened his mouth to protest that impossibly lofty order, but she marched on.
“And if you so much as breathe a word of our, ahem, strained past, the act will be over. You understand that, right? They don’t know I was the one who sent you away. Your job is to keep them ignorant.”
He grudgingly accepted the truth of her words, but then straightened with a gleam in his eye. “Most importantly, though: they have to believe we’re in love. And that is going to be impossible, so you may as well go talk to the regent now so he has time to find a replacement before the ball begins in three hours.”
Evaleen grinned now, teeth flashing in the slanted light. Wolfish. Cunning. “Not so difficult if you take a little blood-blush wine.”
Tyrus froze. He backed away, hands up. “No. No, I’m not taking anything of the sort.”
Blood-blush wine was not really alcoholic, though its effects were undeniably strong. Made from boiling water and ground up blood-blush flowers picked right before they bloomed, some called it a love potion. It was reported to make the drinker enraptured with whatever he or she looked at while swallowing the elixir, but only for as long as the wine stayed in the digestive system. A sizable gulp would swill around in his stomach all evening, long enough to convince the court.
But no. Being made subject to anything picked at the scabs of the past and rankled Tyrus down to the soles of his boots. Offering his emotions up for tampering was especially bad. Not to mention the blow the resulting behavior would be to his dignity. Fawning in public over a girl he hated? It was too much to bear.
Evaleen arched a brow. “The more you argue with me, the more you prove the point that you do need a little helping along.” She withdrew a scarlet vial from the folds of her skirt. “One night. That’s all. Suffer a little embarrassment, make the court believe you’ll be marrying me within the fortnight, and on the morrow they’ll crown you as king. Then the realm will be safely in your grasp, and the invaders can be driven from our home for good. By your sword.” She came closer, took his hand, and pressed the vial into it. “Your sword, and not Lord Galoth’s.”
Galoth, the uncle who’d been ruling in Tyrus’s absence, was as foolish as they came. His thoughts seemed to zigzag like a hare’s tracks, and that was no way to run a kingdom. Under his loose and silly reign, the invaders had settled in and begun eroding the country with their brazen, thieving ways. Much longer of this, and a puff of wind would cause Wavening Court to crumble into the invaders’ waiting hands.
“And then,” Evaleen continued, “once you’re safely on the throne, you can quietly denounce me. You’ll never have to speak to me again.”
Tyrus stared at the bright red vial of liquid in his palm, then at Evaleen standing so close her skirts brushed his boots. He fought down a rising tide of bitterness that tasted like bile. “Fine,” he spat. “But just remember—any wild proclamations of love I make tonight will be drug-induced and thereby as false as a northern summer.”
Evaleen smirked. “I’ll remember.” Still she remained inches from his face. It appeared she would not move until he ingested the vial’s contents.
With the heavy sigh of a man who knows he’s signing away his pride—and perhaps his life—Tyrus uncorked the vial and gulped the liquid back. It tingled on the way down and tore a mighty cough from him.
He had a moment of sinking dread before the world seemed to glow rosy bright and the face before him became striking in its feminine glory. In that moment before drowning, one thought crashed through his mind like a last breath of air to desperate lungs. One solitary thought.
This tastes a lot more potent than a single dose.