I’ve been nursing a story idea for a few months now, since I went home for Christmas break. I originally saw it as a ‘grown-up’ version of Beauty and the Beast, the story of a young princess who has to free a beast who is, of course, trapped in a horrible spell. As the weeks have passed, however, the story has become more and more complex in my head. This is what it’s grown into:
the basic synopsis.
The storyline is a simple one: In order to be recognized as adults, and to be recognized as official heir to the throne, the princess of Vao Artan must undertake a quest by their twenty-first year. Liandre, the current princess, has little interest in ruling the realm, and even less interest in undertaking her quest. The story opens, I think, with only a few months remaining before her 21st birthday; her immediate concern is finding a quest, and figuring out how she can get through it with a minimal amount of energy.
Liandre is an interesting character, and the first I’ve written who bears little resemblance to me. She’s exceedingly spoiled, self-centered, incapable of self-reflection, somewhat lazy, and content with mediocrity. She is the opposite of her mother, Vaedyn, who is widely-regarded as one of the greatest queen’s in the country’s history. Vaedyn is a fierce warrior, and undertook her quest at the age of 17. The outcome of her quest is a little fuzzy, but she did something really brilliant, like save Vao Artan from complete danger and calamity. Liandre and Vaedyn, of course, clash greatly; the queen was hoping to raise a daughter who would be just like her, but Liandre realized when she was young that she would never be like her mother. Many of Liandre’s frustrations, I think, come from the fact that her mother won’t love her the way that she is. Rather than conform and attempt to do what her mother wishes, she takes the opposite tack — she does everything that her mother will hate, and refuses to face her responsibilities. That is, of course, until she has no other choice.
I’ve thought of two other characters so far — Simone, Liandre’s many-times removed great-aunt, who is the mysterious, secretive, but compelling royal mage, and Kam, Liandre’s childhood friend and sometimes-lover, a young woman who is about to join the country’s elite warrior force. (Same-sex relationships and bisexuality are accepted in this culture.)
Kam, in many ways, is the daughter that Vaedyn would have wanted — serious, sober-minded, lethal with a two-handed sword, and dedicated to Vao Artan. She is Liandre’s foil, the one who tried to keep he princess from trouble when they were children, yet who was always implicated in Liandre’s schemes. She loves Liandre despite the fact that she’s a hopeless mess, but there will be some sort of decisive quarrel and split that occurs between them when it becomes clear that Liandre has little interest in completing her quest.
Simone is the quest-giver. It is she who saves Liandre’s skin by proposing a duty for her to undertake. I’m not 100% sure what this quest will be. Originally i had conceived of this tale as a spin on “Beauty and the Beast,” with Liandre heading off to find the Prince-turned-Beast and break the spell. Since then, though, my thoughts have changed slightly. I’ve got a few ideas for how to tweak this, but I’m still working on it.
As a mage, Simone is blessed with a lifespan longer than most mortals; she was sister to Liandre’s great-grandmother. There is, however, a strange tension between Simone and Vaedyn. Vaedyn doesn’t trust the mage, and cautions her daughter to beware of the woman’s intentions, as she operates “on her own agenda.” Due to Liandre’s antagonism towards her mother, she of course ignores this advice… to her peril? I’m not totally sure, but I do know there are details of this quest that Simone hasn’t disclosed.
It’s a fantasy tale, set in a pre-industrialized world (like so many fantasy novels are). Inheritance is matrilineal, and the country of Vao Artan has always been ruled by a woman. (I am currently uncertain about where the men are, and what they do. I imagine, however, that this will reveal itself in time). I have an inkling that their religion is monotheistic, focused around the worship of a goddess-figure, but this might change.
The capital city, Avicella, is a port city located on the western coast. I have this image of a bustling, thriving city that sees a great number of visitors from other countries there to trade and, perhaps, to lay eyes on a land that is legendary. I don’t know who the neighboring countries are, but I have a funny image of male-led kingdoms that periodically try to invade, only to have their asses handed to them (“A country led by a woman? What do women know?”)
The creation myths.
This leads me to the creation myths, which occupied much of my time yesterday morning. Again, all of this is a work in progress, but I am getting chills down my spine thinking about it all, which means that the ideas must be at least somewhat interesting.
Every culture has a set of tales that describes its origins, and whether or not they are completely factual, there are important organizing forces. Vao Artan’s myth, I think, is that the realm was settled by seven sisters — daughters of the goddess, perhaps, or siblings who were in the goddess’s favor and blessed with dominion over the land. Each sister had a specific talent — the cultivation of land and livestock; hunting and martial prowess; music, painting, and the arts; scholarly research; mathematics and science; magic; and diplomacy and rule. The descendants of each sister correspond to a specific strata or occupation within the society, or something of that nature.
This is where things get interesting. It’s a little fuzzy, but there is a whole thing going on here about birds. I’m not sure if birds are the favored animal of the goddess or what, but each of the seven sister is associated with a type of bird — swans and magic, owls and scholarly research, nightingales and the arts, etc. The bird imagery continues throughout the duration of the society, to the point where the military’s headquarters is known as “The Falconry,” and the royal mage is known as “The Cygne” (cygne being French for “swan”). I’ve also got this idea that each queen takes the name of a bird to represent her personality/rule, or commemorates her coming-of-age quest, or something. Vaedyn’s is some sort of bird of prey — hawk or eagle, perhaps — to symbolize her status as a warrior. Liandre’s, of course, will be the peacock — a bit vain, a bit show, rather proud.
The ideas are rough, but the whole idea of integrating birds into the tale reminded me of Susan Seddon Boulet’s artwork. I had a calendar of Boulet’s goddess paintings years and years aog, and I absolutely fell in love with her style. Some examples, all taken from here: http://www.tendreams.org/boulet.htm
These are my current inspiration pieces as I think about this country’s religion and culture, and as I imagine what can be done with this whole bird concept.
At any rate, that is more or less what is happening in my head right now. I’m jotting down ideas as they come, and kicking around the thought of writing out the lore, mythology, and fables so I can have a better handle on where these people come from. There are still many, many questions to work through (like, er, where are the men?) but I feel rather confident that the answers will come. They always do.