Critique Group – The Brightest Thread

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The Brightest Thread – by Tracey

Not in centuries had the mountains rung with such gladness.

Aleida peeked out into the courtyard choked with bodies. Nobles and countryfolk alike spilled through the gates, almost obscuring the view of sunlit slopes beyond. She smiled. Good thing I arrived early.

Behind her, the Great Hall hummed with last-minute preparations. She turned from the doorway and strolled across the wide room, feet whispering against stone as if greeting old friends. The times she’d walked this castle were uncountable: first as a wide-eyed child, now as the world’s youngest fairy steward. The wand strapped to her thigh still felt unfamiliar.

“Aleida!” Queen Riar rose from the head table to embrace her. “Welcome here.”

Aleida returned the hug. “How is the baby?”

Tears shone in the red-haired queen’s eyes. “She couldn’t be more beautiful.”

“We’ll see about that. The other stewards may wish to grant her even more beauty tonight.”

“It hardly matters what you give her,” King Cedric rumbled next to his wife. His craggy face split in a wide smile. “We’re just overjoyed to have a daughter.”

As Aleida slid into place on Riar’s other side, a head of golden curls bobbed up. “Aleida, my sweet!”

“Reverie!” Aleida exclaimed. “You must’ve left days ago to arrive on time.”

Giggling, Reverie plopped barefoot into a chair. “Mere hours ago.” She set a pair of heavy boots on the floor. “Seven league boots, m’dear. Aren’t they grand?”

Aleida smirked. Not as grand as my dragons. Too bad my pets are shedding their skins.

The next hour dissolved in a flurry of voices as the Great Hall filled with guests, including the five other fairy stewards from neighboring kingdoms.

At last, when every table was packed tight, King Cedric stood and shouted, “People of Iror!” The long room hushed as if his booming mountain voice had flattened all other sound. “My queen and I take great delight in presenting our new child—Princess Alucinora.”

Two nurses bustled through a side entrance, carrying a cradle between them, and set it between Cedric’s and Riar’s chairs. At the sight of the swaddled bundle within and the tiny hands waving, the assembly burst into cheers.

Aleida grinned and swallowed her own whoop of excitement.

“Today we hold a feast in the princess’s honor,” Cedric continued. “Each fairy steward will pay their tributes at the christening to follow.” He waved a hand. “Let the feast begin!”

As servers marched out to load every plate, Aleida smiled over at Alucinora cooing in her cradle. The princess’s eyes looked her way—wide pools of rainwater staring so intently it seemed she was reading Aleida’s thoughts. What a large name for such a small lass. Shall I call you Luci instead? Luci’s hands stilled. She giggled, then turned away.

Aleida picked up her golden fork. Watching Luci grow up would be a pleasure indeed, and who better to look after her as a sister than Iror’s steward? Imagine taking her for a dragon ride one day…flying over Iror and watching the woolens graze. I can teach her much.

“Aleida, have you heard a word I’ve said?”

She jerked to attention. Reverie was staring, head cocked. “Sorry,” Aleida murmured. “What was that?”

“I was telling you how I came about my seven-league boots!” Reverie shook her head, curls bouncing. “Listen this time, dearie—the dwarf I traded with was such an interesting fellow.” She prattled on through the second and third courses, by which time the conversation had veered from dwarves to rumblings from the ogre colonies, to the princess’s wrappings spun by Iror’s best spinners.

Aleida nodded along and inserted an “Oh my” or “Indeed” when appropriate.

When the meal concluded, the monarchs and stewards stood, and servers moved the royal table aside. The Hall’s roar of conversation quieted to a hum.

King Cedric’s voice rolled out over the assembly once more. “It has long been the custom of all seven kingdoms to bless each heir upon their birth.” He smoothed his doublet, though it had not a wrinkle. “Today the custom is multiplied in the presence of not only our steward, but the stewards of the other six nations.”

Aleida stood straighter. Cedric and Riar had no kinsfolk yet living. If they were to pass on without an heir, Iror may very well fall into chaos—civil war or vulnerability to outside foes. But now they had a daughter, and all was well. The kingdoms desired to express their relief and felicitations through their stewards’ magical blessings.

