This is some freewriting I once did for another unpublished novel manuscript I have. To get a sense of the protagonist Nirra’s parents, I wrote them without her, alone in their own home–and then in two moods: happy together, then irritated with each other. I recommend this exercise to any writer who gets writers block whenever they try a scene with new characters.
Zeersheba lay on the couch, fanning herself.
“I learned something interesting today, husband.” She lifted the fan over her dark face and let the large white feathers pause artfully in the air before she relaxed her wrist and they dramatically bowed under her gaze. And his wife had impossible tiny braids woven in and out of a tight crown, almost an flute resting at the back of her head. Her brow was a black egg. Impossible, perfect.
Cyrrillis traced his stylus down the column of text he was reading, and grunted his disinterest. The wrinkles along the sides of his face made him appear like a real, tough old mahogany.
“It concerns a certain Nobis.”
Cyrrillis chuckled at that. “Not our favorite Magnaverion?”
“The very one. Nobis Non Omphiron has turned down yet another marriage arrangement.”
Cyrrillis looked up from his scroll. It was The Monologues of Dom and the Great Conversation by Telius. This was his favorite because the goddess expertly argued her convictions before all the other gods. It cleverly portrayed Dom’s superior ingenuity before the goddess Fahn and was a remarkable rendition of the goddess’ personality. It was like one was there with the true goddess and she still lived.
“Now then, that is impressive.” Cyrillis tapped the end of his stylus against his clefted chin and smiled. Then, he bent over his scroll once more. “How long do you think it will take for him to decide our Nirra is worthy of him?”
“Our daughter? She’s already more than worthy. The problem is that he’s in love with her.”
“Is that truly a problem? I think that is his strength. His meddling parents are the problem.”
“That is the tragedy behind the Magnaverion. All arrogant, so focused on their pride that they appear foolish. Come dear, let us play the check-board.”
Cyrrillis pressed his dry stylus onto the scroll as a way of keeping his place and leaned back and said, “You always surpass me at that game. You still have all your rooks and pawns from the last time. I’ve only got my goddess-piece.”
Zeersheba clucked her tongue at her husband. “That is the most powerful piece, and you boast at me. Is your beautiful wife to lay neglected on this couch while you play at scholarship? That is only the hundredth time you’ve read that scroll.”
Cyrrillis frowned at having been chided about his favorite pastime. “Perhaps, perhaps. Do you truly think I forget about you so easily Zeersheba?”
Zeersheba, the mother of a Non pouted. It was very endearing because she was always so sophisticated in her flowing white gowns and gilded headdresses.
“Alright wife, I’ll tend to you then.” Cyrrillis scratched his gray beard and extended his hand to his wife. Thankfully, Zeersheba took it and they left the room to the silent altar servants.
“When I am truly angry with you, Cyrrillis, you will know!” Zeersheba shouted at the top of her lungs.
Gently, the servants put aside their chores and filed out of the common room. The white room sparkled and marble benches were arranged around a long shining black table. Delicate golden flute-shaped vases held charming orchids the color of a hummingbird’s belly. That sugary red stole the cold from the room, banished it. However, as Zeersheba passed in front of the careful rows of vases, the curtain of cayenne gown that covered her curvaceous form blotted them out.
“How can you do this? The Nobis himself is to be here any moment and you have covered my beautiful table with your scrolls!”
“I told you that I was working. Why didn’t you pick a different day…” Cyrrillis went back to re-arranging his work.
“Husband! There can be no other day with the future of this family line is at stake. Omphiron will choose Nirra, and everything else is exactly in its place—”
“Woman! I have an important surgery to perform. I must have time to reflect before tomorrow.”
“Then do not squat here as if this is the only place for study in the house. You go about it as if we were paupers in the lesser city, living only in one room.”
Cyrrillis traced another invisible line on his large scroll, a life-sized illustration of the human body. He tried to focus, to ignore the ramblings of his wife.
