Day 237 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: What toppings does your character top their ice-cream with?
Erin: Ha, silly question he thought. “I’m a purist. Plain vanilla.”
Shannon: Caramel, marshmallow fluff, pecans, brownie pieces and one gummy bear.
Define your character’s sweet tooth.
I awoke on my lumpy bed with an excruciating, pounding headache and a sense that I’d been elsewhere when I fell asleep, though I couldn’t quite place my last memories. Everything was a tad bit fuzzy and a few shades off-colour, but I was ecstatic to be home for some, innate reason. On the floor at the end of my bed were my books, haphazardly stacked and I was still wearing my school dress with the skirt now gently singed. As I sat up the world spun dizzyingly and I sucked in a few deep, bracing breaths before standing on wobbly legs.
Leaning against the wall to hang my head out the window, I watched a slow march of guards again making their way through the town; though this time they didn’t appear to be discriminating who they spoke to. I eyed a young man with a helmet a couple sizes too big knocking on the door of the baker and handing her a scroll along with a small explanation. When she nodded curtly and shut the door, he grinned into the gruff face of a member of the old wing of guards. His expression didn’t change as the young man snatched another scroll from the pile and headed to the next house. Down the way a bit was a second set of messengers knocking on doors without many pleasantries to speak of. With a last glance out the window, I threw on a shawl and sprinted down the stairs to answer the door before either of the guards woke my mother up.
I yanked it open just before the young man knocked; setting his cheeks on fire and his lips a stutter. After a few seconds of uncertainty, he smiled shyly and muttered, “Hi, uh, Miss Umbra, I am from the, uh, the Royal Guard Training program and you and your, uhm, you and your family have been requested to, uh, to, to, come up to the castle for the opening ceremony tonight.” With glittering eyes, he held out a scroll tied with a purple velvet ribbon, bouncing on his heels.
“Oh, uh, so it’s a ceremony for the Royal Guards? In training, I mean?” I asked, plucking the parchment from his leather-covered fingers and gazing at the exquisite fabric.
Chuckling, the guard flushed furiously again as he stuttered, “Well, no, I mean, I just said so you’d, you know, you’d know I was a, I was a royal guard. It’s, uhm, it’s a mandatory ceremony and banquet thing-y for the, the, the magickal trials thing. But, you know, you could bring someone to the ceremony, and I’m not, you know, I’m not on duty so-” When he trailed off the other guard smacked him in the back of the head with his own heavily-gloved hand and cleared his throat.
What came out of his mouth was more growl than speech, “It is a mandatory send-off for the contestants. Please arrive before sunset in formalwear. Thank you.” We exchanged a respectful nod, and he shoved the blushing man toward the next house with a look of deep disapproval.
After watching them reach the next house, I shut the door and untied the scroll with trembling fingers; if I didn’t want to be a competitor, I certainly didn’t want to attend an extravagant banquet in appreciation for the forty people in the village capable of doing magick, who’d now singled themselves out as targets. I considered tearing the letter in bits and tossing them into the fireplace to be never known about, but that would be as bad an idea as they came. Chances were pretty good that that guard was going to remember me, and would notice if I wasn’t there, anyway.
Reading through the page quickly, I stoked the fire someone had set this morning and headed back to my bedroom to decide on what to wear. When I was standing in front of a couple simple dresses spread neatly on my tiny bed, I sighed in exasperation and rolled my eyes at the lack of choices. If everyone was going to attend this banquet, I wanted to look nice, but nothing I owned was going to do me any favours. I plucked a few grains of rice from the bodice of a plain baby-blue dress and touched the dried mud stains along the hem of my linen one; I would just have to go sell some vegetables for a new, not ripped, shawl before this evening.
I headed out into the bright morning light, bowing deeply to the florist as she put out a few bouquets in front of her shop, and skipped around a questionable totem-merchant. As I rounded the first corner on the way to the market, I spotted Rue’s older siblings and waved them over cheerfully. Finishing up their muted conversation hurriedly as I approached, the tall gentlemen nodded my way with matching pained expressions on their faces.
For a moment I was going to ignore the willful dishonesty I was about to hear, but thought better of it. “So, what’s the matter John?” I asked the eldest, who rolled his eyes and gave me a rueful smile.
“There’s nothing the matter, Gemma, nothing at all,” he replied, his lips tight and stature stiff. Paul, standing on his heels with his bare arms crossed wouldn’t look me in the eye. After spending a good deal of my childhood playing with Rue and her siblings, I knew them well enough to see right through the façade of half-hidden emotions.
Sighing, I stared at Paul until his eyes flickered to mine and were caught in my gaze, “Paul, is it Rue? Is she alright?” When he twitched, I nodded and turned back to John with an edge of hysteria in my voice, “What happened to Rue? She’s alright, right?” They exchanged glances and John let out a deep breath when he turned back to me.
“Yes, she’s fine. That’s kind of the point; she made it through to the first trial. She said she told you, otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about it,” he whispered under his breath as a few clusters of merchants wandered by in the small street. Glancing over his shoulder, he continued, “You’re going to the banquet thing, right? We’re thinking we’ll try and sneak in to see her or something; she’s never been away for as long as she will being stuck up in the castle, you know.” With the old twinkle at even the thought of mischief back in his eye, he became his teenage self once again, messing around with his brother and friends. But, in the same moment, he was this older, wiser version of himself who knew what he was doing could get him in a lot of trouble.