Aleida ran her fingers down her wand. Spanning hip to knee, it tingled at her touch as if the dragonfire once used to shape the metal still burned within.

“I thank you, fairy stewards,” Cedric was saying, “for joining us. It is with—”

The Great Hall’s twin doors flew open. “Wands and windstorms!” a husky female voice cried out. “What a celebration!” The voice’s owner stood in the open doorway, a black silhouette against the sunny courtyard.

A chill washed down Aleida’s spine. Beside her, Reverie swayed. “No…”

The silhouette stepped forward, and the doors whispered shut behind her. Robed in glowing silver matched by loose silver hair, like a star fallen from the heavens, she surveyed the assembly with chin tilted high. “My, so many guests here today. King Cedric, surely your table held room for one more?”

Cedric wiped a hand over his face. “Vyntyri.”

Riar pressed closer to the cradle. “We thought you—”

“Dead?” Vyntyri wove between tables toward the front. Commoners and nobles shrank back on all sides.

“Or locked in enchantment,” Riar replied. “You’ve not been seen in fifty years.”

Vyntyri laughed, a smile on her pale lips. “How happy for you, then—to discover neither tale is true. Still, was it not…rude of you, Riar, neglecting to invite me to your daughter’s christening?”

Riar’s face tightened. “Forgive me. I am not in the habit of inviting dead people to parties.”

Vyntyri bowed, the gesture mocking rather than reverent. “A simple envoy to Contalabutte Island could’ve revealed that the eighth steward is indeed alive and well, and eager to bestow a blessing on your infant.”

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19 replies

  1. Tracey,

    This piece is well-written and provides excellent perception through your POV character.

    My main concern is the predictability, because this beginning seems like a copy of Sleeping Beauty. I was fully expecting a Maleficent-type character to appear with a gift for the child, and she did. Did you intend on writing a retelling of that story?

    Besides that, I have only a few details to mention.

    “feet whispering against stone as if greeting old friends.”

    This is nice prose.

    “a head of golden curls bobbed up.”

    I had trouble visualizing this. Bobbed up where? Across the table? Next to Aleida? Was she sitting? Standing?

    “She set a pair of heavy boots on the floor.”

    Was she wearing these or carrying them?

    “The long room hushed as if his booming mountain voice had flattened all other sound.”

    Nice prose.

    “set it between Cedric’s and Riar’s chairs. At the sight of the swaddled bundle within and the tiny hands waving, the assembly burst into cheers.”

    On the table? When I first read this, I pictured them setting the cradle on the floor, which would be literally between the chairs. But if it is on the floor, the people wouldn’t be able to see it.

    *************
    As servers marched out to load every plate, Aleida smiled over at Alucinora cooing in her cradle. The princess’s eyes looked her way—wide pools of rainwater staring so intently it seemed she was reading Aleida’s thoughts. What a large name for such a small lass. Shall I call you Luci instead? Luci’s hands stilled. She giggled, then turned away.

    “Aleida picked up her golden fork.”
    *************
    To eat the food? This seems out of place, as if the picking up of the fork were motivated by Luci’s actions and Aleida might be planning to use the fork on Luci.

    Picking up the fork should be the reaction to the previous paragraph’s motivation and also the motivation for the next action, but it is neither, because you then go into more thinking about Luci instead of using the fork. Consider a more relevant dialogue beat other than picking up the fork.

    Again, this is a well-written piece. You did a great job. Let’s talk about its derivative nature with regard to Sleeping Beauty.

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    • I just noticed now, but it says that Reverie ‘plopped barefoot into a chair’ and then put the boots down.

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        • Thanks so much for the excellent critique! I appreciate all you’ve pointed out.

          I imagined Reverie bobbing up at Aleida’s side (Aleida is seated), carrying the boots by hand. Wearing seven-league boots indoors might be unwise. 😉 And I hadn’t even thought about the cradle not being visible to the crowd! I’ll have to figure out a way to fix that.

          Your fork remark made me laugh. XD That will definitely be changed.

          As for the story’s derivative nature, I intended for it to be a Sleeping Beauty retelling. (It’s actually for this contest here: http://www.rooglewoodpress.com/#!writing-contest/c22i6) You’re right, the beginning is quite predictable, but some twists come into play later on that will hopefully keep readers guessing. Mainly, Luci dislikes her gifts, and her enchanted sleep enables her to access other people’s dreams. 🙂 The story veers off somewhat from there.

