This month marks the one-year anniversary of Miss Melody Muffin’s “Quote Queste” writing challenge! *Trumpet fanfare*
To celebrate, I’m enlisting the aid of a couple characters from my Ýdára series. This month’s rather adorable quote seemed perfect for them:
I’m still tinkering with their backstories at this point; Anton’s especially, as I had another love interest entirely planned for Isabella. But then I discovered more about her personality, and decided she needed a guy like Anton to teach her to relax once in a while. :-P They’re quickly becoming one of my favorite couples, and I look forward to working with them. Until then, a little experimental snippet….
(Hair should be white-blonde and braided
...and ignore the horse for this scene)
Last of the Nórska.
The words echoed through Isabella’s mind, haunting her, weighing down her already heavy spirit. Images replayed in her memory—Morlock’s revelation, the firestorm, the devastation throughout Fjordhaven, the whirlwind that carried her to his fortress….
Tears threatened to form in her eyes, and she felt her stomach tighten. Everything she had ever known, everyone she had allowed herself to love, was gone. Gone forever, as though they had never existed. She knew her parents at least awaited her in Elyon’s Country, and she found some comfort in that. But the thought of living out her years—so many long, lonely years—without them to guide her, without a single familiar face or object around her, filled her with a weariness that was almost physically painful. She wanted to find some dark, hidden corner of the forest, collapse on the soft grass, and cry herself into oblivion. She wanted to lie there until she died, and be reunited with her family and her people. She longed to be free of the burden of her rank and the wretchedness of a world tainted by sin—even such a beautiful Faerie-world as Ýdára—and enjoy the pure delights of Heaven.
She shook herself and held her head a little higher. Enough! she scolded herself. Pull yourself together, Isabella Oláfsdóttír. You may be the last of your people, but you are still Crown Princess of Fjordhaven, daughter of kings and direct descendant of Bjorn the Black. Elyon has given you duties to perform and a purpose in this world—do not shirk them! You are technically a queen now; a queen must be strong, no matter what.
She felt a tap on her left shoulder and turned to see who wanted her attention. But when she looked, she saw only the trees and mossy, twig-littered floor of Glenwood Forest. A tap on her right shoulder made her whirl about, but once again she saw no one. Then she caught a movement—a blur of stormy blue—in the corner of her left eye, and she spun around again, this time with success. Before her stood Anton Argyros*, one blue-clad arm outstretched, his face alight with a mischievous, boyish grin, his crystal-blue eyes twinkling with merriment under that thatch of tow-colored hair. Apparently, she had caught him about to tap her shoulder again. He quickly—and rather smoothly—turned his playful gesture into a sweeping bow.
“Top of the morning to you, my lady,” he greeted, with exaggerated politeness.
Isabella smiled in spite of her annoyance, but quickly composed her features before he looked up at her again. “Is there something you want, sir?”
“Well,” he drawled, lifting one corner of his mouth as he bent to pick up his quarterstaff—which Isabella had taken for a fallen tree branch a moment ago—“you might come huckleberrying with me; I know a place where they grow so large—”
Isabella cast a distressed glance down her spotless teal gown. “What!” she frowned. “In this?”
“Oh, to be sure, that fancy frock would never do for berry-picking,” he conceded, bouncing his staff on the root of a nearby maple tree. “But I’m sure Fiona would be happy to lend you some more appropriate garb. She’s generous like that, you know.”
Isabella’s frown deepened a tiny bit. The thought of herself—Isabella of Fjordhaven, Crown Princess-cum-Queen of the Nórska—traipsing through the woods in search of berries that would inevitably leave her spattered with blue-purple juice, wearing borrowed clothing…and such clothing! A tunic barely long enough to be modest for a woman, paired with trousers much too tight for her liking, and knee-high boots only fit for men on horseback…well, it made her cringe.