Leaning forward, Paul finished the conversation abruptly, “We’ve gotta go, Gemma, but we’ll let you know where to meet us at the banquet, yeah?” His parting smile was genuine as he tempered his brother’s shenanigans. As they walked away, heads bent together in deep conversation, I felt the urge to run after them and convince them it was too dangerous just to see their sister; but they wouldn’t have listened to me, anyway. Instead of dwelling on it, I headed off to the market with a bushel of fresh herbs to trade for a new shawl.
As I stepped out of the slight street and into the open marketplace, booths selling every kind of ware from fruit to textiles to household electric lights, there came a horrible high-pitched whinnying from the left. Just a few feet from me was a horse pulling a cart. It had obviously just been spooked by something, and it was bucking hard against its master. Finally breaking free, it shot straight for me and I easily took a step back into the street. When it pelted past me, I immediately sprinted back in and focused on the metal pin holding the wagon in place. It wiggled as the cart hit a rock, launching the contents into the air. The pin split and I moved the cart to catch its load mere seconds before the bolts of fabric landed on the muddy ground.
There was a deep, stunned silence, other than the terrified racket the horse was still making as it continued to rush in circles around the marketplace. As he made another round, I shifted to lock eyes, whispering for it to calm in a persistent tone; I hated to use mind-altering magick, but it was occasionally a wondrous gift to have. It trotted lightly toward me, lowering its enormous head into my outstretched hand, and I rubbed the sweaty fur on its forehead lovingly. Gently gripping the worn halter with my other hand, I held him steady and reassured him under my breath.
From behind me came the gruff grumbling of a larger gentleman, and I turned to be staring into the red face of the tailor’s husband. Though he appeared out of breath and hot under the collar, there was a wide, toothy grin that made the skin around his eyes crinkle amiably. “Thank, thank you, miss,” he gasped, resting a hand on a table next to us and leaning so heavily on it that the weathered wood creaked. As he caught his breath, he breathed, “I can’t thank you enough, miss. Thank you so much for, for just being here to save all my fabric. If it weren’t for you, all that would have been utterly ruined and my wife would have killed me,” he joked, showing off the extent of his yellowing teeth. “Is there anything, miss, I could possibly do to repay you?”
Pulling my brand-new silk shawl a little tighter around my shoulders, I leaned into Kyle, who shoved me playfully away. As we waited in the long line of villagers waiting to enter the castle, I began to feel the twisting in my stomache I’d felt when I met John and Paul by the market; they were about to do something very dangerous and stupid. Though it wasn’t my responsibility or my fault they were about to get into trouble, I couldn’t help but imagine the shame they were going to bring down on their family. Shutting my eyes, I pushed the thoughts from my mind and concentrated on having a nice evening in the grand castle among so many smarty-dressed people.
When we got up to the gates, where guards were stationed checking off names and eyeing everyone suspiciously, I murmured our names and smiled at the gruff guard from before. After a moment flipping through sheets to find the name, “Vox,” he waved us through and we stepped into the extravagant courtyard. With electric lights strung across the space and hanging from trees, it looked like the stars had descended for the special occasion. I twirled under the light cast by one of the trees and my mother watched me with drowsy interest as my father led her gently toward the castle itself. Kyle muttered something about the excessive, selfish use of enormous amounts electricity just to make things look nice.
As the two of us mounted the stairs leading to the hall, I was surprised to find twenty exquisitely-dressed young men and women standing on either side of the hall with expressions ranging from boredom to vague interest to delight. Near the end of the right row was Rue, who was sporting a teal ball gown that had been cut off above the knees to show off trousers; she looked like a warrior princess with ringlets sprouting from her head. A smile as bright and excited as I’d ever seen on her face was permanently on display as we strolled by. Waving at her, we exchanged a nod of understanding before Kyle and I headed into the throne room, which had been altered to include the space the ballroom normally took up.
Dripping from the ceiling were thousands more electric lights and birds flitted from chandelier to chandelier with their gentle songs complimenting the classical quartet playing some slow, soft dirge that echoed in the chamber. People chatted idly around the room in clusters based on class; there were a good number of out-of-town royals at this ceremony. Across the dancefloor, a tall and impeccable gentleman was watching a gaggle of my classmates with idle curiosity. When Kyle noticed my glance, he chuckled and began waving his hands emphatically in an attempt to embarrass me more than any other brother ever had.
I turned and busied myself with the dessert table before my terrible brother could do anything worse to me. Miming for a few scoops of vanilla bean ice cream, which was a new kind of food that needed to be kept cold all the time and melted in your mouth, I looked over the bank of optional toppings. When the attendant passed a silver chalice to me with some of the icy confectionary, I dumped a scoop of strawberries, blueberries, chocolate chips and coconut shavings. Drizzling a bit of honey, since this kind of food was normally only available for the richest of our people, I looked up to find the handsome gentleman smiling down at me.
August doesn’t usually get ice cream, but that’s because he’s very picky to the flavor he gets. Not many places have it (mostly because he and his brother made it up). So, most people think he doesn’t like ice cream. But they’d be surprised to learn that his favorite ice cream flavor is called ‘fudge coated caramel cherry jubilee.’ It is a combination of cherry and caramel ice cream, with chocolate chunks and sweet black cherries. The entire bowl is covered in a layer of fudge.
It’s super sweet and gives him a wicked stomach ache if he eats too much. But to August, it’s the only flavor he will eat in normal amounts. Though, if persuaded, he will try cotton candy with a few gummy bears sprinkled in; his brother’s favorite.