As was her custom, the Imperial Consort, Lady Azhka, strolled her gardens in sweltry noon while the sun rode high and the heat was enervating. It was exactly what she liked; she tired of the perfumed claustrophobia of her apartments and the nested eyes of servant and spy alike, tired of opulence and carved dead rock that were so vastly different from the rolling lavender plains of her homeland and the living caves where she was born. Both, lands however, shared the same balefire summer sun.
So instead of the shaded bowers kept watered by a small army of gardeners each morning against the heat, she kept to the baked sands of the pathways, her servants dismissed to huddle uncertain below covered walks, anxious not to miss some vital summons or to cosset their charge as was proper for one of her exalted status.
Only profound respect and the Lady's insistence had won her this modicum of privacy, although some few of the titled servants still sought to attend her, ply her with sunshade or sweated urns of snow-chilled fruit juice.
She waved away her chief steward, the most stubborn of the lot. "No, Manoc," she told him firmly, "I wish to think, not be fussed over."
Had she looked up at that moment, she might have noticed his clenched jaw and baleful stare as he was, once again, forbidden to meet his obligation; to serve his purpose. Unwitnessed, therefore, Manoc, last in a long line of proud household stewards, withdrew to the stores and, as was his custom, relieved his frustrations--and his bladder--in the sweating urns of snow-chilled fruit juices.
Opening: Writtenwyrdd.....Continuation: Anon.
"And that was her custom, Manoc?" asked the Imperial Physician, Rashki. "Every day she walked uncovered beneath the sun?"
"Yes, Exalted One," said Manoc. "Despote all of our efforts, she would brook no interference."
The Imperial Physician sighed. "I understand. You may be dismissed."
Manoc left the room where his mistress lay still. Why had she not listened? She came from the Emerald Island, where the sun never shone. And now she was dead, crushed by the very sun she worshipped.
At least, he thought, no one need ever know that the child she was carrying was really his and not the Emperor's.
As the servant withdrew, she returned to her thesaurus. "Hmm. What's a better word for 'think'?" --anon.
"As you will, Most Exalted One," he murmured obsequiously as he backed away, bowing the requisite eleven times as befitted her station.
After she watched him pick himself up after tripping on the ninth bow, she sighed and continued to amble down the path, its heat burning through her peacock-blue kidskin slippers. Solitutde at last, so that she could consider the somber words that Imdric, the Imperial Court High Physician, relayed to her just that morning.
"I fear that it is true, Most Exalted One," he had vouchsafed from behind his curled, perfumed beard. "All the signs point to it."
"No!" she had gasped, clutching the silken upholstered back of one of the chairs in her receiving room.
"Yes. It is the dreaded Purple Speech. It is my deepest sorrow to inform you that by the end of the year you will likely die, asphyxiated by adjectives."
She owed all this splendor and ostentatious delight to her marriage to the King Lasino, yet he was the source of all her pain and annoyance. Once she found a suitable way of killing him, she would be gloriously free from the burden of a demanding husband.
The trick with murder was, of course, to get a away with it. She first thought of poison, its flavour masked in nectar wine, but she could think of no toxic substance that would not be detected in his blood after his death. She sighed, looking down at her luxurious silk vestment. Better to make it look like an accident.
Better to put the blame on another.
Surely one of these docile domestics would take the blame. Likely, the servant in question would sooner take his own life than question the justness of his sentence. A distraught, grieving widow would be an easy role to perform. Finally the path would be clear.
She waited for Manoc to position himself in a low crouch behind a wall, then walked on, looking over her shoulder till his bobbing head appeared no bigger than a berry. Turning her back, she slipped a slender cellphone from the folds of her gown, logged onto Hunkswithchunks.com and pleasured herself till the very last nugget of her contraband chocolate oozed down the back of her throat.
"My Lady," Manoc said. She could tell that his hands were itching to move her favorite robe into a more flattering arrangement around her tall but womanly body. "You must accompany me inside."
"Be gone," she said. "Can't you see that I want to be alone?"
He inclined his head in that inscrutable way he had. "Then, please. Put on the sunglasses. His majesty is most concerned about the tiny squint lines forming around your eyes. He asked me to..."
"Do not say it," she said, raising her chin in a way that was at once haughty and vulnerable. "Do not."
"I must," he whispered. He was the only one who dared tell her the truth. "If you do not wish to be replaced by Lady Dazia, It is time to get the Botox."
Isn't it easier to think when you're not enervated (ie, exhausted)?
I find myself impressed by the fact that you avoided using any of the thesaurus-related continuations...and yet questioning it...
OMG those continuations are hilarious. Can't wait to see actual opinions on the writing.