“Come now,” he grinned, switching his staff from one hand to the other, “it’ll be great fun. And you needn’t worry about getting lost, either; Jason knows the way—he’s the one who showed me where to find the best berries—and his sense of direction threatens to rival the great Gil the Green’s.” He stilled his staff-juggling—for which Isabella felt a wave of relief—and smiled a warm, inviting smile that begged to be returned. “Please?” he asked eagerly, yet gently. “Won’t you get down off your high horse—just this once—and have a little fun? Stop being a queen for a moment and enjoy life?”
His words, though not particularly gracious, had a certain persuasive charm she found difficult to resist. His tone, that twinkle in his eyes, that impish, playful smirk—there was something about his manner that made even berry-picking sound like a delightful experience. An experience, he seemed to imply, that she would do well to have. She forced herself to look him in the eye, even went so far as to begin mentally forming the words to accept his offer….
But no! Such a thing was unacceptable. It was undignified in one of her position. And a queen must maintain her dignity at all times. She stiffened.
“Your offer is kindly meant, I am sure,” she replied coldly, “however, I cannot accept. Please convey my regrets to your friends.”
His smile faded for a second, leaving him looking confused, and she wondered if she had been too harsh. Then he cocked his head and assumed the expression of a Spaniel begging for table-scraps.
“Are you sure?” he wheedled, turning his head further and further sideways. “You’re not the least, tiniest, little bit interested?”
His silly antics drove away any inclination she might have felt to change her mind. “I am not.”
He straightened, again with confusion.
“Why do you persist?” she sighed, feeling guilty, yet annoyed with him at the same time. “Why do you seek my company?”
His eyes shone, and his mouth formed that warm, inviting smile again, this time broader and more genuine. “Because I like you,” he stated.
His frankness startled her out of her cold reserve, and she gasped loudly, her hand flying to her mouth in her surprise.
“Oh, I know I haven’t a chance,” Anton admitted, leaning on his quarterstaff. “You’re a queen—a direct descendant of Beorn (or Bjórn if you prefer)—whereas I’m just another boy without a crown.” Here he placed his hand over his heart, bowed his head so that his chin nearly touched his chest, and assumed an exaggerated humble expression. “A lowly serf, a peasant not fit to kiss the hem of your skirt”—Isabella’s eyebrows shot up—“and therefore unworthy of your notice.” He looked up at her, his crystal-blue eyes twinkling with mirth, and lifted one corner of his mouth. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t notice you, my lady,” he added impishly.
The corners of Isabella’s mouth twitched, and she felt herself relaxing. The fellow had charm, to be sure. And if he could truly “like” someone who—she knew all too well—projected such a cold, well-nigh heartless façade, then he must be either much wiser and more perceptive than she had thought him, or else he was a glutton for rejection.
But then she remembered who she was, and she drew herself up straighter.
“That will do, sirrah,” she intoned. And before his boyish half-grin could trick her into returning it—or worse, make her laugh and therefore destroy all appearance of propriety on her part—she turned her back on him and walked away.
* * *
Not at this point, anyhow.
A sly grin developed at that thought. Perhaps he’d had it too easy until now. He’d always taken it for granted that he could make people like him because even the grouchiest people he’d met had eventually ended up laughing at his jokes and clownish acrobatics. Yet here was this beautiful lady who seemed determined to rebuff every effort he made to be friendly. The more he joked, the more she resisted. The sillier his antics, the deeper her frown. But perhaps with a little more effort on his part, she’d forget to be the prim-and-proper Queen of the Nórska and allow herself to be just a maiden. Perhaps then he would find out for certain if she knew how to smile. Everyone had a breaking point—eventually, he reasoned, he would find a way to penetrate that wall of ice and touch her heart…or at least tickle her funny-bone. Determination to find that way welled up inside him, spilling out in a chuckle and a little leap in the air. He flung a two-finger salute in the direction she had disappeared.
Like I said, I’m still tinkering with them at this point—mainly to see if I can write a “cold-fishy” character but still make her likable to the readers, and portray a “class clown” accurately, without turning him into a Jar-Jar Binks. :-P
Until next time, Gentle Readers,
* I’m still noodling with his name, too. Not specially happy with Anton Argyros, but it’s all I could think of for now….