“And it is even harder convincing Nirra. You are a fine example for her—”
“What? Has she been threatening to disobey us again?”
“No, Cyrrillus. Our daughter does not threaten her parents. I thought you knew her better than that.”
“But she means to reject the offer of marriage. You heard her say it.”
Zeersheba ceased her tirade. She grew quiet.
“I am angry with her too, but let’s not—”
“Bring her in here!” Cyrrillus threw his overused stylus onto the table and put his fists on his hips.
“Husband, I do not think that is—”
But altar servants are ever dutiful. They answered the master’s call immediately and Non Dom Nirra was brought forth.
“Daughter!” it was a curse.
Nirra, a true Non, said nothing more than what was necessary. But this often agitated her father who was also a silent a man. Rarely did he speak up, but he knew that he did it because he did not wish to speak, or because someone much louder enjoyed taking charge of the conversation. Often was the case with his wife Zeersheba. Nirra, on the other hand, refrained from answering questions as a part of her training. One who said little left much to the imagination and it was the priority of all Non to use intimidation against an enemy they could not physically fight. Nirra excelled at this rare right of the priesthood and could hardly keep it out of her everyday exchanges.
And there was something else to her. Her brown skin was filled up with her anger and could make her appear hot with fever when she was not. Almost as brown-gold and defiant as an avocado nut that cut the teeth of the eager. How many fevers had her parents fretted themselves into her having when Nirra would lay in her bed for days, so quiet? Only for them to discover later that she had got herself angry with conviction over some secret childhood hurt. But, one did not take a chance with children in this jungle, when the flies could get so bad–and goddess Dom only gifted one child to a union.
Nirra’s mother sucked her teeth at these sorts of memories, and it could be heard across the room.
“Answer me, daughter.” insisted Father Cyrrillis. “Why are you not yet dressed for the engagement? Is it your greatest wish to dishonor your family?” Cyrrillus was careful to wait through the uncomfortable silence, longer than even Nirra could stand. He knew that yelling at a Non did no good. Masters of false impressions, they did not dare fall prey to intimidation themselves.
“I feel foolish in the dress.”
“But Nirra, daughter, it is meant to be revealing—”
“Hush it–” Cyrrillus pointed, sounded boyish at his wife for a moment, then walked around the table and faced his daughter Nirra.
“You will obey me here and now, Nirra. Nobis Non Omphiron is the best match for you. All of Dom agrees. You would be foolish and selfish to go against our wishes. It is also insulting that you distrust your parents’ good judgment. Do as your mother tells you. Act whatever part is necessary to encourage a proposal of marriage. That is what is decent and holy in the goddess’ eyes. Do you wish to offend the goddess Dom herself as well?”
Nirra didn’t blink. “No, Cyrillus.”
Cyrrillus didn’t like the answer. It was too bold, in its own way.
“Dress her.” Cyrrillus said to the standing altar servants without looking at them. Then, he pointed behind them all, through his daughter, to the bedchambers beyond. “And be quick. The Magnaverion will be here soon.”
When they left, Cyrrillus returned to his drawings and scrolls on the human body. He began to gather them up in his arms. One, by one. An altar servant bent to help.
“Do not touch my things.” Cyrrillus cut, over his teeth. That voice, was it his own voice, giving up, at the end? Then Zeersheba passed by there, circling, smirking, then only the shade of herself departing the room, slick in the polished stone.
“Your precious things…” she smiled, and that carried softly.
This was why the Dom obeyed their customs. Cyrrillis remembered what a very good dress could do for a hateful woman.
After this exercise, it was much easier to craft a plotline later, where Nirra’s intense parents maneuver this fiancee to try and strongarm her through a crisis of faith. And there is a love triangle and hilarious cross-cultural foibles involved, etc. Oh, how I love crazy, ridiculously complicated fantasy fiction stories 🙂
Next: I didn’t forget about the horse wrestling. But I don’t know that I’ll post it next, drawing horses takes time (admittedly, not two weeks of hiatus, but don’t you judge me!)