          Again, thank you for both the critique and the encouragement! I was super excited to see this post go up this morning.

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  2. I really liked this! The writing was beautiful, the characters were interesting, and Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite fairy tales. 🙂

    One little thing – when I read “the courtyard choked with bodies”, the image my mind initially conjured up was carnage after a battle. That could just be me. But maybe you could change “bodies” to something more specific, like “people” or “citizens”? Or perhaps change the word “choked” to something to show the bodies are alive, maybe “swarming”?

    All in all, I was quite impressed with this and would definitely keep reading! Keep up the good work. 🙂

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  3. Eeep! My goodness, girl, this was SO GOOD! I really loved everything about it 🙂 There was one thing that slightly confused me, though. Was Aleida sitting or standing during the feast? You mentioned at the beginning that she had sat down, but later in the piece you said she stood straighter. Here are the two sections where this is mentioned:

    “As Aleida slid into place on Riar’s other side, a head of golden curls bobbed up.”

    “Aleida stood straighter.”

    Other than that, this is positively splendid! I love it sooo much <3 (And that line at the end had me in stitches: "Forgive me. I am not in the habit of inviting dead people to parties." xD)

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    • Ahhh, thank you, Mary! 😀

      Between the feast and the christening, I had this sentence: “When the meal concluded, the monarchs and stewards stood, and servers moved the royal table aside.” So Aleida sat during the meal, and afterwards stood. But good question. 🙂

      Haha, thanks again! <3 (And I'm thrilled that you like that line. It's one of my favorites . . . that is, if an author can have a favorite snippet of their own work. 😛 )

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  4. Really cool story! I like the Sleeping Beauty theme. And the line; “Forgive me. I am not in the habit of inviting dead people to parties.” is hysterical!
    I have one question though: In the versions of Sleeping Beauty I’ve read, the evil fairy comes in after all but one of the good fairies have given the princess a gift, and after she leaves, the one remaining fairy uses her gift to counteract the curse. But if the evil fairy comes in first, how can the rest still give their gifts, and leave the last to counteract the curse? Is it going to take all the good fairies to counteract it?
    Keep writing!

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    • Thanks very much, Shana! I’m glad you enjoyed that line. XD

      Right. I altered the sequence of events a little. After this snippet, Vyntyri joins the row of fairies. Aleida, being suspicious, maneuvers herself into last place in order to soften whatever mischievous magic might be cast. The other fairies give their gifts one by one until it’s Vyntyri’s turn. She casts the curse, Aleida softens it, and the chapter ends. But good catch! Thanks for pointing it out. 🙂

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  5. Yay!! Tracey, I’ve been reading your blog posts about this story for quite some time, so it was awesome to finally read an excerpt.
    Sounds so good! I wasn’t disappointed.
    I loved how the perspective was from one of the fairies, and I also liked how Vyntyri had a silver color scheme going on instead of the typical black.
    I can’t wait till I can read the full thing! Keep writing!

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    • Hey, thanks so much, Amy! 😀

      I’m glad you enjoyed Aleida’s POV. After the first chapter, though, most of the story is told from either Luci’s or the prince’s POVs. About Vyntyri–yeah, when she showed up in my head, she was all silvery. (Funny how we authors don’t always have a say in that, huh? XD)

      Thanks again!

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  6. I enjoyed it! It’s a refreshing spin on the tale. You’ve made me realize I’m missing prose in my story. I’m fairly into “realism” and facts, even if I do like prose–I love Tolkien’s work soooo much.

    Yeah, I wondered at the happy day being filled with dead bodies…

    Keep chugging along! I hope you win the contest 🙂

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    • Thanks so much, Ashley! I’m glad you found it to be a good spin. That’s one of the things I’ve worried about–that it would be too close to the original to be interesting.

      Hooray for Tolkien! That reminds me, I’ve been wanting to reread LotR and the Hobbit. 🙂

      LOL, I’ll definitely be changing that line! I haven’t yet gotten to the issues brought up by this critique, but hopefully this weekend I’ll finally have time. Thanks for the encouragement! 😀 I appreciate it.

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