Having encountered dozens of words I should have looked up but was too lazy to do so while reading this month's book chat book, World Enough and Time, which is set in the 1820s, I wasn't that bothered by the use of vocabulary that might have been common in this setting. Except balefire, which I haven't seen used as an adjective (nor has dictionary.com, and once again I'm too lazy to search for some obscure twelfth definition in an unabridged dictionary; I don't like it, even if it's allowed).
In any case, nice job by all continuers in maintaining the aureate and grandiloquent style and vocabulary of the original.
I wanted to get the extremely useful opinions of the minions about the style, which is very old-fashioned high fantasy. (Think Tanith Lee from the 80s.) I'm trying it on because I like it and I like to use big words and poetic language.
This the opening of a short story, by the way.
I thought the first paragraph was pretty, but the second one seemed too much--burried what was happening so that I had to go back and reread it. Then I was irritated.
So you're saying it's hot?
I thought the scene itself rather interesting -- the lady seeking refuge (as it were) in a blistering heat that everyone else shrinks from is a neat start. And certainly, uh, atmospheric.
I think you can maintain the style without some of the over writing that I tripped over.
It's a sweltery noon, the sun's high (as it would be) and the heat is enervating. If you left the descriptions of heat alone after this, this would be fine. But you hammer the heat with other (better) details, so perhaps this sentence is a bit too much.
What exactly is the difference between carved dead rock and living caves? (Is it the bears? or the moss? Maybe it's the bats.) They're both shaded, stony places. It seems as if Azhka has a fondness for the open spaces (rolling plains), not a dripping, mossy cave.
Neat start, but certainly heavy.
If it's noon, then surely the sun being high in the sky follows as a matter of course?
Too, too wordy. Overwritten bordering on farce to me. I would stop reading, even if its a short story.
The sentences were too long too. Made my brain hurt. Ow.
Sorry, ww, for me this experiment didn't work.
Hey, WW: I'm a fan of rich language, but honestly, for me, this went a bit over the top. Good "growth", just a little too much and needs some judicious pruning.
(I do have to say, too, that I am a BIG fan of ornate fantasy-type words exactly like "balefire". With apologies to EE, I thought that word choice was exquisite.)
Here's how I would reshape the first three paragraphs:
As was her custom, the Imperial Consort, Lady Azhka, strolled her gardens in sweltry noon while the sun rode high. The heat suited her. Here in [Otherworld] she tired quickly of perfumed and claustrophobic apartments, of the nested eyes of servant and spy alike, and of the opulence of carved dead rock -- so different from the rolling lavender plains of her homeland and the living caves of her birth. Only the balefire summer sun remained the same.
Instead of the shaded bowers watered each morning against the withering heat, she kept to the baked sands of the pathways. Her servants, dismissed to huddle below covered walks, waited anxiously, unwilling to miss some vital summons or the opportunity to cosset their charge as was proper for one of her exalted status.
Only profound respect and the Lady's insistence had won her this modicum of privacy, although some few of the titled servants still attended her, plying her with sunshade and sweated urns of snow-chilled juice.
I did have two questions reading this:
1) Do these servants make their own snow? I love the "sweated urns of snow-chilled juice" imagery but I was immediately bothered by where the snow was coming from. When I paused over it, I flashed on a sno-cone machine.
2) As written, it sounds like she's only waving away her chief steward and not the others, yet there are apparently "some few" servants still pestering her. Why single him out?
Yes — needs a little trimming here and there but it's got atmosphere you can sniff.
I'm intrigued how someone born in 'living caves' got to be a Lady.
I recognized my own overwriting in this. It's a worthwhile experiment, but paring back a bit on adjectives would help.
When I first read this, I thought it was too long and too wordy. But time let me calm down a little bit. Time has that way. (time cliche there)...
It's very much a character study and a story may open with a character study. Short stories can open with character studies. Especially short stories because we approach them differently than a novel. We read short stories for a one or two scene thrill, or the excitement of a new character, or the drama of a situation.
But still, this is too wordy, even for old style writing, this has too many words.
I'd remove all but the first sentence of the first paragraph and I'd drop the "enervating" schtick to add a hint at the reason for her behavior.
And I think that the first sentence should begin differently. I don't like the "As was her custom"... It's the "was" slowdown.
Try something like:
Every day the same, Lady Azhka, Imperial Consort, strolled through gardens in sweltering noonday sun to dissipate her anxiety.
BTW - Why does she do this?
I actually quite liked it. To me, it had a very poetic style. I suppose there were a few place that could be trimmed, but I didn't really notice that until after I read some of the comments. So, you know . . .
