July Contest Winning Submission
Congratulations to Rebecca Johnson on her winning submission to our July Character contest! We hope you enjoy her submission as much as we did!
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Alieda slid her numb feet from their shoes, nestling them together just off-stage as the orchestra maneuvered its way from the performance area down to the pit.
The conductor’s voice rose from the other side of the heavy curtain, explaining the finale and the history of the Highland praise dancing. “…But home the pounding drums do call, and sing the beating of my soul…”
…The Song of the Praise Dancer… she recognized. Commending herself to the Fates, Alieda swallowed back her fear and moved out onstage.
She stood there, cloaked in shadows and dark velvet, trying too slow the wild pounding of her heart.
—Alieda, I’m out of options. If you want answers, this is how you get them.—
Blinking the memory away, Alieda shook the tingles from her hands. All of Garrett’s efforts to deliver her before the king had failed; it was up to her. Even so, she hadn’t anticipated being snuck in with the entertainment.
…Hooo… You can do this. It’s only a dance. You’ve been doing this your whole life—
“—and it looks as if the orchestra has settled into place, so, without any further delay, The Ascension.”
Time to draw some royal eyes. Taking a deep breath, Alieda turned her back to the curtain and unfastened her ermine cloak, sliding one leg forward to peek through emerald silk.
A swirl of air announced the curtains opening, her shadow falling in a startling streak out before her.
The heavy boom of the kettle drums pounded through her like a heartbeat, lifting her chin and causing the cloak to slip from her shoulders like dark water.
Alieda lifted her arms in the fluid rise of an eagle’s wings, moving in time with the rumbling beat. It came again, and she spun, tracing her foot in a wide circle, then sinking slowly to the floor in the lull that followed, holding the symbol of The Vessel out before her.
She pressed her hands together until they shook, jerking them apart on the next beat as if in pain. Head bowed, she collapsed to her knees, drawing in on herself, hiding.
A lone violin ghosted in, its pure, haunting song diving straight to Alieda’s core, reaching her instantly where Garrett’s words had struggled so hard, filling her with a sense of beauty and hope. The melody suffused her, rising within her, undulating its way up her spine. Chills climbed her limbs, and she breathed it in—breathing in her purpose.
Garrett had been right. She was herself; she always had been. But she was something new as well…
She swung her head back down and around, using the momentum to spin to her feet, pausing again in the lull, as if lost—alone. The rising call of the violin, absolute in its purity, coiled around her like ribbons of silver and ice. Alieda lifted her arms, inviting it deeper.
Yes, she was something new. And she had a mission.
Then the Highland drums began.
Reaching out, she caught the sound between her fingers and stepped boldly into it, pulling the call of the mountains down into the stone walls of the palace. More instruments joined, broadening and enriching the sound. The phalanx of massive drums beat stronger and faster, resembling more and more the rhythms of her youth, and she cast her body into them, closing her eyes and abandoning herself to the percussion ringing in her bones.
She moved with the strength and fluidity of the Olamance, snaking her arms and torso in the rotating currents of the rapids, rolling and shaking her hips in the deep rumblings of the mountain storms. She danced of love, of happiness, and of grief, summoning all the painful memories of all the nights and mornings spent in solitude in the mountains—dancing to forget, dancing to cope, dancing to move on and learn to live again.
And suddenly, she was no longer alone, her memories having kindled the ghosts of her mother and sister as they danced with abandon alongside her. She could hear the bells on their ankles, the laughter in their voices, the stomp of their feet—their memory no longer buried away but there with her. Part of her.
She summoned the pain, the strength, and the wonder of the dance, wearing it all, raw and unrestrained. She spun and contorted, weaving her body in the patterns of her home, her forests, and her faith, offering the power and grace of her body as a gift to the Fates who knew her path and guided her steps.
The song was almost over, and Alieda grieved its end. Spinning once more, she fell to her knees, arching backward sensory ecstasy, and as the final measure rose in an apex of harmony, she swayed, drawing the last of the music down into her soul to keep before throwing her head to the ground, her fingers a pulsing buzz against the stage floor.
Silence followed the close.
Suddenly, Alieda was afraid again.
Hesitantly, she lifted her head, looking out at the silent crowd, then up to the center box.
There he was. King Saibrant. All shadows and strong angles, frozen in a posture of haunted attention, both hands gripping the arms of his chair.
Slowly, he rose, fingers releasing their hold with apparent difficulty. He stepped to the edge of the box, but then just stared at her, unmoving.
Alieda couldn’t breathe. She could feel herself beginning to shake. Somewhere beyond the panic-ravaged shreds of her mind, she thought there must be something she should be doing. An acknowledgement, a curtsy—something. But she couldn’t bring herself to move.
Still, he watched her.
The audience watched her.
And then the king of Aralynd brought his hands together in a sharp clap, then another, leading the hall in a deafening applause that continued as the highest of Aralynd’s nobility rose from their seats in a breathtaking salute.
Thanks to Rebecca for letting us share her submission! If you’d like to keep reading this manuscript, Rebecca has the first 10 chapters posted and is asking for feedback!
Until next time, Scribblers!