Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Story Excerpt: The Other Brother

The Other Brother is (one of) my current work-in-progress(es), a retelling/continuation of The Wild Swans, a story I remember well from my childhood. My family on my father's side has Ukrainian/Russian roots, and one of my fondest childhood memories is sitting on the floor at my Babi's (grandmother's) house and watching a Russian-produced cartoon version of the story. You can imagine how thrilled I was to find it, years later, on Youtube. It may sound cheesy, but one of the segments, the part where Elisa and her brothers are on the rock in the middle of the ocean during a storm and singing, gives me chills every time I listen to it.

You can find the video here (you should definitely check it out if you get the chance!):



This story remains a favourite; I adore the emphasis on sibling bonds. I always wanted a flock of brothers to adore and protect me (I only have one). :P

Anyhow, moving on.

The Other Brother actually started out as a short story idea. I started writing it, and then had an idea to expand it into a short novella. I shoved it aside for a couple months/years or so. And then, towards the end of my second semester of university, inspiration kept stinging me for the story--this time, not as a short story or novella, but a larger, perhaps huge, novel. It was like the story completely possessed me.

And it continues to invade my mind, urging me to finish outlining and get it all down. It has expanded into a large, epic vision--and quite a lot darker than I had first anticipated. There's a lot of heartbreak in this story, but I feel that is a part of who I am and an honest journey into the twistedness of human nature in general. Of course, that also means that there's a lot of hope. I'm not one to make my characters journey through the Shadow of Death without having a reason to want to reach the other side.

So, without further ado, here's the synopsis, prologue and part of chapter one. Any feedback is appreciated, and I hope y'all will stick along for the journey! :)


SYNOPSIS

Arya wants nothing to do with the mysterious man with a swan's wing for a right arm when he appears at her family's inn one night. But after the inn is attacked by the sorcerers on his trail, she finds herself running for her life alongside him. Swept into a journey to rid the world of dark magic, Arya must come to terms with a destiny greater than she ever imagined and a curse running through her veins--a curse that may destroy her. A retelling/continuation of the fairy tale, "The Wild Swans".



PROLOGUE: SWANS

When Arya was eleven summers old, the swans flew overhead. Her younger sister, Mari, dropped her water bucket and ran after them, chasing their long, sleek shadows.

Arya stood still, gripping the handle of her bucket, her chin tilted to the sky. She watched the swans' giant white wings buffet the air. The rosy-bright light of morning cast golden crowns across their glowing brows. She had never seen such beautiful birds—and seven of them, too. Seven was a sacred number in the ancient days. While Mari squealed, pointing and clapping her hands, Arya drank in the moment, memorizing the image of large white birds against the dawn.

Then, having committed it to heart, she grabbed her sister's hand and dragged her back to the inn. Their father stood in the doorway, drawn by Mari's cries. His gaze focused on the birds in the distance, a deep furrow in his brow. He reached out, startling Arya into dropping her bucket, and wrapped his daughters in his arms. Mari wriggled out of his grasp and skipped off into the house, singing some ditty about swans.

Arya sensed her father's distress and took the rare chance to lay her head on his shoulder. “Treachery,” she thought she heard him murmur, and his hold on her tightened. She could hear the loud, insistent thrum of his heart, and wondered if her father was afraid. What was so alarming about seven swans in the sky? Their ancestors would have believed it a sign of good luck.

He kissed her forehead and straightened, taking her hand in his. Together they watched as the last of the swans vanished from sight behind one of the many mountains that rose from the neighbouring kingdom of Song.

“Papa,” Arya said after long moments had passed.

“Yes?”

“Breakfast needs to be done.”

A smile flashed across his handsome face. “You're right, little miss.” He scooped her up, ignoring the water bucket that fell over and spilt, ignoring the fact that she was far too old for such things, though she was certainly small enough still. He hugged her to him and carried her inside, slamming the door shut behind them as though to keep something out. Wrapping her arms around her father's neck, Arya contented herself with her sisters' jealous stares as their father paraded her into the kitchen.

As the daily tasks of life—baking, boiling water, cleaning clothes—demanded her attention, the swans slipped from her mind. Every now and then for the next few years the memory would resurface and she would smile in whatever quiet moment she could snatch to appreciate their beauty. And then the memory would dip away from her like a coy gypsy dancer and she would let it go.

If she noticed the dark strangers her father entertained at all hours at their inn, she kept it to herself. If she noticed that the swans never flew across her small portion of sky again, she shrugged it off. Life was too busy to dream up dangers that did not exist.

And if such dream dangers truly did exist....she did not want to know.


CHAPTER ONE: A STRANGER AT THE DOOR

The storm was coming in. Dark clouds burgeoned across the horizon, sweeping black skirts high above the floor of the world. Arya chased chickens towards their coop, cursing at the stubborn rooster who refused to yield to her guidance. He strutted across the yard, picking at the grains Mari had scattered earlier in the day. Arya gritted her teeth. Mari was the one who should have been doing this, not her. That skirt of lazy-bones was probably hiding in the cellar with a candle, her nose in a book.

A brave chicken launched a peck at Arya's fingers, which did nothing to improve her mood. She went for the broom and half-booted, half-swept the idiot beasts into their coop. The rooster fled before her wild, swinging wrath. A dark, guttural note built up in her chest and crept up her throat, familiar in its terrible, secretive feel.

She froze in the middle of the yard, strangled. The sensation choked her with its desire to escape, and she tried to choke it with her desire to never let it free.

Finally, she swallowed.

The wind picked up, snatching at the chimes that  hung from the corner of the inn. They had been her mother's, a gift from her parents after she had decided to leave their gypsy caravan to marry Arya's father, Marcus. Whenever Arya heard them, their voice seemed sad, as though they could not recover from the death of their mistress when Arya was but a babe. Tonight, their song spoke of other woes: a song of swans and sin and the whispered wickedness of treachery. The high, shivering notes settled on her arms in the form of gooseflesh, while the wind trailed its sensuous fingers through her snarls of black hair, teasing her for dreaming up fears.

Arya ran her hands over her arms and shut the chickens inside their coop, pushing her ridiculous ideas from her mind.

But not so ridiculous, a voice whispered.

The front gate ripped open in a gust that nearly bowled her over. She staggered forward, while the gate creaked and groaned as it shuddered back and forth on weary hinges. Arya clenched her fingers. Mari had forgotten to drop the latch into place. She ran and was just closing the gate when the stamp of feet rippled over the ground. One of the many army patrols appeared around the bend in the road, their uniforms dusty. Arya recognized their leader and bit back a grin. It struggled past her teeth.

Vic met her grin with a solemn nod, his spine straight and knees high as he marched by. The rest of his troop shuffled after him, hands stuck in their pockets, shoulders hunched. Some stared openly at her; others avoided her gaze; still some glanced at her and quickly away, embarrassment making them awkward.

Her chest tightened, and she smiled so sweetly at them that one of the awkward ones actually reddened. His shame at their treatment of her only caused her more misery. She didn't want their pity or their remorse—she wanted their respect. To be looked at as a fellow human, flaws and all, yet still that—human.
***

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