I liked the line, "tired of the perfumed claustrophobia of her apartments and the nested eyes of servant and spy alike." It was great imagery.
I do tend to overwrite, I admit. Thanks for the comments so far and the future ones!
I kinda liked it too--except for the "nested eyes," which continue to baffle me. Matrushka dolls?
I like it, WW. I'd read on.
Here are my suggestions for tweaks and things:
The Imperial Consort, Lady Azhka, liked to stroll her gardens while the noon sun rode high and the heat was enervating. She tired of the perfumed claustrophobia of her apartments and the nested eyes of servant and spy alike, tired of opulence and carved dead rock that were so vastly different from the rolling lavender plains of her homeland and the living caves where she was born, though both lands shared the same balefire summer sun.
Instead of the shaded bowers, kept watered by a small army of gardeners each morning, she kept to the baked sands of the pathways, her servants dismissed to huddle uncertain below covered walks, anxious not to miss some vital summons or to cosset their charge as was proper for one of her exalted status.
Only profound respect and the Lady's insistence had won her this modicum of privacy, although some few of the titled servants still sought to attend her, ply her with sunshade or sweating urns of chilled fruit juice.
Her chief steward, the most stubborn of the lot, required a more direct stance. "No, Manoc," she told him firmly, "I wish to think, not be fussed over."
Is it perfect. Maybe not. Every writing can be improved. For me, it did its job: it evoked feelings of place, time and characters. You could certainly build a story from here. I liked it.
I was overall good with it. If it's got a lush writing level of 9 out of 10, you might want to go to 8. But, for me, it wasn't huge. Cut a few words and go with it.
I did keep wondering how snow-cooled fruit juices would work though in the dessert. How do they transport the snow from the mountains without it melting? I guess if they got gigantic blocks and travelled within a day or two, it would work. You'd lose most of the snow and ice, but isn't that the point of fabulous wealth? To waste it just because you can?
I did keep wondering how snow-cooled fruit juices would work though in the dessert.
I believe they would be perfect in any dessert. Or pudding.
I assume they had icehouses. Deep cellars where blocks of ice cut from frozen lakes, packed in straw, were stored. I think the Romans had them, with the ice shipped in from the Apennines or some such.
The ancients had devised ways to transport snow and ice. They stored it beneath ground. Romans brought it down from the Appenines. Ever read Steven Saylor? He had 'em making some rudimentary form of ice cream.
Hey ww, I liked this. I nice narrative voice. I have similar thoughts to the others...maybe a breathing beat in the second paragraph, a little trimming.
It may be fine to leave it with a fairly dense atmospheric hook, but it would be difficult to continue to the end with this density, both for the writer and reader.
Thank you all again for helping me to crack this nut. I needed to hear your words. Taking your comments into consideration, I have pruned thusly:
As was her custom, the Imperial Consort, the White Lady Azhka, strolled her gardens in sweltry noon. It was exactly what she liked; she tired of the perfumed claustrophobia of her Temple apartments and the nested eyes of acolyte, servant and spy alike; tired of opulence and carved, dead rock that were so vastly different from the rolling lavender plains of her homeland. Both lands however, shared the same balefire summer sun. In that alone she could feel a sense of home.
So she skirted fountains' spray and shadow, kept to the baked sands of central pathways, her handmaidens and servants dismissed to wait at a respectful distance. Still they were too close, anxious not to miss some vital summons.
Only profound respect and the Lady's insistence had won her this modicum of privacy, although some few of her attendants still sought to ply her with sunshade or sweated urns of snow-chilled drink.
She waved away her chief steward, the most stubborn of the lot. He was, in the rank of those who cared, a High Priest, and felt her preferences less important than the fulfillment of his role. "No, Manoc," she told him firmly, "I wish to think, not be fussed upon."
Yeah, blocks of ice = I'm good. I just think of snow as not blockey enough. That's why I'm not an engineer.
The people who wonder about snow obviously didn't watch 'Kingdom of Heaven' closely enough. Serving snow (or shaved ice, like a sno-cone) to your guests in the desert was a sign of your great wealth and power.
If you want this pruned even more while still keeping the high-fantasy tone, I can do that. But a lot of high fantasy is vastly overwritten anyway, so it could stand.
Is there much of a market for high fantasy short stories, or is this mainly for your own amusement?
'and the nested eyes of acolyte, servant and spy alike;'
Just want to say quickly that I much prefer the old version: 'nested eyes of servant and spy alike,'
The rhythm of it is better, I think.
Is there a market for high fantasy short stories?
In short, yes. But it's not a big market, and a lot of it is with minimal payment or none at all. But that's pretty much the state of things for speculative fiction, few markets with professional payments.
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